Saturday, November 10, 2012

STOP THE PRESSES: Learning can be fun!

Overheard on the staircase at school: "You're not a banana!"

The other day, my CP2 class was playing a vocab review game, a combo of pictionary and charades (whichever option the students felt most comfortable with). Some of the students were really getting into it, which was surprising from a group that generally has no enthusiasm whatsoever. One student, who has not done any reading or work in ages, actually made vocab flashcards, and was a big participant in the review game. When we were wrapping the game up so we could move on to doing some reading, one girl said, "Can we keep playing? I know that we're learning, but this is fun!"

WOAH. Somebody call CNN and get Wolf Blitzer to break this shit to the public: Learning can be fun.

Seriously though, that was music to my ears. They were buying into what we were doing, even if a part of their brains told them that doing so was weird. This class has been such a struggle for me, that often I just worry about getting through it each day. But maybe we'll be able to do better than that. Maybe if I keep experimenting a little, we'll have more days like this.

Then yesterday, both of my CP1 classes had a great time doing Socratic circles. This was our first of the year. (For those of you who aren't familiar with Socratic circles, in a nutshell they are formal, student-driven discussions. The students are given the very open-ended questions ahead of time and must prepare notes with ideas, quotes from the text, real-world examples, questions, etc. Then they're split into two groups, and each group takes a turn in the inner circle discussing one of the questions, and I stay out of it as much as humanly possible. The outer circle then gives feedback on how the discussion went.) They need a bit of work on integrating their quotes into the discussion and staying a little more focused on the topic, but overall they did a good job. Some very interesting ideas were brought up, and they did really well with actually having a conversation, building on one another's points and sometimes providing counterarguments. They also did well in the outer circle, providing insightful feedback that will hopefully help them recognize how to improve their own discussion skills.

I told the students that we'll probably do at least one of these per unit. They all quickly voiced their approval, saying, "This was awesome!" Sigh. Such bliss. It was nice enough seeing how into the discussions they were--I even let them go over the original amount of time I had set for the discussions to last--so to know that they weren't engaged in what they were doing simply for the sake of getting a good grade was some seriously delicious icing on the cake. One student pointed out in his outer circle feedback that he noticed there was a lot of passion in the discussion he observed. Seeing that kind of passion is what makes me love this job. Yes, they had prepared notes, but these students did not sound like rehearsed robots saying something purely to impress me. I even heard a couple of kids who almost never utter a peep in class speak up multiple times to defend their ideas, and they didn't just say something simple to get their participation done and over with.

I like Socratic circles because they really challenge students to take ownership of what they're doing. After all, they are the ones running the discussions and giving feedback to one another. At the end of each class, I reminded that that the skills they practiced don't need to be reserved for Socratic circles, but rather can and should spill over to our everyday discussions. I told them that I don't want them to always be looking at me when they speak, but rather I want them to look at each other and really, truly listen to what everyone is saying and actually respond, because that's when the magic happens. And, dare I say, that's when it starts to be fun.

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