Tuesday, April 13, 2010

the silence of what is no longer there

Today we slowly plodded our way through our first day back after our break. We had one week for spring break and a week and one day of intersession, where our students could choose to come to school and enjoy different classes on fun topics. I chose not to work, so today was my first day back dealing with reality, and I spent the day truly thinking Starbucks must have given me a decaf because I clearly needed a lot more caffeine to get through the day...

Although I was dragging the kids were on fire. They came in with excited stories about everything they'd learned over intersession. Some shared new ideas, told stories, discussed the different attributes of the 3-dimensional objects they'd studied, or explained the rules to new games. Their energy was inspiring.

and then it was time for writing.

My co-teacher and I sat down to begin a poetry unit and broke out a trusty ole' KWL chart (a three-columned chart for those of you not in education, where one column you fill in what you KNOW about a subject (K), the next column is for what you WANT to know about a subject (W), and you save the last column for later, when the class adds what they LEARNED about the subject (L). We tossed the chart up on the board and prepared ourselves for the "poems rhyme", "I like poems" and "My mom is a poem" facts ala Ralph Wiggims.

Instead we were hit with:
"Jack Peletski is a poet" (I have no idea how to spell his name...)
"Poems have line breaks"
"Poems don't have to use punctuation"
"Poems are written in different countries in different languages"
"Poems can be like singing and talking mixed together"
"Some poems rhyme, but they don't have to"

....
It went on and on.

Why the difference?

Intersession.

A group of them had been in a class studying poems, and they immediately brought their knowledge over to us to share. And as those few shared their deeper knowledge of poems, others began to think beyond their typical expectations of poems. The lesson, which had initially promised to be a fairly dull introduction to poetry, exploded into a theoretical discussion of poems as we moved into the "What do you want to know" column. They wanted to know who wrote the first poem, what motivated people to write poems, where in the world poems originated, and on and on. By the time the lesson was over the classroom was buzzing with thoughts about poems.

I love, LOVE that intersession gives our children the knowledge and experience in new contexts that makes learning memorable. I love that intersession allows some children to become experts on a subject, which allows them to then turn around and teach their peers back in their regular classrooms- giving everyone a chance to be a leader. I love that intersession allows our students to practice their skills in new ways, get exposure to new ideas, and understand new reasons for using their academic skills.

I HATE that this was the last intersession.

I hate that today was the last day our children will come back brimming with new knowledge to share with us from their intersession classes. I hate that this was the last time they got the opportunity to practice fractions while cooking, create collages to write about, investigate nature in a new way, and meet new friends. I hate that the community intersession creates- the sense of belonging our children get from knowing new friends and new teachers throughout the building, will be gone next year.

I've been grumpy about how I'll have a whole summer vacation to squander away. I've been worried about what will happen to our curriculum when we return next Fall and suddenly realize our children are behind where they were when they left us in June. I've loudly complained about what the long summer will do to our little ones stuck in their small apartment buildings, relying on a Nintendo console and a teenage brother to keep them busy while their parents are away. I may have stomped my feet a few times about what this will do to our test scores.

But today was the first day the loss of knowledge really sunk in. Today was the first day I understood the intangible object we are losing- the skills, experiences, and knowledge our students gained this year from their intersession classes that just wont exist next year. The excited first day back discussions of "in intersession I learned..." we will no longer hear. The books that will not be read, the stories that will not be written, the confidence that will not develop, the connections that will not be made.

The silence is deafening.


4 comments:

The Science Goddess said...

So, let me propose an idea here:

What if, for a few days a few times a year, your school had a pseudo-intersession? It wouldn't occur during breaks, and regular instruction would have to halt for a bit...but what if every teacher picked a topic and every student had a choice for a few days?

I can think of a million reasons why this wouldn't work (elementary benchmarks are relentless), but what if you could find another way to capture the richness of intersession within the schedule you're going to be forced to live with?

jwg said...

The saddest part of this is that before we became a nation of test junkies there was time do do this kind of thing during the regular class day. I'min my 60's and the things I remember best from school were the hands on special activities-building a table sized "Indian" village, putting on plays with a historical or educational theme, field trips. I like The Science Goddedd's idea. For a while a neighboring K-6 school had "Club Time" every Friday when kids could sign up for activities that interrested the-everything from knotting to reading science fiction. I'm sure that's gone by now. My ten year old grandaughter is an avid reader, and hates her ELA class in school. There is something really wrong here.

luckeyfrog said...

Why has intersession been cancelled? Money?

I'm sad for you that it's gone, but also jealous that you got to experience it. What an amazing opportunity for students to get excited about learning!

jwg said...

And obviously they never taught me to proofread.

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