Friday, August 21, 2009

Flexible Iron-Clad Structure

Today was devoted mostly to charting out the first month or so of lesson plans. This is often times a difficult task, as random things invariably arise that make you push lessons back a day or two. This might be particularly problematic this year as I am trying to implement a similarly-structured lesson each given day of the week. Mondays will be reading/introduction of material; Tuesdays- charts, maps graphs, etc.; Wednesdays- intensive vocabulary work; Thursdays- using time lines, working with Document-Based Questions (DBQs) and/or online activities when appropriate; Fridays- a quiz, and tying together the week’s material through the scope of citizenship.

I may very well give up on this structure, but I want things to be predictable for the students. Our students demand structure and predictability. When you vary from the norm they call you out on it immediately in one way or another- sometimes literally yelling it at you, sometimes acting out in a plethora of other ways to demonstrate their frustration, sometimes just struggling a bit to get to the point you’re trying to make. The funny thing is that they complain if you do the same thing all the time as well!A story to illustrate the point:A good friend of mine and three year veteran planned a lesson two years ago that required her to move the desks around the classroom before the students arrived. This can be quite a trick and shakes things up, which some students appreciate. When I was student teaching in Heidelberg, Germany, I used this trick all the time, sometimes staying at school until late figuring out how to precisely place desks in the room to form groups, set up a stage or create a factory simulation for instance. In this particular case she was arranging the classroom to set it up like courtroom.

Being certain that the students would enjoy the change from what they complained to be a generally monotonous classroom, she rearranged the desks as the simulation prescribed. Their reaction was less than desired, however. They walked into the classroom and immediately cried fowl pointing out that the teacher had messed up that classroom and it was unacceptable to them. They then took the initiative to move every desk back to its “proper” place, in spite of their teacher’s pleas to stop and certainly much to her chagrin. Needless to say she was left without a lesson for the day and had to wing it.

While this story certainly seems outlandish, these students are not incredibly different than their more privileged counterparts around the country. As humans, we crave structure and order in our lives. While this rings true more for some than others, every one of us requires a certain amount of predictability in our daily routines. In general this can be achieved in the home with parents and some siblings helping to establish a very routinized day to day existence beginning when one is woken up until the time one is sent to bed. This is not true for many of our students, which means the only structure they have- the only predictability they have every day is in a place they often times don’t particularly care for- school. Regardless of how the students feel about school, they crave the structure it gives them. To be fair and balanced, this is certainly not the case for a lot of our students. Contrary to popular belief, we have parents doing their damnedest to make sure their children grow up in the most stable and predictable environment possible- and against the odds. My hat’s off to them.

Anyway, I hope I can pull off this structure throughout the year. With all the holidays, parent conferences, random assemblies, state-mandated testing, school administration-mandated testing, fire drills and other interruptions thrown in it may be tough, though.

Wine of the Day: Mouton Cadet Bordeaux This guy is one that I buy pretty regularly. Apparently other folks do too. Of the two "Top 50 Wines for Under $10" lists that I’ve read, it made both. I strongly recommend it if you like Bordeaux. It’s an easy drink and it’s easy on the wallet.

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