We want to encourage innovation and original thought. We want students to express themselves and take risks, but sometimes an idea from the brain of a ten-year-old doesn’t fit within what our idea of learning is, or what school is. Sometimes it doesn’t fit within our curricular standards or timetables. Sometimes it’s too risky, too loud, or too messy. So naturally, as teachers, we try to help. We cut off the rough bits. We help trim the parts that are a ‘waste of time’. We help draw straight lines by making decisions for them that will help them get to the learning outcome more quickly and efficiently. We take time to teach students to ‘notice and name’ their learning so they can prove they are learning. Then we ask them to reflect on what they have done, which often takes longer than what they have done. We add tasks that square the edges and discourage activities that are too squiggly. In the end, whose idea was it, and where was the learning?
In Studio 5, teachers are constantly presented with the yellow squiggly things in the above cartoon. Students write their own units of inquiry, covered with squiggles and colors, noise, mess, and ‘wastes of time’. It’s tempting to ‘fix’ it, to make it more efficient and effective, to make it fit better with curricular expectations.
We need to remember, that this is more about process, not product. Each time we intervene and cut off a squiggly bit, we interfere with the process, we interfere with their learning, we cut off a bit of confidence in their ability to make independent, creative decisions. Knowing what doesn’t work can be just as useful as knowing what does. Struggle and failure is just as important as success. In Studio 5, we are committed to a community of self-directed learners. Sometimes the best thing for us to do is get out of their way.