Cardboard Boxes for Everyone!

The Gist:

  • Thought and Idea are different things.
  • We encourage both in the classroom.
  • I’m not sure which I privilege more.
  • I’m not sure which I should.

The Whole Story:

Disclaimer: My line of thinking here is protean. Ideally, I’d play with it as a comment somewhere first. As I haven’t run into such a post yet, I’m diving in.

I spent much more time than I thought I would in the last post trying to parse out what I meant or needed from differentiating thought and idea. I think I got there. The final point was where I was headed. And, hey, who doesn’t like finishing writing and finding they’ve called their colleagues hypocrites?

Let me first turn to my own hypocrisy before I start talking practice. I wasn’t playing for a while there. It’s a shame really, because Mrs. Cavitt made a point in kindergarten of stating I play well with others . Right now, my play is commenting. I figure if the minds I admire are bringing their toys to the table, I might as well play. Down the road, we’ll see what ideas spring from it. For now, I’m making time to play.

As for my classroom:

I’d be hard pressed to find a day when I don’t directly ask my students to think. I’d be hard pressed to find a day when I don’t directly ask my students to come up with ideas. I do these things as a matter of habit. I’d imagine any teacher does.

But, do I mean it?

When I ask a student to think, I think I do mean it. I want them looking for patterns, connections, variables, ideas. I want them thinking. The world needs them thinking. When they watch television, I want them thinking. When they’re at the movies, walking down the street, riding the trolley – I want them thinking. I want them to think as often as possible. When I ask it, I mean it.

My aims with ideas are squishier. I ask for ideas. “What ideas do you have?” I’ll ask. Some days, ideas are in season and falling from the sky. Some days, not.

When the ideas don’t come, what do I do? Usually, I talk. Sometimes, it’s a statement. Sometimes, it’s a question. Rarely, is it anything that looks like asking them to play with their thoughts until ideas happen.

What message is this sending? Honestly.

If I’m asking for ideas and they don’t come, shouldn’t I be asking them to play?

“Teaching them to think,” pops up more likely than I’d like in my reading online. Aside from being asininely presumptuous, it sounds dangerous. They know how to think. Sure, maybe some of my students don’t think as deeply or complexly as I’d hope for them, but they’re thinking. I don’t need to teach them to think, I need to give them space to think. I need them to have space to play with thoughts, put them together and make ideas.

I don’t know that I let that happen as much as I’d like. The feeling that they could do that much more if I made sure they had this tool or experience with this line of thinking leads me down the path of profering too much.

I end up the parent whose child has 1 million toys but is sitting playing with the cardboard box in which the last toy arrived.

The project my G11 students are working on now has taken a turn toward play. I’m working on making the necessary adjustments for my G12 kids.

I should be privileging ideas as much as I’m privileging thinking.

2 thoughts on “Cardboard Boxes for Everyone!

  1. You've hit upon two important points here: the necessity of space and time to synthesis of thought and the need as a teacher to allow those to happen despite the pressures of limited time with students and massive curriculum to cover.When I was regularly in formal classroom settings, I learned to connect the dots rapidly. My brain usually moves at a mile a minute, which was compatible with most teachers' needs to move through material rapidly in school and is quite helpful as a multi-tasking mother. But my 10 yo is the opposite; she needs mental processing time and can appear to be day-dreaming when she is actually INTENSELY focused. If the discussion moves too quickly, she is sometimes left in the dust putting together ideas sparked from the earlier part of the discussion.Some of the solution lies in “basic” classroom facilitation, which doesn't mean it's easy. Ask a question and allow silence for a time – a long time – and don't fill it. Sounds easy, feels uncomfortable in practice. Ask a question, and WAIT for a response. If response doesn't come, keep waiting. It feels interminable, but it's probably just a few more seconds, really. Perhaps use that deep thinking person in your class as a gauge. If that person looks like (s)he is still thinking, give EVERYONE more time before you call on ANYONE. These suggestions can be used in one-on-one conversation as well, but they are even harder in that context. We are unused to, and perhaps even afraid of, silence.As a corollary, there are an increasing number of studies that show the necessity of sleep – long stretches of silence with low sensory input – to assimilation of new thoughts and ideas. The brain actually requires those hours to organize and make connections between bits of information it received during the day. Essentially, the brain needs that “thinking space” to which you refer in order to work most effectively.Bravo to you for working to bring thinking space and time into your classroom.

  2. What about teachers? Do we have time to play? If “play” were structured into the school day or week, what would that look like? What would help us overcome our resistance to the time it requires?Questions for myself as much as anybody, but this is where my mind goes after reading your post.

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