Wherein I totally forgot to wear my pink shirt. You see, my daughter is very sick and I was up most of the night applying cold compresses to her forehead and neck, so when it came time to drag myself out of bed after 2 hours of sleep I wasn't thinking about the pretty pink blouse I had laying out, I just grabbed the nearest school appropriate clothing and off I went.
So what did we do in school?
First thing in the morning I played them Joss Whedon's Equality Now speech from 2006. "Because equality is not a concept. It's not something we should be striving for. It's a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women. And the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who is confronted with it."
We talked about the characters he writes and many in the class spoke about how they thought Black Widow was way more awesome than some of the other female superheroes in other movies.
At the end of the day we also read Ray Bradbury's "All Summer In A Day", which I won't spoil for you, but was excellent to read and discuss in our class. We've all seen bullying, especially intellectual bullying (picking on someone for being smart), and it was good to point it out and declare that there is never anything wrong with being smart and owning that intelligence.
We talked about other forms of bullying, and the students all walked out thinking about how they can contribute to not only stopping bullying, but how to create a more positive environment. Hopefully this will link us well into our Monday assembly and the start of Post It Positive.
We're 7 minutes into our math block. The only sound I hear is the scritching of pencils on paper. Occasionally I'll hear a tsk and look up to see one of my 7th graders looking at her neighbor's paper and shaking her head. A lively debate is about to begin.
10 minutes into the block. My iPhone timer sounds and the kids race to raise their hands. They are eager and 75% of them have their hands up within 10 seconds. I wait another few seconds, looking around to see some of the usually less confident students who are ready to be called on, side by side with my keeners. I point to one and say their name. "Master ____". (The kids get a kick out of me calling them Master or Young Miss when they are engaged and ready to share their learning.)
He's telling us his rationale for the 'imposter number'. "I notice that..." he begins, I beam at his logic. I pick another student who self describes as 'bad at math'. "I completely disagree. I chose my number because..." and her explanation is easily as convincing. Some students waiver as they re-examine their thought patterns, but I push on, calling on 3 more students, each with three different answers and equally valid logical reasonings. "I completely agree." I say with a smile on my face, ready for the groans. "BUT MRS. MOORE!! WHICH ONE IS RIGHT?" Comes the chorus. "That one." I say, pointing behind my shoulder in no general direction and we move on. They are unsatisfied and later at lunch I know I'll overhear a conversation in the hallway where one student won't give up on 'his' number.
23 minutes into the block. I am sitting at my stool height desk. Students are in a line to see me for help, but are also asking each other questions. Two students solve each others problems and head back to their desks to collaborate and teach each other. One student has completely moved through the unit in 4 days. He tested out and is sitting on my laptop learning trigonometry with Khan Academy.
I work on the whiteboard giving students problems and helping them find their mistakes when they are done. "You divided the area by π but then what do you need to do before getting the pure radius?" A light shines and they nod, forgetting to verbally respond as they head back to their desk, muttering about the fixes they can make. To my left students are pulling out the answer keys to the worksheets and self checking their work on the standard they are trying to gain mastery of.
42 minutes into the block and I've gotten the same question 3 times. I call hands and half the students immediately look up, putting their hands in the air and are quiet waiting for me talk. I call the names of a couple of my talkers and soon the whole class is quiet. "Okay, I'm getting this question a lot, so let's go through it." I put up the problem on the board, keeping the latest asker right beside me. "Now, let's walk through it." As we go through the steps I can see several students realize they are either masters of this information, or it's way beyond them. They return to their work silently, not disturbing the kids who are listening and scrawling notes in their journals. I get through the impromptu mini lesson and assign a formative assessment to close out the block. The lesson takes 3 minutes.
3 minutes left, most students have handed in their 'exit slips', a quarter of a paper that I keep stacked by the desk for these moments. I'm going to be able to quickly look through them and know what students I need to pull for a more in depth walk through of this concept. All the students stack their journals and put away their worksheets. This math block is over but the kids walk out talking about some new concept they learned, or something they struggled with for the second or third day and still don't get. I know they're doing fine, and that they'll get there eventually. Our favorite quote, emblazoned everywhere "Math is not a language I speak. Not yet. I can't learn it by listening to people speak it at me, I have to practice it, to play with it. To make mistakes. Math isn't magic or mysterious."
Does this happen everyday? Mostly. Teaching is a human practice so sometimes the students are squirrelly, or I'm not great at explaining things. But mostly, mostly it is this way. This is how we do math. I am teaching: out of control. The students pick the work they want to do (within the unit I've created), and they pace themselves. The Wall of Champions beckons them to try just a little harder, do just one more problem. They will get there, they can see their growth by a simple check of their Fresh Grade status. I can't brag enough about my kids. I am so proud of their work.
The parents are crediting me, other teachers are spending hours after school asking me about my methodology, but really it's the kids. They have to buy into it and engage themselves. It's not hard, but it's certainly not easy to lose control, to give it over willingly. We've been told that the only way we'll get students to work is to force them into it, to catch the teachable moments, to find the educational backdoor. It's my experience (however limited) that the human condition is one of discovery and insatiable curiosity, all I have to do is get out of the way, say some well timed cheers, and give a few tips without giving students the full answer and they'll find their own path to the knowledge they seek.
The stories are coming fast and furious. The quiet sounds of the writing students are music to my ears. I circulate, making sure the less engaged students are working, their hesitance to write more a product of their own insecurities than the lack of ideas in their heads. "Close your eyes." I tell one of my 6th grade boys and wait for a beat. "Now open them and tell me the first thing you see." "The soft pillows." He responds. "If you were laying down on those pillows, what would you be looking at?" I prompt. "All those fish!" His eyes get big. "Write about that! Tell me what you see and hear and smell! Are the blankets heated, are the pillows hard or soft?" I walk away as his pencil hits the paper, not lifting for another 12 minutes.
I start -every single- language arts block with a writing prompt. The students have turned in their 'to be graded' writing assignments, this is just writing because people write. Or draw. Or sketchnote. Or diagram. All of those are acceptable in the ELA journals. They write to a prompt but if their ink runs dry they are allowed to go back and find a previous prompt to respond to, I try to write questions on every entry every day, encouraging them to continue their thoughts, detail some new images, or get a new chance on a story that went sideways.
We call it "Daily 3" and eventually we'll get around to three things, but our focus is on the short stories we're about to crack open. We're looking at a variety of things, depending on our skills and confidence with texts. Some of the students are looking for metaphors or similes. Some are looking through their stories for new vocabulary, words they've never seen before. The more confident readers are huddled around a poster, excitedly searching for a new hint. "The bitter almond tea. I think that's a sign of poison!" One student says "Oh yeah!" Another student is grabbing his phone, searching for the answer. I have to ask them to head to the learning center, an empty classroom at the end of the hall so they can talk and work and not disturb those who need quiet to read and think.
Two of my low students wave to me as they head out the door together. They are going to the elevator room and will be back near the end of the period, excited to show me how far they got working together. They know that it's a privilege to be collaborative on this assignment. It's not actually, but no teacher has ever let them express the language arts as a social activity so they take this very seriously. These two boys self describe as 'not good' at school. They are creative, bright, active young men that take gym seriously, and work well when they are laying down on the floor. They do need support, and definitely don't perform at grade level, but they need to be given appropriate steps, not just left to fend for themselves. Their journals get special sticky notes every day, asking guiding questions and giving very specific feedback, formative and direction oriented. This way they can read on their own and not get singled out in a special 'low group'. They can learn in a safe environment, without being publicly outed as needing special help.
Some of my students do need to be pulled into small groups. They are usually targeted to a very specific skill on a very specific story. 'Examples of hyperbole in The Tell Tale Heart', 'Citing character traits in The Three Brothers', 'Concrete imagery in Lamb to the Slaughter'. The groups have to work independently first, but then they can collaborate after they've each found an example. Working together their language around the texts and confidence with new texts are becoming stronger.
We have a poster in the front of the room that shows various responses we sometimes make. "Compliment, Comment, Connect, Question" it says with examples and prompts of starter conversations. "I like that... I agree with.. I wonder why.. This reminds me of..."
I'm proud of my students. They work hard and they deserve to find and express their own confidence and knowledge, being fluent in the language arts have been an 'elite' skill for too long. They all can own the 6 strands, and I'm hoping they realize it too.
I respond to Sarah, Mrs. Moore, Mrs. Smoore, Miss Sarah, (and sometimes Mom!). I have been an DL (homeschool!) teacher for 2 years and am now a proud member of the SD35 team!