Saturday, May 10, 2014

#IRA14: Frivolous or Founded? Opening Our View in the Classroom

Today at the IRA conference, I had an epiphany. As teachers, so many times we write off things as having very little value in the workings of our classrooms: doodling, sketching, humor, video games. Yet, these are things that are part of who our students are as people. They doodle, sketch, crack jokes (even those involving bathroom humor), read comic books, and spend an enormous amount of time playing video games.Often as teachers, we make the mistake of seeing all of these elements as competition to our instruction when in reality they need to be invited into classrooms.

Jeff Kinney, the author of the wildly popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, did just that. He spent an enormous amount of time reading and creating comics. Then, after a Washington Post article touted his new comic as the "next great thing" only to receive an onslaught of rejection letters, he left his world of drawing and writing comics to immerse himself in video games, including working with FunBrain. He knew he needed to snap out of his video game streak, so he began to write in a journal. When I saw a page from his journal, I sent this tweet:

I think that sometimes our vision for our classroom is too narrow. Those journals are what eventually led to his Wimpy Kid books. They gave him time to formulate ideas, play with plot lines, and explore characters. Because he took that time, many of our students have found books that they can relate to. Like Greg, they find humor in everyday events...eventually.

When our students come to class and they want to read comic books, we need to remember that we never know who the next Jeff Kinney will be. Sometimes a student who is intimidated by a book, will open a comic and become so engaged and enamored with the possibilities, they become voracious readers. These learners are reading, exploring new worlds, igniting imaginations, and for most kids, formulating new stories based on these characters.

Our learners' experiences playing multi-user games are teaching them how to communicate, strategize, collaborate, and formulate solutions to challenges. These games are complex and sophisticated. They take an an enormous amount of stamina...and yes, in many of these games, there is a vast amount of reading and writing embedded into them (something that had escaped my attention until last summer).

So as I end my IRA day, I am beginning to think about the small things that my students do that could easily be harnessed to support their learning. As teachers it is our responsibility to meet our students wherever they are as learners and move them forward.  Who knows, the next Jeff Kinney could be sitting in our classroom right now? We need to be the one to encourage that in our students because the next generation of students will need inspiration too.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that far too often we don't allow kids the chance to explore their strengths. Instead we are more focused on remediating their weaknesses. I can't imagine having to spend my days solely spent remediating my weaknesses. Boring! Great piece!