My oldest daughter entered Grade 1 in September 2014. Constantly exclaiming "I have an idea" this is a kid who has eureka moments at least five to ten times a day and then embodies them in some sort of artistic rendering or paper and tape creation. This is a kid who is constantly busy thinking and doing with vigor and enthusiasm. This is a kid who asks questions, seeks challenges and loves to use her imagination and creativity with most everything she does and then asks for your attention (in some cases demands) to share that which she has done.
Pictured below are sixteen items representative of such effort (self-initiated) over the course of the past three months (September through November 2014). These include (left to right): (Top row) Pilgrim thanksgiving colour drawing, I like Valentines colour drawing (done in September...dont ask), alternating peanut-almond rings, undersea life painting (acrylic); (2nd row) B's walking and D's talking (visualized), play-doh tribesman, Trick or treat flip book, 3-d construction paper art; (3rd row) Drawing of mom (crayon), Eye candy (literally), ketchup bottle drip catcher, nature scene art (acrylic on cardboard); (4th row) 3-D construction paper art, self portrait, mechanized lego spirograph, Fall Weather flip book.
Over the course of the same three months it was after month one into first grade that I heard her exclaim "I hate school!" for the first time. I figured she was just having one of those days so didn't make anything of it until I began hearing that same phrase more frequently over the course of the next month and usually in the mornings as we got ready for school. As the frequency increased I began asking her "what is it about school that you hate?" Each time she would respond saying "we just do SO much work!" Given all of this work I figured she would having something to show for it. Yet, every time I ask my popular after school question "Did you do anything exciting in school today?" she typically responds with a stone-faced "Not really."
Hearing my daughter describe her learning experience like this just one month into first grade was of grave concern. Seeing my daughter experience learning a complete one-eighty from who she is as a learner just one month into first grade was of even graver concern. In the grand scheme of her life-long learning experience(s) this conjures images of a newly lit candle snuffed out before the wax even got hot. Learning, if experienced in a way that aligns with a child's aptitudes, interests and motivations should NEVER be perceived as work. Learning, if experienced in a way that aligns with a child's aptitudes, interests and motivations, should be experienced as a state of flow - passion, engagement, excitement and thirst for whatever world the learner is immersed in. Clearly this is not the learning experience she is having.
This was reinforced when she recently brought home items representative of her learning experience over the last three months at school. These sixteen pieces of work were chosen from among the most colorful in spite of the fact that the majority of color is from the tip of the teacher's marking pen for grading and corrections. These include (left to right): (Top row) Volunteers & Diversity Assessment, Test Your comprehension, Word wall families and dictation sentences x2; (2nd row) Seasonal changes and weather assessment, Word wall families and dictation sentences, American Symbols Match up, Comparisons (nine week test); (3rd row) Asking or telling assessment, Halloween composition, catching snowflakes art, Weekly word wall assessment; (4th row) Word wall families and dictation sentences x2, Making connections test-self test, visualizing exercise.
The stark contrast between this by-product of my daughter's in school learning experience versus the by-product of her aptitudes, interests and motivations pictured earlier is shocking yet painfully insightful at the same time. Taking it a step further, wanting to explore from a slightly different perspective, I superimposed the images from each set of sixteen works and applied an HDR effect to enhance. The result is depicted below. I'll leave it to you to determine which set of superimposed images is which although, given the uninspiring linear and purely textual nature of one versus the other, I trust you'll have it all figured out by the time you finish reading this sentence.
As I processed these contrasts and reflected upon my daughter's sentiments of her learning experience as "SO much work" and "not really" exciting I began to wonder how many other first graders are living a similar school vs. me learning experience travesty fueled by a largely impersonal, linear, dimensionless evaluation and assessment-driven WORK flow (with a few exceptions of course) that is progressively smothering the flame of imagination, creativity, and curiosity that burns in so many learners today. The next big question on my mind is, what am I going to do about it?
What is your school vs. me learning experience story? I'd love to hear from you and what you're doing about it.