Saturday, February 11, 2017

Students Take Over Language & Literature

"Ms. Gross, nice job explaining that." 

Dear Readers,

I have an amazing group of 7th graders that I have the honor of teaching 7th grade Language and Literature to. They are insightful, thoughtful, funny, empathetic and honest young people. 

My room is always busy during 7th grade lunch. Whether it be students from our Lighthouse Team planning for lessons, catching up on work or just hanging out, it is one of my favorite parts of the day.

On Friday, my students introduced me to some of the television shows they enjoyed as children. I suddenly found myself watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse "Santa" while two other students attempted to chase the characters on my Smartboard with the electronic pens. One student was laughing so hard he fell off his chair. 

Just the day before, I was telling them about an amazing mother I had met at the National Character Conference in October. She had lost her son in the Newtown tragedy. I had run to the bookstore to buy her book, on the way back grabbed a sky blue pen to have her sign my book. Upon producing the pen, she explained it was her son's color, the sky blue. It was meant to be that I had grabbed it to bring to her to sign the book. As I told this story, the importance of that pen to me, I saw tears in a couple eyes.   

They are at a wondrous age where they go from being silly to serious in an instant. There is so much depth to their thinking it is incredible.

What Do You Do With an Idea?

I asked a student if she wanted to do the read aloud to review central idea. While she sat in my "rolly" chair (that she loves dearly), I took a seat on the floor in the book corner surrounded by my students. It's always enlightening to put myself in their shoes, literally. She did a fantastic job reading to us, showing us the pictures, etc. It was so much fun to be the learner. 

Then, when we worked on a strategy to figure out the main idea, I had her drag the easel over with the example just like I do. I watched as two other students helped her problem solve to get it across the room. As we started to take notes, a student wanted to swap with me. I took his notebook and he took mine and we copied notes for each other. 

It was probably one of my favorite classes this school year so far.

Can We Be the Teachers?

Friday was a discussion and work day. Using the song "Popular" that we worked with last week, they were now given the task of analyzing the song and creating a lens (Falling in Love with Close Reading) on chart paper. 

When it came time to present, a student was talking. I said you may come teach the lesson if you like. He said, sure. I sat down and let him take over. 

Positive Reinforcement

As I was listening, he had the right idea. However, I kept saying, "Positive feedback. Give them positive feedback." He did attempt, even after I explained something he said, "Nice job Ms. Gross explaining that."

This led into a conversation about them teaching the class. I responded that I have no problem with them teaching. My expectations are:

  • They need to come up during lunch the day before the lesson and practice it, as well as discuss it with me.
  • As the teachers, they have to treat their peers with respect.
  • As students, they must treat their teacher peers with respect.

One of the students was extremely funny. 
He asked, "Can kids send students to the office?" 
I said, "No." 
He said, "But you can." 
I said, "Well, if I had to, yes." 
He said, "So a student can send a teacher to the office?" 
I said, "Well, I guess so." 
He said. "Okay."

Empowering Students to Be Leaders

If we want students to become independent, thoughtful, empathetic, global citizens, we have to give them every opportunity to practice. There is so much to be learned when they teach a class. Does it take patience? Yes. Will they do it "exactly" the way we would? Probably not. Does it take expectations and practice? Absolutely. 

I think about all they are learning. Listening and speaking skills, collaboration, time management, presenting information in a way people can learn it, knowing the material they are presenting, practicing or more importantly learning how to encourage, coach and empower others.

I have read many books and been to many workshops and conferences regarding teacher and school leaders. More recently, I have attended conferences with or about student leadership. It has transformed my thinking about the role that our students should play in our classrooms. 

It also forces me to experience what they do in my classroom. I got in trouble twice last year (in the same class) by two students who were teaching. Once was more talking and the other for getting out of my seat and chatting as I walked by a group of desks. The magic of this is, it is all done with respect and seriousness. I build those relationships with my students that they feel empowered to take over the class and hold me to the expectations I hold them to.

I am looking forward, over the next few weeks, to engaging in more of a student role in my Language & Literature Class.