Jane Lankford and Charlene Herrala‘s English 10 class sent me a wonderful gift just before the holidays. I was observing classrooms at Windsor High School and their class was in the middle of a novel study on the book, The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall. They asked me if I had read the book and I answered, “No; most of my reading lately has been about education.” To my great surprise, right before the holiday I received a copy of the book from the class with comments and reflections written in the book from the teachers and students. Mrs. Herrala wrote, “I hope you take a little time to read something for yourself, and enjoy and are touched by this book as much as I am.” What a wonderful and caring thought to share.
I did take the opportunity to read the novel. It was a brilliant story about a young man’s journey to discover the ultimate gift. In particular, Chapter Six: The Gift of Learning, provided me the chance for much reflection on my own life, my children, and the opportunities we have to give as educators. Mrs. Lankford underlined, “Education is a lifelong journey,” and wrote, “Hopefully, our students will never stop learning!”
Learning is a process that does not end upon graduation. The book discusses that commencement is when the process of learning begins and that all the years of schooling should have provided the tools and framework for the real lessons to come. How true is this? As lifelong learners ourselves, what we need to remember is the tools and framework have changed over time. Our students are using technology every day in so many different ways. The jobs that they will have are not even created. For example, jobs related to the Apple i-phone did not exist before 2007. The skills needed to succeed in this type of work environment are collaboration, communication (both oral and written), creativity, and critical thinking.
Unfortunately politicians, in an attempt to improve education, have imposed multiple choice SOL tests to hold students and schools accountable for learning. The unintended consequence of these cookie-cutter tests has been the stifling of creativity of educators and children alike. We must create an environment in which our students can learn the skills that will be utilized throughout their life and to allow our teachers to teach in such an environment.
I believe that together we can create a culture in which SOL tests are just something we do in June, and not something that consumes our thoughts and words every day in the classroom. I believe that we can create an environment in which students collaborate together and discuss their thoughts on the topics being studied, communicate their ideas to others to demonstrate their learning, utilize their collective creativity to produce products or benefits for their community, and critically analyze information and make decisions for themselves. These experiences and opportunities should be “The Ultimate Gift” we give to our students.