I frequently say “It’s all connected” … and I firmly believe that, on some profound level, things are connected in ways we can’t easily understand. It’s easier to believe that when things are going well. When they’re going badly, the idea of a random, disconnected, arbitrary universe – a factory-model universe – is appealing. Is that why factory-institutions like to be “in crisis?”
But after an amazing ride through good and bad over the past few years, I’ve become more able to see connections in the midst of pain and difficulties. Claims of crisis, disconnection, and randomness start to lose their power, like the fearful cries of “Wolf!” from the little boy.
That’s another thread, I think, in our tapestry. Joyful learning, learning communities, and joyful communities aren’t easy, happy, or trouble-free. Sometimes the painful moments are the most important.
But many of my students embrace the random, factory-world mindset. Like the ones in Roger’s Google+ thread, they find it hard to believe that technological tools can be learning tools. When the laptop cart shows up, their impulse is to find a funny YouTube video, open a Facebook window, do something to “make the time pass smoothly,” as Sweet Old Ms. X used to say. The idea that there’s an assignment – one that can only be done well if all get involved, if all use the technology to its fullest – that’s a hard lesson with which they still struggle.
We had two such assignments on Thursday. First, we finished reading the story from Wednesday, creating four or five Quaestiones Latinae about it. In an innovation that seems blindingly obvious, but had completely eluded me until this week, we sent those Quaestiones to each other as Edmodo posts … and then each group chose another group’s questions and submitted answers as Edmodo comments. Then we started creating Minor Assessment stories. They’ll feature a place, an animal, and at least one perfect-tense verb in a story so good that it – like the first one Julia and Attie submitted – deserves to become a core Tres Columnae story. Or at least that’s the goal.
Somehow, for U, D, B, and B, Thursday was the day the connections became clear. Distraction-seeking technology use was their norm, but on Thursday they suddenly realized what they needed to do, and why. They wrote beautiful questions and started working on their story. In the mid-morning class, U and J had a similar breakthrough … but it was more painful and unpleasant. They’d “done” their first assignment, making present and perfect tense forms of some verbs, and were happily seeking distractions when I came to check. “Oh my,” I said, “you did this completely wrong. Fix it.” J, who plans a career in sales, tried charm: “But we used the sheet! It’s right!” I asked her to show me a Latin perfect-tense verb ending with -r, like one of their answers, and she searched the sheet in vain. “You see,” I told them, “unlike those other classes, I don’t just want the boxes filled in. I want you to do things right. So fix it … now.” After a brief, futile argument, they did – as much to their surprise as to mine. Poor B, U, and M, deprived of their “somebody else is distracting me” excuse, half-heartedly whined that it would be OK if I didn’t “make” everyone stay on task before they, too, started working harder.
“Are you having a good day?” F asked me later … and I told her I was. And it was true, despite the pain of these redirections, the bad news a close friend received, and all the minor unpleasantness woven into the day. In the end, joyful learning community was strengthened … and the growth was worth the pain.
On Google+ yesterday, Debbie asked about the source of factory-style avoidance:
I wonder if part of the problem is not wanting to live up to expectations, or finding out that one’s expectations are higher than abilities? “I’d rather do poorly because of lack of effort than because of lack of intelligence.”
I’ve seen this idea play out with many young clients but hadn’t really thought about how that belief is formed. What is it that we do that puts up a huge barrier for children/students? Is it too much praise on the little stuff? Does this actually lower the perception of abilities? Do we give too much praise (and grades) creating a fear of failure? Where does this start – preschool? primary grades?
Fear of failure is powerful – so powerful that Linda Albert, in her amazing book Cooperative Discipline, calls it one of the four primary motivators of “bad” behavior, along with attention, power, and revenge. She lists attention first … and as Debbie, Annabelle, and Sanford’s fond memories attest, it’s vital for teachers to pay attention, to know students as people, not just numbers. In the very schools where attention is most needed, I fear it’s pushed aside in a quest for time on task and remediation to raise those test scores. As Emily put it:
I was so surprised one of the few times a teacher actually tried to interact with me. I didn’t trust him at first. I was sure he was just leading me on so that he could call me out or something. But no, he really wanted me to help … I made it so hard for him. But eventually, he earned my trust.
Years later, I was back at school for an alum reception. He and I talked at length about how students are trained not to engage. Head down, do the work, roll off the assembly line. He had, he said, always worked to change that, and had, many times, been scared for his job because of it. But it didn’t stop him. And he encouraged me to do the same. I never forgot that advice.
Diana shared her
hope that the finished tapestry looks somewhat like my Latin III class. They’re the only class I’ve had since I started at this job. I managed to keep one class all the way through. So they ask questions. All the time. They want to know more. They read because they want to learn more. I’ve been so lucky with them.
The cool thing is that this has carried over to other classes. Even if they aren’t all together, they ask questions. I hear it from the other teachers. And they drive the other teachers batty. But they don’t shrink back, and neither do I. (I inwardly grin every time I hear: “Can you believe she/he dared to ask me….” about one of my Latin students.)
I love it.
As we build joyful learning communities, with all the pains and frustrations involved, let’s remember to save space for poor Ms. X, driven batty or not. Grudgingly or willingly, concerned or joyful, she too has a part in the weaving and the dance. How will we invite her – and ourselves – to show up and join in?