I love teaching this time of year. Okay, in the spirit of full disclosure, I love teaching throughout the school year for different reasons. However, at this particular time of the year, my learners know classroom procedures, they have found their voices, and they are really taking ownership of the learning choices that they are making. By this time of year, I feel like I really know my students well, both as individuals and as learners. We have developed a strong mutual respect for one another which paves the path to open and honest dialogue.
We work with our students and sometimes we may feel that we know each individual. We have seen individuals grow academically and personally. We've witnessed their confidence increase when sharing their voice. Still there may seem to be something holding them back that we can't quite pinpoint. I have a student, we'll call him Liam, who presented that challenge for me. Liam is well liked by his peers and he has shown growth this school year, but I had a feeling there was something that I was missing in lighting that fire for learning.
Then, when we returned from winter break, I introduced our Genius Hour projects to my learners. Genius Hour comes from the concept of providing individuals with time each week to explore their passions. It's the 20% time employed by companies such a Google and written about in Dan Pink's book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Genius Hour fosters creativity and an intrinsic motivation to learn and explore.
To make Genius Hour work in our classroom, it became a part of our Lit Center rotation. Students select a type of project and the topic and then begin researching, synthesizing, and planning their final product. My learners are creating proposals and sharing their research through Google Drive where we can have an ongoing conversation about their progress. It was in one of these documents where I saw Liam's fire ignite. He has chosen to become a game designer because he has a vision of creating a multiplayer game. As he was doing research on the principles of game design, I could hear his passion through his writing. He not only shared what he was learning and the links to his resources, but wrote an ongoing commentary of his "a-ha" moments including a plan of how he will include these in his design.
When we had our face-to-face conferring session, the passion and fire lit up his entire body. He was so excited to share his discovery that he radiated excitement and a clear understanding that game design is an involved project which will demand much attention. This did not bother him at all; on the contrary, it excited him. For the first time I felt like I was truly seeing Liam. He had been a happy student who did whatever he was asked, but that passion had been absent.
Witnessing this transformation reminded me of how important it is for us as educators to provide our students with an abundance of opportunities to tap into their interests, previously existing or newly discovered. Last April, I heard Rick Riordan say that it is the teacher's responsibility to find and put the right book in the hands of each child. The same holds true for learning opportunities. As teachers it is easy to fall into routines, but in order for us to ignite that spark of learning, we need to constantly be seeking out new ways to ignite learning for each student. Then all we need to do is fan the flame and watch that fire take on an exciting life if its own.
photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc