Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I have to think for myself?

Tonight on our way to gymnastics in Ames my 5-year-old asked me what b-i-r-d spelled as she sat reading her BOB books. I asked her what she thought it was. She said "I tried sounding it out, but it doesn't sound right". My response was simply "Well, what does it sound like?" After a pause, she said "I'll look in my book!" She flipped to an additional BOB resource, found the matching word with the picture next to it, and promptly yelled "BIRD!"

After her class we stopped at Wal-Mart to have my oil changed. While she waited patiently, my daughter again asked about a word - the big red word above the door. "Mommy, what does that word say in red letters?" Again, I asked her what she thought. She said she didn't know, and asked if "that letter" was a lower-case L or an upper-case I. I provided her with the necessary information - it was, in fact, an I. Again I asked her what she thought it was. "I think it's EXIT". I informed her that she was correct, and she proceeded to point out all the exit signs in the area, wanting to continue practicing her newly-learned word.

I often hear frustration from students and parents that the "new" methods of teaching are not helping students learn anything, that new methods do not prepare one for the "real world", and that teachers expect students to do too much on their own.

What are these troubling new methods? These of course include ideas such as teaching critical thinking skills, the ability to reason and communicate, or flexibility and accountability. Many of you may recognize these as the "21st Century Universal Constructs" or very similar to the essential skills outlined in Tony Wagner's "The Global Achievement Gap" - which is exactly what they are.

However, in my adventure into the world of early childhood education this evening with my daughter, I realized how truly beneficial these skills were. She had the skills and ability to answer her own questions, but it was easier for her to ask mom. I never want to teach my child or my students to take the easy way out. I will not stand up and spew facts and dates at the front of the classroom. I want you to figure out what B-I-R-D spells on your own. I'm willing to tell you that the letter you are questioning is I, not L, but from that point you should be able to make an educated guess.

I don't know about you, but at 5 my daughter is quite fluent in touch-screen technology (and to be honest, so is my 2-year-old son). Within a couple of years I expect her to be able to "Google" her questions. Is my job to attempt to provide her with an answer more quickly than she can type her question and hit enter - or is my job to teach her to be a critical consumer of information so that when she does hit enter she can choose a reliable resource to answer her question.

In a world where an over-abundance of information is available with the click of a button or the touch of a screen thanks to technologies that will be out of date by next year (next month might be more accurate) I would say my job is the latter. I had a "light bulb moment" tonight - my role as an educator and as a parent truly is that of "guide" and "facilitator".

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