Starting School: Doing New Things in New WaysSeptember 18, 2006 | Pat Harder
Even if I didn't know the date, I would know that the beginning of a new school year is looming, because I have started to have my teaching dreams.
In them, I arrange and rearrange my classroom furniture, sometimes in a place that doesn't resemble my actual classroom at all. I mentally move my desk near the window and then to a spot over by the door. Then I start on the bookcases and finally configure the student desks from rectangular patterns to circular ones and then in small clusters suitable for writers' workshops.
Next, I start to see the faces of students I have taught in previous years. They all look like they did when I taught them in seventh grade, although many of them are now adults.
Sometimes I actually think about writing ideas. (Some great assignments have come from my dreams.) I even keep a pad of paper and a pencil next to my bed in case I wake up and want to write any of the ideas down.
When I wake up from one of these dreams, instead of being exhausted from all that furniture moving, I am often energized and ready to get back to school. I am ready to make my plans for what I am going to teach during the coming school year and for what I am going to learn.
But Robert Frost said in one of his essays, "No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader." He was talking about letting writing sometimes take charge of the direction it wants to go -- letting it happen, not planning everything so precisely that it is stiff and scripted. In other words, having fun with it. If teaching and learning are to be powerful, the journey through a school year has to be fueled by curiosity and genuine excitement and has to be full of surprises for the students and the teacher.
One of the ways I try to make sure this happens is to set exciting annual learning goals for myself as well as for my students. Sometimes these involve doing old things in new ways, and more often, doing new things in new ways, as Marc Prensky wrote about in "Adopt and Adapt: Shaping Tech for the Classroom," in the December 2005/January 2006 issue of Edutopia magazine. If I can have at least some goals that focus on what it is I want to learn, I can guarantee the kids will get caught up in my enthusiasm.
This is especially true when technology is involved. Years ago, my technology goals were simple, like learning how to use a scanner and how to incorporate scanned images into PowerPoint. More recent goals have included learning how to create visual representations of pieces written by students using claymation (animation using clay figures) and digital stories.
This year, I want to design opportunities that encourage my students to learn more deeply. For instance, I plan to learn how to take our simple claymation stories of the past two years to a higher level of complexity as students use this medium to compare and contrast myths from various cultures. I am also learning how to turn the simple reflective blogs my students have done in the past into forums for writing groups to offer feedback to each other and to participate in discussions about literature.
I plan to learn a lot along with my students, as I always do. I also plan to have fun. My version of Frost's quote is, "No fun for the teacher, no fun for the student." Fun can help people learn better. I can't wait.