Pulling Threads Together, III

When I saw Young Ms. X at lunchtime Tuesday, she looked exhausted and frustrated.   It seems her mid-morning group – the same time of day as my challenging class – had been “crazy” all week.  My students weren’t behaviorally “crazy” on Tuesday, but there was something else, something profoundly sad and disturbing.

It’s another thread to pull together.

The day had started off quite well.  In our continuing exploration of verba temporis praeterītī perfectī, both Latin II classes  practiced putting “right endings” on the “right thing,” the perfective-aspect verb stem.  For the early morning class, that was almost trouble-free; only a few groups wanted to put “right endings” on “wrong things,” and they were quickly set right.  Both classes loved Attie and Julia’s story, and they were amazed – as I still am – by the age of the young authors.  Then we moved on to the next story, which amplifies the conflict between Cnaeus and the horse on the trip to Mediolanum.  Each group was to read the story, classify verbs as temporis praesentis or perfectī, and create Quaestiōnēs Latīnae for others to answer.  We’ve been struggling withthe mechanics of sending questions around the room, then returning the papers to their authors to be checked.  But I’m committed to the idea of interpersonal writing like this.

Knowing that some groups read more slowly, some are still very tired, and some aren’t confident Latin question writers yet, I had a set of “emergency backup” questions.  Some of us needed them in the early class.  But the disturbing thread emerged in the mid-morning class.

To be fair, Out of six cluster groups, three made some efforts to read the story and create questions.  Even C, D, B, K, and N eventually read a few lines.  But B, M, and U just sat there, looking helpless, hopeless, disconnected.

“What’s wrong?” I asked them.  “Why aren’t you trying to read the story?”  And that’s the thread.  They didn’t feel like it, they said, because “some other people are talking.”

Debbie had actually addressed this issue on Google+:

your opening remarks remind me of the saying that I created for parenting classes: “Everything we say and do and don’t say and don’t do is a message …. what are we telling our children?”

It seems B, M, and U have received a powerful message:  random other people completely control them, their attention, their work ethic.  Or at least that’s a good excuse in Ms. X’s class.  “Someone was talking” … so it’s not my fault.  “The kids were bad and lazy” … so Ms. X “had to” yell and label.  “The test scores are low” … so someone needs to be punished.  Factory schools, factory structures, talk a lot about accountability.  But in the end, when responsibility is involved, it’s “not my fault,” “not my job,” “not my department.”

Here’s what Debbie said:

self-control: I am reminded of a story (perhaps I’ve told this before, my apologies if I have). A dear friend and esteemed colleague told this during a parenting program: a child has a shower; the mother says “hang up the towel, put dirty clothes in the basket, rinse out the tub” (and the list goes on. This happens every time the child has a shower. What does the child learn about the process? Perhaps it is: let your mother do all the thinking and just wait for her to remind you of what needs to be done.

This style of “teaching” teaches the wrong lesson. What we want the child to do is think about what needs to be done before they leave the bathroom. We want them to internalize the process, to think about the what, how and why, to believe in it, and to develop the habits and routines without the need for reminders. We need to get their brains working, not just their ears.

And Diana added:

Acta non verba.  This hangs in my classroom.  Actions not words.  My students have learned that the words “I’m sorry!” are all that their teacher needs to hear and then they will be left alone.

I always tell my students, “Don’t tell me, Show me.  If you are sorry, show me that.”  They often look confusedly at me.  They have never been taught to show that they believe what they say!

They learn that, in my classroom, there are procedures.  The first few weeks, these hang in my classroom.  After that, I take them down, and start putting up questions like “What should you do before you find your seat?”  Amazingly, my students start learning that they have to THINK about these procedures.  I never tell them why we do them as I teach them at the beginning of the year.  I ASK why we are doing these.  From the beginning, they learn that they have to think about the procedures and that we might be doing them for a reason that isn’t “because I said so.”  I guess this is really revolutionary, because it always surprises administrators and colleagues!

As Emily put it,

Students need to understand WHY.  Instead of telling them why, I find that it really sticks if they think about why.  The expectation in my class is that you think, question, and discuss.  Always.  And this is so new for my students, that it takes a long time to set.  They are so conditioned to sit down, shut up, and do the damn worksheet, that this “thinking” thing is so unlearned!  At one time, they thought, asked questions, and learned to learn.  But it needs to be a retaught skill now.

We’ve returned from the mountaintop experience of joyful community at DCA to a sad, empty, joyless factory-world.  But what if that factory-world is a lie and the joyful community is true?  What will we do today, each day, to help young learners – and colleagues young and old – escape from the cave and venture into the unfamiliar, unexpected light of day?

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Published in: on April 10, 2013 at 10:20 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I like that you take the procedures down and ask student what they should be doing. Motivation and classroom management rolled into one.

    • Thanks, Brendan! It’s a very different style of motivation and management from the “sit down, shut up, and do the worksheet” approach that’s often the norm, isn’t it?

  2. […]  J, while still distracted, was less loudly so than she had been.  M and U, whose comment sparked yesterday’s post, were absent; as they often are on Wednesdays.  But B was both present […]


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