What is that?” the boy asked the old man pointing at a spot in the mud. “Looks like a critter track, I bet you left one too,” said the old man, looking around at the muddy footprints on the rocks near the boy. The boy looks at his own tracks in the mud and on the rocks and asks, “Who made these?” “That is a good question. I have a book of prints and maybe we can figure it out.” The old man and the boy scurry up the rocks out of the creek and head to the house to get the book to see what left the track in the mud. They find the book and take it back to the creek to compare the track to those in the book and figure out that it was a skunk. “I want to tell my mom about the skunk track!” exclaimed the boy. “Good,” The old man replied, “Let’s write it in our journal so we don’t forget to tell her tonight when she gets home.” They sit down and the boy tells the old man what to write and they construct a few sentences about what they saw and how they figured out what it was. They read the sentences over a couple of times in writing them and then again when they were done so that the boy would be able to read it later that night. They put the Journal away to read to the boy’s mom later that night.
This is an example of learning taking place. Curiosity is met with information and then the information is set through writing and later teaching all in an environment of trust and caring. The old man is my grandfather Frank Van Schaick and I am the little boy from the story. My Grandfather was a teacher and a principal who had retired when I was four years old so that he could help take care of me while my mom worked. This was a very special situation and we cannot think that we should or need to replicate the level of understanding and the personal connection between a boy and his grandfather, in a public school setting. We can and should look to the conditions that made this learning experience meaningful and attempt to foster them in our schools.
In this story I was interested in something and had some information that I wanted to expand upon. I had a knowledgeable person who was paying attention to my interests and provided new information and resources for me to use in satisfying my curiosity. Once I had learned something new I was encouraged to pass the information on and given tools and help in doing so. The teacher was using a real world situation to develop my strengths and to help me to use my mind well in an area of interest to me. These are the attributes of effective teaching and learning. Trusting relationships, interest based, student choice, real world application of knowledge, and connections between the learner and their community. We need to support schools in which these attributes of effective teaching and learning are present and or sought.