My classroom transformed into a student-directed, inquiry-based classroom throughout that year. I went from teacher-chosen themes to studies based on student interest. I increased the amount of time the students had to play each day, and I improved in my ability to guide their play to enhance their skills. Above all else, I learned how incredibly powerful giving students autonomy over their learning can be.
This morning, I spent some time watching Dan Pink's TED talk called The Puzzle of Motivation. In it, Dan described the science that proves extrinsic motivation - what he calls "the carrots and sticks" method - doesn't work unless the tasks are mechanical and involve less thinking. He talked about how effective intrinsic motivation can be when it comes to complex, creative activities. He described the three elements of intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
What struck me as I watched this talk was how much it applies to preschool. Here's how I see it:
- Autonomy: In preschool, I gave my students a chance to be in charge of their learning. They chose what we learned about. They asked the questions about the topic. They investigated the answers to those questions. They planned and carried out celebrations to share their learning. On a much more daily basis, they had a chance to choose which interest areas they wanted to visit, which ones they would rather avoid, and how long they got to stay there. How much more autonomy can you get?
- Mastery: Preschool is all about practicing and practicing and practicing, whether that be in building a tower that is just perfect, writing names correctly, painting a picture to look just right, or creating the perfect play scenario in dramatic play. Every day, my students had a chance to gain mastery in their choice of activity. Many of my students visited the same centers over and over again for this reason. They were fully engaged as they searched for that mastery.
- Purpose: When the majority of the day revolved around the student's choice, they had a solid purpose for doing what they were doing. They might have been searching for the answer to one of their questions about our study or they might have simply been practicing their friendship skills. Providing my students with the opportunity to make choices and find that autonomy made their learning very purpose-driven and meaningful.
My challenge for myself now is to see how I can take the power of preschool with me to the other grade levels I might teach. I think about how my classroom has transformed in the past eight(ish) months, and I can't help but smile. My goal all year has been to give the classroom back to my students.
On Friday, we had another session of Genius Hour. This time, the partners worked together to compile everything they have learned so far and begin to make some decisions on how they want to share their genius. I was impressed by the complex thoughts our young kiddos had. They came up with ideas like:
- Filming a video illustrating the life cycle of a chicken which involves acting and creating costumes
- Building a houseboat with Legos (This was a compromise. One student wanted to build a boat, and the other wanted to build a house. They have their different roles assigned already. Blows. My. Mind.)
- Creating a Prezi complete with videos on how to throw a football, how to tackle, and how to break a tackle
- Building a website about seahorses (This group has already created a diagram of a seahorse to be added to the website.)
- Creating something (they haven't decided what they'd like to use to compile their information yet) to show off how cottage cheese is made and what you can make with cottage cheese
Seriously? These ideas are ridiculously awesome and creative! In offering the students a chance to have autonomy over their learning, to find mastery over their topics, and to have a real purpose for learning, we have opened doors that would have remained closed in a less intrinsically motivated classroom.
We brought preschool to kindergarten and 2nd grade, and great things have happened. Who would have thought?