Sunday, May 22, 2011

Reading and Writing in Mathematics

Also, we've been studying up on Literacy in our school this year, and our librarian just shared this resource with us.  Haven't tried these yet, but they're thought provoking for me as a relative novice in teaching writing and literacy.

CUNY requirements, for all you NY State folks...

Just discovered that these have changed, and thought I'd pass on the heads up.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Rapture

The last week has been an intense one: rain every day, anticipating the end of the year and on top of that the world was supposed to end today.

My 10th graders didn't mention it once, but my 9th graders were obsessed.  Everyday discussing with humor and dramatized panic how their lives would end, loudly derailing all attempts at mathematical instruction.  From my point of view it's a reasonable question: I'm not sure I would choose to be in school if in fact we really knew we were living our last few days.

Yesterday was the pinnacle.  RJ came into school and wrote "THE END IS NEAR" on the whiteboard.  I inserted "of school" between "end" and "is," but no one noticed.  Every student was asking me what I believed, but they didn't care about the answer.  Whether they agreed with me, were reassured or skeptical, it didn't change their desire to talk about this and nothing else.

By math class two periods later, they were saying goodbye to each other.  ST asked, "Jesse, will we still have math class in heaven?"  DM shouted out, "Jesse I love you, I'm going to miss you," and then asked the class if they would miss him.  "Clap if you're going to miss me, class."  Everyone clapped.  "Clap if you're going to miss ST."  Everyone clapped.  "Clap if you're going to miss Jesse."  Everyone clapped.  Very sweet.

Then out of the blue, OF loudly shares, smiling, "I'm going to die a virgin."  The class notices but the chatter continues.  I feel like I'm the only one who has really appreciated the vulnerability and generosity of this comment.  He is so sincere, expressing in his innocence the loss of all the unknown ahead of him.  He doesn't sound like he is eager to remedy the gap in the next 24 hours, just that he's sad, or even nostalgic, for a future he won't live to see.  Amazing.

The funny thing is that all week I've been trying to figure out how to terminate with these students.  From all that I have learned about in studying the theory of group dynamics, termination, or the ending of a group, is a hugely important opportunity.  We all re-live our experiences of loss and abandonment when things end.  If the facilitator of a group makes this ending transparent and gives the group time to process their feelings, to experience an end without surprise, the group can both experience less trauma in the ending itself, but also heal their past injuries.  What this looks like in my classroom is simple.  I tell them every day how many days we have left.  I keep bringing the end to mind and then when they have things to say about it, I listen.

This week I learned that with the kids who know already that they have to repeat the year and are disinclined to come to school for academic reasons, the group can still be a reason to come to school.  They are a part of something, whether they pass or fail, whether they behave well or badly and get kicked out of class.  It matters that they are here at the end; it matters that they are a part of this group that is ending.  We all want them there, and it's not the same without them.

So when this major endings conversation arose, I didn't stop it.  This rapture thing is getting my kids to do all this processing around endings and it's awesome.  So "No, we're probably not going to die," I say.  "But this group is going to end in 3.5 weeks."

It helps to have time to say goodbye.  To tell each other that we're going to miss each other, to acknowledge that even when we see each other again next year it won't be the same.  Some people will stay and others will go, and our group will not exist anymore.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Resilience, process, curiosity and relationships

One backdrop, two stories, one conclusion.

Backdrop: These four words describe our most important values across our school.  They are the threads that connect the islands of our classrooms, the values that we aspire to teach.  I like them.  I think they are basically the most essential ingredients for a happy life as well, and the fact that we came up with them to align our curricula is compelling.

Story 1: I saw one of my favorite seniors, VC, this morning at the deli.  She looked exhausted and discouraged.  I carelessly told her she was doing great, that it would all be over soon.
And it's true.  She is, and it will.

But as I walked out of the deli, I remembered that it won't stop.  High school will end, sure.  She'll do fine, graduate and all that.  I'm not worried about her.  But the stress and exhaustion and dissatisfaction that she is experiencing, those aren't over when high school ends - at least they weren't for me.  College will begin for her, with all it's responsibility and the challenge of that independence.  Fun, liberating, exciting, stressful, exhausting, the whole gamut.  Graduation, job hunting, career finding and having, family...there's a progression to move through if she wants to, that will just keep going and providing her with opportunities to feel stressed and exhausted or not.

I want her to enjoy this part too.  To enjoy the intensity and excitement and grief and fear and know that she's exhausted because life is so grand, so big and full.  Or if it's too painful to enjoy, at least to feel it fully and know that she is really living.  That her life is already what she makes it, and that she shouldn't wait 7 weeks until graduation to live it fully, or even 5 days.

Story 2: This morning I forgot to check our student teacher GL's worksheets for mathematical hotspots.  We talked a ton about instructions and formatting but I failed to see that her quadratics had integer vertices, and they didn't, and so the kids didn't know how to do it.  It was fine, I told them it was my fault and we'll fix it for tomorrow.  Then I taught GL how to come up with nice systems of quadratics and I'm sure we'll do fine tomorrow.

But GL didn't look so pleased.  She's really hard on herself and felt unsuccessful because of that mistake. No big deal, I know that feeling.  But watching her do that, watching her align her success as a teacher with each individual success in the was so obviously not true, beside the point, and most importantly, a total distraction from the actual work of improving our teaching.  There is a reflectiveness that's necessary to grow and learn, but the self-judgment that comes afterwards...that's unnecessary.

Conclusion: Those four words from the top come in: resilience, process, curiosity, relationships.  I want to speak about these words with both of these young women.  To plunge into their deep resilience, not just surviving while they anticipate some future that will be easier but deeply resting in knowledge of their own self-worth, connected to this day, this difficulty as a part of their process in growing and learning, curiosity about how that will unfold and fierce optimism about how awesome it will be.  Because they deserve it, and it will be...may my relationships with both of them support their ever more and more loving relationships to themselves.  May they find ease and enthusiasm in their work and lives now and always, pulsing in and out of their seeming successes and failures with curiosity and acceptance.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A few things...

By the chance that you haven't already read this, it made my whole day...

And also I'm super interested and excited by open space technology, which I just learned about this evening.  Check it out!