With almost everything we teach, we are always toward two very different challenges. One, what are we doing to unlock the passion and skills of the 10% (or so) of the kids who either already are or could become so passionate about our subject that it becomes their course of study past their K-12 education, and two, what are we doing for the other 90% of the room? Why is it important that they are taking the class?
These goals often can feel at odds – both from a pedagogical and content perspective. But when we seek out goals that allow all students to engage in active creation of relevant, empowering meaning, we can honor the needs and interests of all of the students we teach.
When we look at the framework of backward mapped unit planning tools such as Understanding by Design, we can teach from the ideas of enduring understandings and big ideas. We get to ask ourselves – what will the students remember about this unit – about this class – twenty years from now? What are the concepts and ideas that are so important that everyone in the class has a reason to dive deep into these ideas?
When we take the idea of playing the whole game from David Perkins’ “Making Learning Whole,” we allow ourselves to stop seeing our subjects as atomized pieces of data to learn, but instead we see our students as junior varsity versions of the adult.
And yet, in most classrooms, the question, “Why do we have to learn this?” is seen as a challenge, not an opportunity. It is, after all, the first question a student should ask. It is a question that should be on the educational Bill of Rights. And the answers we give cannot just be “You’ll need this some day,” or “It is on the test.” We cannot continue – at best – to give facile answers and at worst – to tell lies – to our students. Our answers should, instead, give the students enough of an idea of the power and relevance and importance of the concepts of our classroom to set kids off on their own inquiry journey as they develop their skill and their ideas and then seek to, with us, create meaning in their own lives.
This is our challenge – to help every student we teach find the reason they are in our class. We must strive to ensure that the time we spend together will help every student become a better citizen and person, both today, and in the future. Our classrooms must then be lenses on the world, not just for the students who fall in love with the same content we love, but for every child.
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