Sunday, January 20, 2013

Life Lessons: 2012 (Whoops, I Forgot Some Things!)

I was reflecting on my last post, and I realized there were a few more things that really changed my thinking last year.

4) You want to teach somebody something? Better be sure you've got the cred to do it.

I was watching The Interrupters sometime last spring, a documentary about people interrupting violence in Chicago. And there's this part about three quarters of the way through when Ameena (one of the interrupters - you have to see it) is trying to teach this young woman who you can tell hates herself on the inside. She's angry and confused and frustrated and doesn't know how to move forward in life. But she's still listening to Ameena. She's connecting. Ammena's been through what she's going through. Ameena reminds her of herself.

And I thought back to one of my first years teaching - about a student I had in class just like the one Ameena worked with in the documentary. This girl was also angry and hurt by the world, but she didn't listen to me the way the young woman in the documentary listened to Ameena, even though I was conveying the same message. In fact, she screamed at me in the hallway in front of my assistant principal. "FUCK YOU!" she said. I'm afraid the only thing she learned from me, in her words, was that "white people don't know anything about black people."

Herbert Kohl wrote a book entitled I Won't Learn From You. He didn't call it I Won't Learn. There's a difference.

5) Trauma physically alters your brain structure. It can follow you around and destroy you.

We had a new student this year. I'll call him Jay. Like a lot of kids, he moved around a lot. He was one of those kids whose habits were exquisitely tailored to sabotage any prediliction for academics he may have had. He couldn't sit still; he couldn't take orders from adults; he couldn't not talk during class; he couldn't stop thinking about getting out of school. But put him in front of the class and let him talk about himself, and he was golden.

Come to find out this kid had a long history of trauma in his home life. And the trauma he experienced there caused tensions and stress at school for others. Whenever Jay was having a rough day because of something going on at home, he would lash out at school. He'd defy me just for the sake of defying me. He'd take a joke too far with another student and react angrily when that student got upset.

Sitting with me one day in my class alone, he gazed down at the floor and said quietly, "I just can't turn my brain off. All I can do is think about......"

All of that trauma from home - it made the days of everyone around him at school more difficult and stressful. Like ripples emanating in a pond, trauma doesn't stay in one place.

6) Our learning is mostly unconscious - and we do it best through stories.

Teaching 9th-graders has been eye-opening. They're a testament to how much humans can learn and still be completely unaware that they've learned anything.

Ask nine out of ten kids what they learned on any given day. "Iono."

A major mark of maturity is becoming more conscious of who you are, how you're changed by things, and what's really going on inside you (so much exists in our subconscious!).

Whether we know we're learning or not, it's happening. Last summer, I was killing time on the internet playing one of those bubble shooter games. My first few trys were pretty lame. But after an hour, I was really making progress. Someone looks over my shoulder and says, "Wow. You're pretty good. What's your secret?" I looked at him blankly. "Iono."

If you really want to encroach on the schemas others hold for making sense of their world - you know, really put them into some cognitive disequilibrium - I find it mostly works best to do it as implicitly as possible. Explicit lessons are neither as powerful nor as long lasting at disturbing our thinking as are the implicit ones. (And if you have to give that explicit lesson, you better remember lesson number 4 above.) And nothing is more powerful at delivering the implicit lesson as story. It's in our DNA. Best that we make use of it in schools.

So here are my ingredients for authentic learning in schools:

- Heaps and heaps of implicit lessons through consideration of complex and powerful reality and fiction
- Equal time for discussion, reflection, and guiding questions
- A sparse dose of explicit lessons for support

Everyone creates and stores knowledge in their own way. Trying to impose the knowledge you've created on others is, to say the least, superficial.

3 comments:

  1. "So here are my ingredients for authentic learning in schools:

    - Heaps and heaps of implicit lessons through consideration of complex and powerful reality and fiction
    - Equal time for discussion, reflection, and guiding questions
    - A sparse dose of explicit lessons for support"

    Right on!

    ReplyDelete
  2. "6) Our learning is mostly unconscious - and we do it best through stories."

    Amen.

    I've been enjoying your blog. Glad the Highline District has you.

    ReplyDelete