One may argue that classrooms shouldn’t have to be magical. They may argue that classrooms are a place for rigor. However, I would ask, “What is more magical than learning?” The feeling you get when you persevere after multiple failed attempts or find out something interesting that changes the way you see the world is magical. At the earliest stages of learning, when a baby learns to say his or her first word, magical expressions ignite the faces of those who are fortunate enough to hear those treasured sounds. So, what does it mean to have a magical classroom?
The word magical can be defined as delightful in such a way as to seem removed from everyday life. Why can’t we cultivate learning experiences that seem so extraordinary that they capture the student’s interest and motivate them to be self-seekers to the answers we would have taught in daily lectures? If we take a closer look at our curriculum, wouldn’t it be possible to sit back and ask the “bigger questions?” What is it that we are trying to convey with this standard or objective? How does it relate to the student?
Asking how a standard or objective relates to a student brings up a bigger question: How well do we know our students?
I recently listened to 2013 National Teacher of the Year and 2014 ISTE keynote, Jeffrey Charbonneau, talk about the importance of having strong relationships with students. He shared how having real personal connections can transcend to connecting challenging curriculum to individual students. Now more than ever, a more individualized plan for education is obtainable for each learner. As a parent, this is exactly the type of learning I wish to have for my own two children. In a crowded coffee shop, if I can get my speciality beverage served with accuracy, in a timely manner, to my exact specifications, why can’t my child receive the same sort of service for his or her exact needs in the classroom from skilled professionals?
I believe one key component to allowing this magical experience to occur is the involvement of the learner. There is such power in the creative and passionate student voice. At what age or grade do we stop asking kids what they want to learn about and shift towards planning lessons around a curriculum that was aligned for us years ago, from individuals who don’t even work in the same building with the kids we teach? What would happen to our learning spaces if they were designed to truly accommodate the children who used them each day?
After returning from ASCD in Los Angeles, I’ve been reflecting on a video Sir Ken Robinson shared in his keynote presentation. While this is not the exact video, it does share the same message about bringing creativity back to schools and allowing each learner to experience learning in a magical way. One of my favorite parts of the video, is when Chris Wink, co-founder of The Blue Man Group, explains his rationale for opening a new type of school. He ssays, “We’re interested in creating a launchpad, where kids are the rockets, and we’re just there trying to find the fuse.”
My family and I just returned from a vacation to Disney World in Florida. Over the course of five days, we visited Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom and Epcot. We took full advantage of our advanced planning, MagicBand bracelets, FastPasses and character dinings. My children are 9 and 5. They are the adventure-seeking-thrill-riding type; even my five-year-old rode The Tower of Terror and Space Mountain. However, of all the rides, character meet and greets, shows, and entertainment, both children will tell you about their three favorite experiences: Turtle Talk with Crush (Epcot), Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure (Epcot), and Enchanted Tales with Belle (Magic Kingdom). Though neither child could exactly articulate what it was specifically they liked best about these three attractions (beyond how fun they were), my husband and I knew what set them apart: They were interactive and involved the children. Every other ride, show and attraction regarded us as passive participants. We sat back and enjoyed the ride. Yes, they were fun, but then we were ready for the next item on our agenda.
Turtle Talk with Crush, Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure and Enchanted Tales with Belle engaged the audience as active participants. That was the real difference. We had roles. We were involved. We couldn’t sit back and enjoy the ride. It was up to us to create the experience by being active and participating in real time. We were live actors in the story with Belle, following clues in the United Kingdom at Epcot to stop the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz, or were called upon to engage with Crush. You should have heard the laughter in the room and seen the smiles on everyone’s faces! Memories were being made. These were experiences that would not soon be forgotten. This was the power of involving everyone and allowing each voice to be heard and seeing each personality shine. This made me think about how often I ask my students to “sit back and enjoy the ride” versus how often I involve them in the process of their learning. I want this magical, delightful and beyond-everyday experience for my students and my children.
Each learner is unique. Each child’s voice matters. How are we capturing that value and creating magical experiences for learning? After all, creating a magical experience can start with the simple act of involving the children because it isn’t everyday they’re allowed to share their powerful and creative voice.
Erin Klein (@KleinErin) is an author, speaker, teacher, consultant and mother. She is a Scholastic, Inc. Top Teacher and member of The National Writing Project. Klein received the 2014 MACUL Pre-K – 12 Teacher of the Year award and is a SMART Technologies Exemplary Educator. Her work can be found on her award-winning educational blog, Kleinspiration.com.