Often I talk about the class period as a time for discovery and learning. I sometimes find myself in conflict with others when talking about learning standards and goals. When I mention veering off on to an unexpected topic in class, I am told, "That's okay as long as you bring it back to the learning goal." Hmmm. I don't believe that. Sometimes when the natural evolution of class goes away from the learning goal, it is often better to follow that learning than to try to bring it back to the day's goal. If kids are excited about something that naturally comes up in class, why would we NOT pursue it? It is good learning whether or not it fits the standard or the learning goal. After all, why sacrifice the natural curiosity of the kids just to get back to something that can be learned later. I take those learning opportunities seriously and pursue them with zest. I put the kids before the standards. Today was a case in point.
A week ago, we put a grant on DonorsChoose.org for a 3D Doodle Pen. We had a grant for a 3D Printer funded two months ago and some kids wanted the doodle pen to freehand some 3D artifacts for their learning. Today, we finally took the wraps off of it. One student, Ben, began playing with it to get a feel for how it works and its potential for his project. Within minutes, Ben had a group of four or five other kids who were learning with him. Now, learning to use a 3D doodle pen was not the learning goal for the day, nor was it a standard for our English class. What it was, though, was good, relevant, immediate, enthusiastic learning. The kids were very excited, deciding who would use the pen next and talking about what they would try to create.
Should I have pulled the plug on that group and shooed them back to work on their daily learning goal? Not on your life! These kids were experiencing authentic learning driven by their own curiosity. This type of learning is exactly what real learning is; it is how we as adults learn.
When I talk to others who are insistent that classroom learning must always come back to the learning goals and standards, I will remember our class today and know that learning happens all of the time in so many ways. We have to expand our idea of learning, not reduce it to the "approved" learning goals and standards. Are standards important? Of course they are but they are not as important as the kids.