In today’s Washington Post online, Jay Mathews runs a beautiful piece by my favorite education blogger, Susan Ohanian, where she describes how she engaged kids when she was a teacher. Susan is much too modest to call herself a great teacher, but she certainly deserves that title.
Here’s how it starts:
Eons ago, I persuaded my principal, who was starting a new school that had a state mandate and funds to be innovative, to do away with remedial reading (I was the remedial reading teacher). We called my room Resource and I announced I was an adjunct of the media center….
* * *
Mind you, I was still the remedial reading teacher–but we kept this secret from the kids. Teachers had a list of students who had to come to the room x times a week to fulfill our obligation to the state. For everyone else (K-6), it was student initiated: A child came when he could persuade his teacher to let him. There was no schedule and there were no bells. If the room got too crowded, as in 35+, I put a sign on the door: “Come back later.” Engineering students from a local university volunteered as on-site helpers, as did two neighborhood moms.
Over time, I found that the kids released from regular class most often were the really bright and those with great difficulties. And they worked well together.
One 2nd-grader was truly the most gifted kid I’ve ever encountered and he just about lived in Resource. I could go on and on abut his projects, most self-initiated. I did have one worry, and so at one point I asked my physicist husband to come in and work with him. “My goal,” I said, “is for Darryl to sit on the floor and wrinkle his pants, maybe even get dirty.” They made slide rules, played with a wind up train, figuring out load, velocity, and god-knows-what. On his own, Darryl made cottage cheese, wrote a letter from Queen Isabella to Columbus and investigated Fibonacci numbers. He also directed a play fifth-graders wanted to stage.