Building New Structures

Brendan’s comment – the one I featured at the end of yesterday’s post – was still fresh in my mind when the classroom phone rang part way through the large Latin I class on Tuesday.  Ms. X was understandably upset because X and Y, it seems, had been loud and disruptive in the hallway on their way to the bathroom.

That’s an easy “problem” to “solve” in a factory-model class or school.  You yell and label at X and Y for a while, and you make empty threats about no one will ever leave class ever again for any reason or don’t you even think of asking to use the bathroom again for a long, long time.  And I was tempted – very tempted  – because X and Y have been loud and unfocused in class at times, and because sometimes they’re quietly unfocused.

But fortunately for X, Y, and our joyful learning community, Brendan’s comment was fresh in my mind.  I kept thinking about this part:

I’m thinking about all of this through the lens of “reality” and documentary storytelling, as well as the aspect of co-creating how events play out in intentionally-designed learning environments.

Usually, the rules and roles for learning environments (schools) are set up by tradition, and/or some kind of factory-style command-and-control model.  The other extreme is totally unstructured learning, often called unschooling at the K-12 level.

I’m interested in how novel combinations can be found by adding some kind of flexible structure to open-ended learning environments.  One of the best ways to do this is probably to reference real world events, needs, and opportunities.

Even though I hadn’t yet seen Debbie’s related comment, maybe I felt the power of its Wisdom too:

ah, yes … “intention”. Knowing the intention (and believing in it) eliminates SO many challenges and roadblocks .. and it makes is so much easier to deal with challenges and roadblocks as you don’t get side-tracked into someone’s chaos.
A behaviour problem doesn’t remain a problem, for example, if your goal is to help students become empowered. The behaviour problem is now an opportunity!!!

X and Y, much to their surprise, had presented us all with an opportunity!  An opportunity for us all to be intentional about what we’re doing, and an opportunity not to “get side-tracked into chaos!”

“I’m really distressed,” I told them, “because I just received a complaint.  And there are never complaints about the Latin Family, because we are a joyful learning community, and we build meaningful things together” (here, I think, I pointed to the small poster that reminds us of that principle, on one side of the classroom near the front) “and because we strive to be prompt, prepared, responsible, respectful, and helpful to others” (and here I pointed to the other small poster, the one on the other side of the classroom near the front).  “But I haven’t been feeling that!  It’s been feeling like just a class, or something … and unfortunately, if you act like just a class, you’re asking to be treated like just a class.”

Intentional design, avoiding chaos, using temporary failures as teachable moments.  Those are essential features of a joyful learning community, but X, Y, and the others are still getting used to them.  They were sad and mad, of course, and they briefly wanted to argue about other people … but within a few minutes, they felt more like members of a joyful learning community than they had in several days.

It’s hard to find, let alone build, flexible structures!  It’s hard to build open-ended learning environments that are open enough, but not chaoticstructured enough, but not authoritarian or controlling.  It’s even harder when you have 90 or 95 minutes a day, and then X, Y, and the others leave you and go off to Ms. X’s yelling and labeling and empty threats and new seating charts and punishment quizzes.

Hard … but not impossible.  Hard … but worth the effort.  Hard … but essential, since X, Y, and all of us are living in a world where flexible structures are the only successful ones, where self-management is the price of entry.  Is it ironic or highly appropriate that X and Y misbehaved on the very day when we were reading about the disastrous misbehavior of little Quintus Flavius in Tres Columnae Lectiō IX?  Like X and Y, Quintus Flavius is puzzled by the unusual features of Fabius’ school, by the fact that nēmō propter quaestiōnēs vapulat, as Fabius angrily informs Quintus Flavius’ paedagogus at one point.  Like Quintus Flavius, X and Y may have confused flexible structure with no structurefreedom with license, the demand for self-control with an opportunity to be out of control.  It’s sad if they did, but it’s really no more surprising than it was for Quintus Flavius to run around screaming and chanting.  Fortunately for them, their consequences were much less physically painful than his!

Later in the day, B and U were chatty and unfocused – surprisingly so, given the progress they’d been making.  “We’re sorry,” they said, “but it’s Spirit Week, and it’s exciting, and it’s hard to pay attention!”  Yes, I told them, I do understand about that … but the expectations remain, and it’s important that you take ownership of meeting them or not.  By the end of the day, B and U were less distracted.  And C, who sometimes just wants to sit, did an excellent job with his Minor Assessment product.  And K, O, and T, who sometimes forget a segment, did a beautiful job this time, with all three of them involved.

Flexible structures are important, but you have to build them anew … and you have to build them together when you’re building a joyful learning community.  It’s tempting, but ultimately futile, to reach for the same-old same-old, just as Ms. X’s own quest for the perfect lesson plans – the ones she can “just turn in exactly the same from year to year” because they’ll be “exactly the way they need to be” – will ultimately prove both tempting and futile.  Ms. X will have to learn that lesson for herself, just as X and Y had to learn the lesson about representing the Latin Family and B, U, and the others had to re-learn the one about managing yourself in the midst of distractions.

I wonder what new insights, new lessons, and new structures we’ll all discover today!

Published in: on November 6, 2013 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  

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