Letting go


Much has been written about how teachers and parents tend to loosen up or let go in these final weeks for the school year.

My favorite musings on this topic come from Jen Hatmaker, a mom who unabashedly titles her late-May post as: “The Worst End-of-School-Year-Mom Ever".

Learning never ends. But school certainly does. Rituals and ceremonies reinforce this unfortunate logic. School (learning) ends. Summer (play) begins.

I like to try to shift this logic by playing in school as much as possible. How can we demonstrate and model that learning in its highest, most productive form, actually is play…and never stops.?

Education consultant Elena Aguilar suggests allowing students to dive into a project of interest. I think Aguilar has the right idea. How can we offer students time & space to explore their own curiosities, passions, and interests as they head into summer? How can we truly ‘let them go’?

1) Start with brainstorming questions

Go outside and sit with a journal. Look around and make a list of all the questions that come to your mind in 15 minutes. No editing allowed! Let it flow.

Question Focus (QFT). Show an image or a phrase (What I really want to know is… or If I had an entire weekend alone with no one telling me what to do, I would…) and let them write questions / ideas based on this prompt (again, 15 minutes is usually enough time).

Spend 15 minutes on The Wonderment site. Is there a project that calls to you?

2) Offer structures for narrowing down questions

Help students narrow down their lists (have them work in teams or with partners on this step). Encourage them to then list all the sub-questions that come from the original question. Perhaps you share ways of designing the project or have them post their project questions around the room so everyone can get a sense of what people are up to.

4) Let them go!

This is arguably the most challenging part: not micromanaging the process. Are you OK with the letting go of a specific product so that students are truly free to explore…and keep exploring? Can you allow some students to ‘goof off’ for an hour a day? What might happen if we let go of an expected end result?

But, what if…

…students just use this time to do homework?

…students aimlessly wander about and never land on something exciting to them?

…students spend the entire time on the monkey bars / a single website / drawing / reading the same genre, etc.?

…students play games the whole time?

Well then, it would seem they are acting like every adult I know!

Talk about it. Reflect together on what’s happening (meta-cognitively). How do people balance responsibilities and interests? Is there a ‘right’ balance to achieve? How do we cultivate interests over time? What does it mean if we just can’t find something interesting…or are over-interested in just one thing? Do we work better in teams or alone when pursuing certain interests? What is the role of motivation?

If you do decide to take a risk at the end of this school year and offer students time (I like the 20% rule) to just explore something of interest, be sure to continually reflect about what they are learning. Their learning will be expressed through the reflection (and, if you’re a bit of a control freak like me, will help provide some loose outcomes for the time).

We hope you have an exciting, play-filled end of the school year. Stay in touch and let us know how ‘letting go’ goes for you! Also, don’t forget to join us for our final Twitter chat. We will be practicing the Question Formulation Technique together. Details below!