Compare and Contrast: Classes

It's funny how differently two classes will respond to the exact same assignments. And it's funny how, after years of teaching, I'm just now beginning to take note of this.

My reading classes are going great, by the way, much better than last semester. I think the kids are more engaged, and they are definitely retaining what they learn a lot longer. That is a goal of mine, for them to remember SOMETHING I've taught them.

["Even if," I tell them, "the only thing you learn in this class is that A LOT IS ALWAYS TWO WORDS!!!" And they have learned that, I think, because I don't get as many papers that say There were alot of insouciant kids when we got a snow day. anymore.

"It's like nails on a chalkboard to me," I say, "when I read that on a paper." And now, when someone talks to me and uses awful grammar ("Ms. Flower, I don't know no sentences for allude!") and I try not to do a full-body wince, this one kid makes a motion like he's dragging his fingernails down a chalkboard and grins at me.]

Anyway, today we did, as we always do, vocabulary and then reading. I have found that flashcards are very useful for helping kids remember their words and definitions, but I have also found that supplying the construction paper for their flashcards puts a hefty dent in my bank account. So I showed them how to make ten flashcards on one piece of paper (I might explain this at a later time) and let them do their thing.

Class X finished up their flashcards in twenty minutes, practiced with a partner, and were ready to move on.

Class Y--bless their hearts--took a lot longer, because they wanted their flashcards to be PERFECT. They were measuring and drawing lines on a straight-edge and asking for more paper if they thought their creations were anything less than pristine. And then they wanted to decorate them and show them off, and ... it's not that I mind that they are interested in the activity, but, as I told them, "You're focusing on the wrong thing! I want you to remember your WORDS, and the straightness of your lines does not add or detract from those definitions!"

After most everybody was finished with their flashcards, we went over the vocab words as a class. I always do an oral review--every day--to help them keep the words fresh in their minds. ("So if you're driving down the road and you see ten military trucks all in a row, what is that?" "A fleet!" the chosen student will shout. I love their enthusiasm; I see it a lot more often now.)

And then we move on to reading comprehension. Now, Class X, when I tell them to put away their vocabulary stuff, will say, "Oh boy! Is it story time??!!" like it's the best thing in the whole world. And they all sit up straight in their chairs and reach for their printed stories and furrow their little brows as they read. It is really amazing. I do not know how I lucked out with them.

Class Y, though ... I tried this today: when I told them to put away their flashcards, I said, "Okay, it's STORY TIME!!" which would have gone over like gangbusters in Class X, but in this one, not so much. So I had to recover: "Today the story is about a giant blimp that explodes!"

"THE HINDENBURG!" somebody exclaimed, and frankly I was surprised they'd heard of it, since I never heard of it until after I graduated--from college.

(I've found that if I want kids to get interested in reading, I have to have a good buildup:
"Today we're reading about FINDING MONEY!"
"Today we're reading about A HORRIBLE PLANE CRASH!"
"Today we're reading about THE WORST SCIENCE PROJECT EVER!"
The more I sound like that movie announcer-guy, the more they're interested.)

Sometimes I find that I have to adjust my own presentation based on what class I'm in. Class X understands that some of the things I say are meant to be jokes, but I try to be a little more straightforward with Class Y; we are just getting to know each other right now.

On the other hand, when I read aloud to Class X, I give a very no-nonsense reading, we discuss the story when I'm done, and they take a test. They like to get things done; they're very efficient, but not in a robotic way.

With Class Y--and this is so funny to me--they love it when I "do the voices," like, when there are characters in a fiction story they want them all to sound different, so I do it; I'm not ashamed. Whatever keeps them engaged, that's what I'll do. With them, I will stop during the story and discuss things, especially touching on how the reading relates to them personally, and we have more discussion after the story, and then they take the test. Class Y is a lot more talkative; it's a larger class, so the students are very different and there are many viewpoints to consider.

Every year I've had to fill out this form, this reflection on my year of teaching. One of the questions on the form is something like, "What have you learned about your teaching methods?" I was filling it out recently, and I thought (but did not write), "Shoot, I have been teaching FOREVER. There is nothing more for me to learn!"

Turns out, I was wrong. And I could not be more pleased.

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