Shortly before I drafted yesterday’s post about B and U, I sent a private Google+ post to some friends with backgrounds in higher education and the psychology of learning differences. Had they ever encountered anyone with the particular issue that seemed to be plaguing B and U? I asked. If so, what had they done? And if not, did they have any suggestions or ideas? I sent the post Wednesday evening, and by Thursday morning there were several helpful responses. “Is it a visual pattern issue?” more than one person asked. “Can they recognize and follow musical and rhythmic patterns?”
So, on Thursday, as we were all working on a Vocabulary Self-Check and the graphic organizer that we now make, the one where we place the words into graphic symbols that represent whether they’re really important to the storyline, familiar, problematic, and/or connected in some obvious or intriguing way to English words we know well, I asked B and U if they could “do what I do” … and we tried some snapping and clapping activities. They had no problems. “Oh!” I said, “so when you all struggle with seeing and applying patterns, it’s a visual thing!” Yes, they both said, and they really hadn’t noticed it until the start of this school year, when things in Latin suddenly got harder because the patterns were more complex. I told them the story of a little boy named Me who found certain kinds of visual instructions – the ones where you’re building something, and all of a sudden the something is rotated, but the directions don’t clearly show what’s new after the rotation – to be very frustrating and difficult to follow. And we talked, very generally, about what we might do to help them build up this missing micro-skill … and for once, B and U did every single assignment and even tried to stay focused on the reading activities, which normally cause them to lose interest and focus after a few minutes.
The day began with an amazing conversation with … perhaps I should say No Longer Ms. X? She was at the copier when I arrived, and I briefly described B and U’s situation and asked if she’d ever experienced anything like that. Yes, she said; more and more in recent years, and she wonders if her students’ early experiences with gaming rather than physical jigsaw puzzles might have helped them develop some skills while leaving others undeveloped.
I never would have expected that from No Longer Ms. X! She’s an intelligent and pleasant colleague to talk with most of the time, but in the past, when we’ve talked about students, I usually heard bad and lazy or not doing homework or Those Parents! or Those Administrators! Somehow, the new feeling of joyful community – the feeling that seems to be developing outside of the four walls that contain the Latin Family – seems to be having an effect on colleagues who seemed uninterested, even resistant, in the past.
I wonder if they really were resistant and uninterested … or if the conditions, when factory-thinking was the implied norm, encouraged them to appear resistant and uninterested!
We had an unusual schedule on Thursday – an extended advisory period and a dropped class so that we could all watch and talk about the documentary movie Bully. At one time, Ms. X and Mr. Y would have spent the rest of the day (if not the week!) complaining about Powers That Be and the small number of bad words in the film, and about the bad, lazy kids and the poor quality of the discussions they would have led. But I heard none of that on Thursday! Instead, my advisory students were deeply engaged in the film, and we had a deep, thoughtful discussion afterwards – and so did Mr. Y’s students, he told me at lunch. He thinks it’s because this group of ninth-graders is better than previous groups – and that may be true, depending on how you define better. But I think the quality of any group has a lot to do with the environment in which they find themselves … and the environment is a lot more conducive to joyful learning than it had been for the past few years. Interestingly, everybody noticed the poor quality of the teachers’ and administrators’ responses to the bullying in the film, and when I talked with our Local Power Thursday afternoon, she said she’d received a lot of complements from students who were so glad she wasn’t like That Lady in the film. If you’ve seen it, you know which lady!
Much of the school will be away from school today, including me. For the first time ever, we’re experimenting with whole-class field trips to various nearby attractions, and the one we’re taking the ninth-grade class to today is a personal favorite of mine. The students are excited, and so are the faculty … and I think my tenth, eleventh, and twelfth-grade students are looking forward to a day with each other, without me, and without those ninth-graders. Everybody will be reading and writing and making Character Diagrams, and we’ll see what happens as they wrap up this unit and get ready for midterm assessments next week.
I think back to this time last year and in years before, when everyone seemed down and discouraged as the “honeymoon” wore off and the same-old-same-old of yelling and labeling, pain-punishment cycles, and doing because you do returned in full force. That hasn’t really happened this year, and I’m grateful! Apparently, when you’re building joyful community, trying too hard can backfire and actually make things worse … and that’s an important lesson for all of us builders and sustainers to remember.
I wonder what other important lessons await us today!