Wednesday, June 25, 2008

27 kids!

Suddenly, everything was not going so smoothly. It was 4th hour on "B" day and I had twenty-five kids sitting in rows, copies of a pre-writing worksheet strewn around the desks, pencils flying, students poking, a kid begging a pass to the nurse, and two boys in back who refused to pick their heads up off of their desks.

I was strolling up and down the aisles, trying to lead a discussion on writing a product review and reaching about four kids. Each time I paused to put one outburst out, another burst up behind my back. It was like waiting tables in a giant restaurant with no busboys and too many tables.

And every time I glanced up to the back of the room, TL was smiling and writing notes with his little green marker.

When the bell had rung and I was finished picking up pieces of inky, broken pens; twisted, torn worksheets; and the shavings from at least three pencils that someone had just sharpened and sharpened and sharpened, I sat down with my supervising teacher.

"Well," he said, "how did you think that went?" I had kind-of hoped he hadn't noticed.

He went on to explain that I had been bum-rushed by a very tricky class and handed me a piece of paper, full of those green-marker jottings, that detailed where I might have gone wrong.

He gave me some simple tips:
  • Use a timer, say, "Now we're going to put away our worksheets and switch gears to the reading for today, I'm setting the timer for one minute, have your novels out when the bell rings."
  • Tell the class exactly how you want the conversation to run. Tell them that sometimes you will say, "raise your hands," and you will expect them to wait to be called on, and sometimes you will ask a question and tell them to answer out loud, so everybody can talk. Sometimes you may even ask them to turn to their neighbors and talk about the question (for one minute, using the timer)
  • Use the "take a break" strategy that has been systematically drummed into their brains since spring. And remember , it should be a time to collect thoughts or to take a breather, not a punishment.
  • Randomize who you call on. Ask a silly question like, "raise your hands if you are wearing colored socks." Then ask those people with colored socks to share an answer from a group activity or from written work.
Well, today was "B" day again. I used all of TL's suggestions on the eager and calm students of first hour. The class sailed. They were digging the discussion, participating, and even understanding some of what I was saying. But these kids were not at all the same class that I would face in a few hours. 4B is a totally different beast.

And they responded too. More so. I had them in the palm of my hand... mostly. The discussion went just as I described it to them. they were (mostly) quiet when I was talking or when one of them had the floor. They participated in the discussion pairings and they reported back to me when i asked everyone who was wearing a necklace to tell me what they had said. They even took the conversation in a new, unplanned, but totally appropriate direction - all on their own.

It's amazing what a few simple tips from an experienced teacher can do.

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