Winding down. The year that seems like it only started a minute ago or perhaps feels like it has been moving at the pace of a snail, is quickly coming to an end. We approach that last day of school with excitement and sometimes tears as we see those students who we have spent the year pouring our energies into waving goodbye and disappearing into the sweet summer sun. The sun sets and rises again and we realize that a new dawn has really risen. One in which we don’t have to eat our lunch in five minutes or time our bathroom breaks by when the students have recess or another class. Winding down, we take a deeper breath, perhaps even noticing that the grass has turned green and flowers are popping up all around us.
As you melt into your summer routine, I hope you take the opportunity to reignite your sense of wonder. Wonder is such a magical thing and it is not just for the young. Wonder is something that keeps all of us young and curious! I don’t mean the kind of wonder like, “I wonder when I should clean my house?” or “I wonder what we should have for dinner after the baseball game?” But, the mind-growing wonder of living a life that is engaged in the mystery of the world around us.
Wind down and get outside — out of those walls that have held you captive for the last nine months and breathe in air that perhaps has skipped past a glacier or swirled over an ocean. Allow your toes to sink into the soft green grass or even the goo of a mud-puddle. Open your mind to explore the natural world around you. Don’t take your cell phone. You can read the text later. Just soak in the world outside that changes each minute and wonder. Look closely, carefully, what do you observe? What catches your eye? What new fragrance seeps into your nostrils? What texture do your fingers or toes feel?
Do you see the spider threading its way through the grass? Do you see the water droplets from the rain or your sprinkle bead up or spread out depending on the surface it lands on? Do you see the clouds and wonder why they form, where they form and how they create such unique shapes? Is the lightning splitting the sky and sending out its thunderous roar leaving you in awe and wondering how that happens? Did you travel to the mountains for a hike and open your bag of cocoa and see it spray all over your cup and wonder? Lean your head back on your lounger on the beach and feel the breeze coming off the ocean and wonder where the breeze is coming from and where will it go? Suddenly, curiosity takes roots in our minds and we begin to wonder. Magically we find ourselves reaching for the nearest device to “Google” or grabbing a book or even a friend to find out more!
A few years ago at the CCIRA Conference on Literacy, Ellen Oliver Keene said something that still resonates in my mind, “Are your students engaged or are they being compliant?” As the summer winds down and the “teacher dreams” start up again, as you begin to envision your classroom and play around with new lessons, think about how to create a classroom full of students who wonder, students whose minds remain curious about the content that lines your walls and bookshelves. Whether it is wondering how words coming out of someone’s mouth can become written words on a page that can be read by someone else to wondering why Shakespeare wrote in the style that he did, no matter what age level you teach, you can create an atmosphere that embraces curiosity that seeps through every desk, chair, and human being in your room.
Many of you have Word Walls in your classroom, which is a great resource. Another one you might try is creating a Wonder Wall! In my classroom, we created a Wonder Wall. Students came in each morning and would write their “wonderings” on sticky notes that would clutter our back wall. When we were done with a lesson, students would add more “I wonders…” that swirled in their minds during a lesson but were not yet answered. As a class, we would then work together to find and discover answers over the course of the week or unit. Some could be found quickly, while others took weeks to discover. Students would use a variety of resources to discover and share answers. We were creating a classroom that was engaging and vibrant by allowing the students to realize that questions are amazing and that answers are fun to discover. It was a constant group effort! I wanted my students to want to learn and want to read. I wanted to create in them a yearning to find out more about everything. I wanted them to know that even though we had just finished a lesson that all that there was to know about that topic had not been covered, there was still much more to find out! Students learned about “testable questions” and “researchable questions.”
As literacy teachers, we want our students to want to read and find out information. Another helpful tool is something called the “Admit Slip” from Janet Allen. Students analyzed an intriguing picture that related to what we were learning about that day. They wrote down three things they noticed, two ideas and one thing that they wondered. We would then discuss their observations and wonderings. This was a way that I could assess their background knowledge, set the stage for the lesson, but most importantly create a sense of wonder. I loved it because it was never the same twice and the students always observed something that I had yet to notice. Janet Allen’s book Inside Words holds many other ideas that help create an atmosphere that entices a student to want to learn more.
The best way to create a sense of wonder in your classroom and to get them engaged in learning, is to be curious yourself. As you enjoy your time away from students, whether you are attending PD sessions, vacationing, gardening, hiking, working, or wherever your summer takes you, take time to look around you and wonder!
Amy Nicholl is a Past President of CCIRA and serves as curriculum coordinator at Poudre Learning Center, an outdoor learning facility. She is an adjunct professor at University of Northern Colorado, an is a consultant who facilitates professional development workshops in the areas of literacy, science and STEM education. Amy was a classroom teacher for thirty-four years in Windsor, Colorado. Amy received multiple awards for teaching including two national awards: the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and the Delta Award for Excellence in Inquiry-based Science Teaching. Follow Amy on Twitter: @AmyNicholl16