My students don’t need me anymore!
And that’s just how I like it. Except for history lectures, at this point, students are working almost completely independently, keeping pace with each other, and helping each other out. Occasionally, I answer a question, or I help them find where to get the information, or I intervene when two students are at loggerheads about how to move forward, but mostly, I let them lead. In small groups, I hear questions like, “What do you think we should do?” directed at the quietest member of the group. Or I hear, “I don’t mean to be rude, but can we move on?” in response to someone getting off track. I’ve heard, “Go get the dictionary,” this week. And I watch over it all, keeping an ear on each group and listening for the place where they might need me to step in. I feel a little like a mother hen looking over my industrious little peeps.
Once, many, many years ago, a vice-principal asked me how my day was going. I remember telling her how each class seemed to be on its game. The time was flying, and I was really enjoying teaching. She looked at me and said, “Mark this day in your memory because not all days are going to be like this one. You may need it to help pull you through the days that aren’t like this one.” I didn’t quite know how to take the comment. I was only in my second year of teaching in the US, so I knew how precious these days were. But I was also a little annoyed that the assumption was that most days would be crappy. I began to wonder how to make each day more like that one. It became clear to me that the more students were independent learners within the classroom, the more likely it was that we would all have a good day.
Right now the class is all abuzz because they are writing questions for their History game. The game happens tomorrow, and if they do well, they don’t have to take the test. It’s worth it to them to write good questions and to study them. It is worth it to them to work together to find questions that are test worthy.
Just before, they were in PE. It is a rare, beautiful day here in the Puget Sound. It didn’t make sense for them to be in the gym, so they went out in the forest and played capture the flag. They used the blue and the red Nintendo Toad stuffed critters of course, but it is the same concept. Other than helping them vote on the game they wanted and splitting them into teams, I did little but walk out with them, and stand around in case anyone tripped on a tree root. They defined the rules of play.
In writing class, we are reading My Path Leads to Tibet and writing out Reading Journals for each chapter. Students work together to read through the chapter, brainstorm the synopsis, and find transitional words and phrases. (We’re working on Organization.) I sit here listening to them, putting all their game questions into a single document, and making sure that they are engaged. But there is little worry about that. They don’t want homework and they know that this activity can take only 20 minutes. They also like turning their thoughts into coherent paragraphs which say what they want the world to know.
This might sound like I have achieved the impossible here, but, darn it, we’ve worked for it. First of all, students had to learn how to be independent. To be independent, they have to be clear on the tools they need. They need to have the confidence to use a dictionary if they need one and to admit that they don’t know what a word means. They need to have clear boundaries. This allows them to stand up for the sacred space of learning and to be able to admit that they want it, no matter how dorky it might make them look to the others.
And all the work is paying off. They know the how-t0-do-it-ive-ness of being a scholar. They are independent learners and thinkers as proved by the risks they are willing to take in the reflections they write. They make me proud and oddly nostalgic for the days when I was the center of their attention.
On the other hand, I have time to reflect on the progress they’ve made. And to realize that today is a good day.