It’s impossible to watch Gever Tulley’s talk on Tinkering School and not want to get involved in some kind of playful experimentation. Whether with building materials, musical notes, a raspberry pi, or words on a page, playing around is an important process for students of all ages.
Unfortunately, standardized curriculum and routines at school don’t leave much room for unstructured play, but I think we could…
While we do have end products in mind — for example, I do need my students to give me a product that shows they've learned about New Imperialism— why should that stop us from workshopping, fiddling and “decorating” our way to the result? The idea that tinkering needs to take place in woodshop or auto mechanics limits students' use of this powerful process. Why not make two different plans for an essay, or develop six supporting paragraphs and select the nicest three? Why not create birthday cards or yearbook notes to historical figures to uncover their motives and feelings? Or, why not tinker with different settings and strategies for close reading?
Importantly, the role of the educator changes in the tinkering-fiddling-workshopping classroom. But I like what Tulley suggests when he says that his most important action is to “keep the landscape of the project tilted toward completion.” In that sense, instructors preserve forward momentum and can reward students for their work, progress, and practice, and not simply the end product.
In his video titled Who Owns the Learning? Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age, Alan November explains that classrooms need to embrace a culture of learning-ownership. Who owns the learning? Is it the teacher, as she lectures and explains difficult or complex material? Or is it the student, as he asks deeper questions, uncovers meaning and applies the concepts?
As I interact more and more with students, I am aware that my desire for their understanding influences my evaluation of whether or not they have learned it. I want them to get it sooo badly! But students often nod their heads or have something copied from google, and when I ask them to put it into their own words, they can’t. If they can’t speak it, then they don’t own it. So then we go back, searching for something on which to hang some new meaning.
In an atmosphere inundated with tech tools, Mr. November’s talk explains that the real work of teachers is not learning new technology, but re-designing assignments in order to require critical thinking in spite of technology. He states that “the traditional transfer model [of learning] is frankly, easier. It takes more skill to create a classroom where students are truly motivated to manage their own learning. And that is very special teaching.”
I agree with his assessment. As our classroom has been 1:1 chromebooks this year, we’ve had plenty of informational resources at our disposal. But this does not mean that students know how to deal with the information. We’ve had to spend time teaching about credibility, bias, primary sources. We need to discuss paraphrasing, linking, and corroboration.
To extend the analogy of ownership, our students are like savings account bank tellers. They are constantly receiving checks during our class. Do they deposit them? Do they store them up, accumulate interest? Does the incredible value pay off both now, and later? Or, do the checks lay on the desk as mere slips of paper -- mere words, visuals, and activities that are part of another day of compulsory education?
While it’s easy to get bogged down in making lessons that pay off today, tomorrow, five years from now... it’s simply too important not to get to work doing it immediately. As students gain the stamina and confidence to struggle through an important analysis, they will naturally crave the challenge and begin fueling their pursuit with their own motivation. When we reflect, as educators, on how effective our instruction has been, we must consider, do they OWN it?
Alan November - Who Owns the Learning? Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age. (2014). Retrieved December 18, 2016, from https://youtu.be/NOAIxIBeT90