I read a lot of children’s books and many, many of them just stink; however, Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty is an absolute gem. It has everything that makes a children’s book awesome: dazzling illustrations, a life-affirming polt line, and clever, rhyming text.
In the image above Iggy shows his early interest in architecture by building a tower out of dirty diapers (a beautiful idea that inspired disaster in my potty-training two year-old, don’t ask). The plot twist comes when the young savant’s second grade teacher, who has a fear of buildings, forbids the study of architecture in her classroom.
Shortly after Ms. Greer declares “We will not talk of buildings in here!” Iggy becomes disinterested in school. He slouches at his desk and mopes at the back of the line. It was at this point while reading to my daughter that my teacher brain clicked on – what was happening here? Check out the picture above. Notice the rows of compliant students sitting with folded hands, the towering Ms. Greer with her dagger-like feet, and then Iggy in the back of the room building a castle out of chalk sticks. I don’t know anything about illustrator David Roberts’ experience in school but looking at this picture makes it pretty easy to guess.
“Ha!” I thought, “Ms. Greer is such an idiot! What teacher would squelch such obvious talent?” And then I thought about the number of times I have asked students to stop doodling or humming to themselves in class. More subtly, I thought about all of the assignments and learning experiences I’ve assigned that simply do not allow any room for students to bring their own interests into my classroom. The problem is our students’ talents are rarely as obvious or conventionally valuable as Iggy’s architectural prowess. Below are my ideas for bringing student interests into our classrooms:
- Student Choice: As much as possible, allow students to choose both how they will learn material as well as how they will show you their learning. Standardized testing makes some forms of assessment inevitable, but try as much as possible to provide parallel assessments – I have never known a student with a particular passion for multiple choice exams (regardless of talent).
- Get to know your students: Student interest surveys (and more than just one in August!), parent conferences, home visits, one-on-one conferences, and sharing information with other teachers are all great ways to deepen your knowledge of students. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve learned something about a student and said “Wow! I had no idea!” I would have a well-stocked classroom library.
- Take ownership over students’ interest in your class: Kids sleeping in class? Lots of minor misbehavior? I found my classroom totally changed when I stopped blaming children for their lack of interest in my class and began to take responsibility. How could I convince them to like what we were studying? What did I need to do to really get them into learning? This mind shift seems subtile but it really is critical for successful instruction.
- Take a tip from Ms. Greer: At the end of Iggy Peck, Ms. Greer allows Iggy to give weekly presentations about architecture – he is ecstatic and re-invested in learning other content.
- Leverage their interests for your subject: A great gateway to their attention is through their interests. Look for ways to reference pop culture like using analogies from popular movies. Allow them to bring images of people and things they care about into your classroom via creating displays, decorating notebooks, illustrating word walls, etc. For example, I use Lady Gaga to teach a paragraph writing strategy called KEATEAL (check it out here).
Are you, like me, inadvertently acting like Ms. Greer? What do you do in your classroom to engage your own little Iggy Pecks?