“He copied me!” my student bellowed from across the writing workshop table.
“I wouldn’t call it copying,” I say back. “It sounds like he just really liked your idea. Lots of people create things that other people started first. It’s called being inspired. It sounds like you’re really inspiring, and he was just really inspired by you.”
That usually shuts ’em up pretty quick.
In all seriousness, this is a phrase I hear all too often, especially teaching the little ones. And while I don’t want to simply “shut ’em up,” I do want them to learn something from moments like these. Whether it’s their egocentrism or modern culture’s every-child-gets-a-trophy mentality, children somehow have come to believe that every idea they have is theirs, that they own it, that they’re the first ones to think of said idea. But this is simply untrue. Ideas cannot be owned, they cannot be captured, and they cannot be sold. Ideas are seeds, scattered serendipitously by the winds of cognition, only to sprout where inspiration is rich and fertile.
And I thought about this idea this morning as I sat on the train, starting to plan a series of lessons to kick off independent projects for some of my older students. I wanted to find some way to help anchor and structure the unit, meanwhile leaving it open enough for them to access their own creativity. Originally, I thought of a unit I did a while ago on “passion,” one that I did when helping my students write their own TED talks. I wrote, “What’s your passion?” in the first line of my plans. I thought about it more, though: while this worked last time to a certain extent, a unit on “passion” is difficult for children, especially small ones. Passion implies something that’s already there; it implies something that’s relatively fixed. But kids are little. They know so little about the world and about themselves, and as their teacher, I feel a strong responsibility not just to help them access their interests and passions, but also to help them explore uncharted territory.
All too often, we get caught up in this idea of an interest-based curriculum, based solely off of fixed interests and passions. We’ve convinced ourselves that in order to teach the basketball-loving child math, we must create only story problems that incorporate basketball. But this is simply untrue, too. While an interest-based curriculum may help to incorporate these existing passions, and while said child may temporarily cling to a problem about basketball, most of us do not learn simply by contextualizing new content within topics we enjoy. What we really want is a “high-interest” curriculum, not just an interest-driven one.
Because the heart of high-interest learning–as well as the core of personalization–lies in inspiration.
It lies within the sound of a cord striking within us, our minds clinging to it, and our hearts connecting to it, causing it to assimilate into our souls and become an indiscernible part of us.
As a result of this striking realization, I erased the first line of my unit plans, grateful that I had waited until the last minute to start planning this unit. It seemed that my plans for this unit, while constructed at the eleventh-hour, are now representative of exactly how I want my students to approach their independent projects and their own learning over the next few weeks: serendipitous, wrought with romantic emotion, and inspired.
These next few weeks, while they will be about creating real-world, relevant learning experiences–ones that capture literacy, numeracy, and the sciences, ones that incorporate multi-disciplinary learning, executive functioning, and critical thinking–they will be about so much more than that. They will be about igniting passions and learning just what it feels like to be inspired.
Because within these seeds of inspiration lie innovation and a thirst for learning that pervades our entire lives. And while I want my children to leave these projects feeling challenged, I more so want them to see that inspiration lies all around them, that they can constantly be exploring and immersing themselves in new ideas, and that inspiration will be the momentum that will take them through the rest of their lives.