Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer School

This year marks Margo's seventh year at Slayton House Camp of the Arts. It is truly the high point of her year. She thrives in a total immersion environment of music, drama, art, and dance. Of all the worlds she must function in, this is the most meaningful.

It is in the summer that I see the highest level academic thinking from her. That is where she does her best GT work. By this I mean she wants to stretch herself. She strives to improve from one day to the next. When embedded in the world of musical theatre Margo wants to be better than just passing. She gives it the extra effort: practicing lines at home, researching the musicals online, sitting down at the piano to go over music and even figuring out her own keyboard parts.

She talks with us about what she is learning. She gets ideas. Creative ideas. She writes about them on the ipad. She gets ideas for other musicals, ideas for short stories based on musicals. The other evening she was excited about what you would need to do to adapt the musical "Bye Bye Birdie" to the present day. It led to a fascinating discussion about changes in our culture and in the popular music scene.

This does not happen during the school year. Margo's entire experience in the public schools has been overshadowed by high-stakes testing. Teachers don't get to foster a love of reading or writing. They must produce students who can successfully read the photocopied packets and fill in the proper circles. The best moments of her schooling have come when she has been pulled out of the 'regular' class for small group instrumental learning or for the Curriculum Extension Units with GT Teachers.

Project based learning. Hands-on learning. Multi-sensory learning. This is the most meaningful way for my child to learn, and for most of us, I think. Finding topics that truly interest students and allowing some choice in how to explore the subject matter is what fosters the creation of a self-directed learner. That should be our goal--self-motivation, learning how to learn, and the joy inherent in true, deep learning.

As long as we continue to allow ourselves to be defined by standardized test scores and keep purchasing curriculum programs from the same people who create the tests, we fail our children. I am disgusted by the term "content-delivery" in reference to teaching. Teaching is not some automated system by which we line up all the pigs at the trough to receive their slops at the flip of a switch.

This problem is not unique to Howard County. It is happening all over the country as we have allowed people who don't have any professional training, experience, or understanding of teaching to step in and dictate what schools must do. Now, I can't change the entire nation but I can work for change within my own county. So can you.

The best learning my daughter does all year is at summer camp. We're grateful she has that experience, but I can't help but feel sad that she can't have it the rest of the year.




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