This past weekend, I traveled to my hometown of Blue Earth, Minnesota, and visited the Faribault County Fair (for the record, Blue Earth is not in Blue Earth County – don’t get confused). When I was a kid, I literally spent the entire week at the fair. I would often come home long enough to shower or change clothes and right back we’d go. Not because I had an intense love of the fair, per se, but because I was IN STUFF at the fair.
I was involved in both 4-H and FFA for a number of years. My entire week at the fair was busy and planned out: 4-H project judging early in the week, Arts-In performances almost every day, fashion revue, horse showing, junior leader/4-H ambassador responsibilities throughout the day, and a shift or two at the FFA Children’s Barnyard. And all of it within a span of about five days. Most years I don’t remember even getting to go on any carnival rides because I was just too busy.
But it was awesome. Going back this week, I walked through the barns and exhibit halls and saw many familiar names but mostly new faces. Some of my friends from back in the day still live in the area and now their kids are the ones in the show ring. And I started to think about the kinds of things I did as a kid that I took for granted at the time, but now as an adult, they sort of blow my mind.
One of the things that I did quite a bit was help to lead meetings. As a 4-H’er, I was a club officer by late elementary school. That meant that at each meeting, I was required to give some sort of report, that is, stand up and speak in front of the entire room of adults and kids. As my responsibilities grew, I eventually became a 4-H and FFA president, which meant I was leading the entire meeting.
The other thing that intrigues me as an educator is the idea of project judging. In 4-H, I would sign up for a project area, work on my project independently (with parental help, of course), and then bring my project to the fair for judging. During the judging process, I would have to explain what I did and what I learned. The judge would also ask questions about the project. My overall ribbon (my assessment) was determined by a combination of the project and the judging process. FFA was no different; horse judging required me to give “oral reasons” where I had to justify why I placed each horse as I did.
How often do most kids get the opportunity to do that these days? When do we give them a chance to talk about what they know and have learned? Genius Hour is one way that teachers are starting down that path. What about explaining their answers? I see this happening the most in math, where teachers are asking students to explain their reasoning behind their solution to a given problem. But what about other subject areas? Kids learn great life skills in athletics, too, but do coaches ask kids what they learned or why they made a certain play or move?
To me, all of these things require communication and critical thinking, two skills that some of our students dreadfully lack but absolutely need to be successful in the future. One of the best ways we can get to know what our kids know is to get them to talk about it. It will likely feel strange at first, probably for both student and teacher, but eventually it will become the norm. And not only that, once students can communicate what they DO know, I’d argue that it will also help them begin to articulate what they DON’T know and that opens the door for learning and growth. And really, isn’t that the point?