Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My New Love—Fiction and Huck Finn

I reckon you're eager to read what I have to say, so be patient. Don't be wanderin' away from my post too early. Instead, take a gander at what I'm telling you. Been spendin' most of my wakin' hours readin' and writin' these days. It's fetchin' me some long nights cuz I do n't know how to stop. My thoughts are spinnin' somethin' fierce from all the new ideas fillin' my head, even more than Tom coulda made happen in one of 'em crazy adventures. And I do n't knowed which direction to fix my eyes on, cuz I been achin' to learn me truths for a spell. I like readin' books that shows truths, truths about schools and teachers and life and such and I been readin' up a storm. But then I says to myself, "Why not stick yer head in one of them story-type books that tells tales of kids an kings an murders an Tom-Sawyer-type adventures an such an let yer head enjoy you some make-believe? Life's too stinkin' short to miss out on the make-believe. That's what Pap always said, anyways. And even tho I do n't wanna admit it, well, let's just' say, he wa rn't wrong. Made up stuff is exciting."

After reading a half dozen nonfiction books over the past couple months, I decided to baptize myself into the world of fiction once again. Can you guess which book I started with? From my feeble attempt at "becoming" Huck? Yes, I picked up a book I read in high school over 25 years ago, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I will not tell a lie; I hated this book in high school. Hated it. Why? Because it was assigned. It was required. It was work. It was boring.

But how? How could I have ever found this boring? Granted, I'm only 35% through the book (I know that thanks to my Kindle!). But I have laughed out loud on numerous occasions. 
"[Miss Watson] was going to live so as to go to the good place...Well, I couldn't see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn't try for it...I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together."
Perhaps it's my upbringing, but I thought this conversation was hilarious! I can just picture my head making those same types of connections as a child. How I used to make sense of my world so quickly, yet so creatively.

Huck (Twain) shares story after story from the child's perspective. And I find it fascinating how advanced this perspective is. Huck allows his mind to wander, unencumbered, so as to really explore his surroundings, his life. And the way he describes each experience allows you to be there, feeling his child-like excitement, panic, mischievousness, relief, guilt, love.

This level of "critical thinking" is what we hope to achieve as adults. Not in this immature way. But in this truly-connected-to-people kind of way. This stream-of-conscienceness allows one to gather unprescripted data, to make original connections or creative exaggerations, to recognize that an experience is what it is because of the people around you, to be so engaged that passion can't help but boil over.

I'm glad I picked up this book again. It's helped me remember what I loved so much about the explorations of my childhood. And it reminded me how much I am ready, willing and able to rekindle that level of curiosity and courage to live with the open-mindedness and passion of a child again.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Syrup, Post-Its, & Nicknames. Why Can't Good Teaching Be As Sticky?

"It's in EVERY research book you read. It's talked about at every educational and professional development conference you attend. It's the focus of every methods book. Inquiry-based teaching is it. Inquiry. Inquiry. Inquiry. But you don't see it implemented in the classroom, and if you do, it's not done well. Inquiry—it just isn't sticking."

Yesterday morning, I finished Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point. (Recommended!) Yesterday afternoon, a university education professor said the above to me. I was taken aback. Anyone who has read Tipping Point likely knows why. I felt like one of those cartoon characters where a lightbulb starts flashing above your head!

Gladwell states that the three agents of change include the Law of the Few, the Power of Context, and the Stickiness Factor—the third agent being the cause for the lightbulb. The following Gladwell quote echoed in my head.
"The Stickiness Factor means that there are specific ways of making a contagious message memorable; there are relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information that can make a big difference in how much of an impact it makes."
My friend (and co-author) Dennis Smithenry and I are incredibly passionate about the benefits of Whole Class Inquiry. So when the professor said, "Inquiry—it just isn't sticking," I got to thinking about how we might be able to change that. How do we make our idea  "tip?" (Font choice in picture at right in honor of my husband.)

It was what the professor said next that really helped. "So many teachers believe that inquiry is a good idea; they just don't know how to make it happen. But being here, seeing it in action, talking to you, listening to the students, now the message makes sense. The theory of inquiry is alive in that room. "

Gladwell believes that some ideas are worthy, but have not been worded in a manner where the majority of the potential users can understand, let alone implement. The key to getting our message to tip? We need to redefine Whole Class Inquiry using the vocabulary and practice of these experimental, dedicated educators. We can't use Whole Class Inquiry to describe Whole Class Inquiry. We need to simplify a complex idea into presently used language. But how?

I'm working on it. And if I can't figure it out, there's always Krazy Glue...