I stepped away from the Robin's culminating event for a few moments toward the end and, when I came around the corner on my return I was greeted by ten Herons and Kestrels who had finished up in the gym and were entering their Greek theme work. "THERE you are! We've been looking for you. We need you." They didn't need me per se, they needed an adult to go down to the basement to look for costumes, permission to get paint from the art room, someone to help them look for the missing book on Greek gods, an opinion on what to put on a poster, and an answer to whether or not we had barley in the kitchen (we didn't.)
This is one of my favorite times in the 4/5s. Students feel so confident and invested in their work. They have learned how to set goals and manage their time. They know how things are done. They feel empowered to make things happen. Our work as teachers becomes more peripheral and the students take a central role in the process.
You see this independence throughout the day. On Wednesday as the temperature plunged, all of the Herons had their outdoor gear ready to go. At our first forest school, it seemed like half the class forgot their reading book, half forgot their outdoor shoes, then the half that forgot their books realized they also had forgotten their snack and the half that had gotten their boots on realized they might want their rain coat, too. Now, everyone is ready and prepared -- so prepared that we were able to get outside and have fun on both Wednesday and Thursday.
Students who are learning about probability with me are working on creating games and determining the odds for games that have multiple events. I've been really busy during math - but I'm responding to the needs that they are identifying. One student wanted a reminder on how to use a percentage wheel for making a spinner. Another needed to find clay to make prizes.
At lunch, an organized Blink tournament has materialized, complete with a "Champion" button that can be worn with pride for the day you win.
But it's probably at theme time that we see the greatest display of self-determination and independence. I find myself constantly surprised by the ideas and ingenuity of the students. Our work becomes quietly helping them bring their ideas into fruition.
I first saw this kind of teaching when I was a student teacher at PS 87 in New York City. I was the student who was gaining independence and Lauri Posner, an exceptional progressive educator, was the teacher who was quietly ensuring my success. I took over her class for the last two weeks of the term when we were culminating a theme on the Mayans. I came to Lauri, "The students want to do a restaurant, is that O.K?" "Sure!" Lauri said. "They want to make and sell things at a merchandise table." "Sure!" Lauri said. "Should we make our own tortillas?" "Sure," Lauri said. Then she suggested that we also silk screen t-shirts, "Here's the shop that's made the screens for me in the past..." she said. We made over 500 tortillas, fed the entire school... and clogged three stories worth of drains in the school building. I was elated (well, not about the drains). And, as I reflected upon the experience, I realized the work that Lauri was doing to help me be successful. She saw that we were about to run out of cheese and ran to the corner store. She helped a frustrated child re-enter her group. She gently suggested a nice thank you for the custodian who snaked the drains...twice...without complaint. She was invisibly tossing balls back into the juggling show so that we (I) could be successful. It's the kind of teaching I aspire to now.