Aggie Hatch is currently a kindergarten teacher at Metcalf School. She has taught grades ranging from pre-school to sixth grade, as well as college courses in Florida, Georgia, and Illinois.
One of my favorite professional education books that has impacted the type of teacher I strive to be is Awakening Genius in the Classroom by Thomas Armstrong. Armstrong speaks eloquently of the genius in every child and the job of educators to awaken and nurture that genius in our students. I use this belief of seeing every child as a genius to help me balance the demands of helping children meet standards and keeping their self-perception and joy of learning strong.
In education we continually have to balance diverse ways to educate children. Today we have the demands of a common core curriculum that is heavily based on the measurable acquisition of skills and RtI where we are providing interventions and documenting the progress of students that are not meeting those skills. Often lost in meeting these requirements are opportunities for children to have creative, exploratory learning opportunities. It is hard to determine what standards children have mastered when they are making a kite, “baking” cookies with play-doh, or building a tower with blocks. Is there still a place for creative exploration in the classroom?
I believe there still is a place for creative exploration and that it is an essential part of the learning environment. In creative exploration children apply knowledge that they have learned in hands-on tangible ways. Children must problem-solve while learning new information in order to create what they are envisioning. Finally, it fosters a love of learning, creating children who will become life-long learners.
To see true genius at work, take a peek into my classroom and see what children get to do on a daily basis. Each day we have approximately 45 minutes of what we call “free choice” time. Children choose from a wide variety of areas to “work”. Some of those areas involve books, paper and writing supplies, play-doh, blocks and Legos, housekeeping, science experiment supplies, and math manipulatives.
Last year my class took our writing and drawing center beyond anything I imagined. One child led a transformation that sparked the genius in all his peers. These children took creative exploration to the heights of what creative exploration epitomizes.
The writing and drawing center consists of a table with chairs in close proximity to a bookshelf. On the bookshelf, I typically have white copy paper, scraps of construction paper, markers, colored pencils, stamps, stamp pads, tape, and staplers, and some dusty old hardbound children’s craft books in a basket (that have only been used for covering heads in a tornado drill).
The transformation began in the first few weeks of school when a student was making kites and needed string to fly the kite and a roller to roll up the string. At his insistence, I dug out some yarn and toilet paper tubes from a cabinet. For weeks this child made kites for his family members and classmates. He also taught his classmates how to make kites.
From that point on, children began articulating their dream creations. They would say I need something shiny that I can wrap around this ball. Do you have a box this size? I want to make a scary mask. What do you have? They began to follow me to the storage shelves and cabinets. They’d say, “Ooh I need that! What is that? Okay, that will work.”
Then one day another child pulled the “tornado books” off the writing and drawing shelf and began looking through the craft books. Soon there were the shouts of, “Look at this. Can we make this? How do we make this? Do you have some…?” An exploratory bonanza transformed learning. Children were making masks, glasses, race cars, crystal balls, cameras, dart boards, dog houses, dresses, and so much more.
What did they learn?
- They learned how to communicate. They worked with their classmates and myself in creating their structures. They articulated their needs, argued about design, sought out proper supplies, and sometimes compromised. (Speaking and Listening- Common Core Standards)
- They learned how to problem-solve. Some creations were a huge success and some were a mess. When do you abandon a project and when do you persevere? Would glue work better than tape? How tall can this be? It won’t work! What’s wrong? (Speaking and Listening and Technology Design- Common Core Standards)
- They learned to share. Resources are finite. When something is created who gets to keep it? How do we preserve the moment?
- They became better writers. The children wrote about their experiences at Writer’s Workshop. (We never ran out of writing topics.) They labeled their creations and wrote directly on their creations. (Language and Writing Common Core Standards)
- They became better readers and researchers. The children somewhat read the craft books, asked how to read certain words, asked questions about new vocabulary, and followed the directions. (Language and Writing Common Core Standards)
- They learned how to measure and estimate needed supplies. They counted, wrote numbers, added objects and subtracted objects. (Math Common Core Standards)
- They learned how to become effective leaders and successful followers. From one, engaged five year old an entire active community of learners erupted.
Most importantly the learning was equitable in many ways. By that I mean that children of a wide range of academic abilities worked together as equals to create masterpieces. Non-readers working side by side with readers, strong mathematics students with less strong students, bossy students with the followers and no one stood out as the kid who did not know anything. All of them had strengths and weaknesses that they brought to the table and in working together they valued each other’s input. They embraced and loved the learning process. This was true awakening of genius in a simple kindergarten classroom. No standards required. Have you helped awaken any geniuses today?