I recently read a great story called Wood Tape by Scott Nesin. In short, his son had an idea to do something and needed to go to the store. It’s a great adventure of he and his son at the store and getting some great ideas in learning. One of the first lines that grabs me is:He trots off after a fellow in an apron. He’s quick, and I have to hustle with the cart to keep up with his bobbing and weaving. The fellow is already engaged with another customer, talking on a phone and looking at various plumbing boxes on the top shelf. I’m just spectating, about 10 feet away. Guy is having a hard time getting noticed and finally gives the fellow’s apron a tug. The man looks startled at the gnome who has just appeared at his feet asking questions. I hear the words ‘wood’ and ‘tape’ go back and forth a few times, and I can tell by the look on the fellow’s face that he doesn’t think he has heard correctly.
He steps away and allows his son to do what he needs. He is there, but is putting a lot of support in what his son is wanting to do. Even though Scott is still lost at the end goal, he let’s his son lead. He goes on:There are two ladies behind the paint counter. Again, I hang back just a few feet. He jumps, waves and says “Excuse me” until one notices him over the counter. Again, I don’t catch all of it. I hear her say “I’ll come around and show you” as she looks around expectantly, then sees me:
“Are you with him?”
With one look she could tell that it was I who was with Guy, not the other way around. Clever lady. “Yes, I am.”
“Ok, just making sure,” still with a frown when I don’t offer more.
She’s looks as though she is about to call security, so I own up: “This is his project, and I’m letting him be in charge.”
People judge kids and won’t help them. It’s difficult to see. Now, I have worked at a gas station before and when a kid would walk up to pay for something, I would forget and look at their guardian. However, we need to remember that they want to be older and do things themselves.
What I love about Scott is that even though is son was four-years-old, he allowed him to make the plans. His son was the one that was talking with the people that were working. That is what is important. This project was his son’s and Scott was giving him the power to do what he needed.
This is what we should be doing in the classroom. Allowing students to work on their own projects lets them make the choices. We should not be cutting out every little piece of the project and tell them to make it. They need to be creative and think of what they want and how they want to succeed. In the story, Scott’s son was allowed to make the decisions and Scott just went along.
Allowing students to make choices allows them to own the project. When we cookie cut everything for the students and tell them all to do the same things in the same order shows them that we as the teacher are in charge. After a short bit, the kids are off task, bored and moving on to their own thing. The teacher gets upset and the kids get back to work.
We as teachers need to step back and allow students to make the own decisions so they can own their work. Will students make mistakes? Sure, but that’s alright. There is nothing wrong with making a mistake, that’s why we are there. To help the students figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.
I hope that as the summer is coming to an end we take a step back and figure out places in our classrooms that would allow this to happen. Letting students explore on their own and work for their own goal and not just the goal of the teacher.