Things I Know 102 of 365: My classroom isn’t one place

Man’s heart away from nature becomes hard.

– Standing Bear

At the beginning of each year, SLA parents sign a permission slip which allows for the freedom of field trips without much notice. So long as we are within the Philadelphia city limits, teachers can plan experiential learning for our students.

Today was one of those days.

My last class of the day has been workshopping their vignettes chronicling their lives as readers.

Each student’s vignettes are placed in a manilla folder along with a cover letter explaining their purpose and asking questions of the reader.

Students, armed with pads of paper and sticky notes read one another’s work, comment and then trade one folder for another.

As Emily, our literacy intern, said, “It’s like a Christmas present when they get back their writing with all of the comments.”

A nerdy, nerdy Christmas present, but yes.

After two days of cold, rainy, dank weather, the sun shown in Philadelphia today and the temperature neared 70.

A golden moment.

As I walked to get my lunch, I realized there was no reason our last day of workshopping needed to be inside.

As students filed in, I told them they would need jackets.

“Are we going outside!”


We walked the three blocks to the running/biking path that runs near the school and along the Schuylkill River.

The students spread out on the grass, folders in hand, and read and commented and enjoyed the weather.

Save a few complaints about some errant insects, it was a beautiful thing.

A visitor to SLA documenting project-based, inquiry-driven education tagged along with the class.

“Why go outside for an English class if all you’re going to do is read and respond to papers?”

It’s one of those questions that begs the answer, “If you have to ask, then I can’t explain it to you.”

Instead, I worked to put my reasoning into words.

School design mimics prison design too closely already. Any time I can work against that association, implied though it may be, I’m going to take the chance.

More importantly, my job is to help my students become real readers and real writers who engage in those activities authentically.

When I think about where I want to read or write, where it feels most natural, I do not picture a school.

We went outside because I don’t want my students to think the only place they can do the work we’re doing is in a classroom.

And, we went outside because there are beautiful parts of our city and sometimes it’s enough to just be in them.

Some might argue a more fitting use of the space would have been to ask the students to write about what they saw or be inspired by the nature around them or wax poetically about public green spaces.

We weren’t there to focus on the space anymore than we stay in the classroom to write about the classroom. We were there to focus. That’s it, to focus on the task and spread apart and read and comment while sitting on benches and lying on the grass and every once in a while losing track of ourselves while watching the river.

The air was better, the vitamin D was pumping and the students had space to breathe and focus. It won’t be every day, but it was today and it was good.

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