Keeping the Momentum

At lunch time on Tuesday, Ms. X and Ms. X were already half-whispering bout a “bad” student.  “He was making animal noises yesterday,” said The One Ms. X, “and today he was making car noises in his desk.  I thought about calling his parents last night, but I didn’t.”

“You need to,” said The Other Ms. X, nodding sagely.  “That will show him you mean business.  That’s what I would do.”

It was only the second day of school, but Ms. X and Ms. X were apparently falling back into old, familiar, ineffective patterns.  Momentum can do that – it keeps you moving in the direction you’ve been moving until something acts upon you, or until friction brings you to a standstill.

It turns out they were talking about D.  He comes from The One Ms. X to me, then ends the day in the one class he’s really passionate about.  Maybe that’s why D, who made so much progress last year, has been falling into old, unproductive habits, too.  D will be graduating from high school this year, and he’s physically mature, legally an adult.  Why make animal and car noises for Ms. X? Maybe because that’s what he’s always done when bored and disengaged.

That Same Ms. X had come up to me in the hallway to “warn” me about G.  “You need to move him from the back of your classroom,” she told me earnestly, “because he cheats all the time.”  I thanked her for the information, ignored it, and left G where he’s comfortable … and where he’s been actively participating.  No sign of “cheating,” of course, since we aim for real mastery and growth of proficiency rather than test and grades for their own sake. In G’s case, something – The joyful community of the Latin Family? His own internal desire to do better?  – has helped him alter course.  And momentum will keep him going as one success leads to another.

But what’s up with D?  I’m not quite sure.  Maybe it’s scary to think of being a responsible adult; perhaps he’s shielding himself by acting childish.  The One Ms. X tends to infantilize her students – sometimes she even calls them “the boys and girls.”  Maybe D, both fearing and craving adult responsibility, is reacting to her infantilization by choosing childish behaviors.  What are things like for D at home?  Maybe he doesn’t have good models of adult behavior there, or maybe his parents, too, are both holding him in childhood and pushing him toward adulthood.

I’ve known D long enough to know that he’s notconcrete-sequential thinker at all … but The One Ms. X definitely is.  Perhaps she’s trying to force him into her one right way, and perhaps he’s resisting in the only way he knows.  And maybe the momentum he builds up in her classroom makes it hard to switch course when he comes to me.

Maybe that’s why G “cheated all the time” in Ms. X’s class, too.

When I read over the Thinking Styles Self-Assessments from Day 1, I wasn’t really surprised by the results.  (I use an adapted version of the Gregorc model, in case you’re interested; if you’re really interested you can try this simple self-assessment.) “You may find,” I’d told them, “that one of these four styles really describes you, and you can just circle that.  Or you may find that you have elements of more than one style, and you can circle those features.”  I have a lot of complex, style-crossing thinkers in these classes, and a whole lot of abstract-sequential, abstract-random, and concrete-random thinkers.  Not many concrete-sequential learners at all!  But the vast majority of their teachers are concrete-sequential thinkers.

No wonder it’s so hard … and so frustrating … for everyone!

Aside from D’s troubles and Ms. X’s “helpful” information about G, Tuesday was an excellent but imperfect day.  The morning classes began with a 3-2-1 Reflection (3 Latin words they remembered from Day 1, 2 things they know – or think they know – about Latin and the Romans, 1 question they had).  We moved quickly into the end of the “Match the Meaning” process.  We checked the vocabulary, reinforced it with a paired activity called “Label the Classroom” that has worked well for years, and moved on to introduce the “how” and the “why” of the Tres Columnae Project.  Forming “tech pairs” with at least one smartphone or tablet per group, we did some quick background research about Herculaneum and Mount Vesuvius, and then we read the first two stories in Lectio Prima together, with something awfully close to 100% engagement and focus.  These new members of the Latin Family have really begun to see and believe the power of joyful learning community, and the momentum should keep us moving in a positive direction.

The upper-level class went well after lunch, when we re-read yesterday’s story, reviewed the famous Analytic Hand Signals, and did a quick review of Latin noun forms.  But we struggled a bit before that.  For many years, I’ve used a “Cumulative Vocabulary Review Thing” to help upper-level students see how much they remember … but it doesn’t work as well as it used to. I added new, three-phase directions: First find words that you know really well, Then go back and use Whitaker’s Words or another vocabulary site to look up others, and Finally reflect on strategies that help you retain vocabulary.  But the “CVRT” feels stale to them, looks too much like one of Ms. X’s vocabulary tests.  It’s reached the end of a long, honorable run.  I can’t allow momentum and inertia to keep it going.

Today, after a quick starter activity where we notice that Latin words seem to have different forms sometimes, the Latin I classes will be reading, creating questions, and writing about the third and fourth stories in Lectio Prima.  If we have time, we may just start doing background research on Roman families, since each group will be creating one – either a wealthy neighbor for the Valerii, or a poor family who rent an apartment in one of their many insulae – as part of their first Minor Assessment.

The upper-level class, who did an excellent job with their noun-forms diagnostic work, will be looking at the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines website for real-life examples of different proficiency levels.  Then we’ll finish the first Bridge Story together, practicing those noun-related Hand Signals and aiming for Intermediate Low proficiency or higher.  After lunch, we’ll read the second Bridge Story in pairs, and creating either a curated list of problem vocabulary or a set of excellent Latin questions to share with other pairs.  Each group will then choose a character to focus on for their first Minor Assessment, which involves re-reading stories where that character appears and creating an empathy diagram or other visual representation.  We’ll be building momentum for a positive direction, too.

I wonder if the Ms. X’s and D would be able to create empathy diagrams for each other!  I wonder if that would help, or if it would just make them angrier and more resentful!

When you’re building a free-standing joyful learning community, is it easier to handle such conflicts?  It’s hard] when the joyful community is nestled inside a slowly recovering factory.  I’m hoping that, as D and the other “bad, lazy ones” prove themselves neither bad nor lazy in their Latin Family efforts, Ms. X might  get curious about what we’re doing.  If she asks – and is open to the answers she receives, and willing to alter her own momentum just a bit – maybe that’s how the joyful learning community can expand.

We’ll find out when the time and place are right.

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Published in: on August 28, 2013 at 10:17 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] happened to see The One Ms. X, who had “thoughtfully” told me all about G on Tuesday … and I told her how well he’s been doing. I wasn’t sure how she’d react. […]


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