Speaking for Others, II

U, J, and B … Ms. X would label them, viscerally, as “bad, bad, bad” and “lazy, lazy, lazy,” especially when they have an extended conversation that distracts everyone else around them.  My Mr. Y side was tempted to label, if not yell, on Monday, too.  But I’ve come to know U, J, and B well enough to know that yelling and labeling are the problem, not the solution, in their school experiences.  J had such a traumatic experience at one point that her parents sent her to a private school they could barely afford;  they exercised their “choice option” to send her to the smallest, most personal public high school they could find.  U and B have complicated family situations; they’re both new to the school and the area, and they’re experiencing the difficulties that kids in  military families often face.  All three have “earned” the “troublemaker” label from Ms. X, and sometimes it’s easier to live down to that old, familiar label than to strive for a new one.

X, Y, B, and O aren’t “bad and lazy,” even to Ms. X.  But X and Y are wrapped up in their new relationship, and B and O aren’t sure whether to tease them, distract them, or be nauseated by the cuteness.  And they all come from homes where the ambient volume level is higher than what middle-class Ms. X thinks is “normal” for a classroom.  We’ve talked about that, and we’re working on a signal I can use to cue them, discreetly, when their naturally loudness becomes distracting.

And it turns out that P, who’s been struggling in Latin IV, needed to feel important and valued, which started to happen on Monday.  And C,  a top performer, is struggling with “putting it all together,” and wants a tutoring session this afternoon.  So even though it was a long, chilly, gray Monday, these small revelations made Monday a happy one.  It probably helped that, with the doors and windows closed, we really couldn’t smell that Bradford pear at all.

Debbie picked up on the pear tree and its symbolism in her Google+ comment Monday,

Springtime – and thoughts of gardening run through my head. Growing organically, permaculture, mimicking nature, companion planting — all of these styles of gardening is all about creating an environment where the gardener works with the plants, helping them help each other.

Our “traditional” gardening in the past several decades has been an effort to control the gardens, to control nature. “Weeds” are seen as unwanted curses rather than an asset to the gardens for one reason or another; gardeners manipulate the gardens and try to make water-loving plants, for example, survive in dry environments.

So how do we take this and apply it to education? Are we trying to fit different personalities and learning styles into an environment that is not natural for them? Do we look at behaviours as “weeds” rather than seeing and nurturing the benefits? Do we let the students be who they are, be proud of who they are and find the ways to fit, to support, and be joyful?

Flower … or weed?  Beautiful addition or smelly distraction?  So much depends on your perspective, and on letting things – and people – speak for themselves before we label them.  That was one themes of our Monday afternoon meeting, when we discussed the first two chapters of our book about data.  “Let the data speak,” the author admonishes teachers and administrators as he describes elements of a good “data conference” … and “let the teacher speak,” if you’re an administrator, without imposing pre-defined interpretations.   Just a few hours earlier, I’d had an official “post-observation conference,”  and I was struck by the way Mr. C, our new assistant principal, put me (and the data he’d gathered last Tuesday) at the center.  It’s good to have specific, constructive things to focus on … and, as Bambrick-Santoyo points out, it’s good to have conversations when data are still fresh.  As a new teacher, I once signed off in May on an “observation” from October – one that no one really remembered. It needed to be documented for paperwork purposes, it had gone (we assumed) more or less the way she’d recorded it at the time, but it really didn’t help anyone.

“Let the data speak” and “let the teacher speak” … and “let the student speak.”  Students’ voices are absent from  many “data conversations.”  Bambrick-Santoyo talks at length about “test-in-hand” analysis, where teachers and administrators look at patterns of wrong answers to try to discover why students might have missed a particular test item.  Maybe it wasn’t the  underlying concept it tested, but an unfamiliar vocabulary word or a problematic math skill.  “Diagnose,” he says, “like a doctor.”

But doctors – good doctors – listen to their patients as well as to the test results.  And important discoveries are  easier if the student is also there, test in hand, to reflect on his or her thought processes.  “I see that you chose B for number 27, which wasn’t correct, but for number 34, which tests a similar concept, you correctly chose C.  Do you remember your thought process for number 27?” one might ask in today’s climate of “interim assessments.”  In a different world where learners felt real, primary ownership of their “learning data,” the question might occur  “in process,” right after they chose or created an answer to some yet-to-be-created diagnostic measure.  And it’s easier still to follow learners’ thought process if you’re observing as they build and create … and easier to intervene if there’s a learning community based on the idea of helping and valuing each other’s contributions.

Yet students’ voices are absent.  We school people are good at “speaking for them,” at deciding what’s “suitable” or “appropriate” for a given learner.  And yet we hate it when external forces, those Powers That Be in offices or legislative chambers, decree what’s “suitable” or “appropriate” for us!

How will I bring silenced voices into the conversation today?

Published in: on March 19, 2013 at 10:14 am  Leave a Comment  

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