What Do They Remember? It’s Actually Quite Simple.

Ask any kid their favorite thing about school and I’d guess somewhere around 90% will say P.E., lunch, or recess (if they’re lucky enough to have it).

Ask that same kid what they remember learning from their last year at school and the answers may surprise you, it may only be a few things or even nothing at all.

I started paying attention to this phenomena quite a few years ago as I start every year off the same, trying to get to know my students and their families. So the typical, “What’s your favorite subject in school?” question seemed to be an enlightening, yet non-threatening starting point.

When I started getting the same, non-enlightening answers: P.E., lunch, or Art. I started to re-frame my question, “What was your favorite part about your last year at school?”

To my dismay, I received many blank stares followed by multiple, “I dunno”s.

It made me start wondering if kids remember any of what we teach them? I put so much into each day, minimum 3 intentional teaching points, differentiated lessons, attempts to make it meaningful and enjoyable x 180 days = a lot of hard work every year! Was is it really that easily forgotten?

Then I started reflecting on my own schooling experiences. What was it that I actually remembered? Here’s what I came up with:

1st- I remember being excited because my teacher had a similar last name to mine, Mrs. Lorenz. I also remember being mortified when I accidentally pulled a kid through a submarine on our playground and he had to get stiches. (It was the good ole’ days, our equipment was made out of metal. This isn’t me, but this IS the actual submarine.)

2nd – I remember my teacher being extremely nice. That’s it…from the entire year.

3rd – I remember being terrified of my third grade teacher but I remember having my two best friends in my class and that helping a bit.

4th – I remember being the one who was sitting next to our eggs in the incubator in our classroom when the first chick hatched.

5th – I remember my parents divorcing. I also remember my science fair project because I did it all on my own and I loved documenting it and creating the board. I also remember a report on Harriet Tubman because I used my typewriter that I just received for Christmas that year to complete it by myself as well.

6th – 7th -8th-ish.

I remember flying to Washington D.C. for our class trip.

I remember the joy associated with being able to play sports.

I remember a project where my friends and I got to make a Jeopardy video in Language Arts & another where we performed a dance routine to Boyz II Men’s “Motown Philly”.

(Yes, we were girls from Michigan and yes, we killed that routine! Feel free to visualize and enjoy.)

I could go on, but as a teacher now, it was quite eye-opening to see that I do not remember one structured lesson from all of my schooling. However, the pattern of my answers helped reinforce something for me professionally. Each of my answers fall into one of two categories.

I encourage you to take a trip down memory lane yourself before you read on to see if your answers fall into the two categories as well. What do you remember from school?

We are all different, but I would venture to guess that no matter where around the country you were raised, or what grade level you picked, or even what type of schooling experiences you had, that each of your memories fell into one of the following categories.

Did your memories revolve around an EXPERIENCE or a RELATIONSHIP?

1st Teacher with a similar name-Relationship

2nd Kind teacher- (positive) Relationship

3rd Mean teacher- (negative) Relationship

4th Chicks hatching-(positive) Experience

5th Parents divorcing- (negative) Experience

6th – 8th D.C.-Experience, Sports-Both, Music Video- (UNFORGETTABLE) Experience! 😉

I would put money on it that all of yours were the same as well. Not because I’m psychic, but because the learning process is the same for all of us. We learn by making connections. There’s another component that drives home the long term retention of learning-ownership-that we will dive into further soon enough. Nevertheless, understanding this process has altered the way that I’ve approached teaching.

When I taught at a school where a majority of my students weren’t lucky enough to have the experiences for themselves, I brought the experiences to them. We didn’t just imagine a trip to the beach, we brought sand and shells into the classroom so that they could touch them for themselves. We sat on beach towels, wore sunglasses, put on suntan lotion and listened to sounds of ocean waves so that they could activate their senses and ‘experience it’ for themselves . Then we began connecting the learning.

When we celebrated our writing, we shared it with younger students, or dressed up and put on events for our school staff or our parents. We intentionally included people who we had positive relationships with and who cared about us. Kids work hard to make those who care about them proud.

What makes me even more excited about this realization hit me this weekend as I began laying out a time line for the monthly health activities that we are lucky to be a part of next year at Indi-ED, as well as the character lessons and themes that they will be reinforcing in our curriculum. Not only will our kids get to have real life EXPERIENCES DAILY, but they will also get to build up the positive RELATIONSHIPS within themselves and the others in their cohorts DAILY!

They will get to experience meditation in nature and what it’s like to be present, how to practice positive self-talk, positive perspective, and positive messaging to one another in order to create stronger relationships within themselves and within their cohorts.

They will get to experience rock climbing and what it feels like to overcome fears and challenges in order to reach new heights-literally and figuratively. They will experience how important trust is in any relationship, but especially in one that the other person is holding the rope that’s suspending you from high above.

They will get to experience Crossfit classes and learn how to track and set goals for themselves and what it feels like to be healthy and strong, both mentally and physically. They will get to experience what it’s like to cheer on and support others as they achieve their goals which will continue to strengthen those relationships.

They will get to experience how you can motivate and inspire others through art, photography, and technology. They will get to strengthen their own self-confidence while building up their creativity skills but also through understanding others’ perspectives as they share a piece of their own, a natural relationship builder.

I won’t give it all away just yet, but these are only our health experiences! We haven’t even started discussing their curriculum or inquiry project experiences!

Check back in this time next year and I guarantee that if you ask Indi-ED students what their favorite part of the year was, they won’t say lunch. And if you happen to get a blank stare, it may just be because there were too many experiences to name just one.

If you’re open to sharing, I’d love to hear some of the things that you remember from your schooling experiences in the comments section.

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