Monday, August 25, 2014

Diving Back into the Fray

It is one week before the official first day of school.  I have dutifully analyzed the data from a test that will no longer be given in order to boost student achievement on a test that has not yet been written, at least as far as I know (Joseph Heller must be chuckling to himself somewhere in the universe). 

But that's not really where my heart is. Data doesn't have a human face.  The children who walk into my classroom next week will be looking to me to engage their minds, many expecting that I won't. If I focus too much on the data as I plan my lessons, I'll fail them.

To me, a successful classroom looks like a caring community.  I want students who recognize each other as human beings, listen to each other, build each other up, and help each other learn. In a world filled with terrible listeners (and ineffective communicators), this may be a tall order, but I'm going to try anyway.

So how do I make this happen?  Not to take away from other educators out there, but I won't be passing around a roll of toilet paper on the first day of school to get kids to provide one personal fact for every square they've taken.  I want my students engaged in substantive conversations early and often, and I don't believe traditional team building activities will accomplish much more than some awkward giggles from uncomfortable people. I'm not here to say that I've found the answer to this question.  The truth is, my search for material to begin engaging conversations is exactly what has me stuck. Sort of. I'm considering various reading material as a springboard for conversation.

Here are my top contenders:

Listening is an Act of Love (recorded interviews of everyday people through the StoryCorps project) 
Wonder, by R.J. Palacio - the story of a boy with a sever facial deformity who is about to attend public school for the first time in his life
The Schwa Was Here, by Neil Shusterman, a YA novel that addresses the theme of invisibility (both literally and figuratively)

Each of these books is full of valuable life lessons and would be great to read aloud, but I haven't decided what I want to do yet.  All I know is that teaching my students the material they need to know in order to do better on the next nebulous assessment won't accomplish anything if they don't first feel that they are valuable members of a learning community, and that when they speak, others really hear what they have to say. 

The world would be a better place if everyone had powerful listening skills. The idealist in me wants a better world, and so far, higher test scores haven't proven to accomplish that.