Monday, September 19, 2016

That Time I Failed


An important part of teaching is being a learner. I like to learn new things and try new things. I like to improve what I'm doing and getting feedback on what I can change. Some of the best feedback happens when I fail - when things don't go as planned or when I see it fall apart. Then I learn the best lessons - how to do it better.

One particular time sticks in my mind. In fact, I can still feel the realization of my failure today, 3 years later.

I was teaching first grade. I had read about wonder walls - ways to capture kids' ideas and curiosity. So we started a wonder wall. I created a special place on a bulletin board. I lay self-stick notes near the wall. I introduced it to the kids and told them to write anything they wondered about. We would look at some of their notes from time to time.

This was a success. Kids wrote their wonders and put them on the wall.


One afternoon I pulled a couple from the wall and took them with me to our gathering spot. We had read a book and were winding down from the day. I read one of the wonders and we talked about it. (I don't remember this one.) Then I read a wonder that was something like: "I wonder what makes rainbows." Kids shared their ideas. The range of ideas was vast. Some were fanciful. Some were scientific. Some were religious.

Then it happened.

I began talking about rainbows and how they were formed by sunlight passing through raindrops. I didn't get too scientific but I did all the talking. They asked questions. We talked about it until they (and I) seemed to get to a point of closure. Then we moved on.

The day ended. I did my after school tasks. I was driving home. And the realization dawned on me. Well it hit me more like a board upside the head.

I had failed. I did not facilitate the learning. I lectured. I gave the answer. I was the sage, the know-it-all.

I thought about how things could have been. We could have talked about their ideas. I could have gathered books or online resources for research. I could have led them to discover the answer rather than give them the answer.

It bothered me. I know better. Or at least I claim to know better.

Did I cause harm to the kids or their learning? No. Did I steal a valuable learning opportunity from them? Perhaps.

Did I realize how easy it is to give information instead of facilitate learning? Yes.

That doesn't mean that I don't try to shortcut from time to time. But whenever I do, I remember the rainbow fail.

And it helps me recalibrate back to facilitator - asking questions and leading them toward discovery.

That time I failed hopefully has led to more success.

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