Life is a series of events for which people need to use passion and imagination to find ways to adjust to constraints. Whether it is budgeting for a vacation or designing a work-related project, this combination is crucial for learning and succeeding. Because this is how learning in the world works, the education system needs to adjust and mimic this naturalistic and holistic perspective of learning. I believe this is a possibility regardless of the content area. This concept has inspired me to rethink the more flexible aspects of my high school English curriculum. We are given standards, concepts, and texts to cover, but there are other opportunities within our classrooms that incorporate teacher discretion. It may seem as though “[teachers] have no time for imagination” (TEDx Talks, 2012), but I know there are certain times throughout the school year during which I can include it based on my school’s expectations. These openings need to be taken advantage of because to permanently and positively change learning environments, educators must shift to a more holistic view of learning.
There are two fundamental ideas presented in A New Culture of Learning (Thomas & Brown, 2011) that I plan to bring into my own classroom: play and student interest. While I would love to include these concepts every day, I believe it is more realistic to gradually adjust. First, it is important to understand what play means in this context, and I love Douglas Thomas’s definition of play as “an emergent property of the application of rules to the imagination” (TEDx Talks, 2012). Most people, including myself previously, associate games with play, but this definition effectively shows that it also comes in other forms. While play itself is extremely important, it is equally necessary to include boundaries. I cannot simply ask students to do a project on something they are passionate about without providing some guidelines because facing obstacles forces people to be more creative and use their imaginations (Thomas & Brown, 2011). Instead I need to give them restraints so they are involved and creative. If I can find a way to do these things, then I will have successfully created the context students need to learn naturally.
I have already begun to initiate a change that incorporates play and student interest as some colleagues and I have designed an ePortfolio curriculum. We plan to incorporate this into our 12th grade classes during the next school year to compile evidence that will support its inclusion throughout the school. Students will use their ePortfolios to house their assignments, but more importantly it will be used for reflection and expression. Similar to Tom’s story, which describes a man newly diagnosed with Diabetes who uses a chat room to help him through the experience (Thomas & Brown, 2011), my students will be able to use their ePortfolios to talk about their lives and share their challenges and successes with one another. Also, similar to 9-year-old Sam, who worked with others to create and edit online games (Thomas & Brown, 2011), students will be able to collaborate and edit each other’s work any time they have internet access. There are other ways in addition to the ePortfolio that I hope to include play and student interest.
At the moment, students are given approximately one class period a week to read their independent reading books, take guided notes, and complete a final project. While the project options provide the students with choice and integrate technology, the only real difference is the method used, as they all include theme and enduring understandings. I would like to adjust this assignment and instead ask students to research a topic of interest. They will then be asked to formally submit their findings and present them to the class. This could end up being a traditional research paper on a certain topic or a demonstration of a certain skill, but no matter what, they will have a set of expectations to inspire creativity and address some challenges I may face regarding the assignment.
There will be students, teachers, parents, and administrators who hesitate when I try to incorporate play in my classroom. This is because of the current culture we have created within our schools that “presumes everything is equal and any deviation is to be treated with suspicion and contempt” (TEDx Talks, 2012). The change to the independent reading project is only step one of many I hope to make. During this shift, I anticipate questions asking how this assignment connects with the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards. I can easily link many of the skills they will utilize to a multitude of standards, so this challenge will easily be defeated by referencing them on the assignment itself and its rubric. However, when thinking about where I would like to go in the future, more challenging roadblocks arise. How do I prevent seclusion of certain students when revolving collaborative activities around student interest? How can I justify a change in curriculum, for example substituting a more modern text for the required Shakespearean play? How can I help those stuck in the past embrace the ever-changing future? How I face these challenges moving forward will truly determine whether or not I successfully change my learning environment and potentially influence other teachers to change theirs.
I believe there are two different reasons that people resist change. One is the simple fact that people do not like change as it is often uncomfortable and forces people to face the unknown. The other reason for those who actually enjoy change and often embrace it is because it is frequently unclear how to do it, which causes it to become overwhelming. It is for this reason that I believe slowly incorporating change will be the most effective method. Modeling or requiring too many changes promotes resistance, where suggesting small, simple adjustments makes the change seem possible. Collaboration is also a key. If others feel as though they are being forced to do something, they will more likely oppose, but if they feel as though they are a part of the change, there is more value and appreciation in their participation. This is how they should feel because a permanent and positive change simply cannot take place without the support and active participation of educators.
Ever since I stepped foot on the road to my teaching career, I have been taught to make every lesson and every moment relevant to the real world. If a student cannot understand how an aspect of school relates to his life, he is less likely to do it. Holistic teaching does just this, which in turn improves the learning environment within schools. I have always believed that school is and should be fun. It should help students embrace change, empathize with others, share ideas, pay bills, make the world a better place, and enjoy life. By adjusting my own classroom environment and providing students with opportunities to combine passion and imagination to solve problems and display their knowledge, I will help students remember how much fun naturalistic learning truly is.
TEDx Talks. (2012). A new culture of learning, Douglas Thomas at TEDxUFM [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lM80GXlyX0U&feature=youtu.be
Thomas, D., & Brown, S. (2011). A new culture of learning: cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change [Kindle].