In terms of physicality, I’ve always been flexible. I’m a dancer. Granted, I’m not a die-hard dancer, but I’ve loved dancing since I can remember. In all my classes growing up, I easily did the stretches that others found difficult. My instructors told me I had perfect turn-out, a wonder among wonders in ballet. The thing is, I’d always been like that–I would watch TV growing up in odd positions (like with my feet behind my head or my knees flat on their sides behind me, or sitting in a bucket–don’t ask about that one). Without my instructors informing me of just how lucky I was, I would have never understood that my flexibility was something that translated into dancing. Reading Johnston’s fifth chapter made me think about this, and about how for children it’s not as easy to take the things they are inherently good at and apply them to foreign concepts.
Johnston says, “The stories they[the students] tell in these different life spaces are different–different genres, settings, characters, and goals. These are problems of transfer–the failure to generalize learning from one situation or problem to another” (43). In this quote, and this whole chapter, Johnston talks about a subject that I’ve always noticed and wondered about: there is a discrepancy with how children view their regular lives, and how they view life at school. Incorporating flexibility into a student’s life would definitely help them to merge the two environments, and I think Johnston gives us examples that really help with this. I particularly grasped the concept when he told the anecdote about the high school students and the shopkeepers performing the same math problems and how their approaches differed from each other. It’s important as a teacher to try to unify strategic thinking for your students, so they may take problem-solving techniques wherever they go in life.
The example that I thought best supported Johnston’s goal was the “That’s like…” (46) scenario. It makes sense to me that in order to support flexibility and growth in a student that you must verbally draw parallels between the things going on in other areas of their studies or lives. To apply the lessons to what the student is comfortable with and already has a small handle on is to further build a strategic weapon for them to wield whenever they come across challenging situations.
I was also very taken by Johnston’s suggestion of the “What if…” (47) tactic for teachers. Johnston says, “These hypotheticals can be used to explore worlds, behaviors, and choices without real consequence…it opens the imaginative possibility, and accomplishes the necessary instruction without risk” (48). I think this is a brilliant suggestion for teachers, because it allows them to teach without the consequence of putting down or admonishing a student for their wrong or weak choices. If I were to come across a student that I knew to be bright, and saw they were struggling with a certain area and failing despite their efforts, I would definitely use the “What if…” to free the student’s mind of his/her shortcomings and allow for them to take a step back and view the problem without fear or shame. A lot of pressure gets put on students’ shoulders, unintentionally for the most part, and when they feel as if they aren’t succeeding they can fall into that crack of “problem child” by adhering to the identity of a “dumb” kid. Johnston’s suggestion, to me, gives us a way to rescue that student.
This chapter from Johnston was very intriguing for me–the problem of encouraging flexibility is one that I’ve always thought was important. I was pleased that someone else shared the same point of view. Johnston says, “The more we help children build a sense of themselves as inquirers and problem-solvers, and the less they see boundaries between domains of inquiry, the more they are likely to transfer their learning into the world beyond school” (52). In other words, teachers need to help their students break down the walls between “real” life and “school” life, and support their excursions into the unknown with words that imply possibility and success. After all, if none of my instructors helped me see that my (physical) flexibility was an asset in dance, I probably would have considered myself a balance-less, graceless duck among the swan dancers. But by taking my inherent trait and translating it to the field I wanted to tackle, they helped me see that a ballerina comes in many shapes and sizes.
FYI, so do students.