“I’m not mad. You are not in trouble. My goal is not to make you feel bad or guilty. My goal is simply to acknowledge the reality that you are not reading Night and to offer you an alternative. Promise. It’s all good.”
This is the gist of a conversation that I had with a total of 10 kids yesterday from all four of my LA10 Honors classes. Of my 112 kids from these classes, I have 10 who have decided not to read Night. In my post, Big Kids, Big Choices, I made clear that in this they would have a choice, and I will honor that choice; I will walk that walk. Of course I am disappointed. I absolutely want every kid to read Night, but my twenty-two years in the classroom have taught me that this is a rare reality. So, in this, my goal is to live the real reality. Some kids won’t read the books we put in front of them–no matter what we do. I have come to accept this, but my acceptance does not end in apathy; it leads to alternatives.
Yesterday, my kids had three options.
Option 1: If you have read chapters 4-6, you will participate with your peers in the “Table Talk” activity to prepare for tomorrow’s performance.
Option 2: If you have not finished chapters 4-6, you will have time to read to prepare for tomorrow’s performance.
Option 3: If you are not reading Night, you will read Doris Lessing’s short story “Through the Tunnel” to prepare for tomorrow’s performance.
Of course, not all options are created equally. The kids who participated in Option 1 will likely be the best prepared for today’s performance. Their choices to read will benefit them as they were able to dig into the text with their peers in the “Table Talk.” But their “reward” was not intended to be punishment for those who were not ready. Still, in truth, those who did not read did, indeed, missed an opportunity, and this is at the core of my approach in the 180 classroom. I provide opportunities and kids make choices. And while they cannot get back that opportunity, all is not lost. I did not design the performance to “catch” kids. I designed the performance to give kids a fair shot at demonstrating proficiency with our standards, regardless their choices. I believe I have to give every kid an opportunity to demonstrate learning, even if that means providing an opportunity outside the boundaries of the planned unit. The kids who are not reading Night are missing out on many opportunities, and it is my sincere hope that as we continue our journey, they more carefully consider their choices, choosing to seize those opportunities rather than letting them get away. Opportunities. Choices.
In the past, I would not have approached it in this manner. I would have stayed the course. The kids who were prepared would be rewarded. The kids who were not would be punished. But I am no longer that teacher. I am no longer making decisions on the basis of reward and punishment. I am different. I am no longer interested in the convention of compliance. I am instead deeply intrigued by the promise of commitment. But that is a different place, a different land, so I have to, then, do things differently. And different is…well, different. I do not have it all figured out. Mistakes and fails are constant companions, but I find them better company than “it’s how we’ve always done it.” I am not convinced that the commitment I seek for my kids lives in the context of convention. So I try to find unconventional ways of doing things. My kids who are not reading Night will take a similar performance to the kids who are. No, this is not ideal. But it is real. And just as I ask my big kids to make big choices, I, too, make big choices. I could choose to punish them, or I could choose to make the most of the situation and provide an opportunity. Really, it’s a pretty easy choice.
Here is the performance the kids will take today.
Along today’s trail we will…
...begin with Smiles and Frowns.
…take the performance.
…end with a Sappy Sy Rhyme.
Happy Friday, all.
Do. Reflect. Do Better.