Thursday, November 09, 2006

Who Says Experiments are for the Science Classroom?

So, I was feeling rascally today.

Things in second period were a little off during our journaling at the beginning of the period.

How to deal with this? How to focus the students without setting out for a day of stress and frustration. I truly woke up this morning and told myself I would not be coming back to my apartment frustrated. The question became, then, how would I accomplish this?

Then answer: Don't teach.

As my lesson was completely set up on the ActivBoard (including discussion questions), I handed over my stylus to a student and said, "Take the class."

He took over the class and I sat at a desk and participated as a student.

I raised my hand, I asked questions, I offered answers during discussion. Even better, rather than leading the students through difficult vocabulary in the passage we were reading, I raised my hand and asked, "What is an 'alibi'?"

My students worked these questions out, discussing and arguing and moving on. At no point did anyone say, "Mr. Chase, you know what that means." Caught up in the moment, they took my questions as genuine and answered them as such

I thuroughly enjoyed myself. As the experience went so well in my first class, I decided to give it a go in my next as well.

I'll tell you something, it was eye-opening. The lesson was two-fold. The students in the seats were involved in learning what I had planned. The students who were teaching were involved in learning how to communicate a message to a resistant audience.

Things went very well, from my point of view.

The most memorable moment, for me, was when my 6th period teacher looked at me and said, "Ok, Mr. Chase, I get the lesson." He was not talking about our discussion of what it took to make a quality piece of writing. He was speaking of what it takes to hold a class together. He was talking about the gymnastic rigamaroll included in keeping a room of 8th graders interested in anything. You know what, he did get it. He did not (nor did any of my literal "student teachers") give up. Each of them toughed out the entire period with some astounding results.

The question becomes, can I go back there again? How often?

Tomorrow, we'll be completing our monthly timed writing, so I'll be leading the class. Still, a seed has been planted. Can this exercise evolve to the point where I give my students a topic or information set and a date and tell them to be prepared to present?

More later.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Great Discussion

My second period class didn't know what the midterm elections were. They didn't know why last night had any potential to impact America. Only time will tell if last night's results really did have any impact on politics in America.

We did get into an interesting conversation about political parties. A few of my students decided things would be better if there were only one party in power at one time. Say, a Republican president were elected, they decided the entire Congress should also then be Republican. We spoke further and talk turned to the war in Iraq.

"Why are we there?" I asked.

"The Iraqis flew the planes into the World Trade Center," was the majority response.

"No," one student said, "It's because of the weapons of mass destruction."

Thinking this was a strong road to follow, I asked the student to elaborate.

"Bush didn't pay off the weapons of mass destruction, so the people from Iraq attacked us."

The discussion was heated and everyone had an opinion. Tomorrow, I suppose I've got to decide whether I follow them down the rabbit hole. For right now, they're writing. I can't wait to see what they have to say.

More later.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Next Stop?

My students have been reading The Freedom Writers Diary. Yesterday, we read Diary #5 which recounts one student's decision to buy a gun for protection from a group of teens in his neighborhood who are constantly messing him up. In the discussion that followed in each class, my students were in 100% agreement that they like this book. It's difficult not to be drawn to truth and honesty. My response was to ask the students whether they thought they had stories worth telling.

From playing the Line Game, I knew the answer was "Yes."

My next question was more difficult to answer, "Why aren't you telling them?"

In truth, no one has ever asked them to tell their stories. No one has said to them, "Write something you would want to read." The Freedom Writers Diary has helped them see that what they want to read, they could write. My assignment at the final 15 minutes of the class period was to "write a story from your life that you would be interested in reading." The results were varied from the expected to the intense. I want to use these truths to begin editing and publishing. I need to get from these stories to blogs. They need to be able to post anonymously. Logistics to think on.

What's ironic is that I was waiting for their skill sets to get to the point that my students could blog. This was wrong. I needed to wait until they had a voice that needed hearing. We're almost there.

My hope is that we will be able to have a level of interaction similar to that of Will Richardson's class when they blogged about The Secret Life of Bees. Having had the chance to actually get to meet the freedom writers, I feel sure they would take 5 minutes every once in a while to write back to my kids. Here's hoping.

More later.

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