Is it off task?

After several weeks of reading and taking notes on natural disasters,  I told students that they would have the choice between teaching what they had learned with a game board or game show. The magical word game (thank you, Shana Frazin) got 100% buy-in. Engagement skyrocketed as students wrote the dialogue for their game show or designed their board, cards, and playing pieces.

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And on the day of the gameplay, all had a great time.

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But, was it learning? How much of the work was off task?

After the games were cleaned up, I asked the students to write me a brief note sharing what they had learned. And to be honest. I told them this was for me to know if this was an effective way to learn. I asked them to be specific. What did they learn, either from another team or from the creation of their game?

The majority mentioned specific content learning, and few said what they learned about working with others.

S–‘s comment was one that I thought captured the essence of group work and talk that can seem silly at times. 

Our group did get a little off-task because of finding out who was the youngest, but that was kind of it. I think this was a good way of learning because we students look forward to it.

Students looked forward to it. And they found out who was the youngest. While the latter might not be “on-task” as S– commented, is that talk a bad thing? Isn’t getting to know each other what makes for beautiful partnerships and teams? My own experience in group work has led me to believe that some of the best collaborative thinking is done when trust and friendship are high. How many times have I laughed about something silly with my grade-level colleagues and then gotten right back to reading student work or planning a unit of study? Having a safe and welcoming group of partners makes for excellent working conditions. Our kiddos have the same needs.

 

Yes, I still love it

A visiting educator stopped by my classroom today. He walked around, looked at charts. He talked to my students; asked some pointed questions. And then he said, “After all these years, you still love teaching.”

At that moment, we were simply doing what we do, but what he said threw me. He named how I felt. And apparently, at the moment, it was evident.

That is not to say there aren’t painful times.

Times that I go home questioning myself, upset about something that did not go well. Times when my next step is unclear. Times when something crops up that I can not control or figure out stops learning cold. Times when the stumbling blocks of learning keep me from sleep. These times describe a large part of teaching.  Even so, the puzzle and the possibility keep me coming back to the classroom, And every day, I’m met by students.

Being able to step into what is hard about learning and figure it out with students is a great gift. Yes, after all these years, I still love it. 

That One Kid

Last week my kiddos entered the library. Many had a mission. Some had no idea what they wanted. All* were eager as they sat on the steps of the tiny read aloud amphitheater. They waited, listening to the always repeated instructions to be quiet because of students being tutored in nooks and crannies. Slowly. Step by step, they were released.

D– grabs a Baby Mouse book.
K– is clutching a Rick Riordan graphic novel (who knew).
V– opens a book about India as D– asks, is that really how it looks?
M– has already checked out her book and is engrossed on the steps of the amphitheater.
S– rocks in the rocking chair with Harry Potter.
M– sits at the table reading a cookbook.
A– is looking for a book on Cinderella. Not a Cinderella book, a book on Cinderella. 

This could be a post on how wonderful this tiny slice of my day felt. Or about the importance of library space and time. It could be about allowing choice. Or about what real readers look like. But this post is about one kiddo.

T– sits without a book on the step. I wander over to him. “I don’t want a book,” he replies matter-a-factly, to my query.  I follow up with the usual round of questions. Nothing inspires him to try. He is my worry. He is sweet and smart. He has lots of friends, but he’s an outlier. In our daily community circle, we have a generalized question that most can respond to. Something like what’s your favorite color, food, movie, game, etc. He most often responds sweetly with “I don’t know.”  I have yet to get his parent in to talk about his work. I am flummoxed. And every time I sit and reflect on student work, I see him as barely meeting expectations.

Recently, I sat with T– to talk about his writing. The two paragraphs, six lines, 65 words, were good. Right on track. This was the product of two weeks of nudging and coaching.  I complimented him on what he did and what he could do next. He smiled. But he was done. He had no desire to continue on.

As I write this, I don’t have a solution. T– is the kid that haunts me because I know how this goes.  Coaching him through a process moves him a little.  With each nudge, he takes the requested step. But without the next nudge, there’s no movement.  And I’m not always there for that push. I can’t be, and I shouldn’t be. It is so easy to give up. And I am sure that is what has happened over the years.

I will continue to nudge, offer another book, ask him another question, and judging by his behavior so far, he will continue to comply just enough to barely meet the expectation.  I know the minute I walk away, he will drift off into another space.

In the end, it comes down to our relationship. I am T’s teacher, and he is doing what he has always done with teachers.  But each day offers another opportunity for me. T– has a line in my plan book, making me accountable to his needs.  A plan that consists of conversation and choice. And hopefully, he will bring me a little closer to what might inspire him to become a learner.