Sally sits at a table with Keesha, Juan, and Bobby. Bobby has a one-on-one aide because he is a gifted special education student. He has traveled all over the world and can do monetary conversions in his head. He has the propensity to question everything I say and will look up information to share with me. Juan lives with his parents, an aunt, and uncle. The adults all have different work shifts so he has to pick up his sister and cousins from school and is responsible for them until 5PM. He speaks Spanish at home and English at school. He is enrolled in an ELL class even though he was born in Chicago. He is smart, polite, and shy. Keesha lives with her grandmother and her big brother. She is hilarious, charming, and smart but does not get good grades. She is very social and can be counted on to help me out with anything. Sally, like Bobby, is a world traveler. She is enrolled in all gifted classes but she is not as smart as Keesha. Her mother e-mails me weekly because Sally comes home with an infraction from my class that must be addressed immediately. I was told by her father, who is an attorney for a important law firm (or so he told me), “I can tell why she is not doing well in your class because of your personality.”
The teachers reading this are smiling and thinking, “Yup.” Hyperbole? It really doesn’t matter.
What matters is what they take out of the class. All four of the kids have access to the Internet and can look up any information in which they are interested. While I am talking about a volcano in Hawaii they can find a web cam showing the smokers, and links to what famous scientists say about an impending blast.
What the heck am I doing there?
My job is to help them become curators of the information they feel is most vital for their lives. I look at 21st Century learning as a way to help kids wade through the muck of information. I have to help them find their own answers. How do I do this? I teach them vocabulary so they can learn the gift of clarity. When ideas are clearly expressed, ideas grow. I want them to intelligently defend their opinions and I teach them to write clearly and persuasively.
To reach a stronger understanding of content, I have to show them how to decode a myriad of facts and visual information, and to look at facts critically. The turn of the 20th century skills are moot. Everyone with web access has access to information. What will they do with the information? How can I empower my students to find a way to make the world a better place through their hard work? I want them to look at their experiences in the light of a “work in progress”, always improving and getting better. I need to allow them the time and space to find a way to take action in their world.
I have to integrate their learning so it is authentic and empowering. This is how my students can become curators of their learning and of their world. I have to teach beyond the what to…. so what?
Then they can start telling their own stories…