As I piece together my working understanding of learning with a shared purpose, I see that there have been so many times that I have attempted, implemented, or participated in this type of learning in my classroom on a very small scale. Oftentimes the ideas that come to mind involved only a few components of the principle though, which makes me excited to finally put a name to what I have been trying to do. An an ESL teacher, I know that my students are experts who need to be given the power of VOICE. I completely understand the why behind what I have been trying to do, but it’s the how that I have struggled with. This makes me excited to use the framework of shared purpose to structure my efforts.
Diversity Day was just this past Friday at my high school. As I read through the articles for this week, I came to see that this event was an experience in shared learning for the entire building. The full-day event was created for the purpose of celebrating ALL of the cultures, languages, ethnicities, and hobbies that are represented within our building. Since our students are the experts on what makes them different, they were also the facilitators of 75% of the day.
In the morning, student presenters were in charge of running 90 minute long programs for the rest of the school to attend. Programs included Henna, multicultural music, Cricket, and Baton Twirling. While there were teacher supervisors who mentored presenters as they prepared for the day and who oversaw the program on the day of, it was the students who used their expert knowledge to develop the program and execute it on Friday. My particular mentee was running the Cricket activity, and he had to take it upon himself to seek out other students who had Cricket kits to use for play, get permission to be on the field, and develop a short presentation of the rules to give before play.
Another group that I advised, the Mexican Culture Club, was in charge of running two of the 20-25 tables for the afternoon part of the program during which students are free to browse table displays, sample international food, participate in table activities, and watch international dance routines. The students who were part of the Mexican Culture Club spent every Wednesday assembling Papel Picado banners, making Cascarones, and creating detailed plans for who will bring table cloths, decorations, and dishes of food. All I did was provide the room.
The implications of this learning experience for my students were tremendous. By the end of the day, my cheeks hurt from smiling at the fun that they had had. The students running Cricket felt so cool that their majority peers were having so much fun learning and playing the game that means so much to their family and culture. The students at the Mexican Culture table beamed from ear to ear as the school asked them questions about the holiday decorations they had brought in from home, sampled their favorite dishes from mom, and commented on the extra-ordinate amount of hand-made decoration.
The bottom line in my reflection of how this experience implicated my students and our greater school community was that students had the opportunity to showcase what they are experts in. Their interests, cultural decorations, and traditional dances were not only recognized, but they were honored and given importance. And in the process of getting to that point, my students learned how to come together, establish a common vision, delegate, manage stress and deadlines, and execute a plan.
Sounds a lot like the real world, right?