Thursday, 21 June 2012

Meaningful Engagement and the Countdown

Something that has hit me over the last couple weeks is the idea of engagement and the end of the year. I never really thought they went together. I've always been inclined to think that it's hard to get any kind of meaningful work done in the last couple of weeks as the kids start to lose focus, and the interest, to learn. This has certainly been the case for me in my classroom before and I'm sure it's happening all around in many North American classrooms right at this moment.

As a non-classroom based Learning Leader, my job is to support teachers and students by helping to design and implement engaging and authentic learning tasks/inquiry based projects. I've noticed my schedule become more and more empty as the year has come closer to an end. At this crazy time of year teachers are:

  • busy getting their report cards finalized
  • cleaning their classrooms
  • prepping to move to another classroom
  • getting ready to move to another school or retire from the profession
  • and in some cases, getting classrooms ready in preparation for building alteration work to be done over the summer. 
At our school all of the above is happening. It's crazy!

So my question has always been, why do kids 'lose it' at this time of the year? Why can't they be bothered to work? I've always said, and hear a lot of colleagues say (with regard to their students), "they're so ready summer" or "they're so tired and in need of a holiday".

After visiting another school today, I confirmed what I have been wondering lately ~ Is it our students who need the break? Or is it more us that need a break? Are we still focused on student learning? Or are we focusing on other things that are going on in our school? Are we planning authentic learning tasks right up to the final whistle? Are we, even as teachers, learning all the way to the final day of school? My assumption would be that towards the end of the year our brain and/or our attitudes begin to slow down and focus on other things rather than what our students really need, want and deserve.

As I toured the school I visited today (Calgary Science School) I saw quite a different attitude. Even though it was their Sports Day throughout the morning and also the fact that there is only a few days few days of school left, their was meaningful learning going on where ever I went - It was awesome to see. The tasks students were doing were similar kinds of tasks you might see going on in our school during the year, but this is the final week and they're still slogging away at the work.

Back in my own building, a new teacher who has only been teaching for a few weeks (she's fresh out of university), has her grade 5 students engaged in reflecting about a novel they just finished reading. They are presenting their feelings about certain parts of the book through the medium of making a movie using iMovie. They choose a particular part of the book reflected through a picture copied from the book. Then, importing the photo in to imovie and incorporating classical music, they are using Ken Burns effects to talk about the feelings of certain characters in the story. The work they are doing is focused, meaningful to the class, it's fun and certainly authentic. It been a breathe of fresh air to see. And also reconfirms my thoughts. Here is someone who is fresh into the profession and she's rearing to go. Long may her flame keep burning!

As a whole staff, I wonder how we might go about things differently next year when approaching a holiday or the end of the year. How can we ensure that we are still working on meaningful projects, even at those silly times of the year?

Do we need to have direction from the top? Do we all just need to refocus our attention on the job all the way to that final buzzer?

I guess we'll see again next year...

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