Sometimes Learning Just Happens…




An amazing thing happens with fifth grade students after holiday break. I’m not sure if it’s due to the gradual emergence into preadolescence or if it’s the desire to be back in a structured environment among their young colleagues; whatever the reason…they change. Their voices come out; occasionally in unison, but often as individuals. Their ability to articulate their thoughts both in text and in discussion, continues to amaze me; constantly reminding me to never underestimate their capacity to grow.

This afternoon, while nearing the end of our current read aloud, The Watson’s go to Birmingham: 1963, one perceptive student interrupted and asked me to backtrack and repeat the dedication at the beginning of the book. If you haven’t read Watson’s, it is Christopher Paul Curtis’ fictitious account of an African American family’s trip to Birmingham at the same time as the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. That question led to an impromptu time-line activity led by the students. It was fun to watch students, without prompting, wander to the back computers to research important dates in African American history. Other students were checking for information in their text book and on my bookshelves. Their goal was to map on the whiteboard, some of the major events bringing our country from that tragic moment…until now, a week prior the inauguration of the first African American president. The spontaneous discussion, brainstorming, analyzing, and synthesizing could not have been witnessed in my classroom a few months ago (at least not at this level-and independently). Watching the process unfold, I observed a community of learners in action. Students were comfortable enough with one another to truly collaborate fearlessly. There was no assignment so there could be no failure. Scaffolding their progress was their focus toward a common and achievable goal.


Keeping it real: Moments like this are what make starting a new year so difficult. Each year, we grow with the students we teach; we ultimately unite as a network to challenge and support each other. Establishing trust and comfort must happen early in the year, but it is certainly not immediate; it is built through constant questioning, listening, and sharing. We have worked very hard to achieve it and will have to work even harder to maintain it.

As usual, I learned much from my students today.


9 thoughts on “Sometimes Learning Just Happens…

  1. What an awesome thing to witness, and kudos to you as the teacher for allowing them the independence to come at the questions from their own directions rather than trying to control the process. I agree, the maturity fairy seems to arrive pretty reliably just after Christmas for the K-8 students, followed shortly afterwards by the hormone fairy at the middle school level (sigh).

  2. I am bookmarking this post to share with others throughout the year. I hopped on Twitter for just a moment to answer a question that someone had, and in the space of those few minutes, heard from two local teachers who were just as inspired by their kids today as you reveal you are here….and for the same reasons: because you were willing to let kids take the reigns.

    I’m discovering that one of the greatest things about having a PLN is that it validates the risks we are eager to take and provides us the inspiration to do so. This is a GREAT example of that. You rock.

    • Thanks Angela! Believe me, I feel very fortunate to have happened upon your local PLN on Twitter; I’ve learned so much in the past few months. There is so much truth in your comment about validation and inspiration in regards to establishing a PLN. This form of professional development would be so valuable in the teacher preparation process. I wonder if there are good examples of that happening. How nice to step into the field of education with an established support system and the tools to utilize that support efficiently. I don’t think I would have taken this step without having watched the growth of discussion happening amongst all of you.

  3. Crista, you are amazing. This anecdote is a perfect example of “guide on the side” teaching. Wow. Watsons is part of the 7th grade curriculum. Really touched me. Another powerful book that deeply moved me was Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry.

  4. I love this post! Kids can do amazing things if we just empower them to do so. Obviously you have given them the necessary tools and have fostered inquiry in them so that they are ready to take the reigns with some guidance. Thank you for straying from your written lesson plan and seizing a meaningful, engaging, teachable moment inspired by your students and sharing it with us. It’s moments like these that help us to realize why we have chosen this profession and how wonderful children truly are.

  5. I’m also going to save this and show to other teachers, specifically intern teachers when I work with those just entering the field. It’s vitally important that all teachers see examples of how education is shifting–specifically into a community built, living and evolving action. Sage on the Stage has got to go–this…YOU and YOUR STUDENTS…this is where it’s at! Excellent post–thanks for sharing! (And I added you to my blogroll as well!)

  6. eduguy101

    What a great post. From my seat in the office, I too marvel at the change in our fifth graders. They mature quickly in a short period of time and with the proper guidance can really do some amazing things. Kudos to you for giving them the tools. I have had the chance to observe teachers who have also empowered students to be inquisitve and seek knowledge. This is where education needs to be all regardless of the grade level.

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