“Control by the numbers, and number them for control,” says the automated message played on a loop in some testing center. In my mind I’m laughing at the bar graphs.
Language Arts is an experience that requires the individual to let go. The delicate understanding that you are never going to read everything you want to, and will never communicate everything you feel you can. It is the thought of hopelessness, in such an expansive field, which drives the individual to gather the hope they can. Writing and reading is a personalized navigation process, and there are so many roads, so many side trails. Each and every time a sentence grips you, or when you spin a sentence into an auditory pleasing, you are winning in this field. More importantly, each time you see another student smile at themselves for what they have delivered on paper, compliment them, and understand you are combining your hopes together. This is all intrinsic stuff, and the student is off on their own pondering their surroundings and their memory. How can all students arrive at self-satisfaction and self learning?
I watched two TED Talks this week: “Child Driven Education” presented by Sugata Mitra, “The Puzzle of Motivation” presented by Dan Pink. They both deal exclusively with putting the individual in control of their own education. Mitra has performed a wide variety of experiments across the globe, and has come to the conclusion that students “will learn what they want to learn.” His approach is isolated from the student learning taking place, but this isolation is aware students will embrace a “learning space” if they are first taught how to do so. He highlights the current educational system as being a closed space and advocates against it. Language arts is anything but a closed sphere and assigning students nothing but grammar sheets and worksheets on plot summary makes it a closed system. It places the importance within Language Arts as something to be tracked, something to be copied.
I realize I’m merely summarizing these TED Talks at this turn, but I need to in order to get where I’m going. The other presentation “The Puzzle of Motivation” was all about intrinsic motivation. The labyrinth of becoming the self by giving yourself the ability to embrace the mind and body you’ve been given. In other words, giving yourself the privilege of autonomy. Which Dan Pink summarizes as “the urge to direct our own lives.”
Teachers have to give their students the power to self govern in order for students to achieve personal enlightenment, in order to understand their capabilities and self worth.
In my future classroom, everything starts at “play.” When I play at whatever I am doing, be it writing or fly fishing, I am rewarding the art of self communication. I am giving my mind the ability to operate with my organs, and that communication is the reward. Any concrete value that comes as a result of self or group communication, such as money or catching a fish on the stream, is only the label assigned to the important, preceding events. It starts with having students understand they are not the defendants of the courtroom, waiting to be judged, but the very creators of the courtroom itself. Play with the structure of your own truths, without having to look over your shoulder for numbers that will be assigned to it.
Once you recognize intrapersonal and interpersonal communication in your own life, you can recognize it in another. This goes back to Dr. Ellington’s premise of placing yourself as the most important person in the educational process.
Inside a literate life comes the knack for recognizing it in another. Just as the carpenter knows the product of their apprentice, the teacher can see the work of their students. They know where help is needed, because they know and understand the literate life. There will of course be the unknown to the teacher, but that is where human adaptability arrives, and we have the capability of learning new things every day.
The techniques of getting students to play, starts with the teacher letting go and placing the students in control of their reading and writing lives. Show the students small pieces of writing to instigate writing prompts. Have students write about something bugging them, and then help them to form a story thread of the itch they are feeling. As a teacher, vary your own reading, and suggest books to the individuals. If you engage in close reading you should never have to worry about finding books suited to individuals. Have students mine their own dreams to create pieces of poetry. Don’t solely prepare students for the next grade level, give them structured space in the present so they can find out who they are. These intrinsic motivation techniques become addictive, and students end up doing more work. The research is their to support intrinsic motivation as noted by Dan Pink.
I’ll leave you with the two TED Talk videos I’ve talked about, and a motivational video I like that deals with “dreaming the self.”