Frost crystallization on a shrub. From

How do you approach teaching?  When you are with students, how do you act?  What do  you say?  Are you engaging and encouraging?  Are you curt and sarcastic?  Are you somewhere in between?  (These are questions I ask of you and of myself…we’re in this together, after all. 😉 )

In the book I am currently reading, Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom (2009), the author, Thomas Armstrong talks about “Crystallizing and Paralyzing Experiences”  and I found this way of thinking about what I do as a teacher very catchy and insightful.

Crystallizing experiences are a concept of David Feldman (1980) out of Tufts university and were further developed by Howard Gardner.  These are “turning points in the development of a person’s talents and abilities” and can “occur anytime during the life span” although many happen in early childhood. (28) Imagine the time when you were introduced to an object or concept that struck your curiosity, imagination and heart all at once.  That event inspired you to discover more, play more, challenge yourself and grow into what your potential is.  Imagine a time when the undiscovered musician was brought to his first concert as a child, or a budding artist was given the opportunity to make a mess with paint and her feet.  Imagine when the right student was shown that a microscope could open up a whole new world or that you could speak in a language of numbers.  These experiences are, as Armstrong states, “the sparks that light an intelligence and start is development toward maturity.” (29)

Armstrong has made his own converse term “paralyzing experiences to refer to experiences that ‘shut down’ intelligences.”  These, of course are the ones we want to avoid and yet, we find them everyday in classrooms across the country.   I have come across so many adults in the workshops I give who have told me the horror story about when their music teacher asked them not to sing because they were ruining the sound of the chorus.  Woah! Or maybe you know that kid who was yelled at when he brought the frog into class.  I bet an afternoon sitting outside the principal’s office made him never want to share his love of nature in school again.  Ouch! How about the fidget-er?  You probably had this one in class.  He can’t seem to sit still, needs to stand while working, taps his pencil, keeps getting up… if only he were allowed to move throughout the day, he might not hate sitting and working on his studies.  Sigh…

I think of my buddy, Dr. Richard Selznick, author of The Shut down Learner, who has devoted his career to helping so many students and families of children who have started to shut down simply because they do not work well in the traditional educational system.  Imagine if students were not paralyzed in their curiosity and natural tendancies, but were encouraged and taught how to use those skills to their advantage and advancement?

I was just reading a post from Daniel Petter-Lipstein, who wrote a guest post on the Un-Schooled blog about his experiences with Montessori schools.  He made some very good points about how these schools not only encourage students’ own curiosity, but they develop it.  This is a wonderful example of “Crystallizing.”

We may not have control over every part of our students’ lives.  We are not in their homes, we can ‘t help them get ready for each day and we can’t wait up for them late at night, but we do have them for six hours, 180 days a year.  We can give in to the “Six Hour Retarded Child” and provide a day of paralyzing experiences that help a child shut down in class, or we can take true advantage of the time we have and inspire our students, and ourselves in the process.

As the saying goes…  “The choice is…” well, ours.