In the forward of the book “Fires in the Mind” by Kathleen Cushman, Dennis White, President and CEO of the MetLife Foundation shares “Asking students to talk about their education is so simple that – whether we are teachers, parents, researchers, or policymakers – we inevitably forget to do it. Yet when we do invite them to the table with adults, the youth in our classrooms and communities shed surprising new light on our most intransigent educational dilemmas. What makes young people catch fire, work hard, and persist despite difficulties? What supports and structures do they need in order to thrive and contribute, in both school and society?”
Don’t we all ask these questions when we look out into the eyes of the youth we serve? Don’t we wish we had the time, made the time – or better, that our leadership made it a priority for us to make the time to talk more intentionally with our students? How great it would be to have student-centered classrooms everywhere we turned!
I’m reading this book and will share it with you as I do so we start here with the Forward! Dennis shares statistics that you would nod your head to and then ones that make you gasp. Like the fact that in the 2009 MetLife survey, 4 out of 5 teachers said that connecting classroom instruction to the real world would have an impact on student achievement. ..and that addressing the individual needs of students is necessary to student success. Yet when asked in the same survey, students reported that their teachers rarely – or never – speak to them personally about things that matter to students. And only 1 in 4 students felt their school let them use their abilities and their creativity. Oh my.
So – this leads to this book and the non-profit What Kids Can Do (WKCD), which has helped to capture student’s opinions and voice in a way that can be turned into practices for us to employ. This very dilemma is tackled by Kathleen, who empathetically shares in this book her expertise in this area, “How can teachers spark the fire of motivation in academic settings as well, so that our students will really want to learn? I’ve been exploring those questions for some years now — not just with teachers, but with students, and with researchers in the learning sciences. Our nonprofit, turned that ongoing dialogue into a body of work we call the Practice Project — including our book Fires in the Mind, in which adolescent students talk about what motivates them to work hard at a challenge.”
Finally – the video Kathleen has produced titled “How Youth Learn: Ned’s GR8 8” Published by WKCD on Oct 31, 2012 Here we are given eight things that must be in place for a teenage brain to kick into gear. Worth seeing!
So as we read this together – maybe we can start with one, tactical strategy to take into our teaching practice now – today – and maybe just start listening to the fires already ablaze in the minds of our youth! We need to ask the students – right?!