Friday, 17 August 2007

Live and Learn, (welcoming the new semester)

I've been asked to blog about my education philosophy, maybe it would be stated better as a method really.

I love to learn. I love my fields of scholarship. I tripled in the MA program because I couldn't decide and doing each one one at a time would be horrifically more expensive than the horrifically huge amount of money we have already spent, but I still couldn't decide. Doing all three fixed a couple problems for me: 1) It meant I didn't have to take "electives" or some of the boring unrelated to my actual interest mundane classes related to the disciplines 2) I had to propose my thesis before I was accepted instead of 6 months before graduation and 3) I got to do all three! Yippee!

I flounder in the boring classes. Why? Because I get it early on and then I am bored. I read ahead. I did ok, if I could tutor someone else in the class. However, in the advanced classes I had to learn the boring stuff as I went, along with the themed material, as a means to understanding it. Then I was motivated, fascinated, and occupied mentally the entire time. No floundering. That worked really well for me and I retain to this day about 80 percent of the content in each of those classes. I did have a problem with dominating conversation though. This led to a long heart to heart with an professor who suggested I teach. Maybe he was joking? Doesn't matter because that's what I do now and I love it. Don't think that I got a pass on the cores of each discipline; at my thesis defense I was drilled on all of it and had no notes, no idea what they would ask, and I had no know it all. Plus my actual thesis had to demonstrate working knowledge in all three. Fun stuff.

Which brings me to my classroom. What do I do that works so well for my students? I do not stand up front and lecture the cliff notes of the textbook. That bores me as much as it bores them. I choose to teach an element of my field that is process instead of content: Composition. What worked for me in my education works for them to, if they are willing to take it on. They choose, within a set pretext, what they will write about. Then we use their topic to learn the process of composition, research, and revision.

One semester I had a student use the same topic for every theme: his beloved race car. His autobiography was about learning to read about cars, his profile of a place was about the undercarriage while he built it in his garage, his problem paper was about track safety and his solution paper was about better pr for the type of racing he does. These papers were creative, interesting, and really well done all from a student who had told me at the beginning that he struggled with English and hated writing papers. His grade? A. (103% after extra credit) So that got me thinking, why not encourage all my students some freedom to be creative and bend the rules a bit? I could have told him, "No, write about a park or a coffee house," but I didn't and he excelled.

Most people, by the time they are working adults, hate education and see it as a tedious chore. That mindset happens long before, when they are forced to study topics they hate and will never use, forced to do homework, forced to work for grades instead of learning. Thus the humiliation of "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader". It's not that you are or are not smarter, it is just that hopefully, at age 11, those little people have not had their desire for learning stomped on by tedious tasks and busy work. So why should I continue that loathing of education? (I am smarter than a 5th grader, BTW. I played along twice and know more than 80 percent of the answers! They would never let me play on TV though.)

I set fluid parameters. I cannot force them to learn. If they fail a paper I do not mark an F, I give it back to them to do again with reasons why. They can take a zero or try again. People learn by trying again. Life is like that.

I also teach them that I am a person, one of many that they can learn from, but that I am their equal as a person. That is a different dynamic than most primary schools teach. Many students are afraid to talk to me, afraid to advocate for themselves (if they don't, no one will), and afraid to fail. Real learning is counter to all of that. Once they take responsibility for all of the above, then....I can teach them, or rather they begin teaching themselves and I facilitate the classroom experience.

Teaching my daughter is no different. I am her guide, but really, most of the time she is the one leading her own discoveries and I am along to document it. Call it unschooling, learning driven by delight, child led learning, or "relaxed"/"eclectic" homeschooling- it's what works for us.

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A blog about farming, unschooling, feminism, 22q deletion syndrome, cooking real food, homesteading, permaculture, and motherhood.