Pulling Threads Together, IV

“I’m less tired today,” W said Wednesday morning. I was, too, and we talked about getting back into  the rhythm of a school week with K, B, S, M, and a few others.  For the past few weeks, they’ve been hanging out in my classroom for a while before school officially starts.  Most are in the early-morning Latin II class, except for S, whose older sister belonged to the “Latin Family” years ago.  They gather,  chat with each other, and occasionally invite me into the conversation.  So I’ve started to know them as people, not just students … which makes a profound difference.

Even though I work hard to get to know my students as learners, the structures and  constraints of factory-model schooling  make it hard to know the whole person.  That’s especially true for young people like W, K, B, and S, who don’t necessarily trust school people enough to want to be known well.  I wonder what would happen if  their counterparts in the mid-morning class found “Latin Central” to be a safe, convenient place to start the days.  What difference would that make in the atmosphere of that class?

After that pleasant start, Wednesday continued with a positive new rhythm.  U, back from a day of in-school suspension, was pleased and surprised by how well he’d understood his Latin assignment.  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 and focused.

We tried some different things, and they worked pretty well.  We began with a whole-class choral response activity, applying perfect-tense endings to a set of perfect-tense verbs I’d projected on the board, and more of us were more engaged than often.  Ten years ago, that was a favorite “Latin Family” opening activity, but it had fallen out of favor.  Then we tried reading the first paragraph of the Vicipaedia article on Viae Romanae together, looking for main idea and a few details … and though many traditionalist teachers might have fretted about “all that advanced grammar,” we found that we really could extract the main idea and some details from an informational Latin text.  That was a cause for celebration!  Small groups followed the links from that  article to  articles about specific Roman roads, again looking for main ideas and details … and they’ll be choosing a road, or a place along a road, as the setting for their upcoming story-creation project.  There was more reading and less avoiding, too, as pairs explored this story where Cnaeus has – or appears to have – a change of heart, motivated by his interactions with Velox the horse.

At one point, E was talking about a recent English project she’d hated, where everyone made the exact same product.  So we talked about the importance of ownership and choice, and for the first time in a long time, E looked interested … for a moment.  Poor E!  Without looking at her test-score history, I know she’s always been a solid “level three kid” or “level four kid,” reliably producing high standardized test scores with minimal effort.  As a result, she – like her counterparts in  many factory classrooms –  got pushed to the side a lot, as  desperate teachers focused their attention on the “bubble kids,” the “high twos” who, with some  last-minute “remediation,” might possible become “low threes.”

If those efforts succeed, of course the school takes credit; if they fall short, blame is generally cast on the “bad, lazy students” and their “irresponsible parents.”  But what unstated messages have E and her counterparts received about the real purposes and values of schools?

In her comment on Google+ yesterday, Debbie put it this way:

pass the buck and find a distraction to divert the attention from you — these are two big messages students (and thus adults) have learned

Diana connected the randomness thread:

Ahhh, randomness.  Nothing is my fault.  Ever.  Because Some Other Person made me punch the person next to me.

My oldest daughter got punched one day at daycare.  Of course, I was called, and I asked many questions.  The one I really didn’t get the response to was “Why did he do it?”  “He says he did it because his friend dared him to,” they told me.  But they couldn’t figure out why this upset me.

But man, were they amazed with my daughter’s self-restraint.  Because “She didn’t try to punch him back.”  So I got to thinking:  Why is it that she understands self-restraint?  Well, I do model it at home.  She sees me get angry, and find ways to control it.  I don’t blame others, I just own it, and she watches me do it.  When she finds herself in those positions, we talk through it.  Why does she feel this way?  What can SHE do about it?  Will whining get her anywhere?  Etc….  I guess I do the same with my own students….

And Emily added the false perfection thread:

That drives me insane.  I cannot stand blaming others and passing the buck.  If you make a mistake, own it, learn from it, and move on.  You just dig a deeper hole if you blame someone else.

This is a common theme in my class.  My students were never taught this, and are surprised when I tell them they must take responsibility for their own actions.  To some of them, this is an ENTIRELY new concept.  We need to talk through how to do such a newfangled thing.

But we do.  Acta, non verba.  Every day….

Here, we think, question, take risks, and walk the talk.  There, from what I have heard, they don’t.  This makes me sad for them, but glad to known that I can do my part to teach them the skills they need to LIVE.

These threads are all important … but what will the finished tapestry look like?

Published in: on April 11, 2013 at 10:27 am  Leave a Comment  

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