Relationships & Learning
Just before school broke for the holiday season, I had a magical moment with one of my tutoring students. He is in grade 3 and at school was given the prompt, being of light. From our discussion it became clear that the teacher was using the prompt to facilitate conversation about kindness and generosity. My student was quite dismissive of the prompt, saying "being of light means being kind"', end of story. When I probed a little, he seemed to have missed his teacher's intent to facilitate deeper thinking. So, I seized the opportunity - "What does it mean to be kind?" I asked. We then dove deeper into the meaning of kindness, and I discovered that he had quite a bit to say about people and kindness. He noted that there were different types of kindness, that some types were easier than others, that some people didn't respond well to kindness. He spoke of other acts of kindness which were about setting boundaries, and again he observed that not everyone was grateful. This led into a deeper conversation about people, interactions and emotions. At the end of the conversation, I asked him to write a paragraph about kindness, about being of light. The image on the left is contains the text that he created.
Being a tutor of writing skills, I often find that the writing topic needs deeper exploration. Students need time to think, research, draw upon their own experiences, and/or discover how the topic connects to them at a personal level. This was the case with my grade 3 student, time was needed to think critically and unpack the subtleties of the topic.
It takes time and a trusting relationship to facilitate deeper thinking, learning and self expression. By creating a space where students can explore, be in process with their thinking, converse without the pressure to get the 'right' answer, students are able to play with ideas. Playful discussion is such an important part of the process - the ability to discuss without foreclosing on an idea, to explore without knowing where it might lead. At the same time, the adult is listening carefully, looking for the moments to gently direct the thinking to the next level. Holding this type of learning space, allows all members to see themselves as valid contributors - they feel empowered, they feel a sense of belonging within their learning community. This social emotional growth is an integral part of academic learning.
Students are also building a relationship with the topic. Being in relationship with the topic means understanding the topic's subtleties or complexities. With this understanding, one is able to see how it plays out around them, how it impacts their life. As one reads or researches a topic, the information flow to the student has an impact - evoking thought, analysis, evaluation, the formation of opinion. The role of the adult is to facilitate the 'connecting the dots', helping the student discover how these various pieces of information are related and what inference can be drawn from these connections. Whether it's a grade 3 topic about kindness, a grade 11 novel study or a grade 12 social studies topic, it comes back to relationship - relationship with the topic and relationship with others through discussion. And, through relationship comes meaningful learning and the ability to express oneself.