I Broke My Own Rule
I have a silly rule in my class that I don’t allow any vine videos to be taken in my room. The reason I always tell the kids is that too many things I say can be taken out of context in an eight second video clip. I always explain that if they want to secretly video my lesson for some strange reason to please video the whole class so their parents will know there is a method to the madness. After all, I have been known to do some crazy things in the 65 minutes the kids are with me all of which could be taken the wrong way without knowing the context of the lesson.
A few weeks ago I posted the piece “Who or What Broke My Kids” after an interesting day in class. Recently that post ended up on Hacker News, Reddit, MetaFilter, and a few other sites with a great deal of controversy regarding the methods and mathematics involved in my class that day. After dealing with the initial shock of reading what people were saying about the post I realized I broke my own rule. I gave people a written equivalent of a vine video and let them take my classroom out of context.
Classroom Culture Can’t Be Captured in Print
A great deal of the comments centered around the fact that no one could believe that I had a meltdown in class and “berated” the kids by calling them broken. I realize this is my own fault as I was the one who used the terms broken and meltdown however what the commenters failed to realize is that I spend weeks at the beginning of the year developing a classroom culture that encourages a free exchange of ideas between me and the students. So what seemed like a 10 minute lecture to most of the commenters actual went a lot more like this: “Guys, can we take a time our here for a minute… What is going on here…You seem really concerned about whether or not I think you are right…Do you think you are right…Which cards do you think definitely have a right answer…Do you think there are cards that don’t have a right answer…” etc. I wasn’t angry with the kids I was disappointed that they wouldn’t trust their own instinct and reason on their own.
Why I Can’t Always Tell Them They Are Right or Wrong
A lot of commenters focused on the fact that it was a poor teaching strategy to not tell the kids if they were right or wrong. They thought the kids were just looking for guidance and that I was withholding that from them. I can assure you that isn’t what they were looking for. The kids wanted me to give them the answers and the whole point of the activity was for them to engage in that productive struggle we all talk so much about these days. Every teacher has had this happen, the kids were asking if they were correct and when I would give feedback they would switch around a card or two and say, “well how about now…now…what about now”. Kids are really good at getting teachers to give them the answer. I have done it myself frequently. We see them struggling and want to help but instead of helping them think we give them answers and bail them out. I was determined to not let this go that way.
Despite My Best Effort I Can’t Predict How Every Activity Will Go
Another center of controversy was the fact that I should have been able to predict the lesson would go this way and frame it in a different way so it would not go that direction. I work with thirteen year olds who I love dearly but are terribly hard to predict. This was not at all their first experience with these types of probabilities. We had been working with the standards for a couple of days and the formative assessment data collected showed they were ready for a more challenging activity so we gave this a go. This was also not their first experience with this type of card sorting activity either. I am not exactly sure how I could have reframed it to help them without taking that productive struggle away from them but am open to suggestions.
In the End
In the end, I learned a lot from this experience. The whole reason I started this blog was to help me find my voice as a teacher. A great deal of the posts I write are more for myself than anyone else and I seriously doubted my decision to start the blog in the midst of this experience. Reading what people were saying about the post on some of the social sites was eye opening. Some people thought if I wanted to teach this way that I should be at a Montessori school while others thought I shouldn’t be allowed to teach at all. Many thought the problem was the fact that I don’t teach math like it was taught when they were in school and that my job was to be the gatekeeper to information rather than a facilitator of learning. Some people said they wished I was their child’s teacher others claimed if their child had me as a teacher they would have their child removed from my class. However, after taking the time to really reflect on the whole experience I realize this is exactly what I needed. I now know I do have a voice and it is a strong one. Although not everyone agreed with my methodology or thoughts they were taking about it. The goal in my class the day of this post was to generate discussion and I was not only able to do that in class that day I was able to do it in the blog world weeks later as well.