Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Day 44, November 7, 2007

I noticed today that both 9th grade classes got right into their silent reading at the start of class. Within a few moments, the room was silent and the kids had their faces in their books. I stopped reading and just looked at them for awhile, appreciating the fact that they were obviously involved in the reading and enjoying it. I took a picture of Billy and Jack as they read -- a great image of two "cool", athletic guys who can get into a book as seriously as they get into a soccer game. (See picture.)

* * * * *

I had all the 8th graders for English class together in the Board Room. Usually, that type of situation has not worked well, but today it turned out to be a fairly productive class. I might even call it remarkably productive, because I didn't really teach the class. Marie did.

As we started into our discussion of Mockingbird, I asked if anyone would like to be the discussion facilitator, and Marie immediately raised her hand. I reminded her of the guidelines for leading a discussion, and then I stepped out of the way and asked her to carry on. I walked around behind the students, looking at their journals and annotations and listening to the discussion. It wasn't long before I realized that a fairly ardent conversation was taking place. Marie was walking back and forth in the middle of the room, calling on kids, asking them questions, and encouraging and praising them. The students were eagerly raising their hands to read from their notes or build on what another student had said. Everyone seemed attentive and involved. As I walked around the room, I became even more impressed -- and a bit puzzled. How was this happening, I wondered, without the teacher leading the discussion? Wasn't that my job? How could the students converse so intelligently about a book without their English teacher guiding them along?

It was an eye-opener for me, and a lesson for the future. My students can do way more for themselves than I have given them credit for. To use an analogy I've often employed: Teaching English is like our mountain climb in New Hampshire. The teacher doesn't have to always be the leader going up the trail. Occasionally, as we did on our hikes, the teacher can allow the students to forge ahead on their own, keeping to the trail that's been laid out. Today, perhaps Marie and the students were doing just that: following the "discussion trail" that all their teachers have set out for them over the years.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.

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