“Nobody sees flower, really—it is so small—we haven’t time,
and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”
Alison Boardman, in her February 8 COW blog post “Finding the Balance Within Social/Emotional Learning,” calls for a fourth letter to the acronym SEL: S, for space: “… I worry that if we become overly focused on the learning piece, we might overlook the other part—the space that allows youth to experience the social and emotional ‘ness’ that is critical to being a socially and emotionally developed member of humanity. … What I needed was space to process my own connections and emotions and to think through my reactions on my own and with others.”
Her post gets me thinking. In the context of COW’s “alphabet soup,” with its goals of SEL (Social Emotional Learning), UDL (Universal Design for Learning), and PBL (Project-Based Learning), what other letters are missing—that is, what other dimensions of the classroom experience do we need to attend to in order to support students, and teachers and researchers, to become more socially aware, more self-aware, more knowledgeable and strategic about learning, more motivated to learn, and all the other goals associated with the rich and ambitious visions of SEL, UDL, and PBL?
For me, that letter is T, for time. I’ve been thinking about it in the context of PBL, in particular, where we want students to develop the patience and interest to plunge into “consequential making” (a term I have learned from our partners at Lucas Education Research), to tackle complex questions, to take on real-world challenges, and to think deeply and creatively over a sustained period.
When I was a teacher, time was always the enemy. I remember joking with colleagues on the first day of the school year, “I’m already behind!” Fire drills, lightning drills (I taught in South Florida), late-night emails from enthusiastic colleagues planning last-minute field trips, even snow days, especially snow days—all emotional triggers contributing to my growing sense of conviction that I would never “get through it all.”
Just recently, I was watching a video of a class (not part of the “Composing Our World” project), and in a 60-minute period, the teacher mentioned time, in one form or another, 13 times. Now, some of these instances were no doubt useful, such as “Take 60 second to turn to your partner and. …” But I wondered about some of the other references, such as “Now, have a quick discussion about. …” or even the one suggesting—wishfully, I would argue—a learning environment of temporal flexibility: “Take your time to write. …” Can we reasonably expect students to “take time”—to feel that, to trust they have that—during the course of a 60-minute period with 13 reminders of time? Not to mention students needing opportunities, before writing, to think quietly or talk with a friend (Anne Sexton had Maxine Kumin, Elizabeth Bishop had Robert Lowell, and the list goes on). What was even more interesting to me, in the video I watched, was how students seemed to take up the teacher’s time-anxious discourse. Consider this moment, in the context of small group work: “Are you guys done?”, one student to the group. And then, “You’re slow,” to one in particular, who was furiously writing. Then, the speaker sighing, sinking her head between her hands. …
In a heartbreaking Op-Doc in The New York Times titled “Summer’s Choice” (1/25/16), by Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe, Summer, a high school senior and exceptionally talented artist, doesn’t get to graduate from high school when she chooses to take care of her grandmother, who took Summer under her care after her mother left her “for drugs” when she was 4 and her dad left her when she was 7 (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/25/opinion/summers-choice.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-right-region®ion=opinion-c-col-right-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-right-region). This story, of course, points to systemic sources of inequity that go beyond the control of educators. I’m not saying we can solve dilemmas such as this one. But it does make me think. What kinds of messages are we sending students when we ask them to choose between school and “doing the right thing”? What kinds of messages are we sending to students when we say “Tell me more” while sneaking a glance at the clock? I know I did it. How will we give students the time they need, the relationship to time they need, to “go deep”? When we take up a question or challenge in the context of PBL, we need to give students the time to answer it. Really. Time to venture a response, time to tinker with tools, time to consult an expert, time to consult another expert, time to ask another question, time to make something, time to challenge, time to debate, time to listen, time to talk, time to revise.
I know, I know, all time we don’t have. I don’t have the answer; I have yet to make time my friend. But, as an educator, I would like to start thinking more intentionally about what it looks like to give students time and space for deep learning. Perhaps it means building flex-time into our lesson plans. Perhaps it means streamlining our purposes as educators, so that we become more selective and intentional about the activities and scaffolds we build into curricula. I know the goal of Project-Based Learning is to have students investigate a problem or question of interest to them, so perhaps it means giving students the opportunity to make their own decisions about how to spend time (while, of course, providing them with the structures and supports they need, so they are not overwhelmed).
Thoughts? Ideas? Please share. … Post a blog or respond in the comment section below!