"Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success." - Henry Ford
When students walk into a classroom feeling less than confident and capable about their academic abilities, one MUST consider why. What has happened in their lives as students that has created such cynicism? As an educator myself, I do not believe there is one answer that can adequately bring clarity. However, ALL answers are PART of the truth. Perhaps assumptions were made and allowed misconceptions to slip by, perhaps the curriculum wasn't written well enough to ensure longevity in the students' memories, perhaps their personal lives at home are a larger focus for them than school is. This is not a blame game. The fact is, many students around our country feel this way and the finger can be pointed directly at ourselves. You see, regardless of the reason for a child to be shut down, cynical, jaded, unengaged, and unenthusiastic, it is OUR JOB as their current teachers to reignite that flame of hope and excitement for learning; because WE ARE HERE TODAY and they matter.
I am often asked about how to do The Fearless Classroom rotations in ELAR when there is Reader's Workshop and Writer's workshop and they need sustained times for both skills to gain stamina and to really hone their skills. To that, I am writing this post is to demonstrate one simple activity you can do with your students, the reluctant and the eager alike, to get them discussing reading, collaboratively working together, and writing for a purpose.
The Case of the Slain Green Dragon
Using a fifth grade level detective story from extrareading.com , students were grouped together heterogeneously based on academic reading levels. I believe that there is a time and place for homogeneous groupings, but I also want my more skilled students to be an inspiration and support for my lesser skilled students because we ALL had skills we needs to work on and we are all in this together. Students were charged with solving the crime of the slain endangered green dragon in the kingdom. I am dressed as the head of the Department of SIOG (Significantly Important Operational Geniuses) who has come to the class to ask for their help and to brief them on their mission...
There were five suspects and several eye witnesses. Students read through several pages of eye-witness accounts, testimony, and evidence, collaboratively took notes, asked questions, created charts and drawings, and worked together to make sense of what might have happened.
Students of all reading levels were able to participate. Some read the text part by part, some elicited excellent and thought-provoking questions, some provided possible angles and alternative explanations based on the testimony. Whatever their contribution, everyone participated and felt successful.
Some groups succeeded in figuring out the actual truth to what happened to the poor dragon. Others did not. However, the level of engagement, the level of conversation and negotiation with textual evidence, the respectful collaboration that occurred during this activity was far more important than the right answer.
THIS is what I mean by being an "idea-driven" rather than an "answer-driven" classroom. Sometimes, especially in learning situations, it is more about the journey and experience of the activity than the correct answer that makes the greatest impact on students.
Notice where they are working, that all students are engaged and a variety of strategies and approaches are being used to solve the problem.
So be fearless in your approach, release the students to their own learning. Set up an environment in which all students feel safe to take risks, supported by you and their peers in their thinking, and where effort and authentic chances are rewarded. Answers aren't always the most important thing. Sure they have their place…like on assessments…but if we don't teach kids to LOVE learning and to feel capable and free to explore EVERY angle of problems, then we are simply teaching them that there is always an answer and that if they can't figure it out, they must not be capable. This unspoken and hopefully unintentional lesson happens daily in our classes… and we must not allow for it anymore. Be fearless, let your students be fearless. They deserve the chance.