Shining the Light

Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this before? How could I have entered the classroom without knowing all of this? ” My colleague was sitting around my kitchen table with a cup of coffee in one hand, a cookie in the other, and literally having an aha moment. If you looked hard enough, a halo of light was shining above his head.

I had just recovered from Covid-19, and was trying to catch up on work for school. My friend and colleague who was at the time a sixth grade English teacher was always expressing the need for support in the classroom. He was long overdue for this session. The pandemic, the switch back and forth between online, blended, and face to face learning, meant my time was controlled by a virus and government lock downs. It meant that the time we spent mentoring teachers was now spent on tracking cases and close contacts, until one morning I became the case that needed to be tracked. So planning, coaching and counselling teachers, a long standing passion of mine, simply had to take the backseat.

But on this cold winter afternoon, with the tail end of Christmas lingering in the air, around my kitchen table, we were having a conceptual aha moment. Suddenly all that jargon that we throw at teachers: inductive inquiry, statements of inquiry/understandings, concepts, guiding questions, all came together for my friend, and he saw the light shine. Mind you, we were working on a unit for his class that he gave permission for me to use for one of my CBCI Institute courses.

Fast forward to this academic year, we are in full face to face learning, or I should say mask to mask learning. One of my colleagues is new to teaching. Exceptional in knowledge and content, but after a couple of visits to his classroom, I could see that direct teaching was all that happened. Students were restless or altogether uninterested. A few of them were taking notes as the teacher spoke, or played a video, the rest were waiting for the bell to ring, and plotting what chaos they will reek during recess.

In our follow up session, I asked him if he ever considered giving the students the driver’s seat for their own learning. He sited a few strategies and few exercises he used. All were great! And yes they were definite attempts at inductive inquiry, but what they lacked is the conceptual glue that will drive student understandings with breadth, depth and rigor. We started working on his unit planner, and quickly wrote up a lesson plan for the next two weeks. As students worked on building concepts of patterns, trends and periodicity through inductive inquiry strategies, the entire classroom seemed to shine with intellectual stimulation.

At the end of the two weeks, as students left for fall break having finally made a conceptual connection between these concepts and the periodic table itself, as they walked out they asked their teacher to never go back to lecturing. We learn better this way! said one student, I finally get it! Another exclaimed, and a murmur of agreement rushed through the class. As I observed the classes over the week and watched my colleague become more confident in his approach, once again i saw the light shine in his classroom. That same light that surrounded my English teacher colleague in my kitchen almost a year ago now.

Although it is too early to judge, and individual teachers will react differently to student centered methods, concept based learning, and inductive inquiry, I believe that once teachers develop a good understanding of concept based learning a light shines into their classroom, as warm and as stimulating as those first rays of spring sun streaming through the windows after a cold winter. They seem to be more intellectually stimulated, more excited to be with their students, and best of all more confident with the content they know.

From my brief observations, I had the pleasure to watch the energy shift in the classroom from dull, cold and boring, to warm, exciting and full of life. The students seemed intellectually stimulated, excited to be produce their own knowledge, and the teacher was simply pushing their thrinking forward, driving their inquiry deeper. This must be the aftermath of synergistic thinking energy, not only generating conceptual thinking and understandings, but also radiating throughout the classroom making it glow like a hot piece of metal.

Teachers I have worked with report less classroom management challenges. They also report higher student performance, and a deeper understanding of the concepts and content covered. Students feel in control of their learning and report that they want to come back to class, that they look forward to their lessons now, and that they now understand better. They also express a deep satisfaction in the skills they pick up throughout the diverse inquiry based learning engagements.

There is still a lot of work to be done. Parents who still believe children must come home with a ton of homework and a notebook full of notes every day will continue to be a challenge. Those parents are also mirrored in their children, so bringing those few on board is necessary for any school wishing to switch to concept based curriculum and inductive inquiry. Many teachers who are comfortable with the their own style or set in their ways are also still posing a challenge.

But for now, I am going to basque in the light that is shining through those transformed classrooms and make sure that there is enough fuel to feed the fire of conceptual understandings.

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