Sunday, March 1, 2015

Comfortable with Chaos

Today's the day.

March 1st kicks off the month-long blogging challenge hosted by the Two Writing Teachers blog. I participated last year for the first time in their daily Slice of Life Writing Challenge and connected with so many fantastic teachers and writers that I just had to do it again this year. So, what is the challenge? Write about a slice of your day, a small moment from each day for the month of March. Participants are encouraged to comment on the blogs of other "slicers" and share feedback using #SOL15. Interested? There's still time to join. Just head on over to the participant post.

I'm not sure what is going on here, although I'm sure there is a story. There always is. I walk into my boys' room, and in addition to painfully stepping onto a errant Lego brick, I find this scene, one among many, set up on their Lego table. When my eldest, now in kindergarten, first started playing with Legos a few years back, he would follow the directions that came with each set. Sets were stored in their original boxes with the directions. And you could never mix sets together. No way. But somewhere in the course of the past year, that changed. Sets are intermixed, directions tossed aside, and I can hear my two boys making up stories for their creations as they build them. Astronaut knights fight evil dragons with the help of alien robots.

My boys wanted the rules and directions when they first started to build. I would watch them at the dining room table as they pieced together each creation, carefully following the step-by-step instructions. And they still do this when opening a new set, but after the set has been built to the directions the first time, it is likely the last time that we will see the set in that form again. Now it is about the story. They've figured out the basics: how to build with joints and wheels, how to make a hinged jaw or a contraption to fire missiles.  Sets are mixed together in comfortable chaos.  Knowing the rules helped them feel more at ease breaking them.

There's a lesson here.

I want my students to be comfortable in the chaos of learning that happens in our classroom. I want them to take ownership and initiative, but I can't expect this from day one, especially when so many of them have not had many opportunities to do so. Instead, teachers expect students to follow our instructions, our directions, our curriculum. And much of the time, our students are not involved in the process of creating those rules. So to expect students to think creatively, to embrace the chaos, and take initiative from the very first day of our class is not only unrealistic, but it is also unreasonable. Just like my little master builders, my students need to be shown models, introduced to mentors, and gradually handed the reins of responsibility. Students need to be able to identify what defines the box before they can think outside of it. Students need to learn the building blocks of writing before they begin to challenge what the rules of writing mean for their own rhetorical expression.

But like my little Lego creators, I want my students to be the narrators of their own stories, to be confident in their creations, to be comfortable in the chaos that comes with creating something new and meaningful. The goal is not to have students follow my rules; the goal is to have them make their own.


Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski said...

Hi Jen,
I love your blog and appreciate what you wrote about knowing the rules and then being comfortable enough to find your own story. I can apply this idea to teaching writers craft as well. Students need to learn basic rules of grammar and then they can look at an author like Cynthia Rylant and understand how she "breaks the rules" purposefully in her writing when she starts a sentence with "and" or has a sentence fragment. We have lots of Legos at my house too! Looking forward to reading more from you!

Jennifer Laffin said...

I had to laugh when I read your post about the Legos each having to be in their own box WITH all of the directions. My son is -- or at least WAS -- the same way. Now that he's older it doesn't seem to matter so much any more. I love how you tied that into your teaching practice. Welcome back to the SOL Challenge!


Stacey said...

I'm delighted you're back this year, Jen! I loved reading your slices last year.

Comfortable with the chaos. It's hard for kids to get comfortable with it, isn't it? I think when they are expected to solve problems from a young age, like your boys, then they become more comfortable with it long-term.

Leah O'Donnell said...

Knowing the rules helped them feel more at ease breaking them.

I think that just defined my role as a literacy coach. LOVE.

Jennifer Ward said...

This reflection hits home for me professionally, too. I think I took a long time getting to know the "rules" of teaching before I felt comfortable breaking them, finding my own way in the classroom.

Thank you so much for the connections and feedback!

Jennifer Ward said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nanc said...

I love the linke from lego boys to your students. I think it is so encouraging that you want your children to narrate their own home and school. xo

maria.selke said...

So true! This definitely translates to instruction as well. I struggle with the balance between giving my students guidelines and structure to help them begin and removing the casts and braces so they can fly.

Of course, at my house there are SOME LEGO sets that stay put together (We have the Millennium Falcon and Death Star that stay up all the time)

Crystal said...

I love your final line. :)

That is also the way I cook. The first time or even first few times, I follow the recipe, but once I'm comfortable, I make my own way. I think that's a great way to learn. Follow and then spread your creative wings.

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