Regular perusal of my blog feeds has long since gone by the wayside as I juggle the responsibilities of the quasi teacher/coordinator possession I hold at work, the demands of fatherhood, and still trying to hold onto a few tattered shreds of what used to be my social life both with friends and my wife. Not all is lost though! I did manage to read a book for professional benefit thanks to a great group of educators, and just today I found myself with a few minutes during lunch, reading through some back posts on Brian Bennet’s blog. I was drawn to his most recent post about the “Point of Learning”, and found myself both in agreement with his thoughts, with a few caveats of my own to sharpen some of the details.
Brian is having a rough year. He’s teaching in an urban independent school in South Bend, IN. Having grown up less than 45 minutes away from South Bend, and having had former colleagues in both the traditional public schools and charter schools there, I understand a little bit of what a struggle it can be to work with students who are coming from a questionable background of home support. Compound that further with high school-age students that have gone through many years of traditional “schooling” in which they’ve learned how to effectively shut down with three simple words, “I don’t know”, and you’ve got a recipe for any teacher to have a rough year.
Brian ponders if whether it’s just his students’ way of resignedly letting him know that they really don’t care about thinking too critically, but don’t want to just come out and say it. Which gets him to the point of the blog post, in which he postulates that the “point” of learning, regardless of content area or age level, is to establish a careful balance of pushing and supporting.
From Brian’s original post:
I think the point of learning is when students feel challenged and supported at the same time. This balance comes from every teacher, administrator, and student in the building working toward the same goal. The point of learning is the hardest part of school because it is in an educational “sweet spot” where everything is working together the way it is meant to.
Without coming right out and saying it, he’s talking about finding that Zone of Proximal Development in which students can achieve new learning, understanding, and accomplishments, but only with the help and guidance of another, in this case the teacher. There are many tools and techniques that educators use to help discover and establish a learner’s ZPD, but short of an entire dissertation about how to find it, it’s probably best to start by simply getting to know what makes your students “tick”.
Which is where my thoughts on the point of learning would sharpen down to a narrower point than the one Brian makes. For me, the point of learning is to figure out who your learners are as individuals; what they’re passionate about, what irritates them, how far you can push them or joke with them, and what brings them back to “normal” after a meltdown in which a student destroys a classroom as he tries to “calm down” (it’s happened to me, it wasn’t pretty). Before I could even attempt to connect with learners’ needs through assessments, collaborative peer work, or the arrangement of my instructional space, I need to attempt to connect with them as individuals.
Maybe it’s some latent life lesson learned while being the often over-looked “nerdy kid” that never really learned how to make friends and connect with a wide range of individuals, but the point of learning for me is to identify with my learners on a level that lets me figure out what makes them tick as a person first, and a learner second. It’s really not that different from what Brian was getting at, just slightly off from the mark he made.
School, by Elizabeth Albert – http://www.flickr.com/photos/elizabeth_albert/4998473663/
Gears Icon by Dima Yagnyuk, from The Noun Project – http://thenounproject.com/noun/gears/#icon-No2174