Timing is Everything, III

With Tuesday’s Altered Schedule for Testing, I ended up with a block of unscheduled time in the afternoon.  Unlike next week’s testing, which requires only one test block per day, this week’s set allows for two sessions daily.  So the day ended with a two-hour block of my “planning” or preparation-period class, and – with no testing on my hallway –  I wasn’t needed as a hallway monitor.  So it became a pleasant, productive, peaceful time … an unexpected, but welcome gift.

About an hour in, there was a knock on my classroom door.  There stood Ms. X, looking puzzled and aggrieved.  “Aren’t we supposed to be monitoring the hallway or something?” she asked.  No, I explained, because there’s nothing for us to monitor, which was indicated in the current version of the testing schedule, the one we’d received (by email and hard copy) on Monday, the one in the Special Network Folder where such things lived.  She shook her head, still surprised and annoyed.  “There are so many versions of documents!  Too many!”

I suppose she was right … especially if she printed them all out and put them in a notebook, or put them somewhere until she could put them in a notebook.  Ms. X, though quite tech-savvy, loves hard-copy documents and notebooks.  But she did recently tell me she’s taken to grading her students’ work without asking for printouts; they submit things electronically, and she grades them on screen.  And her students make PowerPoint-based review games for each other – using the Special Question Bank for her content area – because she’s realized they learn better that way than if she printed out the Whole Question Bank and gave it to them as a packet.

I’m proud of Ms. X for that!  Proud, and oddly hopeful at a time of the school year when hope is in short supply.  An hour or so before Ms. X’s question, I had gone to the school office to turn in some Vital Paperwork.  Ms. J, the office manager, was clearly under stress.  “The thing about it is,” she said, “that everybody is Done.  The kids are Done with us, and we’re Done with them and each other.”  And ourselves, too, I added.  And we laughed for a moment.

On top of everything else, it was Progress Report day – the half-way point of the Last Reporting Period.  Students theoretically received  “general” reports before testing started … but Many A Ms. X was in a rush, or forgot, or  didn’t want to distract her students.  Lacking a Huge State Test, my early-morning students did get both their “general” and their detailed reports, which encouraged them to work on their second Minor Assessment of the new reporting period, a character analysis and story-creation activity based on any of the five Fabulae Longae in Tres Columnae Lectio XXVII.  Many had started – but not completed or turned in – our first Minor Assessment products last week, so many had the temporary half-credit score I use in such cases.  In the early-morning class, X was upset about that.  “But I did it!” she tried to argue.  Well, I explained, you did start it.  But you haven’t yet turned in the product, and you spent a great deal of time on Other Things (like flirting with Y and talking with O and K) during the preparation time last week.  That sent a strong message – the hidden curriculum message Roz addresses in her comment.

As a senior, X has very little time left to complete All The Stuff, and she knows that.  She was mad for a moment, sad for a while, but eventually – after “accidentally” falling out of her chair once or twice – her group got focused on the assignment.  “We’re done!” they announced proudly.  And they were … with the first of the three required elements of the product.   Perhaps, I suggested, that’s been part of the problem, too: if you do one part but persuade yourself you’ve done everything, that’s a recipe for frustration and confusion.

X and her friends rarely hear that message.  Most of the time, Some Ms. X is sending them a completely different message with  ill-formatted PowerPoint slides, badly-constructed packets, “cute little activities” that don’t connect with learning goals, “I can” statements that … well, you know.

To reduce the need for hallway monitors, the early-morning class had switched rooms with a math class downstairs, and we’ll be doing the same today for the mid-morning classes’ Extended Period For Testing.  Unusual surroundings can be hard, especially at this time of year, but the early-morning class rose to the challenge.  Almost a decade ago, the Latin Family inhabited that downstairs classroom for a year or two.  It was strange to revisit it, to think of former students, now in the prime of their early-adult years, who had occupied the space, built a joyful community, created amazing things – and silly things – together back when content-creation was a “cool extra” for us rather than the heart of our shared work.  Back when we used a textbook, and worksheets, and vocabulary flashcards … back when those things still worked pretty well for most of us.

In honor of that era – and of a directive from Powers That Be (1) to provide “more than enough review activity” for the long class periods but (2) not to “employ videos or movies” – I’d brought back an old Latin Family favorite called the Relaxed Rotating Review.  There were seven stations, each in its own file folder, focusing on different skills or subskills.  You start out at one station, spend 8-12 minutes there, and then rotate – either by physically moving or, in this case, by sending the folders around clockwise from one group to another – and repeat the process until everyone has experienced every station.  The reading-practice station included a funny story, not on the Tres Columnae Project site, in which Valerius’ family tries unsuccessfully to eliminate their “mouse problem.”  But, as I’d suspected, most students were too tired, too Full, too Done – despite an email from Powers That Be reminding everyone that we’re not done yet – to do more than skim over the story.

Since the mid-morning class had to time to work on the Minor Assessment yesterday, they’ll have more time for the Rotating Review today.  We’ll see how it goes for them.  More of them probably need the extra practice, but they’re even more Full, more Done, than their early-morning counterparts.

Responding to yesterday’s post, Debbie noted,

We really need to be aware of the message we are sending out and how they miss the point re our true intentions.

When I read your blog today, Justin, I got angry about insensitivity towards students’ personal lives and the lack of teaching of those special coping skills. And then I thought of the students’ futures and I pictured them reflecting on what they had learned…from your class and those like it….they will carry those lessons and skills with them. You have made a difference you shall be remember in a good way.

I hope so, Debbie!  I truly do!  And I hope they’ll carry the memory of joyful community with them, and the skills and mindsets of stating the unstated and examining it.  When the time is right, I hope they’ll build joyful communities of their own.

How’s that for a big-picture goal near the end of a long, challenging school year?

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Published in: on May 22, 2013 at 10:15 am  Leave a Comment  

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