Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Teaching Journal
Day 40, Tuesday, November 4

During the quiet reading time at the start of one of the classes today, I noticed that several students didn't seem to be focused on their books, but before I could get concerned or upset about it, I also noticed (thankfully) that several others seemed very focused. Yes, there were a few kids who appeared to be "wasting" these few minutes of class time, but there were some who were reaping significant benefits from it. The question for me was: Which do I focus on? Is the glass half empty or half full? Luckily, I've been a half-full guy most of my life, so I settled back, smiled to myself, and continued reading my own book.
One of the 9th grade boys was an extremely earnest student today. First of all, I noticed that, during our two-minute break, he immediately opened a book and did some quiet reading -- something I haven't noticed him doing in the past. Then, when we reconvened and began discussing the fairly inscrutable story we've been reading and studying, he mentioned a song that one of the characters performed, and suggested that it might be important evidence of one of the themes of the story. It was an intelligent, erudite comment -- a giant step forward for this blossoming scholar.
In all of the classes today, we had serious literary discussions for about 12 minutes. That would add up to about 1 hour of discussion per week, and perhaps 34 hours during the full school year. Hmmm...34 hours of intellectual, sophisticated conversation about books: not a bad accomplishment for an 8th or 9th grade year!
We had especially productive literary discussions in the 8th grade classes. I was proud of the way the scholars conducted the conversations on their own, with very little help (or interference) from me. We've been working on not raising hands, which requires the students to wait patiently until the previous speaker is entirely finished, and to defer to a classmate if two people start talking simultaneously. I've also been encouraging the designated "teacher assistant" to take charge of running the discussion, which enables me to "step back" more often and be a silent observer and note-taker. Today the discussions were perfect models of the kind of classy and cultured dialogues teenagers can organize and run on their own. I rarely spoke. The kids talked to each other, looked at each other, responded to each other, and helped each other. I was in the background, where every teacher should be as often as possible. After all, education is about the students, not the teacher -- and today was almost all students.

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