Posted in cogen

That “Problem Class”–part 3 in a series

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.

Bob Patrick

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Posted in cogen

That “Problem” Class–Part 2 in a Series

“Thank you for reminding me–if you had not reminded me yesterday, I might not have made it this morning.  I didn’t feel like driving so early, but I came anyway.”

The first student came in 10 minutes early for our second Cogen meeting (which I described here, if you missed it) this morning. I already had the cinnamon rolls and double chocolate muffins and orange juice set out, John Legend playing on Pandora, and so I invited him in and we began chatting.  Soon the others arrived.  I thanked them for coming, and while they started eating, I reminded them of our rules:

  1. No one is special in this group–we all stand on equal footing.
  2. There’s only one mic.  We listen to each other and don’t talk over each other.
  3. We all take responsibility for any actions that we agree upon for the good of our class.

I asked them to tell me how their first suggestion–having a five minute check-in at the beginning of class with a vent or a brag–went this past week.  They told me that it was very positive–that it’s a friendly way of starting class, that while people come in scattered and separated, it served to pull us together as a group.  They said it helped “smooth out the week.”  I thanked them for the idea–it was totally theirs.  I told them that it had gone so well with their class that I had begun doing it in all my classes.  They seemed surprised and impressed that one of their ideas made it into all of my lesson plans.

They also told me these things:

There have been fewer times this week when you have had to call people down  (including mostly me).
Class has felt better.
I wasn’t angry to be here.
It has felt like home.

I will be honest to say–that last one landed deeply in me.  Class has felt like home. That’s what I really, really, really want.  I told them so, and thanked them for the feedback.

For this week’s discussion, I asked them if there were something that all five of us might agree that any one of us could do that would make class a more positive experience.  “That’s a tough one,” one of them said.  Then, almost immediately, they began talking about how much liked brain breaks.  I’ve made a concerted effort to collect and use some new ones this semester, and they noted which ones they like the best.  I asked them if Brain Breaks had any effect on the rest of their learning during the period.  They agreed that it did if for no other reason than it made them want to continue with whatever we were doing.

So, I shifted to Brain Breaks.  I told them that I had planned one brain break for each day, usually for right after our first activity.  Perhaps the thing they could do is to let me know if and when we needed a second one during the period.  They immediately thought that was a good idea.  I asked them whether that needed to happen out loud–meaning one of them would suggest out loud that maybe we needed a second brain break, or would it be better for them to communicate that silently to me with some sort of high sign.  They thought about that for a minute and then one said:  I think if we say it out loud, and you take the advice to do another brain break, that would come across a really cool to the class.  That would be positive.

Done!  Secretly, that’s what I was hoping they would say, but it needed to be their choice for their reasons.  We all agreed that that would begin today as something they took responsibility for in making our class more positive.

My sense of better and their sense of better

In reflecting over the last week and this morning’s second cogen meeting, I realize that my sense of class being better is different than the students.’  I did think that this class was going better because of the five minute check in–so much so that I instituted it in all my other classes.  Some part of me, though, still measures “better” by what makes me comfortable. That’s been the thorn in my whole teaching career. Those things, conditions, behaviors and outcomes that would have kept me comfortable have invariably not been the things that help students make progress in this language. This class still comes in at the end of the day–tired, rattled, anxious, depressed, mouthy, loud, and willing to stir each other up for no apparent reason. And, the five minute check in has curbed much of that and brought us together as a group of people trying to get things done. My cogen group helped me see this more clearly this morning and, hopefully, create some additional avenues for that reality to deepen.

Bob Patrick