I have not posted in a while!! During my high school student teaching I got so absorbed in everything that I was doing that I stopped making time for my journal or my blog! Oh well, you live and you learn! There is real value for me in written reflection.
I have been at J.B. Watkins elementary school now for 3 weeks with my masterful cooperating teacher, Mr. Chuck Rhode. What a ride. I am now taking over all but one component of one lesson. But let’s back up to last weeks epiphany…
I came up with a lesson inspired by some workshops done by Christine Hoffman and others over the years. I’ve seen presenters rave about how fun group work can be and how creative the students are when they put their heads together.
I put the 5th grade and the 2nd grade into groups of 5 or so and set them off on the task of creating their own folk dance or new lyrics to a song they know, respectively.
Ummm, yeah. So, I can pretty much call that my most disastrous lesson of my entire life. I did it 3 times the way I originally planned, so with two 5th grade classes and a 2nd grade class before I knew that something had to change. There were some groups that did well, but I was appalled by the groups that did not. One group that triggered my change was the worst. They had gotten to a complete stalemate, more than one group member had requested to change groups, to which I replied ‘That’s not the point of this.’ I tried mediating, to no avail. By the end of class, the entire group (2 boys and 3 girls) sat on the floor, arms crossed on the verge of tears.
As the class lined up and filed out, one particularly upset girl from that group glared at me, and a boy from the same group look me in the eyes and said, “this stinks!”
He might as well have stabbed me in the heart. My lessons are AWESOME! They don’t stink! But this comes directly from the consumer, a person who is supposed to be benefiting from the lessons. I thought long and hard that night: Why is this happening! Why can’t those kids grow up!
I decided to completely change the lesson. After doing a little bit of research on group work in the classroom, I found conflicting reports. Many students had posted on the subject themselves. Not one report was positive. There are only negative and luke warm responses.
I felt in my heart that I needed to be a part of changing the perception of working with those we don’t always associate with. So, I took into account many things that I learned from many places and went at the lesson the next morning full force.
I realized that most students do not know how to work together and that they are extremely defensive when their ideas are not well-received. Also, most students were not even attempting to be diplomatic. What do you do when the students are unfamiliar with a concept that they need for the task at hand? You model.
After a fun opening activity I sat the next class down and told them that I have a project for them. You are going to create new lyrics to this melody! ‘Yay’ the second graders yell. “I will be putting you into groups” I say. They visibly deflated.
“Thumbs up, thumbs down or in the middle: How easy is group work?” As expected, I got a bunch of in the middle and downs. I appreciated the honesty. I continued to explain to them that I agreed with them, but it can be easy and fun. It gives you the chance to see perspectives you usually don’t, and ideas you would never think of. I told them the biggest rule to remember is that you can only control yourself. If you think someone’s idea is stupid, that’s your problem. Figure out a way to accept the ideas of others. I modeled being a groups moderator with the class and voting on song topics. I modeled dealing with a bad idea by coming up with a ridiculous idea and asking students how to handle it. I sent them into groups and had them do nothing but choose a topic and I gave them only 3 minutes to do it.
Every group did it in less than that time and I had them do a team building exercise (human pretzel) while they waited for the other groups to finish.
I gave them five minutes to now come up with lyrics and rehearse to present for class. They presented in ABAB fashion, A being the whole class singing the original and B being each group singing the new lyrics. At the end of class, I asked the 2nd graders, “Now, do you feel even a little bit better about group work?” The resounding yes that they yelled almost brought me to tears.
The moral of the story is that my very worst lesson evolved into my most rewarding lesson yet. Each class that I did it with for the rest of the week got better and better. They all loved it. Every time I had a student who did not want to cooperate, I gave him (it’s always been a boy so far) a special duty. I think reprimanding him would make him hate group work and music class even more. Both boys took their assignments very seriously. I was impressed.
Kids make me better 🙂