Thursday, September 13, 2012

Naked teaching

We interrupt our regularly-neglected programming to bring you thoughts on "what I’ve learned from our week of small-group schooling (in brief)." (Future generations and foreigners reading this may want to know that this is occasioned by the Chicago Teachers' Strike of 2012.) When you have a classroom full of kids, it’s fairly easy to get them all to do the same thing. You put on an air of command, say “sit down,” they all sit down. You say “listen,” and you can even get them (yeah, it may take some barking and nipping at the heels of the wanderers) all to sit quietly and look up at whatever you’re showing them. When you’ve only got two or three, they’re a lot harder to control. They each want to talk more—no, they all want to talk, all the time. Except for the one(s) who never want to talk (but with them, you can’t say to yourself, well, he’s quiet and not disturbing the class; he must be doing ok). You have to get them all to buy in to what you’re doing, because there’s no pressure to conform working in your favor. You have to work harder. You can tell when they’re not learning, when their attention is wandering, when you just haven’t got the right tone or metaphor or explanation. You work harder, you re-pitch what you’re saying, you have to reach each of them individually. You have to work harder. They learn more. They work harder (Evidence: Nellie has been completely exhausted every night this week.). There’s no hiding in a class of three: they can’t hide behind a superficial conformity; you can’t hide behind public persona, and, more importantly, the group pressure to conform that can make it look like they’re all learning. Differences between kids stand out. The ones who get whatever you’re talking about get it, and want to move on. They can’t—they realize they don’t have to—slack through something they can do quickly. The ones who don’t get it on the first go-round—you can’t move on until they’re ready, because you can see it in every part of their bodies when they haven’t got it yet. You have to figure out how to resolve this. It’s exhausting and great. It’s not scalable (though the really great classroom teachers come close).