Something I consider essential is knowing what my students are experiencing and learning. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more proactive about gathering that information rather than waiting for it to possibly come to me. So last week I asked my new students ten questions about who they are, what they bring to my classroom, and what they hope to get out of it.
I gave each senior in my class a blank note card. I like to use note cards for quick quizzes about a range of topics, whether it be the previous night’s reading or their thoughts on a recent assembly speaker. I asked them where they hoped to go to college and also where thought they would go to college. I asked them what they want to work on in my class and who they would be on campus if not themselves. I asked them their favorite type of food and their favorite game.
One of my favorite questions was this: if they could introduce something new to school, what would that be? Their answers flowed from them without pause: student-led classes, scavenger hunts, nap time and quiet spaces, intramural sports, arts picnics, karaoke, speech contests, food trucks, playgrounds, and therapy dogs, to name a few.
It would be hard to miss the fact that most of these things are not academic in nature. Which might seem like a problem for schools, whose purpose has been to put students through specific curricula geared toward mastery of content as well as skills.
But learning that my students wish they could do more of the fun things in life while in school should not have come as a surprise to me. In second grade, I desperately wanted to be in Mr. Merlin’s class because of his name. That and the fact that his classroom had a loft where kids could read quietly if they finished their work early. In eighth grade, I looked forward to Mr. O’Hara’s morning assembly quizzes because answering one of his trivia questions correctly meant being thrown a cellophane wrapped cinnamon flavored gummy bear.
Looking back at these and many other memories, I can see clearly that it was the combination of hard work and reward that made me a devotee of school life. What might be different today is that more schools are interested in giving every student, not just those who achieve, a chance to feel part of the fun of learning.