Monday, June 16, 2014

Learning: What You See is Not Always What You Get

A colleague visited the class today and viewed the class presentations. As he watched, I watched through his eyes. I realized that in seeing the final project, he wasn't able to see the work that went into it. In many ways the final presentation was a playful childhood exchange that included facts related to recent research. A teacher last Friday saw the work in a similar way yet her young children were giggling and laughing throughout the performance inspired by the older children.

To see the presentations at the final point was not to witness the research, writing, slide show creation/timing, collaboration, rehearsal, and prop creation--the many, many steps that had gone into the final presentation, many steps created by the children.

It's the same with programming an animation. To see the animation makes the project seem simple, but then when you look at the lengthy, intricate program script you notice the time and effort that went into the work.

Yet, on the other hand, when students performed the fifth grade play recently, the performance was exceptional--flawless, a work of art. The work to master this performance was evident in the final performance, a performance that was inspiring, and a performance that lifted the spirits of an entire audience.

As we think about deep, rich learning for young children we need to be cognizant of our priorities and focus. For the project mentioned above, the priority was to give all children a chance to be active learners who engage in all aspects of TEAM research--elements that began with research and moved through several steps to performance. Children's reflections demonstrate a favorable response to this focus.

Having multiple elements in a big project might mean that the final project is not as polished as a project that centers more specifically on two or three elements alone. More time and focus on singular elements might elevate a final performance, but does that elevate the learning overall? I'm wondering about the equation of quality and quantity when it comes to teaching young children well. My guess is that the right answer is a range of answers.  Sometimes quantity and exposure are just right, and other times quality and a more specific focus is the answer.  My colleague and I spoke about this, and I suspect our dialogue will continue as we both travel down the path of teaching children well in the years ahead.