As I observed the kids at work in their groups, I realized something. Believing in something isn't necessarily the same as having faith that it will work.
I absolutely believe that I can create an environment where kids share in decision making and are actively engaged and still ensure that we meet the curriculum standards, build on students' strengths, and address their needs. This project is a great example of that. The kids wanted to share their learning about maps, suggested how they could do it, organized groups, and were set to work. I became the lady who was to ensure they had "lots of paper--the big kind" and "those sentence things...and also we need you to get us bigger maps."
And on the morning they were to start work, I realized that while I believe in this kind of environment and learning--that it is powerful and effective--I wasn't sure I had faith that it would all work. That shook me a bit. I was soon to turn 23 first graders loose. In groups they made without my input. To share what they felt was important without my guidance.
I wonder...was it really shaky faith on my part, or a fear of giving up control? After all, faith does require a certain amount of giving-up-control-ness.
I knew that I needed to stay the course, to have faith that the kids not only could work together but that they would. And that they'd figure out what to share and how to share it. After all, this kind of work reflects a lot about what I believe about effective classroom practices.
As I watched them work over the next few days, my faith was rewarded. There were a couple minor disagreements, but the kids figured it out for themselves. They all worked; every child contributed. Groups were discussing and planning and deciding what they felt was important to share about maps in general or what to point out on their maps. They designed their own layouts for their projects and shared the completed work with the rest of the class. I was needed only as a final spell-checker and as the person tall enough to hold up the charts while the groups shared.
This project was not only a great learning experience for my kids, it reaffirmed my belief in certain practices. It also caused me to stop and consider that even when teachers believe something is effective, it may still be difficult to have real faith that it's going to work in our classrooms with our kids. But I also believe that we have to find the faith to try--and to keep trying. If it's what we say we believe, then our classroom practices have to reflect it.