More Than Meets the Eye, V

Thursday was a long day in a long, busy week.  In the morning Old Ms. X was giving “sage advice” to Young Ms. X about handling all those bad, lazy students who come to tutoring sessions (!) for help with concepts (!) they haven’t understood, but who don’t (can’t?) set up the work to Ms. X’s standards.  I chose to focus on the fragile seeds of community – Ms. X has been known to dismiss “foolish young teachers” with the  labels and condescension she applies to students – rather than the broken record of gripes and complaints.

And it was a good day, a productive day, even a joyful day.  Of course, it was also a busy day, a long day, even a stressful day.  So much depends on where you choose to focus your attention – just like poor Vipsania, in the sequence of Tres Columnae Project stories my Latin I classes have been reading this week.  After years of struggles with her impulsive, disrespectful son Cnaeus, Vipsania has become convinced that  Cnaeus always “pessimē et impiē sē gerit.”  Even when he does behave well, she can’t see it … and even when she turns to her sister-in-law for advice, can she apply Caelia’s suggestions?  There are two versions of the last story – one where Vipsania tries to follow Caelia’s advice, one where she doesn’t. As their first Minor Assessment of this new reporting period, my Latin I students are working to

  • re-read the whole sequence,
  • choose the ending they like best,
  • create a product that shows why they prefer that ending, and
  • create a new story about what happens next, when Vipsania returns home and attempts to change her parenting approach.

It’s amazing how life sometimes imitates art, how the themes of the Tres Columnae stories – especially the ones about Roman students and teachers, parents and children – connect with the issues my students, colleagues, students’ families, even my own family experience.  When I wrote the stories, I wasn’t consciously thinking about pacing, about what typically happens in schools at particular points in the year.  Even if I had been, I wasn’t sure what our actual pace might be, and the pace in different environments would be very different.  Yet over and over again, as we read, we find serendipitous connections with important themes in our own lives.

It all depends on where you choose to focus your attention.

Quiet, intelligent C had spent several weeks tuned out of class, lost in a secret sadness she didn’t want to talk about with anyone, half-resenting that learning Latin wasn’t effortless.  All of a sudden, a week or so ago, C was back  – deeply engaged, excited, interested, talking to me and to her friends in the class again.  She submitted her group’s Minor Assessment early, and it looks like their best work yet.

J, who’s even quieter, who blazes with intelligence and energy, introduced me to her mom and her grandmother after a school concert Tuesday evening.  “She just loves your class!” said mom happily.  She, too, submitted her Minor Assessment early, excellent as always.

N, the third member of his family to take Latin from me and the quietest, also submitted his Minor Assessment early.  His friends C and W, who had tuned out for a while, were happily focused on reading and creating stories this week, too.  I haven’t look at their product yet, but N, C, and W seem to be headed for a breakthrough in their language proficiency and their commitment to the learning community.

B, who had a rough time in Latin II, has come alive with fascination this year.  He’s excited, even delighted, to be creating an original story that incorporates background research.  B, M, C, and F have created a positive, successful,  joyful community where once there were four sad,  disconnected individuals going through the motions.

It’s wintertime here, but you can see signs of new life, new growth, new energy everywhere.  It all depends on where you choose to focus your attention.

Responding on Google+ yesterday, Debbie told this story:

I listened to my daughter talk about her students who never come to class with their books, with paper, with pencils, with assignments. I listen to her frustration at students not being engaged in their learning. “What is their story,” I ask. “Why are they there,” I ask – not in a derogatory manner but in a sincere answer-seeking way. But many don’t know why they are there. They don’t have their a story to unfold, to apply things to or they don’t know how to make that leap on their own. For many, we have taken that away from them, disempowered them, set them apart from their journey and put them into a classroom as this environment to learn.

And Brendan added:

Making things relevant is so important.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of asking the questions that help a learner to find that relevance.

Many students really don’t know why they’re there.  It’s the law, their parents made them, that’s why everyone does.  Or, more positively, “education is the key,” as Suli Breaks emphasized in his “Why I hate school, but love education” video that Justin included in Tuesday’s blog.  Sometimes education even happens in school, but how can students make the most of their time, and how can educators and students alike begin to ask some of these great questions coming out of these discussions?  How can they be encouraged and persuaded to make the effort?

How can we all – students, teachers, parents, everybody else – look for the signs of new growth if we expect to see doom and gloom?  If we expect to see dismal failure, will we notice small signs of hopeful success?  If all we focus on is the slowly dying factory, will we even notice the stirrings of joyful community?  And when we do see hopeful signs, how can we help others see for themselves?

Published in: on December 14, 2012 at 11:29 am  Leave a Comment  

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