The Learning curve

Lessons for teachers from my grandkids

When I was frequently attending teacher training workshops for gifted education years ago in the United States, we were left with important words to teach by. Whatever projects we assigned students had to be relevant, should deserve an audience, and had a real-life component. Over time, one realized that these criteria are good for all students and not just the gifted and the talented.

These came back to me when I spent homework time with my eldest grandson, Diego, now 9 years old and in fourth grade at the St. Raymond School in Dublin, northern California. Not that he needed help, only nagging reminders that it was now time for schoolwork, as I tried to wean him away from YouTube or basketball dribbling.


Diego’s big project over the holidays was a scrapbook documenting his recent visit with his family to one of the 21 missions in California, Mission San Jose in Fremont. He knew exactly what to do because he was given specific guidelines on what to document in the scrapbook. And he had notes, photographs, and postcards to help him remember, as his personal impressions were important. It’s a worthwhile project on legacy, history, architecture, and relevance to today’s lifestyle.

Of special interest to me was what Diego said was the reason for such a project. In the past, the standard assignment was to create a model of the mission building itself; that took so much work, he said, and students did not learn much, unlike this scrapbook project.


I googled the mission visit as a US Department of Education requirement for all fourth graders and, indeed, the department had banned the model-building activity, which demanded much time and little thinking and reflection. How commendable for Diego’s teacher to discuss the issue with the class.

And so he was at work for days, reliving the life of the original settlers, the Ohlone. I like how the project got the family involved, with his father helping laminate some pages and his mother buying him a card with a chip for Diego to have a voiced message as an intro.

Another real-life project went beyond the usual biography report, for he dressed and spoke as Kobe Bryant, talking about his life the day the reports were on exhibit for parents to enjoy. As visitors stopped by his booth, KB came to life.

Kindergartener Emilio, meanwhile, stays up Thursday nights because the next day is when the teacher requires his weekly log of titles and authors he has read or been read to during the week. That is a good and simple checklist with no lengthy book reports to check, but it serves the purpose of reminding how important it is to read every day. Without fail, Emilio remembers that every Wednesday is his library day, so he brings the special heavy-duty envelope for the book to be returned. He brought back a thick book on dinosaurs—and he was not discouraged by being told that it was too hard for him. Hard, but a special interest of his.

It was Martin Luther King day, a holiday they were enjoying. And what respectable teacher can let that pass? Diego knew vaguely who he was, while Emilio said his teacher had mentioned the name. I made Diego read out loud MLK’s speech, the “I have a dream” portion. On Open House, I was pleased to see an “I have a dream” display. Emilio’s dreams were, for the world, no fighting; for the family, peace and love; for the community, no littering.

The preschooler Nana is happiest mimicking the books I read to her. She listens well, so that she can read by rote her current favorites: a tactile book, “That’s not my fairy…,” “The very hungry caterpillar, “ “Brown bear, brown bear…” and Yvette Fernandez’s Manila books, accompanied by the popular “Manila, Manila” tune.

There are far too many ways to keep literacy alive. And these days, the best teaching tips are not from teacher education books but from tested, real-life examples. There is much to learn from those we teach.


Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: education, United States, US Department of Education
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