I didn’t plan for the conversations that happened in my classroom today. I’ve never had them with a class because I hadn’t thought this way before.
Let me explain.
My grade 10 art class is a unique bunch that thrives on activity. They really enjoy building their skills rather than responding to topics or themes, so I began a unit with them this past Monday devoted to skill development.
They began by answering a few questions that I posted on the board:
Students established their goals and made revisions through the week as they began to develop preferences for certain techniques over others. Some even refined their goal, making it more specific to their needs.
One of my students who decided to focus on drawing, was responding to one of my challenges and I came over to see her progress. When I didn’t find her work in front of her, I asked what happened. She seemed to be holding back her emotions as she talked about her disappointment in her work, using all sorts of adjectives to describe what she saw as a failed attempt at drawing. Immediately, I told her I was proud of her — and that we found an opportunity for some excellent learning, believe it or not! When we discover what we’re not comfortable with yet, we know where we need to focus more of our work. Next time, of course, I’ll ask her not to toss out any unwanted drawings; at least not until we have a chance to talk about them first and to figure out how we’d like to adjust our techniques and strategies.
Another student, whose goal is to improve his ability to code, created a summary of his knowledge with various computer languages. While talking about his skills, we also discussed his current experiments with a few programs that allow him to design games. He demonstrated a few of the games for me, which were quite impressive, but I felt that I needed to know how he was able to create them. Eventually, with enough digging, I found out that he made the games by selecting certain operations and functions from pre-existing menus that were available from a program he was using.
This revelation allowed us to have a conversation about the need to understand the “behind-the-scenes” work involved with coding, rather than simply selecting material that someone else has provided. This means more work, but at least we know what we’re dealing with.
Once we had this conversation, we discussed skills with more openness than we ever had before. We took a good look at his summary of knowledge that he had prepared and talked about the importance of being honest with what we know.
If we try to make it look like we know more than we do, we are doing ourselves a disservice and our work will simply mask our own lack of knowledge.
He used a word that I hadn’t thought I’d hear. He told me that if we’re being honest about our skills, it’s kind-of embarrassing.
What’s even more interesting, is what happened when I shared his summary of knowledge (with my student’s permission) with my friends Doug and Peter, whose advice I cherish. After they had a chance to take a look at our shared Google Doc, I received this message from Doug:
Just added a few thoughts. The thing that budding programmers need to learn is humility. Nobody ever knows it all.
Before excusing the class for lunch, I told them that I was learning about the importance of honesty within this unit. Next week’s focus: one-on-one discussions to help those who aren’t really sure about their next steps. The only way we’ll get the clarity we seek is through challenging conversations.