Listening is key to our quest for deeper learning. And we need to listen in several different ways to best bring deeper learning to our students. This post continues in this series to explore who and how we need to listen to allow our students to learn deeply.
Listening To Students’ Voices
It was a cold January Friday, but the lobby of South Christian High School was filled with warmth and conversation. Dozens of Spanish 2 students and about a hundred invited guests milled around the tables set up, introducing each other and learning more about each other. They would pick conversation starter cards off the tables and learn in Spanish and English about the lives of people that they would not normally have run into. The teacher watched and smiled as the students built bridges, her storyline for the year, to a new community of people. Soon they were sitting at the tables eating an authentic dinner the students had learned to prepare, still practicing their Spanish. Later yet, they would all go to the gym and watch the night's basketball game together in the student section and cheer on the Sailors. It was a memorable night celebrating a unit that invited students to learn about Hispanic food, culture, and the words necessary to talk about food and culture in a suburban Christian high school.
This picture of warmth, learning, and community would never have happened if the teacher had not listened to her second-hour students. Challenged to go to a local business where Spanish was spoken, this class approached the teacher the next day with an idea. What if we invited people in? Many of us might have said no, noting many of the reasons that this changes the activity, but instead, the teacher used three of the most powerful words you can use in a classroom, “Tell me more.” Students cast a vision for a night of hospitality and gathering and an event where the school could make connections, maybe even lasting connections, with the local Hispanic churches and other non-profit organizations. Rather than building single-event transactional relationships that the teacher had envisioned, the students wanted to create something bigger. They admitted it was also less scary for them, but they had ideas about how to ensure the guests were welcomed and invited. The teacher caught the vision, ran it past administration, and the planning began.
The teacher had to empower students to do a lot of real work. Budgeting for food, learning recipes, writing personal invitations, researching the Hispanic community around the school, and increasing the students' vocabulary all had to happen in short order. Each of these activities had significant curricular tie-in, and the students built their literacy in Spanish through the work of the project. Students dug into the project that they created because they created it. When it was all said and done there were new connections, some of whom live on to this day. All this because a teacher stopped to listen to her students. Listening to our students honors them as image bearers of God, just as likely as any of us to have the Holy Spirit nudging them in a creative direction, even a direction different than our own. The next time you are tempted to say no to a student, stop and ask yourself how can I say yes and make this idea meet their goals and mine?