Wednesday was another successful day – not a perfect day, and not the day I’d planned, but a good, productive day. Oh, and it was the Day After Election Day. While many of my students were celebrating, many others were self-righteously angry and upset as only a teenager can be.
It would not have been a good day for a competitive game! Not even for the cooperative game I described in yesterday’s post.
Oh, it was also “Stoplight Day” for Spirit Week – wear red if you’re in a relationship, wear yellow if you’re “talking to” someone, wear green if you’re single and available.
(My daughter, a sophomore at another high school in the district, thought that was ridiculous – and potentially dangerous. So did her younger brother, who’s still in elementary school. But Stoplight Day it was.)
And there was a student survey that required students to report, by homeroom class, to specified locations at specified times. If you’ve spent time in American schools, you can imagine the sheer number of intercom announcements there would be.
We clearly needed to stop(light) our game of muscās captāte, save it for another day, another time and opportunity. Wednesday had just become a great day for self-paced, small-group activities.
So every class started working on an interpretive-mode project relating Latin mottoes to the thoughts, words, actions, and feelings of a character (or several characters) in a series of reading passages. And since it was the day after Election Day, we started with the semi-official Latin motto of the United States, e pluribus unum. We talked about the implications of that phrase for our diverse, divided nation – and our diverse, divided classes – before students chose their own compelling mottoes and characters to work with.
While preparing the assignment Tuesday afternoon, I had realized something: proverbs and mottoes serve different purposes. Proverbs describe how things are, or sometimes how they should be, while mottoes are more like aspirational goals. We talked about that, too, and about how striving for shared goals is important in a diverse community (small ones like our “Latin Family,” huge ones like the United States). Then, as Ms. X’s Grade Level Advisory Class got called to one computer lab, Ms. Y’s to the other – as the intercom buzzed when each group was returning to class, each new group summoned – we looked back over old, familiar stories, picked favorite characters, made connections between the mottoes we’d chosen and the characters.
My formerly struggling students were so much more active, eager, and engaged yesterday than a week or two ago. Was it the change in the weather? The emotional climate? Their fear of what would happen when parents received report cards? In any case, there was a lot of quiet focus and joyful learning yesterday morning.
“But what should we do?” asked K and M. “Our last project like this really involved a motto, didn’t it?” And it had. And they’ve created a whole parallel set of characters. So I created the “challenge” version of the assignment, partly but not only for them:
- Start with a proverb, a different one from last time, and a character or characters.
- Relate the proverb to the characters as they are in existing stories.
- Choose a motto toward which your character(s) can aspire.
- Create a story in which they move closer to that aspirational goal.
Eventually, I suppose, all groups in all classes will be comfortable with the challenge version of this assignment, and then we’ll need a new challenge. When will that happen? When the students themselves tell me by their actions, the results of their products, their requests for more. When the time is right.
I’m an impatient person, or at least I used to be. But I’ve learned the deep necessity of waiting till the time is right. Learning, growth, and change happen on their own timetable, different for every person. And that’s where factory-model schooling makes a fatal error: it aims to impose a standardized timeline on unique individuals.
That’s why people say it’s “broken” even though it’s functioning exactly as designed. That’s also why it’s so hard to imagine a different way. After 120 years of standardized timelines for teaching, no one remembers what a unique and individual approach to learning would look like, feel like, be like.
As I was toiling over a possible response, I went a different direction. We may be making this harder than it is.
How did we build a learning community here? How do we work to sustain it? (It takes some time and effort.) No one is making us show up, yet here we are.
What are the qualities of a network of learning peers and how can we allow them to emerge in the conventional classroom? (A conventional “course” in my case whether online or f2f.)
Brendan reminds us that
Staring into the abyss, and accepting uncertainty, rather than clinging desperately to a particular outcome has a lot of value as well. Life has uncertainty and open-endedness, but often people (and certainly traditional factories) have no time or patience for such things. Given how many students drop out, or ultimately fail in life (or succeed in aways they never expected), being open to things playing out in different ways can do a lot to find better ways to do things.
When factories demand predictability, how can we build joyful communities free enough to embrace spontaneity? How do we build choice and freedom into a system founded on sameness? How do we aim for trust in a system where distrust is king?