I recently re-visited a classroom, which is one of those that give me hope when I’m down about the challenges facing education today. It’s not that everything is perfect; that would seem so unreal as to dis- rather than en-courage. No, it was that the principal, the teacher, and the students were all engaged in learning in productive, connected ways.
The students were ten-year-old boys in a fourth class. They had read The Hundred-Mile-An-Hour Dog by Jeremy Strong. They then used storyboards, clay animation, a digital camera, and online music to create a digital story. There were six groups and each one responded to a different chapter in the book,
The novel was the overall winner of the 1997 Red House Children’s Book Award. You can get an idea of the story from Strong’s description:
Streaker is a dog that can run as fast as a whirlwind. Unfortunately she is badly trained. She doesn’t know her name and doesn’t know what ‘Stop!’ means either. She is driving everyone mad. Then Trevor takes on a bet with nasty Charlie Smugg. Trevor will train Streaker in two weeks, or he will have to bath in a tub full of muck and frogspawn. Can Trevor’s friend Tina help – or is Tina after something else quite different?
When A. and I talked with the boys we had exchanges such as:
A/C: Do you like this?
A/C: Can you tell us why?
B: Because it’s fun, not work.
A/C: But aren’t you working hard?
B: Well, yes, it’s work, but it’s different.
We also heard, “it’s easier to think in groups,” “[when you have a question] you go back to the story,” and “[when we disagree] we talk it out.” The activity combined art—sketches, coloring, clay figures, collage backdrops; group work—planning, sharing work, dispute resolution; technology—audio files and editing, digital photography, photostory; as well as reading and writing.
The principal says that activities like this—it’s really a whole program—have totally changed teaching and learning in the school. It’s boosted self-esteem and helped the school re-connect with the community. She “can’t imagine the school without it.” The work develops multiple intelligences, fosters project work, leads to integrated learning, and addresses the standard curriculum goals in the process. Teachers learn from each other, and maybe from the children, too,