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Sometimes when you fall, you fly.

I’ve always profited from taking risks with my education. Not to say that my most insightful papers were written in a batting cage, or that I had a moment of enlightenment whilst reading poetry on a 10 story ledge, but my experience has been that when you ignore that little doubtful voice in the back of your mind and jump in before testing the water, you can circumvent comfort and open yourself to experiences that many people deprive themselves of due to irrational caution. Don’t do this. The water is fine. An example. I was a transplant my sophomore year of college at UNH. I found myself with two years of college level learning under my belt, but was denied a higher level seminar-style class in anthropology that was reserved for juniors and seniors. I had heard that it was a really good class… So I went anyway. This was an advanced class in anthropological theory and we spent a lot of time pouring over very old texts written in the most dense language that one can imagine this side of a legal notice of foreclosure. But the other students were “on” the moment they walked in to the class

Suzuki violin

I think I learned more about teaching and learning from my training as a Suzuki violin teacher than from anything else I have studied. I first encountered this method as a traditional teacher who took a pair of students who had just moved to town from a big established Suzuki program elsewhere. It astounded me that the mother came to the lesson and wrote down everything I said. They treated each bit of instruction as a gold nugget and got very excited about my suggestions. The following week they showed up having mastered every bit of what I had assigned and were hungry for more. Normal students were nothing like that, in my experience. This family knew how to learn and somehow they had been taught to learn this way. I was fascinated and decided to learn more about the method. I took teacher training through book four and when I used it in my studio teaching the results were amazing. I learned SO much about how children learn and the importance of play, imitation, preview and review and so very many other things. This happened thirty years ago and I have done a lot of stuff in education since

The Three Most Important Questions in Education

It’s graduation season again – yet nobody seems to be celebrating. On college campuses, graduates are entering an economy in which the stable career paths of yesteryear are disappearing – and the specialized job opportunities of tomorrow have yet to appear. And in communities across the country, parents and young people are left wondering what exactly those past four years of high school were in service of – and how much, if any, truly transformational learning occurred. Something’s gotta give. The Industrial-Age model of schooling, which benefited 20th-century generations by serving as a legitimate ticket to the middle class, has clearly run its course. In its place, we need a model for a new age – the Democratic Age. And we need strategies for ensuring that young people learn how to be successful in the 21st-century world of work, life, and our democratic society. We can get there, but to do so we need to start asking – and answering – the three most essential questions in education reform:   1. How do people learn best? Over the past several years, a slew of research from a range of fields has helped illuminate a much deeper understanding of what powerful

Well Rounded Education is Best

I was in third grade when a very caring teacher, Mrs. DeCarlo, realized that although I was “smart,” I struggled in class and that maybe something was going on. I got evaluated for IQ and learning disorders and they discovered I was Dyslexic. Having a label to put with my struggles helped me to get the right interventions needed to develop my skills to the best of my ability. I went to resource classes for the extra help, which made a world of difference. Mrs. DeCarlo’s teaching style helped a lot too. In fact, I would say having her for third through fifth grade made all the difference for me. She was very creative in our class work. We did not sit in rows and get talked at all day like many teachers do. We did everything in group settings and break out sessions. Hands on was big for her. Math was all about manipulatives so that you could “see” the problem in real life and not just theory. Creative writing was one of my favorite parts of our week. She had many ways to include it in our daily work, such as story starters. She didn’t just explore our

What’s in that box?

In first grade my teacher, Ms. McDonald, came to class one day armed with a big cardboard box that was so big one of us could have fit inside it. We went quiet as we were all guessing what was inside and what this was all about. Ms. McDonald opened the box and pulled out another box that was white and had a rounded shape. That box turned out to be made of styrofoam, which I couldn’t pronounce yet, and there were actually two of them in the larger box. I did not know what to think yet but my curiosity had me leaning forward to see what came next. Each side of the classroom was divided and so we went into groups and either group had its own box. Ms. McDonald went to assist the other group and my group had a teacher’s helper (I think they are called TA’s now) to give us the guidance we needed for our project. We all got handouts and the mysterious box that could be anything was finally unveiled. We were making ovens! Ms. McDonald gave each side a kit with aluminum foil, a corded incandescent light bulb, masking tape and a

My Poems

I am a high school English teacher. The learning communities that I have been a part of that were most powerful were my graduate classes in literature. In most of them a group of 15 or 20 people who loved literature sat in a circle and discussed novels and stories and poems. We batted about ideas, we interpreted and reinterpreted, we disagreed and really enjoyed disagreeing. At the end of a class we would walk out in groups and wander here and there carrying on our conversations. The reason that my title is “My Poems” is that one of the things I used to do in these classes was write poems. Most of the time some other student would say something, a line or a phrase, that I thought was quite poetical. I would jot it down and build around it, even though it wasn’t my line or my thought, and the person who said it didn’t mean it as poetry. But something about it had struck me as poetic, and that was the powerful thing about those classes: I never knew what strange and interesting and poetic ideas were going to just fly out of someone’s mouth at any

Jilanne Hoffmann’s Learning Story

We enrolled our son in a Waldorf-inspired preschool at the age of 2.5. During the next two years, he thrived in an environment that emphasized respect and empathy for his peers that was modeled by his teachers. Electronic media were NEVER used. Children took many nature/outdoor hikes/walks. They helped teachers cook and clean. Learning was also CHILD-DIRECTED, with teachers encouraging children to ask questions and “find out more” whenever possible. This year, in preparation for public school, we put him in a traditional pre-K. We were appalled at the use of media for the purpose of crowd control (the opiate of the masses) and the lack of respect for children as people. We were also appalled at the mind-numbing “homework” given to 4-5 year-olds. Given this experience, we chose an alternative private school in San Francisco for our son. The school’s philosophy emphasizes respect for all people and all things, encourages students to view teachers as resources (not adversaries), and offers creative (not mind-numbing) learning opportunities. If public school could do this, we’d be first in line.

A beacon of hope — in apartheid South Africa

In a Cape Town, South African Colored high school rife with the inequalities of apartheid, Mrs. Hilda Levin, my English teacher, represented a beacon of hope and encouragement. She was a White teacher, venturing each day into the Colored neighborhood where I lived (apartheid’s success was evident in our tendency to think in terms of racial categories); a courageous act in the volatile 1980s, when such teachers were compensated with danger pay. Barely five feet tall, she nonetheless made great demands on me and my classmates. She urged me to write creatively, and often. She proposed thought-provoking topics – or no topic at all. Once she got to know my interests and abilities, she offered suggestions of books to read. Thus I encountered the writings of Ayn Rand, and Harper Lee. She taught me the rules of English grammar and assorted writing styles – all of which stood me in good stead when, three years later, I entered a US university, and was able to edit papers for fellow students. But Mrs. Levin’s support extended beyond the boundaries of the classroom. Amidst the many disruptions generated by student boycotts, she remained at school late into the day, to assist us

Lisa Wininger’s Learning Story

When I was very young, I always liked to run around outside and play in the woods, creeks, fields, and meadows. I found the natural world fascinating and spent as much time as possible in it, digging holes and trying to catch wildlife. When I was in elementary school in the 70′s, the environmental movement was just hitting its stride, and our teachers accepted the challenge of trying to get kids out of the classroom and into nature as much as possible. We had all school field days where we went to Yosemite National Park to learn about geology. We trekked out to the nearby riverbanks and took plaster molds of animal tracks for identification and measurement. Our music teacher created an all-school musical with an environmental theme, where we sang, danced, and acted what we had learned, to the delight of our parents and our small community. Later in high school, my biology and ecology teachers moved us into the real work of water testing in local streams and irrigation ditches, and tracking and noting bird species in our local park. But by far the best were the trips she arranged to take a busload of valley and mountain

‘Enough stick! How about some carrots!’

I have considered patenting a T-shirt with a badly beaten bunny saying, ‘Enough stick! How about some carrots!’ I think of this when addressing my students about my schooling in ‘the day’, and their reaction – wishing for a time machine to return to those practices. First, I must offer a bit of biography. I grew up in a small Kansas town, where my mother ran the diner and my grandmother ran the shoe repair shop. Both women were smarter than I will ever be, but had relatively little access to education. (My grandmother had a third grade education, and my mother graduated from high school). They modeled for me that learning was a matter of curiosity not economic gain. Both worked long hours, and spent their free time reading (Grandma ‘ Zane Grey novels, Mom, newspaper (cover to cover) and mysteries (in bed at night). Neither had much money, so the library was central to them. I had similar experience as a child. To me learning was not associated with school (where I did poorly), but with my individual interests. I remember early interests in astronomy and genetics. The latter produced some controversy when after going through family picture

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