Stamina

I’m sitting in the loft of the pre-school center watching the atelier (artist in residence) work with 3 rowdy 3-year-olds who are exploring digital tools.  The landscape is set up for them with a large digital projector on the floor, a doodle pad, a web cam, a platform by the screen and a plethora of large and small recycled materials.  These materials include tubes, cones, crates, cylinders, boxes, egg crates, opaque and transparent materials of different colors and so much more.  Near the webcam there is a small piece of artificial turf, pine cones, rocks, shells and many other natural materials.

As the children enter they engage in exploring their shadows with the projection and then the materials (using them to create music by bopping two tubes together).  They do this for a while.  Some begin building. One begins exploring the doodle pad and how his work on the pad is then projected onto the screen and the built materials in front of the screen.  This digital landscape is changing.  The teacher is questioning, listening and responding (not directing).  His goal, as he later tells us, is to see how the students would react to the digital tools.

After watching for 20 minutes, I leave to explore other areas of the pre-school center.  As I leave, the 3 children are still very fully engaged in the exploration of both the digital tools and the materials available to them.

I return an hour later.  1 of the children still remains.  He is the one who was initially working on the doodle pad.  He is still working with the doodle pad.  The landscape of materials in front of the projector has changed entirely since I left.  The colors on the screen are numerous, showing revision, layering and purpose.

As our group reassembles, the atelier escorts the student back to his classroom – but only because we are reassembling in the space.   This 3 year old worked on this exploration for 1 hour 20 minutes!!  He was self-directed, problem-solved, worked both collaboratively and alone and showed stamina for a new task that we don’t see in our classrooms very often.

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Two weeks removed from my Reggio Emilia Experience and the idea/image that resonates with me the most is the stamina of the children to stay with a task.  Stamina in this sense is staying on task while problem solving and showing self-direction.  I’ve seen this type of stick-to-it-ness with my own children when they are doing something outside of school that is of their own creation and idea (such as lego building, creating a classroom, etc.), but I’ve not seen this type of stamina within the school setting – we simply don’t offer an opportunity for it.

Thinking back to the digital landscape exploration at the pre-school it seems to me that both TIME and OPPORTUNITY and VISION are key to this type of self-motivated learning.  Because in Reggio there is a true fundamental belief in the potential of children to do great work, think big things and come up with great understandings, there is also a belief in giving them the time to do so.  Along with materials, this sense of time to work on projects in depth during the day and over days is something that we truly don’t offer our students any more.

Currently, we work towards reading stamina and writing stamina.  We practice for test taking stamina (those long reading passages one after another).  We work through the writing process because we work towards publishing (not just because we use the process to better our writing).  If we are honest with ourselves, our projects are week-long or multi-week at best.  They are teacher driven and achieved with student responses based on rubrics and teacher expectations.

If anything, with our current National Standards, we are moving further away from TIME and OPPORTUNITY and VISION and moving closer to a narrow view of student success based only on reading, writing and math scores, paired with alternative assessments in untested areas.

What if we relaxed the content expectations and gave students the time to explore topics broadly and deeply and with multiple avenues such as music and art and film?  What if we dared to believe in our students just a little bit more – gave them a chance to show us what really is important to them (instead of telling them what’s important to us?).  I bet, if we did, we wouldn’t have to work towards reading stamina or writing stamina or building our test-taking muscles.  I bet, that if we relaxed a bit and offered TIME and OPPORTUNITY to create a VISION, we’d see some extraordinary minds at work.