Yet Another Question: Why Don’t We Do More of This?

While my previous post was all about the joy and sense of purpose in kindergarten classes, I think we all have to admit, things change for children as time goes on.  Their learning can often turn from joyful to stressful as they near graduation and the pressures mount to make the grades they need to get where they want to go.

This makes me think of a conversation I had at a student forum a couple years ago. Audrey, intense, university-bound and articulate, was talking about how she hated the kind of learning she had to do to get good marks, but she did it anyway; she didn’t have much choice.  She wanted to learn about the “real world”, but the marks got in the way.  Trying to be helpful, one of the teachers there asked her what it would be like if she could resubmit assignments and retake tests, once she better understood the concepts that were getting in the way of her fully mastering what she was supposed to be learning.  This idea, that in school she might be allowed to learn from her mistakes and try again, seemed to leave her speechless.  After a long silence the only thing she could think of to say was, “but the universities need the marks…” and then she trailed off, uncertain of what to say next.

Audrey isn’t the only student who speaks in this way.  Though I’ve heard about many positive learning experiences, I’ve heard variations on Audrey’s story for years. The truth is, most secondary students have at least one story of a class that seems to be more about taking notes and turning in homework for marks than it is about learning. I’ve heard it over and over, and often from students who are successful, involved, school leaders, and (to all appearances) thriving in school.  Despite this, the idea of having any say in what they learn is foreign to them.

What’s wrong with this picture?  I’m going to share a video of a recent TED x talk by teacher Shelley Wright, as Shelley can talk about this with more credibility than I ever could. She talks about her journey from traditional teacher, “running the show” to a teacher who supports students in exploring the “Why” question in terms of how and what they can contribute to their learning.

Sound a bit scary?  Shelley would be the first to say it is, but like many challenging things, she feels it’s well worth stepping out of that familiar comfort zone.  See what you think.

One thing I like about this clip is how human and vulnerable Shelley is as she lets go of her traditional ideas of teaching and helps her students search for the “Why?” of their learning and challenge themselves to meet the goals they set.  That “Why” gives her students ownership, purpose and passion.

She started by asking them what would make school work better for them, and they ended up making the world a better place for others.  Most importantly, they believed in themselves, and she absolutely came to believe in them as learners.

At  this point you may be asking, “What about all that science content she was supposed to be teaching them?  What does she do about that?”

I’ll let Shelley speak for herself:

“In my own classroom, the how has taken the form of an inquiry-based, PBL, tech-embedded classroom. My students drive the learning, and starting with curricular outcomes, outline what they’re going to learn, how they’re going to learn it, and how they’re going to show me their learning.”

Want to find out more? Check out Shelley’s blog at

There’s no doubt that wonderful things are happening in classrooms across the province, but I’m still asking the question I started with, “Why don’t we do more of this?”  Let me know what you think.


2 thoughts on “Yet Another Question: Why Don’t We Do More of This?

  1. Monica,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and this great video from the teacher. Her quote, ” that day I learned to believe in my students and about doing what really deeply matters to them” reminds me about why we are all in education. I think we don’t “do more do this” as you ask, because we are still fearful of giving up control of the classroom and what might happen if teachers learn WITH their students instead of doing learning TO them. Our job as leaders is to give them permission to take this risk.

    • Glenn,
      Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I wonder if some of that “control” business is really about how we think learning happens. We’ve been thinking for so long that it’s a stimulus-response situation (I teach – you learn), but in in reality that isn’t a very natural way to learn. Understanding happens when we encounter something new and find ways to connect it with what we already know as individuals. That idea makes inquiry a logical way to teach and learn, and hopefully makes it easier for us to let go of the idea we know everything and begin to explore with our students.

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