Learning Lines

Investigating New Territory Through The World of Writing

The New Smart

I never thought I could ever be one of those smart people.  I let traditional education define me.  While growing up people said, You can be anything you want to be.  But after a few years in school, the pattern set in – not so good at math, enjoys art,  struggles with comprehension.  Then, in high school I got pretty good grades.  I had to work really hard to get them though.  College came around and I got wait-listed at my first choice University.  So, I listened to my parents and decided to go to a medium-sized liberal arts college in Ohio.  Where, again, I seemed to surround myself with all the “smart” people, but didn’t really feel like I belonged.

In the middle of my sophomore year, I got bored with communications classes and considered moving into teaching.  After listening for eons to my parents discuss the ins and outs of their jobs as educators, I kind of had the inside track.  So, I had a few heart-to-heart talks with Brother Jerry.  This seventy year old goofball disguised as a brilliant education professor, helped me mull over the idea for a semester while I took his class.    It was in his huge, cozy office (it had the feeling of a family room really)  that he tricked me into the endless possibilities of learning.  I didn’t even realize what was going on.  How did he suck me in?  Stories. But there were no tests!  What?  No tests?  All I had to do was read the assigned material and participate in the discussion.  He made it so painless, I forgot to be worried about grades.  In his class, there were no right answers, there were only more questions.  The more questions I asked, the more I had.

So, why was this such a pivotal time in my learning?  For the first time in my life, I wanted to know what the answers were.  How could I find them?  It no longer mattered what grade I got.  My motivation shifted from what do I have to learn, to what do I get to learn?  After Brother Jerry’s class, I had a new perspective on learning.  It could happen anywhere, at any time.  I just had to look for it.  So, what had I been doing in school for the last 18 years?  Apparently, I didn’t know.  It had all been a game.  Figuring out what the rules were was different in every class.  Trying to give teachers the answers they wanted to all of their questions were the hoops I jumped through to get from point a to point b.

For the last 20 years I have dedicated myself to the idea that school is not a game, and its not about me, the teacher.  Its personal.  Instead of teaching answers, I teach children how to question.  I let them wonder about their interests.  I give them time and tools to discover their answers.

There are several reasons I know the definition of intelligence is changing: my reading, my learning and my teaching.  These are all skills and processes I fell in love with as soon as I left the traditional classroom and created my own.  I taught myself.  Of course there were brilliant people who guided me with tools and data and more questions.  I’ve spent years reading, discussing, experimenting and discovering how young minds develop roots for a lifetime of meaningful growth.  Educational influences from the past like Montessori, Vygotski, Dewey, Piaget and Bloom with current theorists Marzano, Allington, Cunningham, Clay, Graves, Calkins and Routman have all paved the way for my understanding.  And the proof is in me.  The proof is in my students.

Intelligence is no longer thought to be a simple number (IQ).  Genetics is no longer the only indicator of your destiny.  Books like The Biology of Belief are now sharing physical proof of cellular changes caused by the environment outside a cell.  What does this mean for learning and education?  With a positive attitude, effort and stamina, our brain doesn’t stop learning at a certain age.  In a supportive stimulating educational environment where children are not feeling worried or threatened, more learning can actually take place.  The parents, teachers and students together just need to unlock each individual brain.  Because each individual brain has its own unique history to build upon.

If schools would focus more of their energy on providing tools and training to educators developing learning environments where communities of brains can help each other, more of our students would probably end up teaching the teachers.  Their collective learning would move so quickly, adults would hardly be able to keep up.

I have seen the power of this possibility in my classroom.  Students with special needs are synthesizing information from websites to teach other classmates.  Children are lined up at my desk, at the end of the day, begging me to take home books I can’t pry out of their hands.  On Fridays you can hear a pin drop as the kids show reverence while listening to the stories we’ve taken all week to craft.

So, now I feel like one of those smart people.  Parents call me for insight into their child’s brain.  They know I have the key.  I spend every hour of my working day looking for it.  When their kids don’t do well on a math paper or a science test, I just reassure them, its okay.  Now we know what they get to learn next.

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3 comments on “The New Smart

  1. Amy Ritchie
    April 16, 2010

    Man, I wish you were my teacher. Oh, wait. You kinda are! 🙂

    BTW, that image you held about yourself, about not fitting in with the smart people when you were young? Well, I was there and can say first hand that no one, including me, would ever, ever agree with you.

  2. Nan Schivone
    August 1, 2010

    I love this!!! As Abe starts kindergarten TOMORROW (!), I’m thinking a lot about education these days. Keep writing Sarah ~

  3. Stacy Wiegerink
    August 1, 2010

    I am so with you on all of this!! Thank you for all you do to inspire me and all your students! I am so thankful I am able to spend time with you in your classroom and see all you do. It is truly amazing to see all the students begin the transformation into life long learners!

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This entry was posted on April 16, 2010 by in Learning Theory.
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