make room for “Discussion”

Two months into the Academic year of 2016-2017 and so much to celebrate! Actually little of this celebrating involves “academics.” In fact it is the culture of schooling that is constantly in question and the many ways home and school connections develop community, solidarity and openness for a neighbourhood.  And the celebrating may seem surprising when this winter for the first time in approximately forty years since my first venture as a student  peer teacher in a classroom, I haven’t been teaching anywhere- not “retired” nor “consulting” but instead reviewing and posting and volunteering in online forums; I discovered not merely how many teachers genuinely do appreciate online informal ways to chat about their classes, but the very important many ways online chats actually encourage professional development.


Educators get to actually brag! To share accomplishments and to state how happy they were when students not merely grasped new(ish) ideas but also began their own exploring. When in grad school I heard so many teachers constantly worrying about the lack of motivated students, the lack of resources, and the lack of actual professional development time- that is time when teachers really mingled instead of rapidly taking notes and then retreating to what was left of their weekend.  Now due to online conferencing teachers arrange meetings with virtual colleagues, have professional mini-breaks, and connect to share not merely to compete. 


In my years of direct interactions with many in the gifted and talented groups, laughter was always the key to reminding each of us, educators, administrators and students and their families that learning is a never-ending activity- and that each student requires that oh so necessary “private” time to consider… to reflect… and to make new plans- whether in the same linear fashion or in a new direction. But while in the flow moments- insisting on reflection may actually be detrimental- not only is the distance to really consider effects missing, but also the very curtailing of the flow situation limits the further continuing of a pursued endeavor.


In this way I may be in favor of daily reading in the elementary and middle school curriculum while also aware that for many such a staged part of the day is more filler than learning experience.  Reading is an action, involving the student in the material takes more than merely setting aside time. Far too many students continue to grasp at the phonemic sounds and then read the words on the page with limited comprehension, close their texts when the “drop everything and read” time is completed and couldn’t discuss anything they had just “consumed’ with any real ability to make sense of the reading. And when book reports follow a set format the students dutifully tick off the spaces on the handouts and the teachers have “proof” their students are reading.  Suddenly, formal curriculum testing occurs and the students are shown to be behind in their levels of comprehension.  What was missing- one essential ingredient- discussion.  


Discussion – be it in small groups sharing the same text or private one-one with the teacher allows a student to express opinions– essential in higher grades for the essay writing and learning of more than the “English” – for geography, history, civics, economics, all the arts, all the sciences, and even the physical courses – for when physical education is where the instructions regarding “health” occur then reading and writing and reviewing and commenting take place in the gym too!


A “noisy” school culture is one where students become active in vocalizing opinions and caring about their dreams.  Glad to have been able to participate in some noisy online discussions these recent months- and to hear the passion, anger, joy, and encouragement that strangers and now virtual teammates offer one another, reminding each other that with each independent student who moves beyond the limited and limiting expectations of a “Formal schooling” into deeper learning perhaps the general future adult population will be able to discuss ideas and debate concepts based on both practical knowledge and the textbook information.  When from a young age students begin learning through accepting that differences in opinions are the result of different knowledge bases, and create that sense of shared global goals based on respect instead of ignorance– for ignorance breeds fear, and then “diversity” is something that must be shouted, while knowledge ought to lead to respect and then noisy merely represents participatory, with the understanding that only by uniting together- men and women, boys and girls, children and adults, and international communities that genuinely have respect for one another and may discuss ideals- towards action, this could indeed produce that Global development that reading- writing and arithmetic is meant to be the foundation for. 





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