Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Teaching Journal 08-09
Day 21, Tuesday, October 4

Browsing in English Class

I was watching a student browsing among the shelves of the library this morning, and it brought to mind the possible value of "browsing" in English class. The student in the library was relaxing as he browsed -- just dawdling among the books like you might dawdle in a field of flowers. He was not focused in the way that I like my scholars to be focused; in fact, you might say he was entirely unfocused -- simply surfing among the shelves, wide-open to any books that might catch his attention. Now, ordinarily I insist that my students be totally alert during my classes, but is there room -- and a time -- for casual, non-specific, distracted browsing? Should I, for example, allow the scholars to occasionally "browse" in a chapter of a book instead of always making them studying it with focus and intensity? Should they be encouraged to "browse" among the sentences of their essays, simply enjoying the look and feel of the words?
Yesterday and today, because of special field trips, I had the entire 9th grade (22 kids) in my small classroom for English class, and I was gratified by their refined behavior. They came into the classroom quietly, promptly found a place to sit (or stand), and became silent as soon as they saw I was ready to begin. How fortunate I am to be able to work with such gracious young people. The world around us may abound in disrespect and meanness, but in Room 2, life is a thoroughly dignified enterprise.
I noticed that one girl was still deep in her book a full minute after I had signaled the end of quiet reading time. As I was preparing to start with the day's lesson, I quietly took pleasure in seeing her so deeply submerged in the book. True, she had not paid attention to my signal, but she had done something more important. She had stayed lost among wonderful words, an adventure that will surely benefit her more than instantly following her teacher's directions.
The "servers" in each class are obviously proud of the role they play. While the rest of us go about the business of being English students, the servers quietly and politely pass a tray of ice water and crackers (all the while listening to what I'm saying -- I hope). It just takes a few minutes, but it's a dignified few minutes for the servers. It sets them apart, I think. Perhaps it makes them feel like a particularly vital part of the class, which they are. In English class, reading and writing are important, but so is service to others.
In one class, I asked the kids to "freeze" in the middle of a discussion. It was at a moment when most of them were looking at the speaker with great interest, and I told them I wished I had a camera to take a picture of their attentiveness.

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