Wednesday, January 26, 2022

What Educated People Do

Listening to students' thoughts is a good way to teach. And that very process of teaching is a research process as well. ~Eleanor Duckworth

The reason that I've never considered giving up "circle time" in preschool is that I approach a preschool classroom as a living, breathing self-governing society and, for me, it is essential that we take time, every day to talk together, and listen together, about the things that are important to us as a community.

One day, Amanda told the assembled "us" that she was afraid of the handful of boys who played superheroes on the playground. The boys, and especially one avid superhero named Orlando, argued that they were not bad guys; they were good guys and good guys protect people. Other children joined Amanda, expressing why they did not, despite their declared good intentions, feel safe around the boys. Others sided with Orlando. Most, however, seemed to be trying to find some sort of middle ground. It was a long, often emotional community discussion, one that did not end in any sort of immediate resolution.

There was a time when I would have tried to steer the conversation toward an "answer" of some sort, a compromise that we could formulate into a rule or agreement about how we would treat one another. Instead, I role modeled listening. The way I did that was to actually listen.

There were solutions proposed and discussed by the kids. We talked about possible rules. But since I view my my role as staying neutral with regard to the substance of their possible answers, I was free to simply listen, to understand, and to rejoice in the thinking, the talking, and the listening. 

Most of what passes for formal education comes down to children being expected to answer the questions the adults are asking. This means that most of a teacher's effort involves, in one way or another, signaling to the child what they want the child to say. Most often, this takes the form of a kind of lecture in which the person with all the answers that matter in the context of school simply tells the kids the answers, expecting that they will remember them the next time they are questioned. 

More progressive educators, or those who are not in a hurry to get through their curriculum's schedule, might take the time to guide children toward the correct answer by offering exercises of some sort that are carefully designed to allow children to discover the answer "on their own." This process may involve some superficial back-and-forth between the adult and the child, but in the end, the adult brings the child to the expected answer.

There was no immediate answer to this circle time discussion. We talked and listened and thought together for nearly an hour until we had exhausted the topic before going back to our play.

That evening as I reflected on our community conversation about superheroes, I knew that at least some of the children, and Amanda and Orlando in particular, were doing the same thing. You see, this was an important question, one that had arisen from the children themselves, a meaningful question that demanded an answer. These are the questions that we stew upon as we lie in bed after the light is out. This is the kind of question that requires understanding, unlike the random questions with pre-determined answers that adults tend to pose to children in the name of education. We don't need to think about those questions because we know that the answer already exists, and if we can't remember it, the adult will eventually tell us. But this question about superheroes, this real life question, was one that needed an answer that only the children themselves could provide, and that requires thinking.

The following day, Orlando arrived to tell me, "I'm not going to play superheroes today." When I asked why, he answered, "Because it scares Amanda."

Later, Amanda strode in wearing a homemade cape. "Today," she announced, "I'm a superhero and I'm going to protect everyone!"

Listening and talking and thinking, that is what educated people do.


If you liked reading this post, you might also enjoy one of my books. To find out more, Click here! 
"Ready for a book that makes you want to underline and highlight? One that makes you draw arrows and write 'THIS!!!!!' in the margin? Then you are in for a treat." ~Lisa Murphy, M.Ed., author and Early Childhood Specialist, Ooey Gooey, Inc.

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