Similar, But Different

Whether you build and sustain joyful learning community structures or they grow and develop organically, I’ve noticed that their daily functions and operations are similar, but different when you compare them with factory-style classes … especially when that joyful learning community exists within a larger structure that’s still part of (or possibly recovering from) the factory-education paradigm. Sometimes the work and structure of a joyful learning community looks quite similar to that of Ms. X or Mr. Y’s class; sometimes both the look and the feel are different; and there may even be times when the feeling is similar but the look is radically different.

I’ve been thinking about that as we work our way back into a routine after those four days without school last week.  Even our routines and procedures are similar, but different, and so are the ways we go about establishing and re-establishing them.

Yesterday was the first Vocabulary Self-Check and Vocabulary Reflection and Organizer process for the beginning group, and we talked about why an old-fashioned vocabulary quiz isn’t a good fit for the kind of work we do.  They were impressed, and they deeply enjoyed the process of creating the Organizer, finishing their Minor Assessment products, viewing each other’s familiae, and giving each other specific suggestions and feedback on the “Four-Corner Feedback” form we’ll be using.  Perhaps it’s because we start the day together, or maybe it’s because they’ve had a semester of Ms. X, Mr. Y, and other “more traditional” class experiences.  But we very quickly developed a sense of learning community, and it’s still there even after the weather issues and the addition of some new Latin Family members. We’ll be doing our first-ever Interpretive Reading Self-Check this morning, seeing if we can read a story about a new familia and understand it well enough to fill in a family tree chart and answer a few Quaestiōnēs Latīnae … and it “just happens” that we’ll learn a new question word in the process, and that new question word will be important as we begin our work with Tres Columnae Lectio II.  If all goes well, we may even be able to start researching and designing the domus, insula, or villa in which our familia will be living, and about which we’ll be creating our next set of stories and scenarios.  N, who had an “extra” role in a Latin Family video production last fall, is particularly eager for our first filmed product, and if all goes well, he’ll get his wish by early next week.  In the beginning class, things sometimes look like “a class,” but the feeling is very different … and that’s probably why things are going so well at this early point.

Yesterday was a challenge for the intermediate group.  There are lots of them, and it’s the middle of the morning, and they all come from Ms. X or Mr. Y or Somebody Else who was probably frantic or flustered yesterday about Something or Other.  It was hard to focus on making the sentence, hard to remember to bring or use tools like the Noun Forms Consolidation Sheet, hard for N (who wasn’t feeling well) not to try the “fluster Ms. X” techniques she’s used so effectively over the years to avoid engaging with stuff she doesn’t immediately grasp.  But U, who’s been away from the Latin Family for a while, had a sudden flash of insight about how and why Latin noun forms work as they do, and so did C, and T wants to come on Thursday morning and make sure she understands what’s going on.  Both the look and the feel of those first twenty minutes of our time together were different from the look and feel of Ms. X’s class.

And then came the heart of the class, where each group is working to re-read and summarize a Tres Columnae Lectiō or two from I through XIV, and to create a product that reveals key vocabulary, key actions, and important cultural products, practices, and (if possible) perspectives featured in those stories.  It’s a complex task, deliberately structured to require full engagement and meaningful cooperation from every group member for a successful product … and N and B have always had trouble with that notion, and so did D, N, and K.  In a “typical class,” from their point of view, a group task means that Somebody Else does most of the work, they do Something Minor, and everyone basks in the reward of a good grade from Oblivious Ms. X.  And in a “typical class,” there’s a recipe to follow and a checklist of who does what … because in a “typical class,” it’s Ms. X’s or Mr. Y’s project, and the students just assemble it.  Building something meaningful together is different, and it’s hard, and you have to manage yourself and your time.  And N, B, D, N, and K have trouble with that … because Ms. X wants them to be perfect at it, and they haven’t had enough practice, and then Ms. X takes the easy way out and yells and labels or just gives notes.  And that, in turn, is comfortable for N, B, D, N, and K … unpleasant, but comfortable, because it’s what “typically” happens.

“Should I take down the joyful learning community sign?” I asked quietly.  “Because what I saw today was the opposite of that.”  N, B, D, N, and K were probably hoping for some yelling and labeling about wasting time and being bad and abusing technology and the like … but external yelling and labeling was exactly what they didn’t need on Tuesday.  They knew what they had done … and what they hadn’t done … and what needed to be done … and when it needed to be done.  Yelling and labeling would be easy and tempting, but it would conveniently absolve them of the hard work of fixing the problems and rebuilding trust.  “We’ll be better tomorrow,” they said pleadingly, and T muttered rather loudly that words aren’t important, but actions are.

Now that was different!  And I wonder what other differences, similarities, and discoveries await us all today!

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Published in: on February 5, 2014 at 11:47 am  Leave a Comment  

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