Last week, I spent the day going from class to class as an MYP student, experiencing a small taste of what our students experience on a day to day basis. I outlined my reasons for wanting to give being student a try earlier – most importantly to build community with our learners and show them that a school shouldn’t be about top down learning, but a group of people all working to learn together.
Here’s my story:
I started my day hanging out on the soccer pitch with my MYP 1 classmates. I’m not much of a soccer player so the boys weren’t really interested in having me play…so I mostly just chatted to people who were hanging out. Many students were curious about why I would want to be a student for the day which gave me my first provoking thought of the experience – many students don’t enjoy the experience of going to school. School can be intimidating, scary, uncomfortable, yet we are obligated to attend. How can we as educators keep this in mind when we are working with our students? How can we honour the fact that, for many students, school is an uncomfortable place?
Block 1 – MYP 2 Mathematics
My math experience was awesome! I had done the previous night’s homework and was prepared to discuss my solution to an open-ended problem. However, while in the midst of a great discussion about fractions, I noticed that the dialogue was only happening with about 20% of the class. About 50% of the class seemed disinterested, while the other 30% had either not completed the necessary work, or seemed to not understand the task. This was my next provoking thought – differentiation is hard, but vital. My math teacher did a great job of providing an interesting, open-ended problem and even had developed extensions to the problem for those with a thorough level of understanding. Even though only a few of us participated, the conversation was amazing – but how do we provide the same type of stimulating experience for those with a developing understanding? Or those who simply aren’t interested in conversations? I don’t have the answers to this, but I know it’s something that I’m going to emphasize in my own practice based on this experience.
Block 2 – MYP 2 Visual Art
Visual art class was always my least favourite subject in school, which is precisely why I built it into my schedule. I found myself debating with my table mates about the drawings we analyzed, despite being instructed to work independently. I said the drawing looked like a peacock, but my group disagreed, so I pulled out my device to Google images of peacocks to prove my point…again, against the rules. This provoked my thinking further about student behaviour. Yes, I was breaking the rules, but I was doing so in order to have quality debate with my classmates. How often do we perceive student talk or student tech use to be an act of defiance, when it is actually an act of learning?
Block 3 – MYP 5 Language and Literature
Summative time! My only summative assessment expereince of the day had me and my classmates creating a piece of social protest (I chose to create an infographic protesting traditional schooling), which I hope we get a chance to share in some forum or another. Students were highly engaged in the opportunity to share their voice; reaffirming that action is a crucial component in engaging learners. One sad takeaway was the number of students who were protesting the pressures they feel are placed upon them at school. Extreme pressure to perform in school is something very real for our students and something that, I must admit, I never really had placed on me as a child. Hearing my classmates’ experience with this type of pressure made me wonder – how do we strike a balance between having high standards for our students, while at the same time ensuring that we aren’t putting too much stress upon them?
Played basketball the entire time – amazing.
Block 4 – Phase 2 Lanaguage Acquisition – Arabic
Mind blown! My two biggest takeaways from this experience were: 1) our students are amazing! The ability to speak and write, interchangeably in both English and Arabic – two languages that don’t share the same characters or even the same direction in which you write – is nothing short of amazing. 2) The small amount of Arabic I know after four years in Kuwait is sad. That being said, I was invited into a group where we wrote a skit about going to the dentist. I learned many new phrases and have even been invited back to perform for the class!
Block 5 – MYP 3 Individuals and Societies
We were working on a reserach project in I & S, so I was given independent time to continue my inquiry, which I did, but with an ear out for what our students were discussing as they inquired. The big topics of discussion? Plans for how groups of friends were going to meet up at the Under 14 Girls’ Soccer Championships and what everyone was doing afterwards. Unless the teacher passed by, virtually 100% of the conversation was dominated by whom was driving whom, whom was sitting with whom and where the victory party would be afterwards. This lead me to perhaps my biggest takeaway of the day – students have lives. They have hopes, fears, friends, family, relationships, developing identities and developing minds and bodies that all create their fair share of drama, confusion and excitement. Virtually nothing we can do as educators can come close to being as important to our students as their own unfolding lives – as it should be. We, as educators, are so passionate about our work that we can sometimes lose sight of the fact that our students are real human beings with real lives. Our students will probably never care about our classes as much as we do, so instead of emphasizing our class why not put the emphasis on caring for and about our students as human beings?
- Many students love school, but many students find school to be an uncomfortable place to be.
- There are so many different types of learners – how can we meet them all at their level of interest/understanding?
- Student conversation that sometimes seems like silliness is often provoked by, or is connected to the learning.
- Our teachers are providing a wide range of experiences – hands on, analytical, creative, dialogue-driven etc. – in order to support our students’ growth.
- Having a nice lunch break to play sports is awesome.
- Experiencing students teach me Arabic and seamlessly switch between reading, writing and speaking two very different languages was honestly like watching a magic show – I was in awe.
- There is very little we can do in our classes that will ever be as important to our students as what is going on in their lives, right now. All the more reason to try, as much as possible, to connect the experience of learning to the lives of our students.
- Being a student is hard – you are expected to be “on” all day, completely focused on things you aren’t necessarily choosing to be focused on and expected to be proficient in things that you may not understand, or be interested in. We would rarely hold adults to these types of standards, why do we expect this of children?
- Students appreciate seeing their teachers as learners – the feedback I got from our students was outstanding.
- Simply put, our students are amazing – mad respect.
I would highly recommend this experience to anyone who is interested in trying it – even if it is only for one class! I not only learned so much about our students, I learned a lot about myself as a learner. My next step? Take this experience and spread it out over a week’s time, with each entire day of the week devoted to one MYP year level. Hopefully I get the chance to do this before the year is out!
What do you think of this experience? Would you try it? If you do, please let me know!