A funny thing happened in the classroom today. As I welcomed my students into the classroom, one by one, a student stopped at the door to inform me that they did not do their homework. When I reminded the student that I don't assign homework, the student mumbled, “oh, that's right”, and walked into the room. As the students got to their seats and begin taking out their materials, I stood outside and thought about that student's question. Evidently, I stood out there for some time because a student came out, looked at me, and asked me if there was something wrong. When I looked down at the student, I asked them if they knew what skill they needed to work on in class. The student's eyebrows furrowed for a moment as they considered the question. This 5th grade student looked back up at me and said they are learning how to subtract mixed numbers with regrouping. So I asked the student what they plan to do in class to learn that skill. The student looked into the classroom and saw their classmates sitting in their assigned seats talking to one another quietly. The student turned back to me and explained how they've been working with a classmate that had already mastered that skill. I calmly asked the next question knowing the student was ready to go back into the classroom. I asked how that other student has time to work with them and still master their own skills, and the student, even more confused, just said that the skill is easy for that other student so they're also working on something else. I told the student to go on in and get started, that I would be in soon.
The student walked to their table and joined in with their group about whatever they were talking about. I looked into the classroom, now 5 minutes into class, and saw all of my 5th grade students working with each other, talking with each other, sharing math books and Chromebooks, pointing at each other as they seem to be explaining, even defending, their thoughts about whatever they were working on. I wondered how long it would take before they noticed I was still standing at the door. I waited another minute or two before a student came up to me and said, excuse me I need to use the restroom, as they walked past me out the door with the hall pass in their hand.
I looked at my class again and thought to myself how many students will not be ready for every skill they'll be expected to learn next year, that some skills next year will be more difficult because they did not master something this year. I also knew that many of these students did not come to me having mastered all of the skills they needed to master, that they entered my classroom not ready for every skill at this grade level. Yet, in this moment, I knew that all of my students had learned this year *how to learn* and that they not only knew what they knew, but they knew exactly what they didn't know, and with any luck they will take that self-awareness to every teacher in every classroom hereafter.
I smiled to myself as I walked to the nearest student group to offer five minutes of my time then move on to the next group. It was moments like this that made it worth spending so many months creating this self-directed learning environment, because, you see... I don’t teach math, or reading, or science - I teach humans. I teach humans how to take ownership of their learning - to be self-directed.