Inspirations to start the year!

Equal is everyone getting the same thing. Fair is everyone getting what they need to be successful. We will always try to be fair, but it won’t always feel equal.

On a Beam of Light

Welcome back to school! Every year as I begin to work with new students, teachers, and classes, I try to find interesting ways to introduce myself to my new learning communities. For many years I have read one of my favorite picture books called On a Beam of Light by Vladimir Radunsky. (Described here in brainpickings, one of my favorite blogs).  It is a great book to begin the year because it introduces Albert Einstein not as an already formed genius, but as an introverted little boy, who struggled at school, but who was so curious that his passion for wondering lead him to learn and to discover amazing ideas that changed the world.
 
With my students, I use it to uncover the idea that genius is not born and it is not about being smart. It is about being curious and creative. It is about asking questions and struggling to answer them, even if you are the first person to ever ask that particular question.  One must expect to have challenges along the way, as even the most famous scientist did, but to learn and grow, one must persist.
 
This year after reading the book in my smaller learning support groups, I asked students to complete a question burst. I asked them to write down any question they had, as fast as they could in five minutes. No question was too small and none too large. I did the same. Then we shared them and they let them sit until the next class and I  asked them to notice anything they were curious about between now and when we would meet again. In the next class, we completed another five minute question burst. They will then be asked to pick one of their questions to do a mini-research task and a short first writing about that topic. It is my hope that by using their curiosity to focus their work from the beginning of the year, the reading and writing we do together will be more relevant, and thus more interesting to them.

Fair does not necessarily mean Equal

In the classes where I am co-teaching, I tried a new activity to introduce myself and my work in the class. In each class, I divided the students into six groups and gave them a very simple task to complete. However, each group had one special challenge when completing the task. One group could not talk, one group had words blanked out of their directions, one group could not open their eyes, one group could only use one arm, one group had the directions in Spanish, and one group had all the information and materials they needed with no special challenge. (A version of the activity can be found here). It takes the first group about 2 minutes to complete the task and in that time all the other groups get pretty frustrated and start saying that it is not fair. Then we all come together to reflect on our experiences.
 
Some observations from the various classes include:
 
S: “It wasn’t fair. We could not see and so had no idea what to do. After awhile we felt that there were scissors so we just started cutting. It turns out we cut the directions”
T: “So, you used what you knew about the tools to make a guess about what to do, but the task was too challenging for you to be successful?”
 
S: “We did not have any challenge. It was easy”
S: “That is not fair. You did not have the chance to have a challenge like everyone else. You did not get to try something hard”
T: “So the task was so easy for them, they did not have the opportunity to learn anything?”
 
S: “We could not talk, but we were able to point and gesture.”
T: “You were able to find strategies that helped you to overcome your challenge and then were successful?”
 
S: “We could only use one hand so we worked together. It was hard though.”
 
S: “Our directions were in Spanish. We had no idea what to do. After awhile, we tried to look around at others and copy them.”
T: “What would have helped you?”
S: “A translator or someone who speaks Spanish”
T: “Would having a translator have helped the group that could not see?”
S: “No. They needed someone to read the directions to them or tell them what to do”
T: “So different groups needed different strategies to help them succeed?”
 
In each class, I finished the discussion by noting that everyone comes to class with different experiences and challenges and so fair does not necessarily mean that everyone gets exactly the same work. We want everyone to grow as learners and so that means that we might need to give them a different level of support or challenge to be successful or to grow as a learner. I shared that my job is to work with their teachers to know them as  learners. Then we work together to plan the right level of support and challenge for them to grow.
 
I will leave you with another favorite – Zach Anner. He was born with cerebral palsy and has done so much in his acting and his very funny youtube channel to normalize his disability. He wants people to know him as a person first and not to define him by his disability. Check out this back to school Work Out Wednesday to inspire your own back to school workout. Have a great new school year!

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