When I first started teaching in 1994, I was filled with hope, joy and creativity. My classroom was bouncing with things to do. For a whole month we shoved desks out of our way and interacted with our room as we turned it into a mini Globe Theater so we could practice our Romeo and Juliet play we would later put on for the parents and the other four 5th Grade classrooms. We became lexicons as we talked about words and how words changed in language. We studied language of origin, we studied what I now call “juicy words” and history of Shakespeare and England at the time. We split up the roles and created an intermission to swap. We learned teamwork and how to make smooth transitions.Standards were just starting to emerge in the State of Minnesota but I would see any until about 1997 so I didn’t care if this was on the standards to be taught list or not. Then it didn’t matter. Much.
What mattered to me was 1)Are the children learning? 2) Are they having fun? The answer was YES to both. I learned right along with them. As a lover Fine Arts with a BA in English Literature, my heart grew and grew with joy as I saw deep engrossed learning happen. Hard words were memorized, reading with expression, fully absorbed in the scene. I recall a student who had parents who even found green tights for him and he was leaping in a scene. Go Romeo!
That is just a peek into my classroom from moons and moons ago, it was often like this. Not so much with plays all the time, but passionate involved and engrossing learning. Flash forward with me to the past ten years. I could not re enact this again on the same level with the same vigor as did. There are several key factors for why. I am always asking myself: Is this a standard? Do I have time? Will this be tested?
Slowly I felt that I was failing as a teacher, as a lead learner, as a cultivator of young hearts and minds and instead, creating experiences of dull learning where regurgitation wins. It felt like a slow and painful death whose final breath was yet to be had but each breath getting more painful.
And then came a shift. A mindset shift. I discovered a network of teachers on my Twitter PLN. who lead me out a very dark decade of losing and forgetting who I am to an agenda of what I am supposed to teach with a flickering light. With whispers of encouragement, and careful footsteps I studied from them I participated in GHOs and online discussions with them asking questions and begging for answers all to learn how to incorporate the idea of Genius Hour into core standards that I am expected to teach. A light in the darkness is all one really needs. Even if it is the light of the carefree lightening bugs, it is still a light. I am thankful to be part of a group of teachers who have found a way to incorporate Genius Hour and be a little light in this world of education where agendas seem to want to suck you down a cold, dark abyss of despair, isolation and loneliness.
So who am I? I am a little light who teaches elementary school. This is my second go-round with including Genius Hour at school after great success last year. This year I am teaching First Grade and I set aside Wednesdays for wondering. We are calling it Wonder Wall Wednesdays. The process has been simple but the learning has not been. First I asked them about what they wonder about, I put it on the window and then we take two wonders on a Wednesday and investigate them. Not only does this process of inquiry meet standards, it exceeds the standards. It is not things I want to know, it is all about the students and what they want to know. As time goes on, I will show you what this looks like and how it plays out in First Grade.
You may ask, “Where do I start? Can I do what you do?” Genius hour will look different from classroom to classroom from grade to grade. I want to let you know now, that is okay! In fact, that is great! It is supposed to! It is a space in the learning experience for the students to be organic learners, be on their own quest for the Holy Grail…KNOWLEDGE. Were it the same we would be going back to being a cookie cutter classroom.
Final thoughts to you are this as perhaps you are toying around in your mind if you dare to do this. I ask you, how can you NOT? Transform your classroom, transform the students learning experience and be brave. Be brave and flexible enough to try because in the end, the past ten years of feeling broken hearted about the direction schools were going was lifted as I intentionally set out in a different direction. For me, it was worth the risk.
And to you who is reading this who I have gleaned information, passion and knowledge from in this area, I thank you for standing in the gap with me and creating the bridge so I can make it to the other side. My Twitter PLN rocks!
Believe. Be Brave. Be Bold. Now, go and let your little light shine.
Kimberly Hurd Horst