Who owns the work?

Published by Lori Pickert on November 1, 2008 at 05:33 PM


Hey Lori — Can I be a bit of a pain here? :)  I am in head-nodding agreement with this post, love the picture of slowly feeding a fire. And yet . . . some of this makes me feel like I have to be so bloody careful and choose my words with tweezers and make sure not to *ruin it all* with one wrong move. (Kind of makes me think of those awful “how to win a man” books in which you can never show too much interest or feeling lest you lose him forever.) You've said that screwing things up is fine and I know it’s mostly about the effort, not just the successes. But I do hesitate a good bit for fear of botching things with my real, authentic enthusiasm — seems so weird to bury that (but I simultaneously know what you're saying about kids pulling back from that is completely real). I can’t really bring this full-circle with a conclusion or theory, but I wanted to share this feeling. (And I am heeding your suggestions — I just put one, single book about Pompeii on hold, leaving the others to be discovered by my daughter, or not. That shows a serious amount of restraint for this input-loving mama.) Thoughts? — Nancy in NC

Fostering this kind of learning relationship is like learning to play the piano, or drive a manual transmission, or dance the waltz. It requires you to balance simultaneous goals and ideas — press the pedal and hit the right key, all the while maintaining a certain tempo! release the clutch *and* press the gas! anticipate your partner’s direction, but don’t step on his toes!

I *do* encourage you to loosen up and not worry too much about stepping over the line. the important thing is to consider and reflect. Try something different, see what happens, try something else. But always, always, keep in mind, Is the way I’m working with my child supporting my goals for her learning? And if the answer is no, consider and reflect some more.

Re: showing your enthusiasm …

Whether you unschool or school-at-home, with project learning, you are giving your child the chance to own the work.

This is the visual I want you to keep -- the work (which is learning — both the process and the product) is in your child’s hands. As parents, as educators, how can we be sure to not take that away from them?

If a child expresses an interest in penguins, and we bring home a dozen books about penguins, a movie about penguins, and a fantastic idea for building a penguin house along with some great materials to construct it …

If a child is puzzling about how to add wheels to a car they’ve built, and they’ve tried two things that haven’t worked, and we say “Here, I bet if you use these lids, and I can punch holes in them for you, and then you use these dowels as axles” …

If a child says, “I want to make a house for my dolls with this box” and we say “Oh yes! I have some wallpaper samples! And you don’t want to use cardboard; it will just fall apart — I will get you a wooden crate! And you could cut rugs and pictures out of magazines! And…”

If a child says, “Anne says caterpillars turn into butterflies and worms turn into moths, so I am going to get a worm from the garden and wait to see if it turns into a moth” and we say “Worms don’t turn into moths; some caterpillars turn into butterflies and other kinds turn into moths” and they say “oh”. …

As often as possible, we want to leave the work, the interest, the ideas, the solutions, the suggestions, the purpose, the guiding, the questioning, the excitement where it belongs — with the child.

If nothing else, we can see what happens when a child is the architect of their own knowledge building. Then, even if we direct some of their learning, we know what it looks like when it is self-motivated, self-driven, self-measured. There is no possible way this does not make us better teachers, better parents, better co-learners.



Comment by Estea on November 4, 2008 at 08:36 PM

so very helpful. removing the handcuffs of *our* ideas of content and measurement, letting them wiggle a bit without answers until their curiosity drives them to keep digging, less "i talk - you listen". is it difficult for me, a control freak, to let things alone? o YES.

thanks for fleshing this out with practical examples.

Comment by Nancy on November 4, 2008 at 09:26 PM

Thanks so much for this, Lori. This explanation really does complete the thought-circle for me . . . it's not about me containing my enthusiasm or squashing my brilliant ideas. Rather, it's about where the energy comes from. And it should originate with my kids. Otherwise, it's just a regular old assignment in fancy clothes. I'm going to try hard to think of myself as my child's apprentice (does that make sense for y'all?), 'cause that helps me see that we do indeed work together, with common goals, but I'm the helper, doing what I'm told. :) I so appreciate you addressing this more deeply! Again, I need to direct my energy into observation, recording. --Nancy in NC

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 5, 2008 at 12:17 AM

thank you, e, for your thoughtful comment. ;^)

nancy, you are so very welcome. thank *you* for bringing such great dialogue. and you know, look at it this way. for the *topic*, yes, your child can become the expert, and you can be the apprentice. but then again - you are really mentoring your child, and they are *your* apprentice, just not in the *topic*, but in the mastering of learning how to acquire knowledge. you are teaching - not the *topic* (they are teaching themselves) - but the tools and skills of learning. and you do that like a true mentor, ready to reach out and steady a hand here, make a gentle suggestion or model asking a good question there, but letting the apprentice do the work with you by their side.

thank you again -- i really value your contribution!

Comment by Andrea on November 5, 2008 at 03:09 PM

This post really spoke to me. I have been feeling for awhile that I want my kids to take a more active role in their learning and the projects they take on in homeschool. I definitely am guilty of taking over with my enthusiasm. I'm also worried that if I don't provide all the resources and ideas that I won't feel like I'm doing enough for their education. I appreciate the clarification that what you are doing is mentoring them in how to learn and find the answers. I'm curious to learn more about how this approach plays out in practice.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 5, 2008 at 10:22 PM

hi andrea, and thank you for your comment.

when i was training teachers to use these methods, they would often say that they didn't feel like they were *teaching* if they weren't actively doing lessons and planned activities -- the kind of work i was espousing (documenting, observing, facilitating, supporting) seemed too passive, perhaps? it wasn't until they started actually doing projects that they realized it's just as much work as "regular teaching" -- just different! and, i think, way more fun and interesting, since you don't ever know what's going to happen.

i look forward to talking with you more; let me know -- in omments or in the forum -- if you have any questions or if you would like to discuss something in particular!

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