Disrupting Education Thinking

My daughter has once again been good to me in reinforcing ideas in education. As many of you know who follow my blog Ava is a 5 year old(soon to be 6 in a week) fireball of energy trying to navigate life and the world around her. She has had her ups and downs in school. As she exudes confidence and energy, there is a very fragile, timid, unconfident brain lurking behind the layers.

She does an amazing job making you enjoy life(dancing to Christmas music in May) to avoid the the things that are hard for her. As a parent and educator I still don’t have all the answers. I am not sure it is possible. This one little gem in our life(we have three – Aiden and Addy and Ava) sheds light into the various paths of learning. I am reminded that in order to help anyone learn we must provide a purpose and reason to the learning. Otherwise “it”(insert whatever concept you like) becomes a chore, a task, and something that will not connect in the brain.

Reading is hard for her. I have ranted and raved before about expectations for kindergarten, but reading is beyond difficult for her. Sight words are tough which lead to reading issues. To simply tell her she must learn how to read because it is the foundation of life or school will be hard for you does not work. It does not click in the mind of a 5 year old.

I often wonder how many times we have similar reasons for the concepts we teach? We tell the kids that they must know “this” for a test or for high school/college, to earn scholarships, to be functional in life, etc. As much as these reasons are all true, they don’t connect to a young mind at the age of 5 or an adolescent brain confused with everything changing on a daily basis.

I have been reading the book, Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers, and I have been in deep thought about reading and learning.

I plan on doing a giveaway for the book soon as I have two copies, but before I do that I want to share some of my own personal reflection so far. One of the key ideas of the whole book is the idea of disruption thinking. The authors define disruptions starting with “a thought that something needs to be better.”. They go on to pose two questions

  1. What needs to change?
  2. What assumptions make that change hard?

Often times in education we spend a great deal of time on question one, but rarely tackle the second question. I think this happens because it exposes us to our own assumptions and the scary part that perhaps these need to change. Change is hard and never easy. The book continues to challenge us to be able to do the following in order to answer these questions:

  1. Be brave
  2. Accept Failure
  3. Be Open
  4. Be Connected
  5. Get Uncomfortable

These five traits are common ones that most teachers are trying to instill in their students. These are the frustration points when students lack any of these. We work hard and I know that time and time again these lead to a great deal of frustration.

And yet in our professional lives we are guilty of not developing these traits ourselves. The very thing we push in our classroom is not the same as how we operate as a professional. We develop tunnel vision. We knock new ideas. We do not connect with educators and professionals from around the world. We avoid being uncomfortable. We don’t like to be brave and would rather hide in our rooms with the door shut. Failure is simply not an option so we stick to what we know even if we know it could be better.

I have sucked at all five of these things in my life at some point in time. They tend to come and go depending on my mood or stage of life or even what type of job I am doing.

To bring things full circle, how do I help my daughter tap into these five traits in things she thinks she can’t do or is not good at? If we look at reading I know that reading the words are tough, but her curiosity is off the charts. I believe that we must work to understand why texts are tough. Is it because the topic is a

1. tough issue?

2. tough texts? The reading is just hard

3. lack of prior knowledge

4. technical vocabulary?

5. abstract ideas or syntax?

6. zero personal connections?

As a parent I have to work to tap into what she is passionate about and try to find books that excite her and lead to more curiosity in the hopes reading begins to connect. Staring at a chart of words to pass a test is not working. She already feels like a failure after a year of not meeting goals. I struggle with this. I have become impatient at times and have to bring myself back to the process of what it must feel like for her.

My goal as a parent and hopefully yours as an educator is to help discover what makes thinking and reading(learning for that matter) tough for students. We are all different. We are all unduplicated. But we all deserve to be supported and provided skills to learn.

As I struggle myself to understand how to do the projects I am developing and feeling the notion of giving up I understand her pains. I was recently working on a pretty big coding project and I am just not smart enough to do the work I want to do. I went to the boards for help and was ridiculed and slam for my childish question. In that moment I wanted to quit and started to believe I could not do the work.

I had to step back and self talk. This is something I would not have done back in the day.

Or think about yourself and how you deal when things are tough. How can we apply these traits to our classrooms? How do we move away from drill and kill and boring mindless repetitious tasks to invoke emotion and compassion to the learning? This is a daunting task because every single student is different. It is our calling. I think about Ava a lot and try to remember that all the kids I get a chance to work with before, during, and after school have goals and dreams. They might mask them in behavior and other negative outlets, but it is our duty to help them.

I plan to continue to blog about this book as it is connecting to me as a parent. It is connecting to me as an educator. We all play a role and it is time we disrupt the system. Numbers on a standardized test are not enough. We are more than that number. And this my friend is the disruption we need in education. To view people as people and not simply a score or color on a spreadsheet. Regardless of the grade level or subject matter we teach, we must all play our part.

 

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