It’s Okay If They Try It Their Way

If a child can’t learn the way we teach, then we must teach the way they learn.


While at baseball practice Tuesday for my 6 yr. old, I was working with my 10 yr. old on his pitching. He has a strong desire to move from his current position to become a serious shutdown pitcher for his current team. I’m flattered because he knows that I was a pitcher…he’s seen all the newspaper clippings, photos and heard all the stories from my dad. However, when I work with him, the results are disastrous. We have been working for months and no matter what I did or do, he doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Then I realized something, if my son has a passion for something, then he must have his own way of approaching the situation. So, remembering to be swift to listen, I said, “How do you want to pitch?” He went into his wind up, a little awkwardly in my opinion, but threw a perfect strike. The ball had the sweetest rotation with a slight drop at the end. His form was not perfect, by my standards; his approach had no structure…but the results were phenomenal because he had complete ownership of how to demonstrate mastery.

Mind blown, I began to reflect on my teaching when I had a classroom. It was always important to me to present several approaches to solving a math problem, but I would always ask my students after I was finished how they would solve the problem. Sometimes, it wasn’t the way I taught it. They may have taken elements to the approach I provided, but always adapted the solution to the way they would naturally think.

Then I thought about how my daughter would bring home a graded assignment that was flawed according to her teachers because she didn’t put her thinking in the suggested order, but still came to the same conclusion…sometimes in a more insightful manner. I would be completely disturbed, but continued to encourage her to find her own way.

Are we as educators so sold on our instructional processes to where we refuse to listen to our student’s way of thinking? How can we encourage innovation if we don’t allow our students to be creative in how they problem solve?

It’s Ok for my kiddos to try it their way from now on. As a matter of fact, the results might be a little better using their approach as opposed to mine. Valuable lesson learned in meeting my students and my own children where they are.


When To Put the  Lesson Plans Down


I saw some incredible learning today. I walked into a High School Social Studies classroom for a routine Tech Check and found myself wanting to forgo the remainder of my schedule to just to sit in. When I entered, students were providing political responses that were simple regurgitations of what their parents believe. Then suddenly a brave student said, “Mr. , what would make a good political party work?” The teacher tossed his notes to the side, pulled up a blank flip chart on his promethean board and simply said, “You tell me.” All heads were raised, eyes lit and students begin to design a Party based on their understanding of various features and characteristics of the current Democratic, Republican and Independent systems. The teacher would spit out an issue and the students would create their new party’s stance.

Personally, I despise whole group discussions regarding politics, but the students were extremely engaged. Every student had a say, I didn’t see any reluctance from anyone. Even the kid who was drawing when I walked in had something to add. The funny thing was, the students didn’t realize that they were demonstrating mastery during this activity. All they knew was this teacher valued their thoughts. What they also didn’t realize was the teacher simply wanted them to find their own voice and not the voice of others. He in turned realized to never underestimate the voice of his students.

I went a little further though. My suggestion was to provide the students with some sort of silhouette figure and decorate it by developing the perfect candidate to represent their newly created political party. Have them find a way to label the representatives characteristics, viewpoints, civic responsibilities, and anything else the would explain why they would be the exemplary candidate. This would also entail a full background that would most likely  be researched when being analyzed as a potential face of the party.

I know what you’re thinking. How many TEKS was he able to check off on that lesson. Who cares! I wonder how many students now truly understand the topic all because it suddenly became relevant. Sometimes it takes putting the lesson down for moment to make it applicable to where our students are today.


An Appropriate Perspective…According To Who?


The above link displays a video that simply conveys the notion that children may very well see life differently than us adults. 

The one aspect of childhood that I desperately attempt to maintain is the unfiltered audacity to dream and imagine the world from my own personal view. Through my children, I vicariously use their lenses to live in this realm of technology which helps to force an open-minded approach to other’s reality. I’m always asking my kids what they are imagining while performing various task. My oldest son has this strange addiction to video games. Not sure where that came from, but he is very consumed. When I sit and play with him, my goal is to observe his actions rather than do whatever it takes to crush him for bragging rights. I’ll ask him why he made certain moves or what was he thinking when…etc. His imagination is flowing while playing which gives birth to his ability to problem solve. Now I may not have made the same moves, but it worked for him. The way he visualized the moment allowed him to come with his own conclusion and I’ve learned as a father and educator to be okay with that. My job is to continue to expose him to new situations, new problems, new experiences in order to enhance “his” way of analyzing, evaluating, problem solving and his ability to create. This approach also helps me when I work with teachers wanting to implement technology in the classroom.

Now, this is the typical weekend for all of my kids, playing to see how they think in order to treat them as individuals. So when I walk into a teacher conference this past week and I hear an educator say that she was upset at a child because he doesn’t color “appropriately”, I was a little discouraged. I stopped the conversation to ask what does “appropriately” mean and according to who. Her response wasn’t to explain her thought, instead she chastises the student for not listening for the past two weeks that they have been covering “appropriate” coloring. Then she explains to me that a child’s ability to color has a direct correlation to his ability to read and comprehend. After taking a deep breath, I asked to see the picture, the child’s TPRI and DRA results. The student’s drawing was beautifully different; filled with imagination and personal perspective, according to my opinion. I looked at his results next. As a 1st grade student, he completed level 20 with no frustration and was reading at 86 WPM. I begin to chuckle, which may have been unprofessional at the moment, but I couldn’t help myself. I asked the teacher where was the validation in her previous statement connecting coloring to reading. She hesitated…

I proceeded…Could it be that this child took your two weeks of instruction, made an inference to mold his own understanding. Then identified with what he already brought to the table. Matched the two up and justified his understanding in order to draw a new conclusion. He then could have devised his plan, compared it to your example and through his analysis, came up with his own truth. Could it be? I then asked if she ever thought about asking the student what he was thinking while creating his masterpiece? It just so happen that the kid was waiting outside and the teacher brought him in and simply asked him what made his picture “appropriate”. He confusedly responds, “Not everyone looks the same. I kept looking in the mirror and I tried to draw myself, but then I looked at my friend and the other people at my table and thought I would put everybody together.” (I actually wrote what he said down.) The fuss was about the mouth on the drawing. The student had taken a brown, pink, peach, and a light purple crayon and combined the colors for the mouth. He created an image of his group.

This student takes home a paper reader, basic site word sheets and phonetic spelling words home on a weekly basis all because his perspective of a drawing did not match up with his teacher’s and she used this to determine his ability to learn. To me, that is failing to meet that child where he is. Failing to take the time to see how he thinks. Failing to get down to his eye level to see how he processes as an individual student. When will we as educators stop dictating what are students should think and allow them to draw their own conclusions without the need to validate our authority by proving who is right or wrong? Does the color of the mouth truly matter? A child’s ability to create a world of their own is a precious gift that is being stifled in many classrooms. Not everyone colors the world the same, but does that make their perspective inappropriate? The truth was later admitted that this teacher wanted the drawings to all look a certain way in order for her to put them outside on display. She wanted the drawings to make her look good as a teacher and was not concerned with how the student looked at life.

So what’s your perspective?