The Classroom

The Classroom is a podcast by a middle school writing teacher conferring with students about the books they read and issues in writing. The podcast strives to give students a voice about the impact of choice in the classroom and the reality of what works for them in the teaching of reading and writing.
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Nov 4, 2016

When conferring with adolescents, an awareness of body language plays a role. Sometimes students keep pecking away at their keyboard and never glance over at me, or they are headfirst in their notebook, pencils scrawling away--and they reply with a vague, "fine" or "my story" or "this idea I've been thinking about."

Scribble-scribble-scribble. Tap-Tap Tap-Tap-Tap.

And in that moment I have to make the decision to either interrupt their flow or to back away. Most often, I back away from writers in the zone. I read a few lines over a shoulder, and then I move on to someone else sending signals that a conversation would not be intrusive in their process--as a matter of fact, a conversation may help the process flow.

So, when I approached Anju, an 8th-grade student, he told me was thinking about cooking. A few times this year, he was written about cooking. Yet, for the first time, I caught him in the act of thinking about cooking.

"Tell me more."

He said so much in the span of three minutes that I asked him to have lunch with me so we could create a podcast about his thinking. And, what resulted (attached below) is a podcast where we talk a lot about cooking...a bit about a maker space camp...and his participation in a collaborative cooking challenge at his church...and then we dip into wrestling...and, of course, writing.

What I pull from my time with Anju are how our lives are trajectories of rich, overlapping connections and passions. Yet, for too long in my growth as a teacher, my actions did not demonstrate understanding that curriculum could be a part of each and every adolescent's separate personal trajectory. I was teaching writing in its own box. And grammar had its own space. As did reading. And vocabulary.

For too long, on any given day, students engaged in a curriculum (in my classroom) served up like a display in a museum that I built according to the blue-print handed to each teacher from above. Sometimes students observed in my museum silently. Sometimes they daydreamed and missed "my lesson." Sometimes they listened to me and absorbed something. Sometimes the experience featured a hands-on experience. And then, when we were done, when it was time for me to move on with my agenda, the experience faded into a memory that many forgot.

Conferring experiences like the one published below with Anju continue to push me to disassemble the museum model of teaching one piece of wood at a time. The hope is that Anju feels encouraged to write about anything on his mind...while still learning vocabulary, deep reading skills, grammar, and the tools of a writer. Anju, like many adolescents, engages in so much thinking in life outside of school that his thinking should be welcome inside of the classroom. Actually, it should be more than welcome. Anju's thinking should be a foundation for Anju's trajectory as a writer. 

If you listen to this episode of The Classroom, I hope you take something from the notion our time with adolescents, at least in part, is an act of helping them gain access to their thinking while connecting their thinking to the skills learned throughout the year in our classroom.