Sunday, November 29, 2015

White Space for "all" kids is not going to work

I am starting to see a trend in education that bothers me. I don't want this to take on that "group think" mentality that so much does... So here is my attempt to refute the idea of White Spaces for all "our kids"

White Spaces are not going to work as the twittersphere thinks they will.  Very simple.  What works on twitter does not work in the classroom, in many cases and many schools.  The reason is not because White Spaces as an idea is bad.  But because I know some of you are already thinking, “how can I implement White Space in my building/classroom?”  We do sometimes have bad ideas in education.  The reason is because so many of us are going to adopt this as best practices with little more than a twitter chat or blog post and a feeling to start and implement.

This is reality, and sometimes these ideas are good to push thinking and sometimes they appear so simple and available that anyone can implement them.  That is what scares me so much with this idea of White Space.  Anyone and everyone could possibly implement it with nothing more than a feeling that this the right thing to do.  Please don’t operate just on feelings or pictographs that inspire you.  

Especially with the students that many of us deal with every day.  They need a focus and a cognitive growth target in order to focus their thinking.  They don’t care what Einstein said about creativity.  It is important to read, most important skill ever, but even more so is the skill to be able to think.  You might think White Space, as defined by how #edupeople are beginning to define it, means open and free time to do this.  Well maybe in a perfect world, but don’t be mislead to think that just you giving or allotting time for student creativity will result in students being creative.  
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This will not be the case.  Not because I don’t believe in our students, “our kids,” but because I know they need some structure and consistency in order to succeed.  There may be a small percentage of privileged students that could succeed in this environment, but there are many more that can’t.    

Business has used White Space for the past 10+ years.  The idea is to give people a focus and time to think it through problems.  It is independent work with purpose, within framework of Time, Place, Path, and Pace.  This is not a new #eduidea. Chill out folks, and just use good pedagogy.  Create White Space through choice and attention to learning styles, not just time allotted or a space like the corner to sit, and expect that creative magic is going to happen.   

Don’t jump on the new ideas like, WHITE SPACE, that do not help our students.  Don’t ask how can we implement this in our school?  Better to ask, “What is this?”  read, talk, listen, and think about it before you say, “This is a great idea, how can we implement it?”  White Space is not a “Get out of Jail Free Card” to just give to students and they see freedom, creativity, and the proverbial light.  My students need a focus to think metacognitively and to self-actualize.  Think with purpose and think space (not white) and how it can play a role.  But it should be intentional for them to be able to achieve this.    
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Don’t make it Vanilla, don’t limit it to some “thoughts” and some Memes that will create a culture of learning.  That is not good enough for my kids.  They not only don’t care, but when they go home they care even less.  They go home to houses with no White Space and live in an environment where White Space sometimes is even uncomfortable.  There is always noise, that is why when in our schools they make sure they are heard.  They don’t want White Space, they want voice, a much different topic.  So how do we reach them?  

The goal of any educational system is to cultivate learners, growers, and productive citizens.  To create entrepreneurs of thought, just giving them space is not going to work.  We need steps, scaffolding, modeling at times, and possibly graphic organizers to help them.  Then you get out of the way and let them do the hard work.  Give them choices and match their learning styles, customize the experience for them as much as possible.  Don’t just leave them alone and expect creative thought.  So if you are thinking an environment of creativity and learning is simply leaving students alone, don’t.  

We are dealing with 5th graders reading on a 1st grade or lower level.  Tell them to take White Space and you get “acting out”.  So stop right now promoting this as something that is for all kids.  If you think your students are ready for White Space as you describe it, don’t make it about all kids.  It is not, it is for the privileged and small population of students.  

“WE DO THIS IN THE BEST INTEREST OF OUR KIDS.” That is always the argument, or is that just something you attach to an idea like a bumper sticker to a car to send a message.  I never use that term.  Because quite frankly at this point, if I am not assuming my decisions are what is best for kids and I have to utter those words, then I am trying to convince myself and therefore had doubt to begin.  Many students will think White Space, by name is derogatory.  Just call it space to learn, with guidance.  Again this is pedagogy and teaching, it does not need a title beyond that.  Nothing new or innovative.        

Space needs a purpose, if not we leave behind all those that are not achieving.  

Here are some ideas for Space:
  • Have a focus task, project, or set of questions.
  • Allow students to listen to music if they want or quietly brainstorm with peers,
  • Make sure your task, project, or questions forces them to put themselves in someone else's perspective or requires them deep reflection.
  • Make it relevant, don’t talk about the beach if most of your students have never been there.
Hmmmm…… Sounds like good teaching and great classroom culture.  Don’t jump on something just for a conversation amongst adults.  The repeated divergence and thoughts that we are going to be innovative by coming up with new words to define something we already do is distracting and ultimately hurting our students.

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