On Saturday June 26, I attended Laurie Spigel’s workshop “Applying Child-Led Learning Principles in the Classroom.” Laurie offers classes at two homeschooling learning centers in New York City and runs the website HomeschoolNYC.com, where she offers hundreds of world-class educational activities that are free (or really cheap). The site could interest anyone who loves New York City.
Laurie asserted that many people have traditionally viewed teachers as having all the responsibility for knowing what to teach and serving as the well of knowledge for students. She says seeing learning as child-led instead really reduces the burden on the teacher. In child-led learning activities she keeps in mind that an educator’s goals are not the child’s goals are not the parents’ goals.
She prioritizes the child’s goals and tries to meet the parents’ goals while keeping her own standards high.
She said the most important ingredient to keeping the kids interested is keeping yourself interested; enthusiasm in contagious, so have a good time!
She likes to first find out what the child is interested in by asking them, ‘if you could learn anything in the whole wide world…[examples]…what would it be?’ For the exact question, with the long poetic list of examples, see her book Education Uncensored. She said it usually only takes a child 3 minutes or less to answer. She also suggests asking children, “Are you learning in the way you want? in the place you want? How can we change it?”
Then instead of the teacher having to be the well of knowledge on whatever topic the child chooses, the world is the well and the teacher and the child go to the well together. Everybody is a potential resource, including each student.
Each child enters with a home, a background, a heritage, a language. Each is a gold mine to a teacher if the teacher will look at them this way. Then they will feel special and see their classmates and other students the same way as well. Paula Rogovin’s book, Classroom Interviews: A World of Learning, documents how a primary grade teacher in a public school in Harlem creates a complete curriculum from her students’ interviews of family, friends, and school staff .
Being child-led means the curriculum topic is never the end, the goal in itself. Like many other people, Spigel is interested in helping the child learn how to learn, so the goal is to impart the skills of identity, inquiry, imagination, interaction, etc….Her goal is for the learners to never look at anything the same way again. The child’s goal may be to learn about cowboys. The parents’ goal might have to do with emotional maturity.
It helps to be in thoughtful communication with the child and the family. Follow-up and feedback are so important.
After the short introduction to these principles, much of the rest of the workshop included describing the courses Spigel teaches that she has found very conducive to having learners generate the ideas. She teaches her own interview course, playwriting, improv comedy, writing your own historical fiction children’s book, and making your own board game. The last two are really serious research projects that culminate in a fun, informative, and/or beautiful product to share with classmates. She said she does not assign homework, but the kids all love to do work at home because of how they can use the work in the class.