Developing Resiliency for Complexity

Over the years I have been variously complimented for the level of differentiation/ freedom/choice in my classroom, or condemned for the chaos, lack of structure, and uncertainty that seems to rule.  Often on the same day, sometimes by the same people.  It is true that at any given moment there can be many things going on in our place of learning. One afternoon last week was a great example of when this goes well. I had a visitor in my class, and we were variously following up on a field trip we had taken to explore our community. Here is what she saw:

Students working on:

  •  art projects – mostly black and white pencil art, but some in other mediums
  • poetry – mostly following a model we have used before, but some branching out on their own
  • descriptive paragraphs – mostly about our field trip, but some on other topics
  • posters – these were finishing up from something else
  • an art project using the smartboard
  • one student was on a laptop writing a new post for our blog
  • one student working on a mapping project
  • four students were learning how to make their own blog from another student 
  • one was having a bad day and spent the afternoon with his head on his desk

The children were working at desks, on a table, on the floor, in the hall way, in the lab next door.  They were working alone, with partners, beside friends, under the table, up against the window, behind my desk…  They were working with technology and with good ol’ fashion pencil and paper. There was the constant murmur of conversation, and indeed not all of it was always about the work at hand, but most of it was, most of the time. 

I suspect my visitor was a little overwhelmed, and quite frankly, appalled at all the things that were going on.  And I will admit that this may seem a bit extreme.  The truth is I don’t always have quite that many things going on at the same time! However, I was proud of what was happening that day.

 We had experienced a wonderful day of exploring our community together, and the children wanted to share with each other, and the world, what we had seen and done.  I had brought the suggestion of making a Google Map to the class and they were thrilled. The children wanted to share the beauty of the natural area we had seen, their questions about whether Canada Post is a municipal, provincial or federal service, their thoughts on what is meant by private and public space, their wonder that our drinking water comes from a lake that people can boat it,  and a million other things.  Together we brainstormed ways we could share all of this, using models we have done before, and the children got to work, on a subject that engaged them, using forms that they knew how to use. 

The key here is that they were all using models we have done before.  And so the technical details of how to do the work was well understood, including how to do it, where to go for help (peer experts), quality of work expectations, and the general tone of this extended open work period (relaxed, fun, with purpose). The children knew what to do, and wanted to do it! 

What my visitor could not see, because it was deep beneath the surface now, was all the work we have done since the start of the year to establish strong, but flexible frameworks of support for working in this environment.  And believe me, we worked.  And while it may seem almost as though I have nothing to do as I float between the children, I am working very very hard to meet their learning, social and emotional needs. That day I was able to focus on the boy having a bad day (the thing with him is I have to figure out if he needs to be left alone, or some attention), work with my poets-in-waiting, and give some technical advice about setting up a blog. And while the children may seem almost too happy for actual learning to be happening (yes, I have been told that), they are learning. In this case it will eventually all come together in a way that will be visible to others as we complete our Google Map, but that is not always so. And that too is ok. Often the way we get there is messy and no pattern or intent will be visible.  But, like Sierpinski’s triangle, if you put enough dots, a pattern will emerge!

And, I conclude with the final question from the #etmchat tonight, which really did happen after I wrote this post. (A pattern emerges).

“What can you do to improve resiliency for complexity in your classroom?”