My classroom is the middle room in a pod. It’s usually very quiet. I don’t get too many visitors that I don’t expect, and sometimes, even when I expect visitors, they don’t come. Today was different though. This morning, there were lots of people — some that work at the school and some that work at outside agencies — that came by for different reasons. At the various times that they arrived, we were working through a Math/Science (Structures)/Visual Arts problem. Students were inspired by the work of George Hart, and they used a variety of different materials to create structures, three-dimensional figures, and/or abstract art in much of Hart’s style. This morning was about problem solving, persevering, and applying learning from Math, Science, and Visual Arts in new ways.
When people walked into the classroom this morning, their eyes were drawn to the mess. I can’t blame them! It looked like all of the craft materials from The Dollar Store threw up on our carpet and floor (and I’m not exaggerating). I ignored the mess because I knew that the students would clean it all up (and they did, in only 10 minutes), and because I heard and saw all of the thinking that was shared during this exploration (like that which is shared below).
But what about the people that didn’t hear this thinking, see the curriculum links, and understand this learning? What did they see?
I know that I do things differently. I tell myself that we don’t all have to be the same, that others aren’t judging me, and that what I’m doing makes the biggest impact on the people that matter the most: the students. But then as I set-up for the afternoon on my prep time or reflect on my day after school or on the way home, I can’t help but wonder, do people see what I see in this “messy learning?” If not, how could I change perceptions? We don’t all have to be the same, but sometimes it’s hard to be “different.”
I think messy learning is learning from your mistakes. How can you really understand something if you don’t make attempts and fail (read make a mess) clean up and try again. Our cardboard games for first term are all ways really messy, but the kids really learn a lot about area perimetre and measurement, as well as money and structures. If the mess is in the service of the learning then it is good mess. If it is mess just for mess sake then I think you have a problem. I have a picture that I hang on my door from the marvellous @msPJmorris that reads, Excuse the mess but we are learning in here. I think that you need not to let the people who don’t see what you see bother you, if they come to talk to you about it then you can talk to them about growth mindsets and the work in service to learning. Are your kids learning, are you learning, if so then keep on doing what you are doing IMHO.
Thanks for the comment, @Libramlad! I think that you make a great point here about “mess,” and just like in your example, as teachers, I think we really need to know the purpose behind this mess. We need to know that learning is happening, and we need to see this learning.
I work in a wonderful school with incredibly supportive staff. Nobody has ever made a comment to me questioning what I do or why I do it, but sometimes, I wonder if others see what I see. Maybe they do, and if not, maybe (hopefully), they’ll ask. I think this could lead to a wonderful conversation (for both of us)!
I have the same problem. My room is always a mess, and I have both custodial and teaching staff roll their eyes at me all the time. We are loud, messy, and wonderful. You know what you are doing is productive, and I bet your kids love you for your approach. Loud discussions and stained clothing were always memorable for me, and we learn from what we do and discuss. Like my kids would say, the “haters gonna hate hate hate hate!”. Keep living Avivaloca, and let the perceptions and results of your kids guide your practice.
Thank you so much, Shaun! I must say that nobody has ever made a negative comment to me about my approach (and for that I am so appreciative), but sometimes I wonder if people see what I see. Maybe they do, and if not, I really hope that one day we can talk through this together. I think we can all learn a lot from each other. I totally love your last line here: we do need to let the “kids guide our practice,” and it’s seeing the engagement and results in my students that make me continue to do what I do. I can tell that you are very much the same! It sounds like your students love your classroom and love learning, and what is more wonderful than that?
What if they don’t see what you see? Will that change your instructional design?
No…I re-read and understand that you’re wondering how to change the perceptions of those who don’t recognize the exciting learning that is happening.
Let the work and the energy of your students do that. Maybe provide guests with some questions to ask students during visits. Have these questions specifically address your learning goals. I think when guests understand your instructional intentions, the student learning will be visible to them too.
Thanks Mary-Kay for your comments! It really is this second problem. What I didn’t explain well though is that my concern isn’t with those people that come in and talk to the students. They may see the mess, but they understand the learning. It’s those people that maybe only come for a minute or two. In the case of yesterday, they were all coming to just take students out. They didn’t stay for long, but they did see the mess, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they saw beyond that. Maybe it doesn’t matter either way (but for me, I guess it kind of does). I guess I wonder, no matter how long a person might be there, how do we get him/her to see what we see?
P.S. I really like your suggested questions idea! I may use this when people do come for visits to speak with students. What a great idea!