The authors describe Hidden Sparks, a program designed to help students understand how they learn. In the process, students become empowered to tackle challenges. The program helps trained teachers reach students who struggled with learning or behavioral challenges and who might otherwise have been overlooked or misunderstood. A central focus in the Hidden Sparks curriculum became metacognition.
Hidden Sparks articulated four core principles, reflecting both a belief system and a set of practices. The principles described below weave a metacognitive approach into the scaffolded work with teachers and students.
- Hidden sparks. It is critical to find the "hidden sparks" or talents in all learners and in all settings. It is equally crucial to appreciate the unique array of strengths and weaknesses that make up each learner.
- Reflective practice. There is significant value in being thoughtful about one’s own learning processes and in helping others understand their learning. Reflective practice is not innately determined, it is a skill that can be taught and cultivated.
- Collaboration. Working in a collaborative fashion facilitates change, learning, and growth. This entails transparency and partnership, rather than hierarchy or authoritarian approaches. The collaboration between teachers and between teacher and student to achieve what’s best for the child should be practiced.
- Learning is life-long. All learners can grow and improve. Without on-going learning or support, learners can become entrenched in their struggles. Openness to continued learning is a powerful predictor of success.
The authors conlude:
"In our on-going work in the Hidden Sparks professional development program, we see increased teacher and student awareness about learning and behavior in ways that generalize beyond the specific classes or students we are addressing. We encounter students and teachers developing and mastering strategies that will be of use to them across all aspects of their learning and beyond the confines of classroom walls. These exciting developments keep us engaged in what we hope will be a transformative process – one in which Jewish schools will become centers of learning, where students with all variety of learning styles and behavior profiles will be empowered as successful learners – and ultimately as successful adults – continuing and enriching our remarkable tradition."