24.08.2014 -31 °F
I wish that I could say that this picture depicted my classroom. Although they look so cute in their two straight lines like Madeline in Paris, they aren’t. They are cute and adorable, and they do wear uniforms on Mondays. But wow, there is a language barrier; this is my first time teaching seventh and eighth grade; they are everything that every middle school teacher says they are—and I love them for that. There is no high school apathy or lethargy. They bounce into the classroom. Do not worry, I say, I will let you answer the question! Do not worry, I will find a book that you have not read!!! Please speak English! And when they do speak English????? They are bright, smart, beautiful and energetic. I love it. For once, I am not the only one dancing in the classroom. Mis Lisa! Mis! Mis! Mis! It is like a bunch of baby birds chirping. It is, however, sometimes hard to get a word in edgewise. Their levels of understanding are spread out, so the ones who do understand, rattle a translation to the ones who don’t. It was a wonderful mix of chaotic learning for the first week. We were ALL learning. I was learning as much as they were, and that is exciting.
I always start my classes with the blindfold game. Every time I do it, I ask myself why, and by the end of the week I know why. I split the students into two groups: teachers and students. The students put on blindfolds. They may talk to each other and to the teachers. They also may touch each other. I pull the teachers aside and tell them that they need to get the students to get in a circle and put their hands on their heads. However, the teachers are not allowed to speak. Then I step back and watch. You can imagine the results. Mis! Mis! I just shrug my shoulders and send them back into the fray. The teachers clap and stomp; all of the students talk at once. NO ONE communicates, everyone is frustrated. Some kids give up. Perfect chaos. Sometimes, I ask them to freeze, and give them hints: is this working? If it is not working maybe you should try something else. Then they go back to their antics. This is universal behavior. I have never had a group succeed on the first task. Then I have the students switch roles. Sometimes the new “students” figure out that they are the ones who need to ask questions in order to understand the teachers. Sometimes they don’t. Then we debrief: what happened? so what? what next?
I answered the what happened question in the previous paragraph. So what did I learn? I learned that the first method of communication is to make as much noise as possible. I learned that people are more concerned with themselves than with the group. I learned that students feel that it is the teacher’s job to teach, so that when they are confused they shut down and cannot communicate, so they talk to their friends. I learned that teachers lose their patience when their students do not do what they tell them to do. I learned that students think that teachers are solely responsible for making them understand. I learned that most students think that asking questions makes them stupid. I learned that the sense of touch is powerful. I learned that connection to the teacher is essential.
What Next? This is a prediction of how we will use what we learned during the activity. Standing in front of the classroom, with students who struggle with language, I found myself feeling the way my students felt when they were trying to get their blindfolded peers to complete a task. A teacher who does not listen and change her behavior to meet the needs of her students is never going to make it. How can I adjust my behavior? Less is more. Already I am adjusting to a 50 minute block instead of 90 minutes, so that will help. Pairing and sharing so that students can help each other understand is essential. Most importantly, as I become a student of this culture and this language, appreciate what learning feels like, sounds like, and looks like.
It may not always sound like twelve little girls in two straight lines. Sometimes it sounds like 12 little Madelines. I will follow Miss Clavel’s lead – try to give them structure, guide them through the tough stuff, and recognize when something is just not right.