Sunday, June 30, 2013

Involving Family Members in Learning: The Past is Connected to the Future

I didn't drive until I was 20 years old.  To most people, it seems like I waited a long time. My reason?  I was too scared to drive. I guess I never do anything until I've studied up on it and I just didn't feel ready.  When I finally decided to transfer to a college located 160 miles away from home, however, I needed to make it official.  

cross-curricular connections, interviewing family, learning connections, comprehension, social studies content, project-based learning, journal activities, family involvement,
Before that though, I got rides everywhere.  Back and forth to work, back and forth to school--if I needed
to go there, someone else was taking me.  One of the people carting me around was my grandpa.  I lived with my grandparents until I was 15 years old. It just worked out that way. Anyway, most of the time after I moved in with my mom and siblings and I needed a ride, he would be there for me.  Even when I needed to commute to and from the small local branch of Kent State at odd hours, he was the taxi.  I miss those rides.  

I saw a tweet recently that got me thinking about how much history I actually learned on those rides.  History about him, and history of the Korean War time was brought to life for me by a person who served in the Navy during that time.  I was taking a class--History of Civilization Part I, I think--which had a great professor and grabbed my attention.  The way Dr. Sosnowski lectured was like taking notes on a soap opera.  He had a real storyteller's way about presenting material from just about every war in history in an engaging way for a 19 year old.  Pretty impressive.  

The thing that intrigues me now is the learning enrichment that I was getting on those car rides to and from school during the Korean War part of the semester.  Grandpa would tell me about being stationed in Korea, working on Naval ships.  He made sure I understood the significance that the 38th parallel holds and the small tasks he was assigned while there.  Nothing combative, but admirable and exciting for me to hear about nonetheless.  To hear these stories from my grandpa and seeing him as a young strong fighter (not just an old, strong father-figure) was so beneficial to my comprehension and to my relationship with him.  Not only did I feel safe enough to ask "silly" questions I wasn't comfortable asking in class, but also I got to know that part of my family that held respect and interest in the well being of our country.  

I wanted to write about this and share it because I find myself considering the powerful instructional possibilities we have as teachers of any grade/ability level to use more project-based learning.  Especially with the common core as the new normal and Student Learning Objectives to track, cross curricular projects hold the potential to unlock engagement and motivation that have been so lacking when students try to communicate their learning to us.  I guess specifically what my experiences with grandpa make me think about allowing students to to is to get their family members' input into their assignments in the form of personal interviews.  I know projects like that already exist in different grade levels and different content areas, but even our youngest of students could be asking questions and reporting them back to their fellow students and teachers at school.  Even something as simple as a second grader reading about Frog and Toad can interview their older sibling about when they read the story and then reread it together. Perhaps the story has a strong problem and solution plot element, and they can ask their grandma when she has ever had to solve a problem with a friend.  

As teachers and administrators we are constantly seeking out ways to involve our student's families in their learning at school.  Instead of just sending a weekly newsletter or having them visit to watch a music program, we can get them to help teach by just sharing about themselves to their children and relating it to content.  For those with a challenging home environment, a trusted adult at school can be their interviewee.  
cross-curricular connections, interviewing family, learning connections, comprehension, social studies content, project-based learning, journal activities, family involvement,Consider adding this cross curricular project type learning just twice a month, or make it a weekly occurrence through family journal activities where students work with parents at home then bring the journal to school to share the next day. Maybe a mom shares how she learned to work out multiplication problems, or an aunt talks about a time when they learned something new about the moon.  The students will value the time and insight into the special family members life and learning, and the family member will feel encouraged to participate in a personal way in school activities on a regular basis.  

When we make things meaningful and personal, we leave this world just a little better than we found it.  When we make connections with other people, it gives us a boost and an amount of understanding that we didn't have before.  Let us foster those relationships with families and connect it to learning.  Let our students be engaged in learning not just content, but compassion and communication as well.  

My grandpa passed after an illness in February of 2012.  I am very grateful that before the had to go, he got to see me become an educator, and he got to know my daughter.  Most of all, I am grateful for all those rides back and forth to work and school, and for the opportunities he gave me to learn and to grow into someone who not only loves learning, but also loves and respects where we have been and where we are headed.

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