Thursday, June 16, 2016

Design Thinking in the Responsive Classroom

Teachers will recognize these buzz words in the title and might get excited to learn more about these latest and greatest breakthroughs in education. Or not.

Someone who took my Jazz Course last summer just wrote to share with me all the material she learned that she took to the kids, to the great delight and enthusiasm of all. She was grateful she convinced her admin. to let her take my class instead of the Responsive Classroom workshop she was supposed to attend. Instead of a few abstract ideas or scripted keywords and lesson plans, she came back with the joy she had in playing these games and pieces and transmitted it—in her own style—to her kids. And it worked.

Don’t get me wrong. There are sound ideas and occasional helpful hints in things like Responsive Classroom and Design Thinking. But they so quickly become things, a complex maze of new jargon and ideas passed around rooms where no children are present, often with 26 steps or 15 principles, far too much for the human brain to usefully remember and apply.

My classroom has been responsive for over 40 years. I call out to the kids with some great material, a relaxed atmosphere and a sense of caring and humor and guess what? They respond! Then I respond to their response and the game is on! I throw out a ping, they give me a pong, back comes another ping and off we go. And then I train teachers and put the call out to them and they respond, and then learn how to call it down the line to their kids. It’s really so simple. And it works. And because no two human voices are the same, each calls out in their own style and so the song fits the community.

As for design thinking, all you have know is that we were designed to think. That's it. There’s a thousand ways to avoid thinking (watch some political debates), but there’s only a few ways to bring it to life. Starting with finding the question that’s needed in the moment and helping guide the search for the answer that provokes the next question.

Another way, that seems to take many new words and large pamphlets to explain, is to have an idea of what you want kids to know and then figure out an interesting route to lead them there. One of my most successful this year to get kids feeling receptive to the power of Billie Holiday’s singing and curious about her story was to tell them about the first girl I had a crush on who preferred my best friend. And how the only thing that made it bearable was listening to this song. And then I played Billie singing I’m a Fool to Want You. For the next two months, the 8th graders could not stop talking about Linda Snodgrass (my failed crush) and also learned a lot about Billie Holiday. I thought about how to do that and designed a lesson that way. Simple. And it worked.

The list of good-intentioned latest-and-greatest educational breakthroughs with Madison Avenue titles and marketing that have moved education forward exactly .001 inches is long and depressing. At the bottom, they all insult the intelligence of the teacher, some of whom may deserve it, but all of them who could rise to the better selves with a few crisp examples about how to think along with the children, elicit their enthusiastic response and respond to their enthusiasm. No jargon attached.

If you want an example, come to my Jazz Course this summer. It’s designed for deep thinking, exuberant playing, heart-thumping feeling. I’m putting out the call. Won’t your respond?

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