Monday, December 31, 2012

#Rechat...Playing with Second Chances

Life has been busy, to say the least, so I took a couple month hiatus from Twitter.  While on winter break, from teaching, I decided to “slowly” get back into the swing of Twitter.  That quickly changed when I discovered #rechat this past Saturday morning (9am EST), a chat with a goal to “rethink, reflect and re-imagine” education.   The focus for this particular chat was the role of play in education.  We were encouraged to blog our reflections about play in education and any experiences that we would like to share.  I guess that means I am “slowly” getting back to blogging too!

This has been a topic that I have spent a great time reflecting about since the chat on Saturday.  I am not a fan of learning something just because it’s a standard required to be taught.  One of my biggest complaints about higher education is that I feel like I am completing so many projects and requirements just for the sake of earning another fancy piece of paper.  I do not want my students to have that experience and those thoughts about their education experience.  I want students to be able to explain how the information they are learning can be applied to real life experiences.  Students need to be able to know that mistakes and errors happen and how to identify and learn from them.  Infusing play into education is one way to help student learn how to apply learning to real life situations. 

What is play?  That was a question that was widely discussed during this chat.  I think play can be defined in multiple ways, depending on the age of the learner.  For kindergarten students play could be something as simple as Legos or a sensory table.  Middle school and high school student’s play might look more like inventive play where they are required to create and revise a certain product, depending on the content being taught.  I also believe that adults need play to be able to relate to the experiences that students have within the classroom.  I was given that awesome opportunity in two separate settings this past November, thanks to my wonderful, innovative principal!

The first setting was during a full day teacher in-service where all my co-workers and I went to Priority Designs in Gahanna, Ohio.  We were given a tour, which was like watching play in progress.  We got to see the beginning stages of products, product revisions and then the final products.  The best part of the experience was being able to talk to the designers about their educational experiences.  The majority of the designers had some kind of learning disability and did not have a positive educational experience.  Too much of the learning required of them was reading and writing and not enough was hands-on learning.  They were required to find the correct answer, but never taught how those answers applied to everyday life.  Now they are required to find multiple correct answers, many of which will be revised or completely ignored, which is perfectly acceptable to them.  Revision and reflection was something that was never taught in school, second chances in learning did not happen for them.  However, that is how many of the products we use and depend on every day are created, by second or tenth chances.  After reflecting on this mandatory day of play I realize that, in the world of standardized education, students are not given enough second or tenth chances.  I appreciate being given second chances to improve a grant, IEP document and behavior plan, so I should afford my students the opportunity of second chances as well.

Now on to the second, and more uncomfortable, setting of play.  The day after our Priority Designs tour we had an after school staff meeting.  Instead of talking about the latest cafeteria issues or what the math RTI model looks like for our building we were allowed to play with paint.  Anna Kuenzli from the Creative Art Studio in Bexley, Ohio brought her art studio to our school and taught us how to make concentric circle paintings.  Secretly, I was ready to show the staff I am truly an artist in hiding.  Unfortunately, that artist is still in hiding!  How hard can it be to make a concentric circle painting?  I was allowed to decide my own color scheme and circle sizes, so it can’t be that difficult.  Oh my gosh, I was so stressed while painting!  Something that I secretly had confidence about, like so many of our students might about their comprehension after reading or creation of a poem, quickly disappeared as I walked around the room and look at the other paintings.  I started to think about the students and how their abilities vary so widely within a classroom, similar to the art experience of the teachers in the room.  Yet, we are quick to compare students to the same baseline, no matter what previous or lack of previous experience they bring to the classroom.  Overall, I was proud of my masterpiece (it’s proudly hanging in my classroom), but that was the first time ever painting on canvas so I wouldn’t want it compared it to my good friend’s painting whom has been doing art for years.  I think we need to remember this when educating students.  Some students come to us as avid readers, writers, mathematicians or questioners, so we need to teach them how to extend their thinking.  However, many students never read, write, compute or question unless it is within the walls of the classroom.  We also need to positively encourage these students, and refrain from comparing them to their peers who have had more experience in these areas.  It is through my own experience of play that I have been able to have conversations with students who are quick to say they are stupid or not as smart as another peer, and explain to them how much progress they are personally making.  It is important to teach students that just because they may not get something correct on the first attempt doesn’t mean that they didn’t try their hardest.  Students need to be taught how to reflect on mistakes and first attempts, and then use those reflections to improve on every attempt after that.   

As the New Year gets under way my goal is to be more reflective about my how I purposely plan for play within my teaching.  I learned more about myself as an educator during that in-service and staff meeting than I ever have at a previous staff meetings.  Students need to know how what they are learning applies to everyday life, and also that mistakes are a necessary part of life.  I believe that incorporating a sense of play into learning will help students to achieve both of those goals.