A Review Session Worth Keeping

On Monday of this week, my students took a test. It didn’t go too well. It’s a pretty important concept (solving equations and inequalities), so it was more than worth it for us to take the week to review and cement some of the skills we needed. There were a lot of absences over the past couple weeks, including a day by me and 2 snow days, so this also served as a great chance to fill in some of the gaps individual students missed.

Tomorrow, we re-test. After 4 class periods of work, we’re ready. But that’s not what this post is about. That’s just teaching; it’s not blog post worthy.

This post is about our last class today.

We often do review activities before our unit assessments. We’ve done jeopardy-style games, practice tests, journaling. . .really anything we can do to review what we’ve learned and prepare to show what we know. Today’s last class was our review.

But today, I tried something different.

To start with, we put problems to solve on the walls. 20 in all. And they were all over the room.

Next, we had to equip ourselves. Calculators, paper and pencils, and our clickers.

Here were the rules:

  • Everyone answers every question, in any order they wish
  • When a student has answered all the questions, they are to see Mr. Wyzlic to see how they did
  • If they didn’t get them all correct, they are to go back and fix their mistakes

 

That’s still nothing worth blogging about. But there were more rules.

  • When a student gets all 20 questions right, they earn 2 points
  • They then are to go and help others
  • Everyone who helps another student earns a point
  • Everyone who accepts help from another student earns a point
  • Anyone who just “gives” an answer (even an incorrect one) loses a point
  • No students can earn points for helping until they’re finished

 

The person who gets the most points gets…I dunno, something. I think I actually said this in class. Then I said maybe candy or an extra credit point or something. We actually didn’t agree on a reward. Turns out we didn’t need one.

We talked about how to approach someone to help them, and how to accept the help. They were wonderful in practice. Then, it was time to let them loose.

It took a little bit, but once someone got all 20 right, they started falling like dominoes. Soon, I became busier than I thought I would be. I kept having students come up to me to see how they did, and then others coming up saying “Mariah helped me on two problems,” or “I helped Carson and Naomi.” Other things I overheard:

  • “This is easy!” — a student who often gives up before starting (it wasn’t as easy as he made it sound — he was just prepared, and it was a non-threatening environment)
  • “Finally!” — a student who all week was very vocal about not being able to do this, when she finished all 20 problems. Let that one sink in. She was so caught up in doing the work properly, that she was excited that she was finished. Getting all 20 correct was an after thought, like she expected to eventually get them all.
  • “Who needs help?”
  • “I need help!”
  • “James just helped Shelby, and Karli helped Trevor.”
  • Only mentioned once: “who has the most points?” They didn’t seem to care.

By the way, by the end of the hour, my 41 students had answered the questions at an 81% success rate. That’s over 30% better than they did on Monday. I’m excited for them to take this test tomorrow. But more than that, I’m excited for the culture of my classroom. We help each other. We build each other up. We’re in this together, and we’re here for one another. I could not be more proud of my 7th graders than I was today. Though I’m excited to see what they’ll show me next.

When Awesome Goes Wrong

You may have seen this video. You may not have. Watch it. It’s pretty awesome.

How cool is that? This guy is not only passionate about his job, but also about his family. He loves both to the point where he had to put himself on the line for the benefit of himself, his family, and his audience.

But. . .did you catch it? The moment where it all goes horribly wrong? Watch it again. Here; I’ll even link it again. Be sure to watch it all the way through.

This man puts himself out there in a very difficult way. He’s doing something that is different, potentially embarrassing, but also no doubt a lot of fun to do. And then he’s done. His work has been shown, and those of us who are not him are left to react.

And his coworkers, oh, they react.

“I’ve gotta ask — what’s wrong with you?”

Well, I’m sure that makes him feel good about what he did. But that’s the sports guy. He’s supposed to represent some macho, I’m-not-going-to-sing-and-make-fun-of-those-who-display-passion-for-not-sports stereotypical guy, right? Surely the anchors will do better, right?

“Aunt Helen would look right you in the eye and say ‘there’s something wrong with that boy.'”

Laughter. Laughter. Laughter.

Even the weatherman gets in on the act, saying that his son looked at him with shame upon hearing the audio track. Because what position is he in to defend himself, when his coworkers are poking fun of him on the air? Of course he’s going to join in. It’s what we humans do if we put ourselves out there and are mocked. We join in on the mocking, so we are making fun of that thing we did, and detaching ourselves from it. “Look at that silly thing I did — good thing I’m not really like that, right guys?”

Did you catch what was lost in all this? You may not have heard it — I completely missed it the first time I watched.

“So good.”

Two simple words of praise, swept aside by the tornado of laughing mockery. It’s a lot easier to laugh and ask what is wrong with someone when they do something awesome and different than it is to offer your support. It’s even harder when the support is laughed under the table.

 

So why do I blog about this here, on the blog of a teacher? Surely the connection isn’t hard for you to make.

How often do we see this take place in our schools? How often does one student put himself or herself out there in a way that makes them feel good, but is clearly different from the norm? A student decides to sing his or her presentation. The football star is also in the marching band. The actor decides to try a spring sport instead of the spring musical. A typically low-achieving student does well on a test. Someone reads a book — and likes it.

What do we hear?

“Well that was strange.” “Look at the nerd!” “You did well — must have been a fluke!” A lot of laughter.

What do these things say?

“Don’t be different.” “Don’t try new things.” “Don’t ever do that again.” “You’re stupid.”

What are we, as teachers, doing to stop this in our hallways, in our classrooms, and perhaps from our own mouths? I don’t have the answer, but I do know we sure as hell can’t allow it to happen, even once, even in a small amount.

Because, let’s face it: the world needs more singing weathermen.

Why I Keep My Door Open

In my school, the first bell of the day rings at 8:05, and the first class begins at 8:10. Breakfast begins around 7:30, and most students are in and around the cafeteria or milling around the halls by 7:45. Our administrators are usually in the halls around 7:50, and a few teachers are out, keeping an eye on the students. However, most teachers are in their rooms, doors locked, prepping for the day. Many of our teachers have no prep hour, so their time before school is precious to them.

But the students, for those 20 minutes, don’t really have a place to be.

So my door: it’s open.

It was slow at first. A few 7th graders popped their heads in when they arrived, saying hi and talking for a few minutes before they went to the cafeteria to wait for their friends to arrive.

Then they stayed in my room for a little bit longer, and their friends met them in my room before they went off to eat breakfast.

After all, my door: it’s open.

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been moving in my classroom library. This has required some student help schlepping boxes into the room in the morning. It’s been easy to ask a few students to come out to my car and help out. After all, they were in the room to begin with, and they grabbed some friends from the halls on the way out.

I barely even had to ask for help. After all, my door: it’s open.

Last week, even more students have been coming in my room before school starts. They help out: changing the dates on my board and straightening up the desks. Some have taken it upon themselves to take the chairs down from the night before.

And then the magic started happening. The 7th grade girls have decided to make my room their place to hang out. A couple boys tried to come in, and they said “No boys allowed!” To which I reminded them that I’m a boy, and I’m also in charge of my classroom, and they cannot ban anyone. So the boys came in. And they started talking. And, of course, I gave my input where it was appropriate. The students have come to respect me in ways other than as their math teacher.

Here’s the best part: while the students were talking in my room which at that point was set up for the day (despite that I hadn’t had to lift a finger), some students came by my desk to let me know of some things going on in their lives. I’ll respect their privacy here and not share the details, but it’s not things that would just come out during class. The students needed a safe zone. And now I have a greater rapport with them than I ever could have otherwise. I teach 40+ of them at once, which doesn’t leave a lot of space for building that student-teacher relationship. But I know that tomorrow, I will have bands to talk about with some students, parents to talk about with some students, and a safe place to extend to all students.

And that’s why my door: it’s open.