Thursday, November 13, 2008

teachable moment

one of my fantastic co-teachers has been out of the building quite a bit recently for different reasons so her students have had a lot of different subs. they've gotten quite savvy at how to work with these subs as well. last thursday we were all out of the building to see katie wood ray speak and throughout the day i got emails from teachers and administrators in the building about what craziness was going on in the room. when we returned on friday it turned out her class had been horrid to the sub. they managed to get almost an hour of recess, destroyed the room, and even broke a rocking chair. (the chair was on its last leg, but regardless, they broke it).

so, on friday, since the classroom teacher was not going to be back in until tuesday, i read them the riot act in the morning. i put on my very best viola-swamp face, channelled the scariest teacher i ever had, and we had quite a meeting. i told them they had to figure out what to do to make up for the horrors of the day before. we're a responsive classroom school and follow the idea of 'logical consequences'. so i told them to spend the morning thinking about how we could 'fix' this. the reading coach and i took turns checking in on them every 15 minutes to make sure they were still behaving. i'd hear them whisper "it's mrs lipstick" when i walked in the door and suddenly they were silent with their hands in their lap. i mean, i was scary.

so after spending the morning making them wish they could crawl inside a hole in the floor we started the afternoon with another meeting. we, while still being firm, told them it was time to start fixing it. being sorry didn't make anything better. so, come up with a plan.

we brainstormed a list of what we could do: fix her rocking chair, clean the room, be super nice to her, listen, etc. i loved their ideas about fixing the rocking chair. they really thought about it. some suggested tape, and a debate began over whether we tape it on the bottom, on the top, or both, or if that would make the chair sticky. one little girl said she would learn how to weave. a boy in the back mentioned that in kindergarten they learned to weave in art class (you know with those construction paper place mats) so maybe their art teacher could teach them how to weave with yarn and fix the chair.
i love the logical thinking we pushed with them. they had to explain what they were thinking and really problem solve. everyone became invested in the outcome.
so then we wrote a letter to the classroom teacher, apologizing but also including our plan of how to fix it. (we decided to give her options on how we'd fix it, and then let her choose since it was her chair. really, so i wasn't stuck watching them try to fix a chair with tape only to have the logical consequences lesson ruined when we ruined the chair).

we put a lot of literacy into writing the letter. we focused on the sounds within words, made them tell us where the punctuation would go, etc.
the lesson ended up going over 2 days. on monday we finished our letter by adding our new class plan for how we would follow the rules, listen to the teacher, etc. all of this from their own ideas.

in the end i felt like we took the horrible day on thursday and really changed it for the best. we built community, reviewed our rules in a positive, student-generated way, worked on literacy skills in a meaningful activity, and gave them a great problem-solving experience. instead of feeling guilty and worthless when their teacher came back, the kids felt proud of their problem solving and felt like they had ownership over the problem.

now, she was out today for our team planning and she'll be out monday-wed next week for a conference (she's that awesome) so we'll have to see if i can keep them in line until she gets back. it worked once, who knows if it will work again. i may need to invest in some more black-viola-swamp-like clothing.

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