Five Lessons I Intend my Students to Learn

Decisions Ahead

As my students begin to see the summer light at the end of the hallway, I think about the set useful experiences they will carry from my classroom as they matriculate away in June. Beyond knowing the content of the fourth grade NC Standard Course of Study, I intend my students to have embedded habits that will give them the learning-independence they need to meet with confidence the coming challenges of school and beyond, or at least the seeds of those habits.
First, I expect my students will assume responsibility for their own education.
Second, I expect my students will maintain comfort in the midst of uncertainty.
Third, I expect my students will thrive on metaphorical expression.
Fourth, I expect my students will differentiate academic language from basic interpersonal communication,
and fifth, I expect my students will have a sense of when and how to negotiate, that is, yes, how to argue.

Self-regulated learners distinguish themselves with a unique set of assumptions. I work to get my students to embrace these assumptions. When my students do well, they think they had something to do with the results, which encourages them to repeat such actions. When things go awry, they believe the associated problems are correctable, and they are encouraged to fix what missed the mark. In class, praise for things done well are easily expressed. I believe that limited praise and false praise deter upward progress. I make it clear to my students that they have not been successful by accident. This may seem trivial, but I believe it is important for them to know that success is linked to their action. Self-regulated learners take responsibility for their education. The work of Barry J. Zimmerman and Dale H. Schunk goes into greater detail about self-regulated learning.

When kids get confused, they initially tend to think that being a little bit lost means being greatly lost, but instead, that disequilibrium is the very point in time when they learn. Thoughts of self at that point distract, so I encourage my students to stay focused on the topic and not on themselves. It is a difficult skill for classmates to avoid saying, “You are wrong,” instead of, “I think the solution is more like this.” Fear of focus on being wrong deters upward progress. Feeling safe to be wrong leads to comfort with uncertainty.

When I shared the first sentence of this blog entry with my fourth graders, they understood that summer light means summer fun. We all need to use abstract metaphors to think and to express our thoughts effectively, so providing plenty of opportunities to cipher them is an important and welcome challenge. It is a pleasure to watch while one student explains to another what just happened in the class discussion.

Too often students learn vocabulary in isolation by simply knowing a definition that does not strike a melodious chord in context. I try to use comprehensible input, as Stephen Krashen has explained for second language acquisition. (See this clip for Krashen’s explanation of comprehensible input) Helping students use academic language instead of interpersonal strategies parallels the way they learn second languages. Mathematics has its own language students need to acquire. Instead of vague descriptions and smiles, I encourage my students to use the correct words for the concepts they mean to express.

Students need the skills and experience of presenting themselves and their own ideas beyond doing what they are told to do. They need the means to come to terms with things that are important. Once students take responsibility for their own learning, they take a serious interest in what they are learning. They develop depth of interest that gives them the will to weather uncertainty. Curious metaphorical connections interest them, and they care to explain their thoughts well using the right words. Any student ready to do all that will certainly need to negotiate meaning, and to negotiate direction. Once my students have begun to separate and wield academic language effectively, they are ready to use interpersonal communication to express their point of view. They know to present themselves calmly, and that “I don’t want to…” holds very little argumentative weight.

It is great to know stuff, especially standard course of study stuff, but when students make the knowledge their own, they begin to see all things in a new light, and then go there.
I look forward to your input and comments.

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