Last night we saw Mary Poppins at the Citadel. I left the performance with Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and Feed the Birds still dancing through my head. There was a bounce in my step. It was the kind of feel-good, high-energy performance where the audience was on their feet immediately with applause. The actors, the singing and the choreography were excellent and I envied the fun they appeared to be having on stage.
At home after the performance, I turned on the news… Recovered objects unrelated to missing Malaysia flight 370… Bodies trapped in Washington mudslide never to be recovered… Putin declares no intention of invading Eastern Ukraine… Taliban attacks to threaten upcoming election.
I hummed Chim Chim Cher-ee attempting to bring my mood back to where it was before the news came on. Two thoughts struck me: 1) I feel incredibly fortunate to live in Canada. 2) There is immense value in art of all kinds, including theatre.
I recently watched a video where a student mentioned ‘deep learning’. This concept has always intrigued me: deep learning, enduring understanding. What’s the difference between an enduring understanding of a concept and simple memorization? With our curriculum redesign underway, is there still a place for memorization in our schools?
This battle is one I have heard discussed on the news, between parents and even among educators. During the last ten to fifteen years we have experienced some curricular changes with more of an emphasis on the constructivist approach: simplistically, students construct meaning from what they read, hear or discuss.
Do we need to memorize reams and reams of data? Probably not if a quick internet search will suffice. Students can still be exposed to the information and engage in meaningful discussion about it. A much more valuable use of time. Through this approach, students will develop critical thinking and communication skills and learning will become much more relevant.
All that said, there is a place for memorization in schools. Students should be required to memorize math facts, provincial capitals, and the basics such as their own addresses. Memorization serves a practical purpose that cannot be denied or ignored.
The pendulum has a tendency to making wide, sweeping movements. Yet often, best practice incorporates strategies from both ends of the spectrum. The constructivist approach doesn’t have to replace the skill of memorization. There is room for both in our schools. In fact, the two extremes complement each other nicely: the ah-ha moments that come from discovery and the confidence that comes from knowing.
Last week I listened to two parents from separate families talk about their expectations for their children. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe in expectations. In fact, as a classroom teacher I was always sure to set the bar high in terms of behaviour, work ethic and respect. What I encountered with these parents however, were unrealistic expectations for their children: in one word, pressure.
The line between reasonable expectations and unreasonable expectations may be somewhat fine. I get that. Yet when the expectations become unreasonable, we begin to see anxiety and feelings of defeat develop in our children. Even worse, they may begin to dislike school or the process of learning. Consciously or not, some kids begin to resent those adults holding that bar far out of their reach.
As important as it is for expectations to be in place, we can only expect our children to work to their potential: as we tell them in school, to do their best. For some (for most actually), that best work might not be top of the class. And that’s okay. When they are encouraged to do their best they will challenge themselves, take pride in their work, be more engaged in the learning process and ultimately, they will be happy. What more can we ask?
What did I learn at convention this year? I wouldn’t say it had so much to do with curriculum but it was an important lesson nonetheless.
David Chilton, author of The Wealthy Barber, reminded me to be satisfied with what I have and not always longing for more. He spoke of the common lament for more stuff which seems to plague our society. Craig Kielburger, founder of Free the Children, reminded me to appreciate all we have and inspire our students to develop an attitude of service towards others. General Rick Hillier, former general for the Canadian Forces, reminded me to be appreciative of this great nation we call Canada: our safety and security, our health care system and our freedom. Kaitlin Roig, a teacher who survived the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, reminded me how lucky we are to go to school and return home safely each day.
Though these four speakers come from diverse backgrounds and life experiences – an economist, a social activist, a former chief of defence and a first grade teacher – the underlying message is one of appreciation.
As we walked to the truck at the end of convention – walking briskly to limit the time in the wicked wind – we passed a man whose home is the streets. As I climbed into the truck, again I felt blessed and appreciative of all we have. I do not have to find shelter from the cold each day, I do not have to worry about stepping on a land mine, I do not have to fight for education or health care and I do not have to worry excessively about the safety of my students.
Lesson learned? We are truly blessed.