I have asked myself this question a lot lately. As I sit and listen to my students talk about the struggles they have in school be it with tests, homework or even assignments that they can’t understand. As they question what it is we are learning or the rules and expectations they are meant to follow It brings me to the question, “What are we doing?”
Currently in education we have people arguing for less inquiry and exploration, and more rigid lessons. Against independent reading and for drills and workbooks. People arguing the merits of standardized testing and ignoring the benefits of a classroom full of rich discussion around text and again I ask, “What are we doing?”
My students told me in January they were not having a great year, they were excited to have me as their teacher at the start of the year but circumstances led to me not teaching them as much as I would have liked. We had a chance to reboot and so we started with asking them what I could do to fix it. What did I need to do to help them be more enthusiastic readers and writers. We watched the Prince EA video “What is school for?” After we finished a student said, “I agree with this, I am in 4H and I learn so much more there about what is important to me than I ever learn in school.” That comment struck me hard. I have always thought the things we do are engaging and fun and they learn, the students agreed I tried but it was nothing they really cared about. Some books were great, some writing was engaging but in the end it was just another task to work through. That didn’t fit what I wanted their experience to be. So we talked about how to fix it. Project Speak came from it. Students talking about, writing about and researching things that agitate them, things that drive them to want to know more and share it with the world.
The interesting thing as we are starting this journey is the number of topics that students are talking about that have to do with things school related they are unhappy with. Homework, Testing and Teaching have come up a few different times. I have written about this before but the idea that our students have to keep saying, “My time should be mine outside school.” Or “Tests are hard for me, I have a hard time focusing on them” and then today “Teachers need to let us speak, show our creativity and celebrate our accomplishments” If our students think these are things we are not doing I need to ask again, “What are we doing?”
If we are too proud to admit our students know themselves and how they learn better than we know them we need to take some time to reflect. Our job as a student reminded me today is to teach, support and guide. If our students are confident enough to tell us, brave enough to correct us then we need to honour them with work that is worthy of them. We need to keep asking the question “What are we doing?” and be ready to follow up with why.
Purposeful work, worthy of our students, building them as learners. That should be the goal.