In her essay “Beyond Bread and Cheese: The Artisanal Approach to Teaching and Learning” (2016, Moffly Media) author and Head of School at The Ethel Walker School in Connecticut, Meera Viswanathan describes a trend in education away from “industrialized learning” towards something that more personalized, relational, and authentic.
Good teaching is not mass produced and neither are best practices. Engaged learning is artisinally-produced. Viswanathan writes, “Rather than following dicta set by others without reconsideration, the craftsman aspires to something more ideal, a transcendent possibility in both small and large ways.” Hence, good teachers are personal, relational, embrace possibility, and are always perfecting their craft – “that each endeavor is not a replica of what came before, but rather creative experimentation within a limited framework towards some new possibility, something better, something approaching the ideal.”
Attending the International Literacy Association Annual Conference this past weekend encouraged introspection, self-reflection, and critique of artisanal teaching practices and intentions.
- The classroom is a place to introduce students to new worlds, worlds that we could not have imagined and imagine for the better. Key note speakers, Adora Svitak and Kwame Alexander emphasized the need for teachers and students to work on understanding suffering that is going on in our communities as well as the suffering happening around the world in order to help imagine a better world. Literature is a catalyst to transform the world. Teachers need to teach diverse books and tackle tough topics. We gain so much when we read and write.
- The classroom should introduce students to the possibility of deep sustained engagement and wonder with ideas, the world, and life around us. Students are more invested when they are engaged. The theme of the conference was “Transforming Lives Through Literacy 2.0” – Students have the power of technology to search and seek what they want to know. Learning in the classroom is not about the acquisition of information anymore. Our classrooms need to be places where students have VOICE and CHOICE to discover, explore, wonder about the world and their own interests. Reading and Writing Workshop, Genius Hour, and Passion Projects are all teaching practices that allow students to personalize learning and transcend what is. Technology has the power to expand the walls of our classrooms around the world and across the universe.
- Teachers and students must learn to question their own assumptions and recognize the limitations of their thoughts, thereby expanding horizons. Critique and self reflection are for the cultivation of alternative viewpoints and perspectives. Compassion and empathy are based on opening oneself up to others, ideas, and experiences. Students need to hear, read, and see diverse texts, genres, to learn about the world and what is possible. Engaging in conversations about the world and the recent events in our community can help empower young people. This can also help transform our classrooms into authentic, active, and relevant learning spaces all students want to participate and be a part of.