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About Learning for Real

As a teacher with 29 years of experience, Mary Ruth McGinn has always sought innovative ways to meet the needs of each of her students. She has spent her entire career in schools where a majority of students speak English as a second language and where poverty significantly impacts the... Read more

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Swimming on the Surface or Diving Deep?

Lightning Strike Kids Opera Company sparked an amazing conversation. We were discussing why our work is challenging, thought provoking, and encourages us to question and seek answers to make sense of our world.

“It’s not supposed to be easy,” I tell the students. “Were it easy, one would learn nothing.” But the truth is . . . kids don’t get this. They think they are supposed to know the answers, understand immediately all that is asked of them on an assignment and finish a task in a single session. And if they don’t, they feel something is wrong with them. They don’t know what they are missing. How could they? It is our responsibility to show them, guide them to the water, motivate them to move beyond the known. Then and only then will they begin to experience learning in a new way, learning that will take them to a different level of knowing and being.

I asked the students to swim with me in the ocean. I suggested a metaphor of swimming on the surface of the water and drew a parallel with the process of learning. Where are the true treasures of the sea? Do they lie above or below the surface of the water? Students began visualizing a host of incredible images and sharing the vivid pictures in their minds. They were quick to understand that they must venture below the surface to experience true learning. Ashley stated, “Ahhh, the pessimist swims on the surface and the optimist goes deep. The optimist is always trying to get the pessimist to join him as he swims back and forth from the depths of the sea to the surface.” Ashley was the first to take a dive. Others followed. Soon, the students were off, drawing and creating metaphors of their own.

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Mary Ruth McGinn

About Mary Ruth McGinn

As a teacher with 29 years of experience, Mary Ruth McGinn has always sought innovative ways to meet the needs of each of her students. She has spent her entire career in schools where a majority of students speak English as a second language and where poverty significantly impacts the learning experiences and opportunities of students and their families.

Sixteen years ago she had an experience that changed her life and altered her professional path in a profound way. She attended training sessions at The Metropolitan Opera Guild in New York City, spent nine intense days living the process of creating an original opera and learned how to replicate the experience with her students. She then began creating opera with her students and using the process of creating the opera as a vehicle through which to teach curriculum and life skills. The authentic purpose for learning coupled with the arts provided the perfect stage on which to construct a love for life-long learning.

She currently teaches at Stedwick Elementary School in Montgomery Village, Maryland where she is creating another original opera with her third grade students.

Read more of Mary Ruth’s blog Learning for Real.

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