Friday, September 26, 2008

Weeks Three and Four: Cattle Rustler

So, now, we're comfortable. They know me. I know them. Now the task at hand is to move beyond what is easy.

I am really excited about the prospects that the electronic portfolios students are designing will make available to us. The freedom, the engagement, the creativity -- these aspects make me excited to continue to work on this idea.

What is difficult though is getting students to really "dig in." I want them to delve so deeply into what we are doing that it has meaning for them beyond the classroom. I want to break them out of the "this is my assignment and I choose to accept it" mode. When we write responses to poetry, I want the room to be silent and for them to groan when I tell them to wrap up their writing. I want them to come into class and walk out of class heatedly discussing the day's reading and their work. Instead, I am constantly prodding them to get focused, think deeper, ask more questions, put away work from other classes and ultimately I feel like I am just begging: care, care, care. Excuse the vulgar simile, but sometimes it is like I am the cattle rustler, moving the sluggish beasts along :) What will it take to make the cows dance??

Maybe I need to model this more -- maybe they need to see me immersed in thinking, see me engaged with the ideas. I think I do this, but I don't feel like I am getting through as effectively as I hope.

How can I inspire my students to do thinking and reading and writing that feels good only because it hurts?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Week Two: Routine and Relationship

It is only the second week of school and already it feels like we have been here for months. In some ways that is depressing -- if we are already a bit tired and a bit overwhelmed, how will we feel in March? But mostly, it is a reassuring feeling for me. The first week is filled with unknowns and the second week is filled with establishing routine and relationships. The wildness of week one has settled down and now I can start getting to know the young people in my classroom, getting to know who they are, how they dream, what motivates them and what is too much for them. I will spend the rest of the year doing this -- routine and relationships.

By routine, I am not implying that each minute of the class period is perfectly scheduled and offers no variance from day to day. I believe students should walk into class each day eager for what awaits, not dreading what they expect. However, as a former department chair of mine used to always say, I want them to know that in this classroom "this is what we do." Our methods for achieving our learning goals may look different each day, but I hope my students have a common understanding of the expectations we have of each other and the standard to which we are holding ourselves. I believe there is comfort in this, for myself and for my students. This is how we establish routine.

We aren't completely there yet -- I am discovering so much about my students and they are discovering who I am as their teacher. And I am sure that there is still a question about "what we do" in this class, but as we spend time each day engaged in reading, writing, thinking and sharing together, we move toward this common understanding and will be inspired to take risks and do our best in the safe and nurturing space of our classroom.