Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring Planning Special: Take a Survey!

Once I understood that joy was the best motivation for learning, I had to change the way I shopped. Prepared curriculum packages had become a slippery slope. I was feeling my way into new terrain. I tried a number of methods.

At one point, I gave some curriculum catalogs and brightly colored markers to my boys and told them to circle whatever they liked. They nearly always picked things that looked dangerous or like birthday presents.

One son held an ongoing campaign to purchase books that would teach him how to survive on whatever he could forage from the backyard and surrounding neighborhood. He also wanted to collect preserved specimens. I didn't even know that some of these creatures existed, much less that they could be preserved for posterity.

My other son wanted to build every kind of robot and gadget the catalogs offered. He dreamed of filling the house with machines. Let me tell you, if you want to build things, you can find some weird stuff for sale.

Still, the information I gained this way was priceless. It gave me a window into what brought them joy. This became an important part of picking curriculum for our school every year -- just asking them what they wanted and letting them respond without being censored.

I made no promises. But I let them express themselves.

A Sure Path to New Ideas

If your school is tired, if everyone is unhappy, or if you are just looking for a way to breathe fresh air into your program, try it.

Try asking your kids what they would like for school. If they can't think of anything, hand them a curriculum catalog or let them look online. Let them pick anything that looks interesting. Tell them there are no right answers. Explain that you are just getting feedback.

Don't worry about getting "correct" answers. Most kids won't show any interest in textbooks. Instead, they'll pick things that seem completely inappropriate -- equipment for a hobby, something silly and messy, or even something that looks like it's designed to annoy.

No matter what, it's still helpful feedback. Make a note of it. Think about it. What does it say about the need for joy? What are these choices telling you?

What about Older Students?

In high school, there's lot of pressure to meet expectations. In those years, I had to fight the temptation to dictate what must get done and the worry about being legitimate. The problem is, we do have to worry about that -- we need to learn to translate our courses into terms that make sense to accreditation agencies and colleges. We need to be sure that our courses are generally equivalent to high school courses.

Even so, our best work is done where there is joy.

Allowing our kids to follow their own interests and passions is the smartest investment we can make in their education. They will develop into adults who are gifted and have found something they do with excellence.

So, go ahead. Ask. Don't say it can't be done. Do some research. Nearly anything is possible. You can always arrange the studies to make them work like a course for credit.

1 comment:

  1. I agree! Just the other night my eldest daughter (6th grade) sat next to me, thumbing an Old Schoolhouse magazine. She kept saying, "oh look at this" and "this would be great." So I did just as you suggested and handed her a pen to circle what she was interested in. It was such a fun time together and I am taking note of those she is excited about. Your post is confirmation.


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