Just before Thanksgiving, we had a meeting of the minds. All the sophomore teachers and the administration got together, to discuss “what to do with the sophomores.” By luck or by happenstance, a double handful of students in the sophomore class have been dominating the majority of our time. They throw things in class (remember playdough boy?), argue when caught misbehaving, and disrupt the learning of the people around them. As the Ohio Graduation Test looms larger in our minds, something had to change.
Well, I have spent a considerable amount of time, trying to “flip” my classroom this year. At first, my principal was supportive, allowing me to experiment, but as the year has progressed, we have both grown increasingly frustrated. For the last several weeks in my general English class, I have asked them to create meaning from our classroom novel. They have applied various reading strategies, such as making textual connections, inferring from context clues, and determining what is most important about the text, with support from me. Some days, we have practiced close reading techniques in a discussion forum, and we’ve used graphic organizers to examine indirect characterization. I haven’t been telling them what is important, but drawing from them key elements and supporting them as they explore the novel. Some students have blossomed and really enjoyed the novel, while others have been a disruption and a problem.
My principal has clearly expressed that he wants more teacher directed lessons from everyone, because he feels that teacher centered classrooms are more orderly with less discipline problems. Apparently, critical thinking and problem solving, with its messy, active space, are less attractive to him than orderly rows and quiet students. He told me that he feels the sophomores are not mature enough to handle the freedom of choice. When recording “on task” vs “off task” behavior, he observes more on task behavior when the teacher tells the students what to do.
This isn’t all bad news. The administration informed us that we should warn a student who breaks a rule, letting them know that the next infraction would result in a consequence. If a student protests either the warning or the consequence, we could tell them to report to the office and assign them a consequence. Whatever we assigned them, the office would double if they had to be removed from class. I for one breathed a sigh of relief. If every sophomore class is treated the same way, then maybe my double handful will finally start to grow up.
This Tuesday, he met with the entire sophomore class, and the outcome has been startling. I will blog tomorrow about what has happened.