New trends in education employ gaming principles. Project based learning is all the rage. I think both are valuable, and I am working to incorporate them into my classes. But there is a voice in the back of my head telling me not to go too far in any one direction. I worry there is a danger that in reaching kids that we did not reach before we may be shutting out another group. Autonomy and differentiation may provide the best hooks to hang the proverbial teaching hat on. At least that is what my own non-scientific study tells me.
I have twin boys who will be 8 in a few weeks. They are fraternal, and they are really different kids. When people tell me they were talking to one of my boys but do not know which one, I tell them that if they tell me what he said I can tell who it was. They are forever challenging me to navigate between their competing visions, for a meal or for an afternoon.
One child thrives on video games. He loves the challenges of beating the different levels. He learns the tricks and tries to tell my other son what to do. He speaks a language that I only half understand. Whenever I want to get him to work harder at something, I remind him about his commitment to his games. He has said he would like math more if it was a game. He likes the math apps on my iPad. While he enjoys other activities, video games are his passion. He would love to learn anything in the context of a game.
My other child is writing a book about baseball legends. He started it today, and he is proceeding methodically. He is reading the backs of baseball cards. He asked me about some players he did not know. He also identified the internet as a place he would conduct research. During reading time tonight, he was at his desk writing away. He enjoys video games, but he does not have the same passion as his brother. He did visit the library in a video game to learn about the history of the Olympics. Sports are his passion, and he wants to learn as much as he can.
I do not think that every teacher and lesson should accommodate the learning preferences of both of my children; life does not always work exactly how you want. I practically break out in hives when I have to fill out forms, but that does not exempt me. At the same time, I hope that there is enough in the curriculum to fuel my children’s passions. It would be nice if their teachers know how to tap into their interests in not only what to learn but how to learn it. Some level of differentiation and student autonomy is necessary. But it is more than that. With guidance, students can find themselves in lots of different places, like the Library in a video game or the Math Ninja app.
As I embark on the new school year, I look for inspiration at home. I am so lucky to have fraternal twins. They teach me things every day, when I pay attention. Today’s lessons are to pay close attention to the micro-moments where kids can tap into their motivators no matter the lesson or project and not to fall in love too much with any one style or method of teaching and learning. While I cannot quite imagine having my own children in my class, I need to teach as if they are.