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Learning In-between Spaces

Sometimes I struggle with the headlines of my pieces, really tinkering with different words that show clever puns and potential intrigue. 

As a writer, I thrive on this wordplay. The way the words sound together, the syntax, the multiple meanings; I can totally geek out on it.

However, I'm not sure my readers or my students appreciate it as much, all the time. 

Perhaps what I think passes for clever and thought-provoking could possibly come off as confusing or pretentious, which is never my intention.

I relay this anecdote as an entryway into something I realized while at the Edscape conference in NJ: when we make space for conversations, learning happens.

We can plan and plan and plan and plan (and that planning can often be genius), but if we don't allow time for the information to marinate for every learner, we may be ruining real opportunities for learning. As a matter of fact, all of that genius planning can actually end up being confusing and off-putting.

When teachers spend too much time controlling their lessons, they aren't considering the needs of all of the learners in the room, which, despite the best intentions can be detrimental to our diverse learners.

So I pose this possible challenge... 

Why not go out of your way, to un-plan a little?

Challenge yourself to leave open spaces in your lessons, specifically meant for student reflection and practice, that can be facilitated in a number of different ways.

If we keep directed teaching to 5-7 minutes in a period, leave time for questions and then provide work time to practice the skills both independently and/or with peer collaboration, then students can really internalize the new material.

Anyone who practices using the workshop model in their classroom, recognize the above paragraph as just that. 

But what if we went one step even further than that and didn't prescribe the specific activities students had to do to practice? Why not give them a menu of options and let them choose the one that will work best for them and if there isn't something on the menu that appeals to them, allow them to go off the menu with a selection of their own?

What if we are guilty of accusing students of not listening to us when really we aren't listening to them?

If a student has a suggestion for a practice activity that suits the requirements of the skills practice, why not just say yes? Sometimes an innovative and outside perspective about an idea can really provide a fresh way of seeing it. It could be beneficial for everyone.

This week, my risk is going to be to unplan some classroom time and let kids have complete control of the space. I vow to be comfortable with the probable mess that comes with a completely engaged student space. Keeping my eyes and ears open, I plan to practice active listening and observation to catch my students being awesome in this unplanned time.

Where will you insert some unplanned time? What happens when you put the plan down and let the magic happen? Please share

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog Work in Progress in October of 2014.

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