Monday, February 2, 2009

A surprise of consequences...

Sometimes things happen in the classroom that are beyond the comprehension of the teacher.  Children learn things that were not in the class objective or something sparks a group of high school students and they do something positive that was never in the mind of the teacher.  Life is complicated and we teachers don't always see the results of our just being in the classroom.

The reason for this introduction is something that happened in one of my early fourth grade classes that I can take no credit for--it just came to be.  Our building(s) were large circles and each quarter of the pie so to speak was a full size classroom.  If I remember correctly, there were six of these "pies" with no hallways, just covered walkways around and between the "pies."  My classroom was one facing a hill behind the school and we had to walk around the pie on the outside and then down the walkway and stairs before we got to the area around the multi-purpose room where the buses came to pick up the kids.  Missing a bus was one of the worst things a teacher could do and once this happened you had to get the kids home yourself....or call parents to come pick them up.  I only did this once or twice.  I never knew why the bus drivers couldn't just make a quick count to see if they had all the kids they normally had.

Regardless, at about three ten in the afternoon I would tell the kids to clean up around their desks, settle arguments as to whose piece of paper was nearer whose desk and remind some to be sure to take home some announcement or paper for their parents to see.  Those activities settled, I'd say "put your chairs up" and the kids would stand and place their chairs upside down on top of their desks.  This facilitated the custodian in sweeping our room at night.  However the resulting noise of thirty five chairs being deposited on the desks was very annoying to me.  In most cases I had had a hard day and the noise was too much.  I almost always said, "Put your chairs up quiety,"  but the kids were happy to be heading home and almost always never listened to me.  The bang of chairs was my undoing.  It kept getting to me until I decided something--anything had to be done.

So one day I started the "getting ready to go home" procedure earlier.  At about three I told the kids to clean up the area and line up their desks.  They looked at the clock and wondered what was about to happen.  Nothing special, but what I had decided was to let one by one put their chairs up.  To do this I asked the first student in one of the rows, "What one thing did you learn today?"  A reply was given: how to spell a new word, learned a new city in social studies, how to draw a tree, etc.  "Good.  Put you chair up quietly and get your coat and stuff."  Next person--same routine.  What did you learn.......  Put you chair up and .......  It Worked.   Chairs were being placed quietly so that they could hear what the next person said that they had learned.  Of course, some quick thinking student of mine would say, "I learned the same as Jack."   And I would say, you sit there and remember what Jack had learned.  Oops, that quickly stopped.  But most of the kids were good at deciding what they had learned.  

The procedure took longer but it was much, much quieter and my disposition was greatly improved.  I was pleased with myself.  And the kids were quieter so our walk to the buses was much more civilized.  Damn, I had really pulled one off.

I kept this procedure up until I quit teaching at the grade school level but not because it made me feel good--which of course it did.  After doing this for four or five weeks, the students and I fine tuned the process and it was a good way to end the school day.  Shortly after this new "going home", we had a PTA meeting.  Teachers were required to come to the meeting and this school was in an area where a goodly number of parents would show up.  After the meetings teachers would rush to their rooms, open them up and greet whatever parent might want to see you.  It was usually "how is Jane or Bobby doing?"  And of course you can't answer with every other parent standing right beside you.  So I would get them to sit down and I'd tell some of the things the class and I had been doing lately.  Then an announcement that I would stand by my desk and talk to parents without the others around.  Take turns so to speak.  It worked well.  Many of the parents that came quite often would say nice things about how their child was feeling about school.  A good time was had by all.

But this one PTA meeting, I seemed to get a much larger number of parents.  Some waved at the meeting and I wonder what had I done that got the parents concerned.  Stress time for Blackwell.  When the meeting was over I raced to my classroom, turned the lights on and waited.  Here came a crowd of moms and dads.  Some I recognized, some I didn't.  Something had gotten my parents going.

As per usual, I sat them down and told about some of the things we were doing.  They all knew what was going on and in fact, interrupted to say how much Johnny or Mary were learning this year.  Much agreement and nodding of heads.  "My kid has learned more this year so far then the last three years!"  Probably not true but that was the theme for the night.  Much praise from my parents.  My oh my.  

I remember going home and talking to my wife and remarking that I have been doing something that pleases the parents--I wonder what it is?  We talked about it for awhile.  This was my fourth or fifth year of teaching grade school--maybe I was finally becoming a teacher.  I thought about this episode for a couple of days and then it hit me.  I went home and called a mother of one of my students.  "Molly, does your daughter tell you what we do all the time in the classroom?  "Oh my yes.  We have dinner each night and Paul, my husband always asks the kids what they have learned in school today and Mary just babbles forth with all the stuff you been teaching them.  You can hardly shut her up!"  "We're so pleased that she is excited about school."  

I tried another one of the parents that I knew and essentially the same story came out.  "What did you learn in school today?"  And my students couldn't wait to tell.  The funny part is that they would also say they had learned stuff that their best friend had learned omitting the part that someone else learned it.  In essence I had been prepping the kids answers by having them "put their chairs up and telling me one thing they had learned."

But their is another part of this story--a bit deeper.  A number of weeks after I started this activity, several of the students during the day had said to me, "we're learning a lot this year, aren't we?  I said yes they were.  And several mentioned they were pleased with themselves as they thought the learning was getting easier.  One child said, "We're a pretty smart class and can learn anything."  Now, remember this is a fourth grade class.  Age range about nine to twelve years old.  And they like learning!  They are not afraid of it.  Do you know what that means?  I tell the class, "I've got something that is difficult to learn--"improper fractions" and we're going to learn about those today."  And the kids lean forward with bright eyes and say "good, we can learn this."

Remember a few blogs back about the three types of objectives?  How about the Affective domain?  Feeling and attitudes.  What I had stumbled upon was jacking up the affective domain in my class by making the children feel good about learning.  And they knew that the others around them were learning too.  It was catching.  An attitude.

In education classes at colleges, you are taught to tell the students what they were going to learn, now teach them what you want them to learn and then finally summarize what they have learned.  A three stage process.  But I had never done a good job of summarizing what we had learn.  I have to admit I stumbled upon this process and it proved to be highly effective.  It never worked quite so well at the college level but I never tweaked it to see how good it might be.

A process that is never taught in education classes and it was created to save my aching head.  And I learned from it.  I'm the one who got the most learning......

Remember putting your chairs on your desk?  Go tell a teacher how much you learned that day.  And thank them.

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