Things are beginning to happen because I have created a Cogen group for my “problem class.” (You can read about it in two previous posts on this blog). The happenings are slow, but significant. Since I last posted, my regular Cogen meeting has been interrupted by holiday and inclement weather day, but we managed to re-schedule for another day. Here is what has happened.
1. The Cogen group decided that having a “talking stick” would help focus the idea of there only being one mic in the room and help them not talk over each other. They agreed that they would like to take turns taking the stick home and cleaning it up and shaping it into their talking stick.
(Side note: the use of a talking stick comes out of indigenous peoples of the Americas. Emdin coins the phrase–neoindigenous for those students of color who experience a disenfranchisement in all kinds of public spaces including schools. I brought up the idea of a talking stick, but what we are doing with it as a way of focusing respect for one another seems to be both a piece of the truth of the indigenous tradition and the empowerment of students in my classroom.)
2. One student brought in a stick that everyone decided was too feeble and too scrawny to be a true talking stick. She took the class rejection well. Later that week, I found a substantial piece of fallen oak and brought it in for students to start cleaning up and turning into their talking stick. They embraced it, and it has surprised me how immediately each day students volunteer to take it home and work on it (that has meant stripping the bark and sanding it so far).
3. The Cogen members say that class is “vastly improved” over what we had before. Their most recent report includes that people are more respectful and that they feel more like they belong to each other.
4. Recently, in the middle of a movie-talk, one of the Cogen members happened to be running the video (stop and start) for me–which by the way–he volunteered to do, something he never does. He called for a “time-out.” I agreed and gave him the floor. He was having what would become apparent soon a real insight into language. This is a student in Latin 3. In so many words, he questioned and then realized that people who speak other languages actually have experiences and thoughts just like he does in English. Our movie talk included the word and experience of a “somnium.” He found it hard to believe that ancient Romans actually had dreams because they didn’t know the English word “dream.” Before I could respond to that he proclaimed: Oh my God! they had the word “somnium!” That’s what they actually said about that experience. It was a somnium! (Latin teachers may be wondering what too him so long to realize this, but language learners wake up to the power and distinctions of language when they do–and not a minute before). I was very grateful for this time-out moment.
5. In our last Cogen, I was able to recall this moment of his and notice that it happened during a movie talk when they were particularly focused on what was happening and our story in Latin.
6. We agreed to create a GroupMe so that we could communicate with each other outside of our meeting times.
7. I asked them if there was anyone in class that I should be concerned about. They identified one student who is easily distracted, and they suggested that I try asking him privately what sort of things I could do to help him stay focused.
It’s still a messy class that happens and the end of the day. I don’t find myself dreading it anymore. I leave feeling like we are beginning to work together. I really look forward to the Cogen. I feel like I am forging some bonds with that small group that magically transfer to the class itself.
My only regret? That I didn’t start the Cogen group earlier.