I’m about to be terribly honest.
Children are not interested in anything the standards say.
I am not so idealistic to think that most 4th graders enter our school with desires to “analyze and provide evidence of how the author’s choice of point of view, perspective, and purpose shape content, meaning, and style.” Obviously, they’d much rather be watching YouTube videos of kids overseas playing with Squishies (that’s a thing–YouTube it).
Even when presenting this important reading skill to students, the mere breadth of this standard gets in the way of bringing students to a place where they can find any interest in it. So the question is, how do we get students to “deeper places” in their learning?
If we take a look a the aforementioned YouTube, we have to acknowledge a few things about it: it has a variety of videos, and is sure to offer something to pique anyone’s interest, it can sustain entertainment for long periods of time, and there is an option for viewers to leave feedback. In a nutshell, YouTube offers voice to the viewer. This is exactly what we need to be providing students in our classrooms: student voice.
If we were to look at the 4th grade South Carolina College and Career ELA standard presented earlier (Language, Craft, and Structure, Standard 11), there are actually a few ways, using the gifts possessed by YouTube, to engage student voice in teaching this:
- Variety: Allow students to study a text that interests them. This doesn’t have to be a book. It could be a poem, article, how-to guide, song lyric, or even a journal entry or blog post. Kids are going to be way more interested in something they have selected than a book you’ve pulled off a curriculum guide.
- Sustainability: This type of learning can’t be limited to 45 or 50 minutes (try pulling a 10-year old away from their device after 50 minutes). Giving students the chance to explore in this matter requires a few class sessions at minimum, providing kids the chance to go off into directions that truly do deepen their understanding. Say for example, a student is analyzing an opinion article regarding the influence of the WNBA on women’s sports–this may send that student down a wormhole about the history of the WNBA, influential players, even information about Title IX. While setting flexible boundaries for our students, we have to give them the freedom and time to explore.
- Feedback: Very little engages children like the opportunity to give their two cents on a topic. How often do we really allow them to be heard? When given the chance to be vocal about their learning, they are forced to think critically about their statements. This Edutopia article highlights two particular strategies for getting kids to think critically about their reading and sharing their own views on it.
Teaching in this manner allows students truly to engage deeper in their learning. However, it requires teachers to loosen the reigns, which is not as easy as finding entertainment on YouTube. Pardon the overuse of the word, but diving “deeply” into allowing student voice right away is not prescribed. Part of our role as educators is providing students with the tools to manage this type of learning more independently. We must lay the foundation first, guiding them with how to research and think critically, and how to respectfully share feedback supported with evidence.
“Such powerful exchange of human energy.”