It’s easy to get caught up in the content when teaching.  After all, we have scopes and sequences laid before us, tempting us to follow their every whim and will, when meanwhile, by taking this easy road, we forget what we really started out to do in the first place — and that is to help kids love learning and use it to achieve their own passions and goals.

It’s rare to find an educator who doesn’t say that their goal is to help kids to love learning; in fact, most say that they want their students to be curious and creative in order to become “life long learners,” but alas, some of these words have turned into clichés, withering away with the good intention that once filled those words.  Some attribute their lack of follow-through to the Common Core Standards, stating that teaching with standards hinders teacher creativity, that it’s too confining to actually teach anything robust and relevant, but I beg to differ. In fact, having the standards as a frame for learning has actually helped me dig farther into the process behind which all learning occurs, and yesterday’s lesson on questioning exemplifies that fully.  While it was a lesson on questioning — a standard which cannot be found in the Common Core — it was merely a step in the process, getting them towards research and critical reading skills, which are explicitly denoted in the Common Core.

We started the lesson by examining many types of questions from the day before.  I posed a question, asking them to discern the “high quality” questions from the “low quality” questions, a practice that no sooner failed than it had started.  It didn’t seem to work for them, and they had trouble seeing what actually made something a quality question.  Luckily, I had planned to teach them about different levels of learning, too, and with some quick thinking and flexibility, I was able to merge the two parts of the lesson together seamlessly.

And hey, I was able to teach them about Bloom’s Taxonomy in an even more meaningful way.  #win

I truly believe that, in order for the learning process to be internalized, children need to be metacognitive.  While this could mean talking about their thoughts and reflecting with partners, true metacognition comes when students can identify their place in the learning process and use this identification to progress further.  This is especially important when it comes to research, where understanding the process trumps the actual product itself, in many cases.

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So in order to save my failing question activity, I merged it with the activity on learning, asking students to place the various questions from yesterday on this student-friendly version of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  We started by discussing the words “define” and “identify,” and what characterized them as such low-level, foundational knowledge.  From there, we pondered the nuances between defining and describing something, which the students characterized as having much more detail and requiring a bit more knowledge.  We then clarified the meaning of analysis and evaluation, noting that it takes some more background knowledge and the ability to reason in order to be able to reach this level of understanding, and finally, we discussed the idea of connection and synthesis, the point when a “new idea” emerges.

While some of this teaching may seem superfluous and misaligned to the standards, it’s actually quite the opposite. Teaching children metacognition and the art of learning helps them to reach those standards in a more self-directed way, not only breeding the independence my teaching partner and I so desire for our students, but also helping us, as their teachers, give them what they truly need — and what they truly need is not hand-holding.

Instead, what our students need is to feel empowered by their learning and to feel that they can mentor themselves through the process.

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