Learning: Exploration and Discovery

Reshuffling My House of Cards

I returned to the classroom this past year after making the decision to stay home when my daughter was born. Upon my re-entry, it was soon evident that my time away changed the way I looked at my instruction.

I began to examine and question if what I do and, subsequently, my students do aligned with the values I have about learning. While they were actively engaged (mostly), what were they learning? Did what they learn actually matter? What did I want them to discern from the course? What was my purpose or role as their teacher?

To give you some background, I teach history and have been doing this for the past fifteen years. When I share this with those who ask, more often than not I hear about the boredom of having to regurgitate dates and events. On the rare occasion I meet someone who liked history as a student, s/he tells me about a beloved teacher who made the subject exciting through stories or lectures. From this I surmise that for them either history has little or no value as it is just years on a timeline OR they value the story that someone else told them.

But this is not what I value about the subject or learning in general.

At first this realization was depressing. I had been teaching for fifteen years. By this point I thought I had “it”. But now I realized that “it” wasn’t what I valued. Okay, I could tell an interesting story. My students participated in simulations and debates. They wrote newspaper articles, crafted songs, and wrote poetry. To what means? To show what they knew. It was all product driven and measuring it against what I really valued, my house of cards tumbled.

So with those cards strewn at my feet, I began to shuffle through to discover new questions and to set out on a path to find the answers. What do I value and how can my teaching practice reflect this?

I value the exploration and eventual discovery one has about themselves and their place in society. I value the questions that guide students in wanting to discover how a particular event shaped an individual or a group. In sum, I value the process of learning as a means of exploration and discovery.

These are the values with which I want to rebuild my classroom. Values that will serve as a solid foundation as I remodel my instructional practices. In the coming months, I plan to use writing in my classroom as a means for my students to explore and discover. I will share those experiences and lessons I learn with you here.