Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What disruptive learning takes to make work

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with Michelle Sullivan, the meerkats and weasels teacher at Clear Spring School, and these are a few things that Michelle offered as to what it takes to keep on your feet in disruptive learning.

First, what might be seen as disruptive in a conventional classroom wasn't seen by her as much of a "disruption" at all. The two boys who started the discussion frequently argue about silly things and redirecting their energy into useful educational material is something she had faced many times before. This particular discussion was lively and exciting enough that other students were joining in. Michelle said that there are four factors that make disruptive learning work for her as a teacher:
1. Small class sizes allow her to know her students very well, and disruptions in a small class are not the big deal that they can be in large classes where the teacher is struggling to maintain order.

2. Clear Spring School is a learning culture in which teachers are given greater freedom of method for reaching classroom goals. There are no harsh judgments made against teachers for teaching outside the box. So the Clear Spring School culture is one in which teachers can be creative and are encouraged to think on their feet.

3. This is where the highly qualified teacher is important. Michelle's clear understanding of the learning goals and curriculum for her grade levels helps her to be watchful for opportunities to integrate student interests with her own teaching responsibilities. Her experience as a teacher make her alert to those opportunities.

4. This may be the most critical. Disruptions at Clear Spring School are never mean spirited or dangerous, and nearly always very minor. The children from pre-school up are schooled in conflict resolution and problem solving. They talk to the teachers and other students to work things out before they become large and disruptive. They are given conflict resolution skills and practice and given teacher assistance as needed. From the conflict resolution program, Clear Spring School has maintained a culture of trust. And that trust exists at all levels, administration, teacher and student.

Here are some of the special things that the kids learn in a disruptive classroom:
1. The teacher cares about their interests and learning needs.

2. Their own interests can bear fruit.

3. They can engage in lively discussions in which what they believe matters.

4. Learning can be fun.
And of course, if learning is fun, you want to do more and more of it. A common question at the close of recess... "Is recess almost over? I want to get back to work."

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