This was not a good week for one of the Littles, (my granddaughter, my grandson, my niece, and my nephew). The Littles returned to school this week from the winter break and messages were sent home about one of my Littles daydreaming in class and missing an assignment.
For most children, including the Littles, winter break is just that, a break from school. Winter break provides the space for children to play and to think the way they want, explore ideas and try new things. Children get to “think outside the box” and creative and smash ideas together to create new ideas as solutions to childhood challenges. This kind of thinking requires children to draw on their own thinking and the thinking of others who have a set of skills and experiences that are different from theirs. Winter break allows children to engage in divergent thinking. Anytime children engage in thinking they are learning, however, divergent thinking allows the mind to go rogue. A rogue mind leads to learning that looks, feels, and sounds different than school learning. School learning is controlled by the teacher and there is little room for students to “think outside the box” of the teacher’s thinking. One of my Little’s described the constraints of school to their sibling this way, “…do you realize that we have to sit in the four walls of the classroom for 7 ½ hours!” Directly from the mouths of babes! What is my Little really saying about his/her school experience?
So one of my Little’s who is not your typical student and is often challenged by the constraints of school, returned to school this week and did not hand in a writing assignment. My Little was also described as daydreaming and off task, more specifically, it was said that my Little was stopping frequently during the 20 minute independent reading time and appeared to zone out rather than reflect on reading during these frequent breaks. The parent of my Little called to tell me about this situation and ask my advice. My first thought was, oh, here we go again because this is not this Little’s first rodeo! This particular Little has been challenged by the constraints of school since the Kindergarten. Anyway, I had to reflect on the message that was sent home. From my reflection arose quite a few questions.
In regards to daydreaming and off task behaviors I wondered what about the learning experience is causing my Little to not engage? Does the learning experience require my Little to critically think or is the experience about rote memorization? Is the task cognitively demanding? If so, daydreaming and off task behaviors would support my Little’s ability to sustain the cognitively demanding task. Daydreaming and off task behaviors provides mental breaks to clear the mind for new ways of thinking. I would venture to say that daydreaming and off task behaviors are necessary for learning and if facilitated could lead to powerful learning. In environments where divergent thinking is encouraged, daydreaming and off task behaviors are welcomed. Out of the box thinking is fueled by engagement outside of the task one is working on. The more diverse the off task time, the better the chances are of creatively and innovatively coming up with ideas that normally would not seem possible.
In regards to stopping frequently during the 20 minute independent reading time and appearing to zone out rather than reflecting on reading during these frequent breaks, I wondered what book is my Little reading? Is the topic of the book of interest to my Little? Does my Little know how to select an appropriate book that will hold my Little’s interest? What does it look like to zone out? What does it look like to be reflective? Might zoning out and being reflective look the same? What does the teacher know about my Little as a reader? In other words, I would want the teacher to gather specific information that would support a response to the behaviors that would move my Little towards being a more independent reader.
One way in which to gather the specific information would be to say to my Little, “It looks like you are thinking about what you are reading. What are you thinking about? What in the book made you think that? How does that thinking help you understand the story? By taking a few minutes and asking these questions the teacher gathers useful information about how my Little makes sense of text. The teacher also has a better understanding of whether the book selection is appropriate. With the information gathered the teacher’s in the moment thinking and behaviors would result in a different learning experience for my Little.
In what ways will you respond to the Littles in your classroom that appear to be off task and daydreaming? Will you let it go and send a note home or will you have a brief conference that could change the direction of that Little’s life?