N is for Navigation

Audio read by Lynn Thomas

I love old maps. They speak to me of adventure, exploration, new worlds. Ultimately, they tell stories, and being an English teacher, I love stories!

Sea map of Portugal
Gedaente en … vant Landt van Portugal;
from: Mariner’s Mirror,
Lucas Jansz Waghenaer, 1584

A cool thing that occurred to me is how maps show the big picture, not just point A to point B like GPS gadgets do. I think that is really important, because who wants to walk around with the equivalent of blinders on? As a teacher, it made me think how sometimes we forget to look at the journey, the story, because we’re so caught up with the end assessment. It also made me think about how we often have blinders on ourselves and see only one or a couple of ways to do things. Picture, for instance, two people could use the same map, take utterly different routes, write astoundingly different stories, yet still reach the same goal. That is powerful because if the goal is getting from point A to point B, does it matter how you get there, what mode of transportation you use, or even how long it takes, as long as you get there? This is what equity, inclusion, accessibility are fighting for. The chance to get to the goal without being penalized for using different supports or alternate paths to get there.

This is why giving students lots of choices to display what they’ve learned is so vitally necessary. And I need to remind myself to look at the journey too – it’s the life of the story and so much more telling than the endpoint. In my classes, I am often reminded of this when students are working on independent projects like our blogging project. Each student comes at the project from a different place and with vastly different visions of what they want to produce. I coach and give individual feedback to help them garner more success by way of clearer communication and the like. Students write three posts in all and always show marked improvement from the first post to last. That improvement story and seeing a fine-tuned blog come to fruition are the heart of the product and what lends real satisfaction to the project as a whole and I have gained far more insight into my students’ capabilities and their thinking by paying more attention to the process than the product.

We owe it to students to teach them navigation skills – realistically and metaphorically. Reading a topographical map becomes akin to reading the ups and downs of any given situation. Planning a road trip reminds us that it’s important to have goals and figure out the steps needed to get there. What more important transferrable skill can we teach than how to navigate successfully through life?

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