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Teaching The Art of Learning In a Rural Wyoming Elementary School (Part One)

Heather Danforth

Guest Blogger: Heather Danforth

Heather, an elementary school teacher in rural Wyoming, is working with The Art of Learning and sharing her classroom experiences…

As I read and re-read passages from The Art of Learning, I recognized the potential of many of the ideas in this book to help my students (and me) to be successful. I teach gifted students in a rural Wyoming town, and I have truly brilliant students. But as smart as they are, some of them struggle even to get passing grades. The statistics surrounding gifted students are unfortunate – for example, research shows that as many as 20-25% of students who drop out of high school score in the gifted range on tests of ability. When I work with my youngest students, I generally find kids who are ecstatic about learning, even if it isn’t about the things that I plan to teach. They have a million questions and dozens of ideas to contribute to every discussion. But as they get older, they too often seem to lose faith in the school system – they develop a cynicism about jumping through hoops to get passing grades rather than actually learning about the things that they care about, or they develop crippling perfectionism that prevents them from taking any classes in which they don’t actually know all of the material already for fear that they will lose their identity as the smartest, or they choose to do mediocre work out of a desire to fit in or the long-term discovery that mediocre is all that they really need to do. Every day, as I approach my job, I am floored by the potential of my students and the overwhelming responsibility I feel to help them reach it, when faced with other, equally bright students who have not. Every day I ask myself if what I am doing for them is actually beneficial – if I am getting the right messages across. Reading The Art of Learning, I felt that many of its ideas are the very ones that I am trying to teach my students. This was, in some ways, reassuring. With the book in mind, I am setting out to teach these ideas to elementary students – gifted learners in grades kindergarten through 5 – in hopes that I can help them to reach for the stars. I know that they can get there.

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