Learning occurs when a student participates in MEANINGFUL experiences. I have had the opportunity to see first-hand how young children learn, and to be a part of the process. my kindergarten classroom is an environment where my students gain experiences that are hands-on and MEANINGFUL to them. Through careful planning centered around the curriculum, I am able to create experiences and learning centers that help students use creativity and problem-solving skills.
The question then becomes: “How do you make experiences MEANINGFUL to students?”
I believe the first step is to get to know your students very well, create relationships with them, and relate learning to their “real-life”. It is important to connect learning to life outside of the classroom. It is important to be able to answer the question “Why are we learning this”? My school has just adopted a new reading program called Lead 21. There is a component of Lead 21 that has proven to be extremely successful this year among my students for many reasons. This component is called “inquiry”. At the end of each unit, we participate in an “inquiry project”. The reason why this project is so successful is because the students themselves create the questions and the project (with teacher support and guidance to extend learning). For example, during a unit titled “Life All Around”, my students created puppet shows in small groups that answered the question, “What plants and animals are around us?” Students brainstormed ideas, made their puppets, rehearsed, and performed their puppet show to summarize what we had learned in the unit. Using Web 2.0 these inquiry projects can be enhanced even more and can reach a farther audience.
Since these projects are so open-ended and allow for freedom and creativity, it is challenging for students. A quote from Davidson & Goldberg The Classroom or the World Wide Web? stood out to me when I was thinking about the inquiry process:
“Challenges are not simply individually faced frustrations, Promethean mountains to climb alone, but mutually shared, to be redefined, solved, resolved, or worked around-together”.
I have found that students are more motivated and successful when they are interested in what they are learning. When they create their own learning opportunities, they are MEANINGFUL, and students are held accountable for them. Students not only “dive deeper” into the subject matter, but they learn how to work effectively in a group setting and how to be a contributing group member. These are skills that they will need to use their entire lives.
This year I have seen how allowing for the shift in roles (student-created inquiry projects) helps to shape a new learning environment. In this environment, I have seen what Douglas Thomas has described.. “You get to see students learn, discover, explore, play, and develop, which is the primary reason I think that most of us got into the job of teaching.”