Thursday, September 22, 2016

From the mouths of babes!

Fourth week into the school year and that little voice in my head has kicked into overdrive.  The newness of the year has worn off, students’ true colors are quickly coming into focus, and that voice is chanting, “are you sure about this?  They aren’t learning?  What were you thinking? Abort before it is too late?  In the midst of internal panic and frantic searching for a smidge of affirmative feedback in a sea of student faces… out of nowhere, BAM!,  that little voice got a slugged in the chords by a student's courage to self advocate.  As soon as the student started talking...I knew!  I grabbed a pencil…sat down in the middle of the room with the student and wrote what he said. (After asking him if it was okay to quote him.)
As I am walking around collecting the self-assessment rubrics this student looked at me with dread and serious concern.  He locked eyes with me, but would not hand over the self-assessment.  Then he says, “Is this all this class is going to be?”
I replied, “what do you mean?”  

He says, “Well, I like history.  It’s like my favorite, but this is different.”  

So I said “what do you think you should be doing?”  

He say, “writing on paper.  I am used to that.  I mean I was in Pre AP in middle school and elementary.  You know, we didn’t do this {and that was more advanced}.  We did normal stuff like take notes from the Activboard, watch movies, handouts, and, you know regular work, textbook stuff ya.  I am not used to this.”  

So I said, “so you are feeling like you don’t have control?” He replied, “yes, and I feel frustrated and rushed”. I mean, I am failing this class, ya.

A bit of context, before I share what happened next.  These first 4 weeks of school I have thrown them in in the pool without a physical life preserver, and only rescue (on the DL) those who are actually drowning academically; which has only been some with identified learning disabilities and beginner level ESL students.  I have not provided any verbal content instruction, i.e. no lecture or presentations.  The decision to do this was fueled by a lot of formative assessment and data review.  Will spare you all the specifics, but day 1 every student took the released STAAR for the class and every student got at least 3/17 correct.  2 students scored within passing range….passing 1.  I’ll just leave that last statement right there.

So back to the self-advocating student. I inquired about his previous experience in history classes and suggested that his previous experiences entailed the teacher doing a lot of the doing and him doing a lot of receiving.  To which, he nodded (with a sheepish smile).  To which I replied, “well what is happening here is we are flipping that situation and balancing the doing a bit so that in every situation in your life moving forward this self doubt and panic that is happening to you in this moment will not happen without you being equipped to handle it powerfully and positively .”  I reassured him that what he was feeling was part of the plan, and that I appreciated him self-advocating and gave him extra points for his impromptu self-reflection and expression of self-awareness.  I also reassured him that I would not let him fail the class as long as he does not quit.  
This work we do is like no other…so little authentic feedback.  Hope this gives you a bit of encouragement to stay the course!


  1. What a gem of a story - an only 4 weeks in! So I just asked Angela who is working harder in her classroom, but wondering if that is a fair question... To craft and build a culture to deliver what we're wanting out of the learner, isn't a cake walk for the teacher either. I know you're shifting the experience for the student... How is your work load different?

    I'm also wondering... How is what you're doing today different from 2010 with the PTL grant? What have you learned along the way? That would be an interesting story...

  2. My personal belief is that there is no such thing as kids working harder than teachers. It is a partnership. There has to be balance, and that has been thrown way off in many classrooms today. The students can feel it, and it makes them uncomfortable when asked to step up. I'm so glad you had this experience - some affirmation and a pat on the back, even if it didn't seem exactly that way. Hoping some of the other students took it to heart too.