Google+ bakers and astronauts: On Teaching "Content"

07 July 2012

On Teaching "Content"

In my new role as an educator outside of a traditional classroom setting, I am teaching children about gardening and nutrition.  This is the first time I have had a focus in my teaching, and it is a learning experience for me to think about the "stuff" that I need to deliver to kids.

I'm not struggling with the idea that teachers do deliver content.  But in my experience, I have planned environments and exploratory experiences for children and then observed and supported as they interact with prompts and people.  Even with preschool "content", like phonemic awareness and numeracy skills, children gain that knowledge over time with exposure to great stories, well planned free play environments, and teachers finding the moments to make those connections.  Content in this setting has been known to include worksheets and posters.

A day like Thursday, at our summer camp, found me sharing baby turkeys with the children and answering questions about them.  I'm thinking about how I feel about this shift.  It is an important part of what I will be doing for the coming year.

I've made lesson plans, and I have followed them.  Before now, my lesson plans were about the materials and how they might be presented and what I as a teacher might focus my language on.  Jumping into this work in the garden, I find that I need to convey specific information rather than focus on exploration.  For example, while looking at eggs that turkeys hatched from, children have questions about everything possible.  The way that the planning has been in the past does not necessarily allow for long periods of exploration, and with something this "scientific, there are lots of facts and we want the kids to gain some understanding of that.

There is a lot of value in children holding baby turkeys.  They have curiosities, and I'm happy to share my understandings and knowledge.  I suppose what I am more used to is children with more open ended materials, and me using my language and resources to support those explorations.  When I have a big poster in front of a group of kids that shows the different parts of a worm's body and we're talking about what worms do for the earth, things don't feel so open ended.

Something for me to remember is that I am still helping children learn.  I'm also not trying to meet any standards or benchmarks with this content.  And just because this is the way that teaching has happened in this garden in the past does not mean that it needs to be static.  I was brought on because I am a competent teacher.  I might still need to teach about worms, seeds, plant parts, and baby animals, but I think that a shift can be made to include more exploration and scientific thinking on the children's parts, rather than me delivering knowledge.

It is not my role to make the curriculum, but I can help with best practices.  I believe in the power of play and exploration, and I imagine that this older crowd might not always get those experiences in their classroom.  Its time to plan for more exploration and experimentation.

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