The idea of “thinking time” got me reflecting. Why did I love the unscripted chat so much? What is more valuable, having quiet thinking time or group thinking time? How can I use this piggyback method more? What should my role be in these chats? Is my classroom set up to allot time and space for more of these amazing chats?
If you as a teacher have not sat back and watched a 45-minute discussion that is completely and equally led by your students, it is something you need to experience. Kids brains becoming pepper shakers, letting everything just pour out for their classmates to witness without a care of judgment, was a pure delight to witness. Not only is it exciting seeing the inquisitive flame of each kid burn, but also watching them eagerly and actively listening in hopes of making a connection with a peer is a sight to behold. My students, regardless of any differences such as learning disabilities, self-esteem, culture, gender, multiple intelligence, to name a few, were seeking ways to connect with one another. The end result was an environment where students readily chose to be vulnerable for the sole purpose of learning. Learning took precedence and everything else was forgotten.
But where did all these amazing thoughts dispensing from my students’ brains come from? And even more intriguing, why were they so eager to jump out of their shells and open up? To answer this I turned within.
If someone asked me where I do some of my best thinking the answer is clear… a washroom. I, and many others, tend to do some of our best thinking while in the shower or on the toilet. Sorry if I gave you an unwanted visual, but I’m just stating a fact, supported by all those magazines next to the loo. This is because it is one of the only quiet times we get in a world that is very busy and loud. Quiet time, in a sense, allows everything to slow down. It gives us time to think at a deeper level and examine ideas that don’t typically cross our mind during our chaotic lives. Being cognizant of this, it easy to understand the importance of a quiet classroom. What quiet time does is allows time for our thoughts to incubate and mature. Steven Johnson, in his TED talk titled, “Where Do Good Ideas Come From” claims that it is during this time that we all develop these “small hunches.” I believe the problem with a quiet classroom however, is it doesn’t allow opportunities for a thought fender-benders.
See, as good as quiet time is for fostering thoughts it does not allow a space for thoughts to be bounced around. Daniel Pink said it best, claiming inner creativity is the sole force for engagement and the promoter of learning. What I witnessed this morning were kids so cooped up with innovative viewpoints that they just needed a platform to unleash their inner creativity. Not just that, but they needed others opinions to empower their ingenuity like a car needs fuel. The student engagement evident in all corners of my room backs up Mr. Pink’s assertions. They were proud of their knowledge and couldn’t wait to share it. The audience gave them a purpose to engage in the learning process. Without this platform the students lose a valuable chance to further their curiosity and learning. You see, quiet time is fantastic for fostering thoughts and beliefs, but it does not allow for the fulfillment you get when you connect a thought with somebody else and a light bulb of understanding occurs. As valuable as quiet time is, so too is the environment that allows interactive time where minds connect. This “connected mind” that Steven Johnson refers to, helps to deepen understanding, explore different perspectives and discover new things that would never have been learned or explored otherwise.
So then how can we create a classroom that cultivates all the benefits of quiet time while still allowing our kids to spring ideas around with as many minds as possible?
Firstly, you need a curriculum that is built around each child. If you fail to allow a student to delve into their passions then their inquisitive fires will slowly become extinguished. With no passion students learns to please others rather than learn for themselves. Secondly, don’t attempt to solely direct their curiosities. As a teacher, the only thing needed is to ensure that what they are wondering about is relatable to them and the world they live in. What I learned from my amazing morning lesson was that I did not need to be there. The process of active and connected learning was the facilitator. So, as tough as this may sound for some, often the best thing a teacher can do is just get out of the students’ way. Next, make global connections. Everybody loves sharing things they are proud of. Sharing ideas globally allows a greater chance of not only having a kid find that nugget to connect their thoughts with, but also a sense of amazement that other kids around the world share similar thoughts. Once these connections are made a series of joy, pride, inquiry and engagement happens naturally. Lastly, inquiry may be prompted but should not be guided. With this in mind, get rid of set time slots. For me, when I am excited to learn something I find it next to impossible to wait. So why do we tell our kids, “Great idea, but you need to wait until Thursday at 2”? You just continued to pour salt on the wounds created by a rigid school schedule. If an idea is brought forward that engages students and prompts discussion, go with the flow and allow it the flourish. Conversely, if an attempt to encourage a discussion flounders, don’t force it. If the students aren’t in the right mindset for ideas to flow naturally, come back to the discussion when the time seems right. Create a classroom environment with different zones to encourage opportunities for independent thought, this may include a quiet area, a reflection corner, a collaboration area and a space to connect globally. Not only this, but if a student is so intrigued with their own wonder don’t pollute their mind by plugging up their brain with information that you only teach for the sole purpose of hitting the learning outcomes. Students are relatively young in the learning process, and our job is to ensure that they fall in love with this process. Don’t stifle their curiosities and instead empower them in becoming lifelong learners.