A few days ago I talked about the first time I dug for treasure—figured out how to take my subconscious knowledge and turn it into something I could teach.
Here’s another dig. (I'm loving the image of the carefully tended hole in the dirt, the string sections, the notebook drawings, the sieves, the precious finds...I guess that's an archaeological dig. Can I have two kinds of treasure in my metaphor?)
My partner has a little nonprofit elementary school, the Drinking Gourd School. I wish you could know how amazing it is. It’s a place where kids don’t want to go home at the end of the day. Where they make amazing strides in academics because they’re working on exactly the right task for them. Where kids who need lots of practice to learn feel just as good about themselves as kids who learn really fast. Where you can see a six-year-old mediating a conflict on the playground. Where the teacher knows each child in depth. Where every adult who visits says, “I wish I could go here!”
This learning culture came out of Trisha’s brain. She has spent her whole life developing these methods, which don’t exist in any other school. She holds in her mind a vast amount of information, concepts, routines, systems—and the attitudes that underlie it all.
It’s not written down anywhere.
I have been Trisha’s sounding board for twenty years, and I knew a little bit about what she was doing. And I realized that this was the same kind of situation as my indexing workshop. So I offered to help.
How does one go about such a huge task?
We started with the teeny tiny tapie. Yes, okay, it’s my digital recorder, but we call it the tapie because that’s what they had on Get Smart. (But I don’t have a shoe phone.)
Anyway, every day after school I would turn on the tapie and Trisha would brain dump. Everything interesting that happened that day, in no particular order. And anything else that crossed her mind. We did this every time we drove in the car, too.
Transcribing the tapie sessions gave me masses, absolutely masses of information. Finding a structure to contain all of this treasure was fascinating.
It turned out that Trisha already knew a lot of the categories things needed to go in (otherwise known as sections of the training material). They just appeared as soon as I asked her. Some really obvious ones like how she teaches reading, writing, and math. Some not-quite-so-obvious ones like empowering girls, homework, and how to use the physical environment.
So we had the beginnings of a structure.
I started to label each little paragraph of story with a category or point that it illustrated. Like this:
Child: Look look look! I read 40 pages at quiet reading today! Trisha: interesting. What's the story about? Is it happy or sad? What’s the exciting part? Are you at the end of the story or are things still happening? Child: the part when they had to escape from the dinosaur was really exciting! But I don't know where they're going to go next. Trisha: all right, well now I can tell you did some good reading! [reading: valuing content not just quantity]
Of course, some examples didn’t fit easily. I didn’t have any category to put them in. They got labeled “Where?” Some others fit into five categories at once, so I just listed them all and we decided later where to use them. We kept discovering new categories.
Once we had some categories, she started to do brain dumps about particular subjects. “Okay, Trisha, tell me everything you can think of about… recess.” I typed and typed, filling in sections with details and examples and instructions. She read over and edited what I wrote. And the more treasure we dug out and sorted, the more we understood how it all fit together.
And the most marvelous thing? The threads that run through everything Trisha does. The biggest one was individualization. We knew it was important. But we didn’t know it was going to turn up everywhere. We found out that at every moment, as she plans, teaches, evaluates, she is thinking about the individual differences and needs of each child. We realized that this focus, which lots of education people talk about but which almost never actually happens in the classroom, is the core and magic of her approach. The huge glowing jewel in the middle of her treasure.
I ended up writing a whole training manual.
And now our new teacher is shining in her classroom.
Related posts: My First Dig