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The Discovery Moment

If ever there was a phrase filled with opportunity, it would have to be “seize the teachable moment.” Any of us who have spent more than 30 minutes as the responsible adult in a public school classroom understands this phrase. It may be triggered by a child’s question. It might be due to an item in the news, the findings of a research study, or the innocent observation of a learner. Regardless, we understand the profound opportunity that this moment holds in the overall instructional pattern.

A teachable moment is the unanticipated, accidental opportunity to get to some significant discourse. It’s an opportunity that is worth setting the lesson plan aside and trusting, instead, ones “gut” as the facilitator of learning. This is the opportunity to follow a brief “bird walk” to see if we can uncover something truly remarkable in the spirit of wondering.

Some teachers will immediately seize the opportunity and readily embrace it. Yet, others will chose to pass on the opportunity, seeing it as an unnecessary distraction from the requirements of a mandated, standardized, curriculum.

I can only hope that my readers know which side of this equation I land on.

I have one small problem with this concept. It comes from our common interpretation of “teachable,” i.e. the chance to manage learning. Isn’t that what we, as teachers, do? We define the environment and context of where and how we might expect learning to occur. We identify the activities that we will employ to support this enterprise. We devise, collectively or in isolation, how we might measure the success of our efforts. The “teachable moment” is dependent on the identification and execution of adult efforts and influences.

Understood. Respected. Commendable.

But, isn’t this just another one way conversation?

If a child poses a question, or the recent reality of our society forwards an opportunity for learning, why does it rely on the interpretation of the responsible adult, the teacher?

Is there another way? What if the teacher’s response is: “That’s fascinating. What should we do to understand this better?”

Let the questioner define the question. Let the questioner define its resolution.

I’m thinking a lot these days about the kids who are not currently attending school. The horrific pandemic that we are all facing is impacting kids. They’re wondering: “Am I safe?” “When will this end?” “Will my life ever return to normal?”

These are reasonable and viable questions. They do not require adult interpretation or intervention. Only, perhaps, guidance.

Like it or not, this communal experience, this purgatory called COVID-19, will have a lasting impact. We will be forever changed. There can be no such thing as “business as usual.” As many teachers across our nation are furloughed due to this pandemic, I encourage them to ask: How should these experiences, mine and those of my students, define what we explore when we are finally in the safety of our classroom? Because, eventually, the kids will return to school. And, they are going to be full of questions, perceptions and wonderings. Their questions, their concerns are important and are deserving of our attention.

When the school house doors reopen, educators will have a choice. They can pick up where they were before this inconvenient disruption, dusting off the textbook driven standardized curriculum, or they can listen. They can listen to the children before them for clues of what might be moments of discovery. Teachers should listen to the questions, the pondering, of their students and apply their professional expertise in crafting opportunities of significant exploration and inquiry. These opportunities are not limited to discreet content areas or disciplines of study. They are abundant, across the curriculum. I will offer some ideas of what this could look like in next week’s post.

There are so many lessons contained in our common experience. Please, let’s find the courage and the vision to seize the “teachable moment,” making them moments of discovery. This is the education kids deserve.

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