Students like to be listened to. It seems pretty obvious, but it isn't something the modern school day really affords any of us engaged in the System of Education. Most days it seems like an assembly-line of sit, git, and go in spite of our efforts to craft engaging, creative lessons. This is more often true as semesters draw to a close and high stakes tests throw shade all over our campuses.
My students and I are reading Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" and have just completed Chapter 15 - the one where the lynch mob comes for Tom and Scout chats up Mr. Cunningham until he seems sort of shamed into calling off "the hunt" (as my students ended up calling it). I'll get to that part in a minute...
I forget, now and then, that my students really don't know how to "do school." When I tell the to read a chapter, that's what they try to do. Read.The.Chapter. I haven't forgotten that the literal words printed together on the page are actually too high a reading level for them. But I do forget that they take me literally. Read.The.Chapter. As if, somehow (or maybe some one told them), they have come to the idea that using audio along with the text is cheating.
I get them all settled in to class, and throw my class website, complete with links to various audio supports and my favorite study guide site and give them my stump speech about using the tools they have. Eyes glaze. My eyes glazed, I admit it. Instead of hammering away, I set up my Cornell Notes on the white board, and roll the audio with a text projected on the screen. We took notes. And an amazing thing happened as we talked about the notes, and my decisions about what I wrote down. My class got rowdy.
Not the pencil-throwing, chair-chucking kind of rowdy classes "like mine" are supposedly known for. I mean, voices raised, hands waving conversation about such riveting topics as who knew something weird was going on that night and why did Scout decide to come along? When did Atticus know he was in trouble? Why was everyone staring at Scout like she had gone crazy? And why did Mr. Cunningham kneel down and grab her shoulders before calling off the lynch mob. While we were talking... they were talking, I was adding to the notes, drawing dumb little diagrams and circling "key details" that they were using to make their points.
At the end, I asked them, per usual, to put their Left/Right side Cornell Notes in the exit ticket pockets they thought showed how well they could answer the focus questions: "According to the novel, when is it justified to act outside of the law?" I need to make clear that at no point did we discuss the law, other than to notice Tom was in jail for his protection, not because he'd been found guilty. On his way to the folders, one student says, "The novel doesn't talk about the law." I ask him who is in jail and who is outside of the jail. He looks off into the distance and says, "OH! Atticus is defending Tom because it's his job. Because it is the law that Tom gets defended. You have to follow the law!" He dances the rest of the way to the folder and triumphantly puts his paper into the "Almost" slot (this guy never feels like he's "got it", so "almost" is a win, in my book). A couple other students pause, converse a few seconds and when they walk out the door, no one has left a paper in "nope."
After the rest have left for the weekend, this one stays behind and says, "I've always hated reading and reading classes. But I think this is the class I've always needed. Wanted. In here, I don't have to memorize a bunch of crap, and instead, I get to see it, hear it, and speak about it. That's how I learn. Thanks."
It's weird how dust just comes out of no where and gets in your eyes.
tToday is a day I look forward to every year. Today is #edcampcitrus, my chance to spend the day being a studen of educational technology. I get to hang out with some of my favorite colleagues, meet some people I only know though Twitter, and I get to play. It isn't a vacation, but it definitely feels like a break to me.
I am, at my core, an idea person. I like coming up with ideas, talking about them, using them to shape and reshape the world I move through. My work ilke doesn't lend itself to that easily. A lot of my mental space is take up with administrative detail: are my lesson plans addressing all the targets for fidelity, did I remember to sign that one sheet, have I called Billy's parents yet or do I need to hang on before writing that referral for tardiness, and what the heck did I change my password to THIS time? Edcamp gives me space to really consider my classroom practices, reflect on the pieces of my craft that bother me one way or another, and time to just breathe in the strange, exhilarating air of having a hand in constructing tomorrow.
When I am at edcamp I feel free to focus on what I think is the most important: the human beings in front of me. I have a unique position, in that I teach special education classes and am somewhat freed from standardized tests. I don't mean that my students don't take them; they do. What I get is the ability to focus beyond the tests and honestly address my students where they are.
My family and I recently discovered Hamilton, which for no apparent reason I seem inclined to call Hamlet, and have been listening to it or singing it pretty much non-stop. We've discovered a remarkable number of other shows, songs, and situations the lyrics fit rather nicely into, and find ourselves accidentally quoting lines (see my first sentence for reference). Hurricane Hermine, which, thankfully, only dropped buckets of rain and rid our palm trees of some extra fronds, presented another opportunity for Hamil-flection.
Because the coast of our county was under several feet of water, in addition to the usual Labor Day holiday, we also had 2 hurricane days. Power, in fact, has only just been restored to some, making a completely miserable 5 days, no doubt. Hamilton, the founding father, uses the devastating hurricane that hit his home on St. Croix to write his way out of privation and anonymity straight into our history books. He was, in fact, particularly skilled at seeing opportunity in nearly every facet of his life. At the same time, he was constantly busy; restless and hungry for more, for "what's next". As I've been reading the biography by Ken Chernow, I find myself noticing again and again how much his behavior sounds like the best gifts of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Hamilton was driven. He never seemed able to slow down, to "talk less", or to resist the impulses of his restlessness. He was also brilliant. And he was given a gift, an absolute gift by life: he was able to control and direct the majority of his education. He was curious, as all kids are, but unlike our modern students, he saw education as his way out. Until he arrived in The Colonies, as a 19-year-old man, he was entirely self-taught, and still earned himself a place in King's College, and, after the war, earned his way onto the New York State Bar in record time. He devoured the Classics, chasing that relentless something driving him onward.
If there is something to be learned from Hamilton, the man, it has to be that our students can lead themselves to greatness, whatever that means for each individual life. We need to find ways, as educators to get out of the way and let opportunity do the knocking.