“Yay” is for Learning

23 Apr

“Yay” has a very specific meaning in my house, especially for my daughter.  Every time she hears that word, she begins to clap.  I’m not sure where that association took place, it was not long after patty cake was introduced, but when she hears the word “Yay,” the clapping commences along with an adorable smile.  Today was no exception, she heard yay, and with bits of pancake in her hand, she began to hit her fists together.  She looked awkwardly at her hands, then carefully put down the pancake pieces, and then started clapping and smiling.  I’m always amazed when I see learning take place, the sheer joy and excitement that come with solving a problem or experiencing a success is mesmerizing.  This is what makes teaching fun.

It’s easier to see learning take place in younger children.  There is no fear or trepidation, no concern of what others may think or a concern of appearing too smart or too dumb.  I shot a video of my ten-month-old daughter hitting her hair on a metal bowl, then a wooden one, then a glass one and finally back to the metal bowl.  She looked at me and smiled, then started hitting the metal bowl with more force.  She had figured out sound, knew what she liked, and went for it.

I have often seen my students have similar reactions.  They walk in my room, unsure – and in some cases too sure – of their abilities.  I spend the first few months building relationships, covering the basics, modeling good writing and thinking as much as I can in as many different ways as I can.  Then, over time, the change occurs, something in how the student behaves, or in the work they turn in.  It may be before the winter break, though it is usually right after, where instantaneously the quality of work improves.  There is more thinking and discussion and less involvement by me, except when I need to challenge my students to think more.

I get to see this transformation every year – over a hundred students each year – who begin to figure it out for the first time.  It’s hard to measure this on a test, it’s more on how the student carries him/herself, the confidence, the quality of work they turn in for grading.  My kids ask me all the time why I teach, jokingly I say it’s summers off, but I know it’s because I get to see this change.  I know I like the challenge of finding out how each individual student will learn.  I know that the “yay” moment, when I see my students figure something out for the first time and have a little taste of success, my job has value; and my hope, that my students will some day pass on that little bit of wisdom they just learned.

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