Yesterday, I made a withdrawal on an investment. It was not planned, but the moment found me, and I moved on it. It happened as I was wrapping up the last few feedback conferences in 6th period. The conversation below was the catalyst.
Cheyenne: (quietly, anxiously) Hey, Sy, can I still turn in those essays that I didn’t do?
Me: Of course. Always. If you find value in doing them. Is it because they are showing up as missing in the grade book?
Cheyenne: Well, no. Yes. I mean. I just feel bad for not doing them.
Me: Okay, but I don’t want you to feel bad. I don’t take it personally. Of course I am disappointed that you didn’t do them, because I believe you are missing out on opportunities. But I am not going to hold it against ya, kiddo.
Cheyenne: (with sincerity) But I want to do them.
Me: Well, of course you can, but I maybe have a better idea. Let’s chalk it up as what’s done is done. We are not so far along that you are being left behind, and there will be plenty other practice opportunities around these skills, so let’s not worry about catching up on what’s passed; let’s instead focus on what’s to come. The choice is yours chica, but I’d rather see you take this experience and commit to making a more concerted effort to capitalize on future opportunities, than overwhelming yourself with both. Okay?
Cheyenne: Okay. Thank you.
That concluded the conferences, and I was then on to helping kids with their My Learning projects, circulating around the room, engaging them in conversations about their topics, helping them find that “just-right” EQ. But, as I circulated, I reflected. I reflected on my moments-ago conversation with Cheyenne about her missing work. I reflected on the feedback–push back–I was still getting on the essay of the week. I reflected on some private doubts that occasionally seep into brain about 180. And, then, I decided. I decided it was time. It was time to make a withdrawal on the thirty days of deposits that I had put into P-180 and the kids.
It was in the last few minutes of the period. I asked for the kids’ attention. Sat in front them. And began by sharing–with permission–Cheyenne’s and my conversation. One, I wanted to show her that she was not alone. Two, I wanted to use it as leverage to get my less-productive kids to reflect on their own choices a month into the year. And, finally, three, I wanted to use it as an opportunity to continue my ongoing efforts to get the kids to see learning differently. And, it was then that I decided to make a withdrawal by calling kids out with a let’s-get-real/tough-love conversation about their learning. It went a little like this.
“Okay, since we’re here, I’m gonna call a big fat BS on the essay-of-the-week bashing. First, generally speaking, the ones complaining aren’t the ones doing. And if you’re not doing them, I’m not entirely sure what you’re whining about. And quite frankly, as time goes on, the less you do, the less I am willing to listen. Sorry.
Second, let’s take a closer look at what it is that I am asking you to do with the essay. It is a practice opportunity. It is a structured activity for you to practice getting your thoughts on paper in an organized, purpose-driven manner. I have set a 250 word maximum, asking you to spend no more than 15-20 minutes. 15-20 minutes per week. When was the last time that any of your other teachers gave you 20 minutes of homework–for the week? The week. And on top of that, more or less, I generally provide at least that much time in class, so really for some, it’s never homework. Beyond that, it is my opportunity to give you feedback on one, never more than two, learning targets, directly linked to upcoming performance opportunities. In addition, you have made a lot of comments about the EOW’s, and I have listened and responded. I have not only stated and restated my case for them, but I have also indicated that I will find ways to lighten the load when I can. This week, I did not give you an EOW because we have an assessment. And, last week, your EOW was a “3-sentence essay. This is too much?
And, finally, third, let’s take a look at your learning. Your learning. I have given you ownership, and with that comes responsibility. And frankly, some of you have yet to take that responsibility, and that worries me. If you are not practicing, you’re probably not learning. Learning requires feedback. And if you are not turning practice into me, I can’t give you feedback. And you are missing out.
So, what’s the plan, chicos? We are a month in, and there have not been so many missed opportunities, but as we continue down this path, a path that is not going to change, I’m not sure how many opportunities you can afford to miss. I am here. I will give you all I have–all, but that is not enough. In the end it comes down to you; it comes down to how much you give. I think it’s time to start giving yourself more, young friends. After all, It’s your learning.”
And the period ended. Abigail gave me a fist bump and thanked me for the pep talk, the rest of the kids said “laters,” and we went on our way. I’d like to think that my withdrawal yesterday did not put me in the red, for I believe I have made ample deposits to this point, but if it did upset the balance, I will continue making deposits until all is righted. I have two more withdrawals to make in 2nd and 3rd period. Ah, the many pleasures of teaching.
Happy Wednesday, all.