Today was my first day volunteering at the elementary school for the 2011-2012 academic year. For the first 20-30 minutes of class, kids read to me 1-on-1. I’m there to listen, to support, and to coach/correct/cajole as needed. But mostly, I’m there to ‘just’ care – to show each child that there is at least one adult in the world who doesn’t “have” to spend time with them, but who wants to. Then, for the next 45-60 minutes, I lead the entire class through a lesson of my own design. Generally speaking, the lessons are constructed to help the students develop critical thinking skills and/or increased comfort with ambiguity – i.e., to help them learn that life is not all about a single ‘right’ answer, but that the world involves a bajillion shades of gray.
Right from the beginning, I want the kids to understand that their time spent with me is not a one-way stream of communication (in either direction), but rather, a genuine collaboration/co-creation. So for this first group lesson, I had each student think of what they most want to learn in second grade – and then write a sentence about the topic, and draw a picture representing it.
The students delighted in the opportunity to share what they wanted to learn this year, and quickly began working rather intensely on their sentences. As they wrote, I walked around the room, re-directing students who got distracted, spelling words for students who were uncertain, encouraging students who were lagging. One boy raised his hand, called me over to his desk, then asked me, “What about ‘audition’?”
I was a little confused. “Do you want to know how to spell ‘audition’?” I asked him.
“Well, maybe,” he replied. “But first I want to know what it is. Can you explain it to me?”
Yikes, talk about a difficult word to define! I thought for a few seconds, then began, “Well, um… okay, so let’s pretend that you might want to be in a play, or join a band, okay? But before you can get in, the person in charge of the play or band might make you, um…. [pause, mental scramble]…perform for a little bit to see if you are good. So that short performance is an ‘audition’. Does that make sense?”
Mercifully, the boy nodded ‘yes’ – but he also looked a bit dejected. I asked him what was wrong, and he said, “That’s not the word I want.”
“Oh, well, okay,” I assured him. “That’s not a problem. Why don’t you describe the word you are trying to think of, and I’ll see if I can help you find it?”
The boy’s face lit up. Brilliant! He began, “So you know in math, you can add and you can take away… but then there’s another type of math you can do, and it’s not ‘audition’, it’s….” and his voice trailed off, the word so close, yet so far.
I smiled at him. “Ohhhhh,” I began, “do you mean ‘multiplication‘?” I finished.
The boy got very excited. “Yes! That’s it!” he nearly yelled. “Multiplication!” He was delighted.
“Okay,” I started in, “so you spell it m-u-l-t-i-p-l-i-c-a-t-i-o-n.” I paused between each letter, and the boy scribed them one-by-one onto his paper.
The boy looked very satisfied with his sentence; then looked up at me very earnestly, and said, “Multiplication. So, what is it?”
Too funny. These kids already crack me up; I can tell it’s going to be a pretty engaging year.
P.S. Here’s a summary of what all of the students want to learn about this year:
* Tornadoes (5 students)
* Space (3 students)
* Science (3 students)
* Math and reading (2 students – but they each wrote “math and reading”)
* Dogs (1), cats (1), and dinosaurs (1)
* The planets (1 student)
* Cores of the earth (1 student)
* Earthquakes (1 student)
* Geography around Spain, France, and Portugal (1 student who adores soccer)
* Multiplication (1 student: see above)
* “How flowers bloom and how brothers get born” (1 student)
Hmm…. I might save that last one for third grade… 😉