This is my space to rant and rave, vent and vex about education, my passion. I am calling it "Mining for Hidden Gems" because of the above quote and because as a teacher, my job is to look for those gems. The real valuable ones are not usually on the surface. You have to dig deep to find them.

I am also borrowing from Katherine Bomer's wonderful book Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching From the Brilliance in Every Student's Writing. It has changed the way I look at not just student work but students themselves and all people around me.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Highest Aspirations for Higher Education

When my eldest daughter started as a freshman at the University of Texas in Austin, she got a T-shirt that said: What starts here, changes the world.  Today I got to see her recognized for her academic achievements over the past four years, and I can't think of a more apt way of congratulating her:  What you started here, will change the world.  I am so proud that her highest aspiration at this moment is to make this world a better place.  The ceremony today honored the highest achieving students at the University, based only on their GPA.  The honor student selected to address the audience was Kelly Moynihan, Senior in Biomedical Engineering.  She is also the recipient of a $250,000 fellowship from the Hearst Foundation and a $90,000 National Science Foundation Grant to pursue her graduate studies at MIT.  Her speech, however, was about what has been the most meaningful experience of her undergraduate life at UT:  Mentoring. She has been part of an organization that meets weekly with at risk middle schoolers to work on engineering type projects.  Many of these kids are now signing up for advanced classes in high school and considering higher education for the first time.  How right it felt to hear this young woman talk about her rewards as a mentor at the same time that her awards as a scholar were being celebrated.

Ms. Moynihan's speech was followed by an address from Dr. Sharon Jarvis, a Professor at the UT College of Communications.  She challenged the students being honored today to "safe-guard" their communities with the same diligence that they have safe-gaurded their GPAs! To think critically, ask questions, work hard and sacrifice to better the world. This is what higher education is all about.

I know this is not the only institution of higher learning that instills these kinds of values in its graduates, but I feel blessed that I have not one, but two of my children studying at the University of Texas.

"That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race . . ."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Goose Liver Pedagogy

I heard the most amazing story the other day.  It turns out that to make foie gras – goose liver – they hold down the poor bird, stick a tube down its throat and force-feed it so that its liver grows to several times its normal size.  Apparently, goose liver is quite a delicacy, not that I have ever tried it.  And now that I know how it is made, I probably never will.  But the story was really about a Spanish farmer who has found a completely humane way to make foie gras.  He has come to learn that geese are programmed by their DNA to gorge themselves in preparation for the cold, winter months.  So he surrounds his geese with delicious varieties of grass and other scrumptious food such as nuts, olives and figs and lets them roam free and feed themselves to their heart’s desire.  The catch is that the geese must truly believe that they are free.  So there are no fences, no loud humans threatening to catch them; just pure freedom, while surrounded by an environment conducive to the geese fulfilling their natural inclinations.

This made me think of children and learning.  Humans are born to learn and anyone who has had a child that they have paid sufficient attention to will attest to the fact that you cannot stop a baby from exploring or a preschooler from asking questions.  (Actually, you can.  If you deprive them of one-on-one attention given to them by an adult who is emotionally invested in their well-being, you can stifle their natural tendency to poke and prod and learn.) Children that are surrounded by adults that talk to them, read to them, answer their questions and ask them questions, learn and beg for more.  In goose terminology, if allowed to roam free, they will gorge themselves on knowledge and learning.  But just like the geese, they must feel that they are truly free to pursue what they wish to learn.  So here is the answer to that difficult question:  How do we keep kids excited about learning in high school, as they were when they entered kindergarten?  Set them free!  Surround them with a rich environment of resources and caring adults and let them do what they are naturally programmed to do:  Learn.