And they finally worked as a team

Yesterday was a beautiful thing. The class that had been at each other’s throats somehow transformed before my eyes into a functioning learning community. And I owe it all to zombies.

If you’ve read earlier posts, you’ll know that I spent several weeks trying to build a sense of community in my classes this year, using a Zombie unit. We focused on being prepared, working together, and staying focused. Really, regardless of the disaster, these three community builders will help. And last year’s classes had felt a lot like a disaster. And it worked–for the most part, people settled down to work together and stay focused, with occasional lapses of being prepared.

Except for 7th period. Gentle reader, if you want to read only good news, skip to the subheading below. Otherwise, read on. Just as a for instance, it is one of my policies that if we are in the library, students can excuse themselves to go to restroom, which is right around the corner. On Monday, we renewed our silent reading books in the library. While we waited for everyone to renew their books, I watched one girl (let’s call her T) stand around and talk to her friend. Not a problem, I thought, she must have renewed her book earlier. After about ten minutes, we headed back to my room. As I am settling them back down in their seats and trying to begin that day’s lesson, T suddenly shouts, “I have to pee!”

“Where is your planner?” I wearily ask her, knowing the answer already, as we have talked about her planner for several days in a row.

“It’s right here, but you know I don’t have any hall passes.”

“I’m sorry, T, but we’ve talked about this before. I can’t let you leave my room without a pass.” Note that my room is half way across the school from the bathroom.

And so it went, for at least another five minutes of class time. She knows, because I and others have told her, that she could get another planner from the office. She knows the school’s policy of passes in the hallway. She knows she’s not supposed to use anyone else’s passes in anyone else’s planner.

So I ask her, “Why didn’t you go while we were in the library?”

“I didn’t have to go then,” she claims. As this inane conversation goes on and on, students are opining how mean I am, how other teachers would let T go, or how they would lend her their planner. One or two kids remind her that she could always get a planner, but really, the main problem here is we wasted instructional time on one student’s lack of preparation. Also, that student spent the rest of the period disrupting instruction (with the occasional comments about how much she had to pee)and not getting anything done herself.

Granted, it was nothing like last year’ students, although it might sound as bad.

The Miracle

And then on Wednesday something miraculous happened. We were working on looking up articles in a database, so students could have a Socratic Seminar about their topic and follow up with a research paper. In addition, we worked on the technology skills of using keyboard shortcuts for copying and pasting, permalinking, and adding links into a shared Google document. All part of my 21st Century classroom, but all skills they really haven’t mastered yet. One student had spent time in study hall getting the last of his articles before class. So I said, “Well, McF, you can start reading articles and deciding which ones from your group’s list will best support your argument, or you can help the other students.”

And McF got up and started walking around the room, helping. Although earlier in the day, my other classes had easily followed my directions and went to town, this class was full of folks who had “misplaced” their directions. They couldn’t figure out why nothing copied, or why their links didn’t look like my example. Quietly, without a fuss, McF helped them all. As other students finished, they took a page from his book and helped the others.

All week, I had a cart of Chromebooks to supplement the 14 that stay in my room permanently. At the end of the day, I have had to sort the computers into two groups: the ones that get plugged into my cabinet and the ones that go back downstairs. Well, that day I had student helpers. After asking me how I could tell the difference between the two, students quietly put back all the computers.

I truly think that if I had not spent time in the beginning of the year working on how they needed to be a team, we wouldn’t have had a successful period. No one deliberately deleted anyone else’s work from the computer. No one mocked the computer skills of anyone else. No one threw a fit about their planner. It was a beautiful thing.

Zombies Everywhere!

Ever since I heard about #TLAP (Teach Like A Pirate), by Dave Burgess, I’ve been thinking. What can I do to capture my students’ attention on day 1? Establish a relationship, learn more about them?

Well, I’d already decided to teach an Informational Text unit on Zombies, to establish how to take notes from videos and articles, to create inquiry questions and research their answers, to evaluate the validity of claims, and as a lead in to how to read graphic novels. Although we will only read part of the first chapter of The Walking Dead, by Robert Kirkman, it will be a great lead in as how to read to Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, a graphic novel about the Iranian Revolution of the 1970s.

So, in order to get to know my students, and to set the tone for my first unit, we’ll be creating a zombie bug-out bag. Students can draw the top five most important things in their life, or write a list, which they will then describe to a partner. The partners will then introduce their fellow student to the class, and explain one thing their partner said was important and had to come, in case of a disaster. In this way, I will start to learn their names. To add to the excitement, it will at this point only be an “emergency” bag, and they won’t know what disaster has befallen our fair city. Hopefully, this activity will help me to #TLAP!