When I became a retired teacher, one of my goals was to explore how children learn. To simply sit back and watch them and then reflect. I told my friends I was doing research. I really was wanting to take time to do something that had always interested me. How do children think? If you let them explore and develop their curiosity and be there to nudge and guide them, what will they do?
I have had the chance to do that with various age levels these past weeks. I go with my two-year-old grandson to Story Hour at the library once a week. I provide a Gramma Preschool for my four-year-old grand daughter twice a month. I work along side a couple classrooms of fifth graders. Even though the learning is diverse, the information I'm gathering has a ring of sameness to it.
Graham, the two-year-old, sits fascinated with the story and has to move closer and closer to the reader. He is exploring the whole concept of interacting with others and figuring out how he fits into the picture.
Meron, the four-year-old, loves the science part of our morning. She can gather sunflower seeds and leaves and fit them together into her science notebook. Or look through a magnifying glass at tiny bird feathers. Her exploring develops by actually doing something: feeling it, seeing it, interacting with it.
Many times we feel that teachers can no longer allow this independent learning to happen. I don't think that's true. The fifth grade class I visited this week was working in writing their nonfiction research-based books. The teacher started her focus lesson with the posted question: What makes a good nonfiction picture book? As the students huddled in their groups, I could hear their discussions.
"Punctuation guides! You have to have those," one blond boy insisted.
"Pictures and diagrams," said another group.
The child I worked along side told me, "You have to have illustrations and color makes it good."
As the teacher jotted down their suggestions on the smart board, a group finally said--Table of Contents. This was the direction of the mini lesson---planning your books. Her teaching point was: Information writers make a plan for how their books could go. She sent them off to plan.
As I conferenced with several, I picked up a theme of using a mentor text to lean on when writing. Some were doing that already. Some needed a little nudge or suggestion to go in that direction. But all were doing it. The end sharing time was exactly that. Gabe showed how he decided to use mentor text to help his table of content and to develop the tone of his book. Cooper shared how she was using another student's idea of planning as her mentor.
It is so exciting to see how at any age children use their curiosity, their enthusiasm and their interests to grow knowledge. It doesn't matter if its a two-year-old learning to explore how to interact with others, or a four-year-old learning to use her senses to discover, or fifth graders exploring how to be nonfiction writers. The key for teacher is to allow children to be excited about learning and be able to direct that excitement into becoming life-long learners.