Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Reflection on a Day in Sixth Grade

Today was one of those days in my sixth grade class that I wished I could have recorded.

My students were on fire!

In the past, I've had to spend an inordinate amount of time disciplining students, and although today was not necessarily unique in that sense, it was qualitatively different. Although I had to stop every so often to interrupt one-on-one conversations and small lapses in attention, I began to notice that most of these were not off topic but, instead, were attempts to continue the conversation.

My students had comments, opinions, and questions about the book we're reading for #GRA14, One for the Murphys, and about the social studies lessons related to Early Peoples. I wish I could have recorded their comments (so insightful) and their questions (connected to the topic and digging deeper) so that I could savor the moment, over and over again.

Today I also made a short presentation for teachers at my school about what it means to be a connected educator. And, although I was nervous, much more so than when I'm teaching adolescents, I think it went well. I addressed social media tools that I use to become a better teacher.
It was a fast and furious session and, in some ways, I probably skimmed the surface of what being a connected educator is all about. If I would do this session again, I might zero in on one social media tool at a time and have teachers experiment by setting up an account and exploring its potential for themselves.

As I was telling my husband about my day, I kept coming back to my sixth graders. Even when class was over and it was time to go home, clusters of students stood about arguing a variety of issues. Who was more humane in their treatment of animals - the Natufians or modern day people? Was Carley, in One for the Murphys, a brat and mean to Mrs. Murphy or was she trying to defend her mother by her actions? How did the Early People's know that hunting animals would provide food for them? How are Carley and Esperanza, in Esperanza Rising, similar and different?

I could go on and on about my students' brilliance. However, the point of this post is to reflect on what was it that made my students so engaged in their learning, even as they were typically unable to sit still for long? As teachers we want to figure out what we did to help our students learn better and be excited about learning. We spend way too much time blaming ourselves when things don't go well but not nearly enough time pinpointing what we contributed to make a lesson go well. So, I'm going to have a go at this right now.

I think that what hooked my students in the learning is that not only were the materials engaging - One for the Murphys is just an excellent book for adolescents that touches on so many universal themes about life, and learning about our ancestors is something kids are curious about - but at the end of our discussion of One for the Murphys and before our social studies time, I commented that I was genuinely amazed at their thinking. I told them that they were brilliant because they were thinking thoughtfully and helping the rest of us understand the novel on a deeper level. I told them that they were teaching me things that I hadn't thought about until they shared their thinking. Now, what kid doesn't like to one up their teacher? More importantly, what kid doesn't like being recognized as "smart" by their teacher?

Yes, I know about Carole Dweck and others who caution against telling kids they're "smart" because this could lead to a fixed mindset. However, I really do believe that my students are brilliant. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. Some of them don't think they are smart or have never been recognized as such. And, some know they're smart but because they have quirky personalities, they get labeled as odd balls or even ignored by well-intentioned but misguided teachers.

I'm on a mission: to unleash my students' potential. To bring out their brilliance, as imperfect and tentative as it may be. It's going to be a wonderful year! As I said in a previous post, the reason I became a teacher is to inspire and be inspired. Today was one of those days.

Here we go!
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