## Tuesday, February 4, 2014

### Day 94: A Candid Discussion With Students

My post yesterday received some comments that made me think that I came off as implying that I was using the behavior rubric to "fix the black kids."  This was not my intention at all, but I can see how it appeared that way.

In geometry, we quickly went over the guided notes from the previous section followed by an activity about finding the center of gravity for a triangular toy and playing with straws to verify the triangle inequality theorem.  I'll admit that I was more checked out of this lesson than I should have been.

I've started working on a 5-10 day project that all three of my classes will do.  More details to come, but the basics are that students will be split into groups of 4, each student given a specific job with specific tasks and they will work together to design a park.  It's a modified version of a project provided by the Glencoe text book.

A buddy of mine even made me a logo to put on the project sheets, since I know nothing about graphic design.
 It's good enough that I may have to start my own engineering firm!

After the conversation yesterday about the behavior rubric, I went home and typed it up.  At the suggestion of some colleagues on Twitter, I changed the scale from 0-3 to "4th Grade," "6th Grade," "8th Grade" and "High School" implying the behavior expected at each grade level.  I spent some time explaining it to my 4/5 while they paid very close attention.  I asked them if they (the ones who weren't here yesterday) felt that it was fair and they all said yes.

I began my lesson.

They began talking over me.

I asked what grade level behavior they felt that they were exhibiting and they truthfully replied with either 6th or 4th.

Then they continued talking over me.

My 8/9 told me yesterday that I need to "use my words" and talk about what is upsetting me so they know what they're doing wrong.  So I sat down and calmly explained to them that I didn't know how to help them.  I ran through the list of things that I had done (groups instead of rows, guided notes, workbooks, given pencils, student-created behavior rubric, having them lead discussions, etc. etc. etc.) and that I was out of ideas.

"I need your help.  This isn't a sarcastic statement to say 'I need you to stop being jerks.'  I actually need your help.  I want to teach.  I want you to learn.  Clearly, I haven't figured out what you need in order to make that happen, so I'm asking you straight out.  How can I make this class more interesting? What kinds of activities would you do?  What kinds of things do you want to learn?"

I listened earnestly to their statements, biting back the urge to reply to any suggestion with "we DID that! You refused!"

But I nodded and wrote down what they said.

The main things they wanted to do was play games and do projects.  I expressed my concern that the last few projects we did were never turned in.  I THINK I did this in a way that was inquisitive and not accusatory.  They gave me some suggestions on how to improve that, such as setting a more structured timetable and more hands-on projects ("with popsicle sticks and stuff!") rather than surveys and calculation.  I think they made some very good points.

I was very impressed with the discussion that we were able to have, and I hope that it was due, at least in part, to the fact that I entertained every suggestion they offered.

In the end, we decided that I would break up the content for the rest of the marking period into topics.  Students will work in groups of two or three, using the iPads, textbooks or computers, to become experts in an upcoming topic.  They will then develop a lesson and activity to teach the rest of the class.  I plan to work very closely with them to help them through and to ensure that they aren't teaching anything incorrectly.

I think our conversation today really helped some of the students to see that I am actually trying to do well by them.  A few who normally are spaced out stayed after to talk.  I'd say that's a step in the right direction.

1. I have to say that I am IMPRESSED by whatever inner reserves of calm you were able to tap into there. After all of the activities you've described, to have them tell you that they would like some activities must have been maddening. Good on you for patiently listening. Maybe there will be some buy in if they feel that things are happening based on their suggestions rather than based on your ideas.

1. I will freely admit that I was screaming inside my head. "WE'VE BEEN DOING THESE KINDS OF THINGS AND YOU HAVE REFUSED!!!"

Then I thought about the high school principal. He and I do not see eye to eye on many things, including preferred management style and educational philosophy.

He proposed some ideas a few years ago when I was at the high school and I immediately shut them out as nonsense. In the years since, I have changed the way I think about my job and education in general. I have had to come to shocking, and upsetting, realization that the place I have come to is the place that he was preaching.

Having come from him, I was not receptive to it and probably still wouldn't be. Since I was able to make that journey, come to those conclusions on my own, it is more real for me.

I am a proud and egotistical guy. I like showing off how great I am. In this case, somehow, I was able to put that aside and say to myself "They are going where I want them to go. Why do I care if it was the path I suggested and they ignored?"

It puts me in mind of my daughter. If I pick out clothes for her, she'll refuse to wear them. So I put them back in the drawer and walk away. She picks exactly the same clothes, but the choice and decision had to be hers.

It's a hard thing to do and I'm not great at it, but I am getting better.