By Amy Lau, second grade teacher at Duke School and Book Harvest volunteer
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in School Library Journal.
Not long ago, I was listening to a podcast on optimism. One of the researchers stated that teachers were some of the most optimistic people around. Since learning this, I’ve reflected on my own optimism, and I agree that there is a connection between positive thinking and teaching.
I am fortunate to spend my days teaching at Duke School, in Durham, NC, a Project Approach School where students engage in several inquiry-based projects each year. (Katz, et.al, 2014) Here students explore real-world topics, conduct research, formulate questions, and share their findings with others. We hope, of course, that they will use the skills they develop to create positive change in the world. The work that they do everyday gives me reason to be optimistic.
One recent project in particular made me feel that they are on the right track. Here’s how it unfolded—and how you can try something similar with your students, too.
Identifying the Problem
You never can predict what will spark the interest of an eight-year-old. Late last fall my teaching partner, Tery Gunter, and I recognized the growing pains familiar to any classroom teacher: our students were a little too loud and the classroom was a bit too messy. When this happens, our response is to sit down and have a conversation with the group, and come up with solutions. It’s important to add context here. We had just finished a unit on opinion writing and a study of biographies. The informal mantra throughout this work had been “people can change the world.” During our classroom discussion, one of the problems identified was the misuse of materials, specifically “a book problem.”
Katz, L, Chard, S. & Kogan, Y. (2014). Engaging Children’s Minds: The Project Approach, 3rd Edition. Praeger.