The Joy of Teaching by Leveling out the Playing Field
Recess, a time period at school for laughing, playing, running, or hanging with your friends. Children play at school for 15 to 30 minutes sessions as they enjoy and benefit from unstructured. With minimal adult involvement, students make decisions, solve problems, and create stories as they play. The bell rings and the bell is like a switch that turns off a child’s excitement for school. Children scurry into the class as they settle in their desks ready to learn or ready to tune-out structured learning. The level of engagement is dependent upon a teacher and the transfer between the minutes after children settle to a lesson. The quality of teaching is influenced by teacher’s questions, how she guides learning, and student engagement. In Choice Words by Peter Johnston, Johnston explains how the power differential between teacher and students can be leveled by focusing on “knowing” is more powerful than knowledge itself (58). Johnston explains that student’s motivation to learn can be more productive through “we” comments than “I” questions (55). Teachers and students are partners in the process of learning, together teachers and students can successfully contribute to maximize learning.
It is easier said than done for a teacher to level out the playing field with her students. Johnson explains that a teacher can begin by helping students understand the importance of reflecting (55). Johnson reiterates the point by stating, “The teacher at once validates their voice, shows that she is listening, and opens the possibility for them to reflect on, modify, or challenge what has been said” (55). As a parent, I have found giving a child awareness that they have a voice and their voice matters is a powerful tool. With my three children, they have learned how to communicate themselves respectfully, but also how to listen attentively. My children also have learned to reflect by using critical thinking skills to help solve problems.
In earlier blogs I have written that in my home we use Family Meetings. When a meeting is called, the person who calls a meeting is aware that all family members are on the same playing field; there is not a role that is more important than another. The purpose of the meetings is to help my children to talk about their feelings with “I” statements, but at the end, we conclude with “we” solutions.
I have to admit that it was easier said than done when my family started using family meetings, but as with any concept when teaching children, I scaffold each step, and I modeled. The power of reflection has reinforced their self-confidence and self-control. At the end of meetings, my children hug and cry, but they resolve a problem with objectives of how to improve. As a mother, I share the power with my children; I do not have to step-in to resolve their problem because they have learned how to have self-control and to solve their own problems.
As a teacher the same enthusiasm that is found in a play yard can be created in a class. We can encourage our students to be reflective, learn from each other, and challenge them by managing the class, not the knowledge. Johnston shares “emphasis towards knowing than knowledge” (58) is important is dissolving the power differential. Thus working with children and having my own, I have learned that we cannot want for students but allow them to learn by applying the principles of unstructured play to unstructured or unscripted learning. We guide them, but students ultimately have the voice and the power for their future and their learning.