I have spent a lot of time the past two years thinking about how I want to teach. Coming back to eighth grade has been a delicious change of pace for me. I have realized how much I love this age.
They are loud, funny, emotional, clingy, and needy–but they also open up their hearts and share their thoughts and feelings, expecting no less in return.
Reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller last summer had a profound effect on me. Her premise is that teaching the class novel should essentially be abandoned and substituted with a reading workshop of sorts, a way for kids to read what they love. And I don’t disagree. I totally get her point.
But today we finished up A Tale of Two Cities. I know. Critics say it’s the worst Dickens’ book ever written. The characters are flat, the conflicts predictable, and the language is dated– why would anyone bother teaching it?
- Amy walked in saying she almost cried when Carton hugged the seamstress.
- Jase stayed after class to say the book really wasn’t about love or hate; it was about how everything seemed to be one thing but, in fact, was something else: the oppressed peasants were the villains, the alcoholic was the hero, the woman whose family had been killed and tortured was the villainess.
- Kendra shared her contempt for the last chapter but her intense feelings for Carton’s death.
- Sam walked in shaking her head. “Madame Defarge….wow”
- John reminded us that people of faith might approach Carton’s death differently than those who don’t believe.
- And Allegra, with her eyes shining, couldn’t help but jump in with her theory of love vs hate.
We spent the period talking about revenge, sacrifice, and what living a “good life” really means. The students admitted the book was a tough read, a challenging book they might not have tackled if not required.
I know some of them got by with Shmoop or watching the video. But many showed me their marked up text, where they had found a favorite line or questioned a phrase. Their reflections tell me that most struggled through and benefited from reading it.
I want to try the reading workshop approach and probably will second semester. But there are times when coming together over a common reading brings us all to the same place and allows us to ponder the big questions together. It was certainly “the best of times” for me.
I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about the perfect classroom. My perfect classroom.
Though I haven’t quite nailed all the details, it’s coming together:
- Natural lighting with lamps in various parts of the room
- Tall ceilings, large windows (but the ability to shut out light when projecting)
- Laptops: This essential component gives me the ability to transform my classroom into a learning hub of sorts. My vision has me rarely in front of the room but more often huddled with small groups of students. While I am discussing a book or a piece of writing with one group, others in the classroom are reading, or writing, or blogging. Some might be working on a class presentation or figuring out how to use a new piece of equipment.
- A dedicated internet connection, of course, for streaming video and audio
- Narrative assessments to accompany a student’s portfolio (no sorting or ranking in my class)
- A coffee machine, snacks, a water cooler, and a small refrigerator
- Classes of 12-14 students, best for meeting the needs of individuals while allowing for small group work
- $$ to rent transportation to take field trips at will
Konrad Glogowski, who completed his doctoral research on middle school adolescent literacy (and blogging communities), wrote this:
“We have the responsibility to open up our walls and show our students that we want their passions and interests to grow beyond our physical classrooms, our class blogs, our textbooks, and our lesson plans. We also need to show them how to do it safely. It’s time to reach beyond what we traditionally mean when we use the word “school.”
Obviously, I can’t complete the list on my own this year. But I am going to take a hard look at ways I can make small changes. It will be a start.
Photo credit: jdurham from morguefile.com
This post has me thinking today….
it’s really about the patience, dedication, and community needed to master learning in an authentic way.
The rain comes steadily now.
Not like last night when Heidi, David, and I sat on the steps of my house, handing out candy and chatting with princesses, lions, and monsters. During the drizzle , the eighth-grade girls dropped by to say hello and get their sugar.
Seven or eight of them surrounded my front steps where we were sitting, all talking at once, huge smiles plastered across their faces. Heidi, ever the history teacher, challenged them with questions from class the day before, saying she wouldn’t give them a treat until they could answer. They did. Others excitedly yelled to me, “Give us an English question! One from the book!”
Laughing, I threw one out. They screamed the answer back, throwing their heads back in giggles and joy.
It was hard to not love the moment. Kids taking the time to stop and visit, wanting to share a moment from school, delighting in showing what they knew. Not for a grade. Not really even for candy because they would have gotten that anyway.
I awoke early today, hearing the steady rain hit our roof.
And as I sit here working on still more ways to teach A Tale of Two Cities, I am reminded of how much I love the relationship with my students, which inevitably leads to them wanting to learn and share.
And that what I do and say matters to them.