It’s All in Context

Learning happens when we need to know something.

Read that last sentence again.

What I saw this year was that the concept of subdividing a student’s day by topic borders on the ludicrous. What relationship does that concept have to your day? Is your professional task set neatly subdivided by the clock? Odds are quite good it’s not. So why do we teach our children this way?

This year, I taught E math inside of gaming; science inside of creative writing; logic inside of literature; creativity inside of geometry. We spent the last few months of the year writing a steampunk version of Alien, set in the Azores, a project that led E into all kinds of areas unrelated to creative writing – from deep-sea diving pressure and how it impacts the human body to the gender roles present in Victorian England. When we encountered the need for the information, we researched – not before.

Could I have delivered a twenty-minute talk in December on the subject of Victorian gender roles? Sure. It would have gone in one ear and out the other, because it wasn’t connected to anything. That’s why doing the proverbial ‘unit’ on something – no matter how integrated the subject matter is constructed to be – is doomed to failure. Units don’t exist in life. What does exist is passion and action and interest and curiosity.

“Sure,” you’re saying. “But how do I manage a classroom of thirty different sets of passions and actions and interests and curiosities?”

You don’t. That format is not for gifted learners. Sorry. I’ve long been a hard-core proponent of trying to ‘do gifted’ in the classroom setting, and the unfortunate reality is that it doesn’t work.

“What for?” has become a mantra in our home on this topic, thanks largely to an exceptional (and very moving) video entitled Future Learning. Kathy and I both watched it over and over, and we both still go back to it from time to time for the sense of wonder and possibility that seeps from every frame. It’s awesome in its scope, spine-shivering in its hope; it’s everything we want for our kids, and it merits ten minutes of your time.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jan on July 17, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    Just discovered your blog and am working back through the posts…I have been reading, giggling, and sighing with ahhh “yes I can relate” But this post made me choke on my tea as I read it giggling and remembered something in relation to “what for?”

    My mother assures me that the only reason I didn’t drive her totally off the deep end as a 2 year old was the fact I didn’t ask “why?” 1000 times a day….but instead I used to ask “why for does……..? and it would make her smile every time. I need to remember that smiley fact when my own children are causing me to tear my hair out.

    I have just copied out your 2 recent posts on Intensities and the fact that they are the wiring that comes with our gifted kids, and I will email them to my DD’s teacher and principal before “this weeks” meeting…

    Thanks so much for helping this family out!!


    • Thanks, Jan! The ‘why for does’ has its own cousin in our house; when H wants to tell you something, she doesn’t say ‘listen to this.’ She says ‘hear this.’ It’s got a sort of miniature-town-crier quality that gets me every time. Glad you found us & hope you come back for more!


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