I was filtering around the classroom today as students were working on their Civil Rights Timeline project checking on progress, providing feedback, and just chatting with students.

You know… the usual.

I happened upon a girl sitting in the back of the room who seemed to be thoroughly engaged in what she was doing. Naturally one might assume that a student sitting in the back playing on a laptop might be off task but I have learned not to jump to conclusions. What was happening was in fact far more interesting. This student was reading a highlighted Google Doc which turned out to be a podcast transcript. The students had been tasked with finding primary and secondary sources for their self selected topics. This student had downloaded a podcast as well as it’s transcript focused on first had accounts of people arrested during the Children’s March during the Birmingham Campaign and then took the time to highlight all of the oral histories. When I asked what she was doing she was a bit out of sorts; almost as if I had caught her misbehaving. We ended up having a fairly nuanced conversation about whether these quotes counted as primary or secondary sources and then she said something that caught me off guard.

She “came clean” about what she had been doing.

This Junior laughed a little nervously and half apologized saying she had “been wasting” the class time I had set aside to work on this project. This is a good kid so I asked what she was doing and it was her response that gave me pause. Her version of wasting time was that she was just listening to hours worth of podcasts about the Birmingham Campaign. She was fascinated by the stories of the folks that lived through this era. I told her she hadn’t been wasting time. She was learning! This was part of the process. That she won’t remember any of my lectures but she would remember those stories.

This makes me wonder though. Why did she think this was wasting time. I can think of two reasons.

1 – Her process wasn’t exactly the method I had asked the students to accomplish


2 – This work wouldn’t lead to a grade.

This 16 year old took time to go beyond my limited expectations, dove deeply into a topic she was interested in that also happened to closely relate to the assigned topic, and thought it was wasting time. She wasn’t wasting time she was just learning off script. Focusing on grades actually distracts from the potential for these types of learning experiences.

Folks, when I hear people say that school doesn’t equal learning this is now my go to example.