Sunday, December 11, 2011

Trusting the Process, and the Processors


 by Julie Rea

Teaching the humans we have in our 9th grade classrooms this year has been challenging.  They are masters at disengaging, “forgetting” assignments, logging time at school until their real lives start.  Failing a class is a non-event for them, to be met with a shrug of the shoulders.  A majority of our students are satisfied with doing just enough work to pass and keep their parents and teachers off their backs.  It has been very challenging. 

We have been introducing project-based learning, and struggling to teach the students how to participate in and contribute effectively to groups.  In geophysical science, my co-teacher just introduced a unit on Newton’s Laws with a project on forces in sports.  Students are to answer the question:  How can we use forces to improve an athlete’s performance in hockey, baseball, rugby (the sport of their choice)? 

On Friday, I went to the science room to help the groups as they worked.  The situation looked promising as I walked in the room.  Students were in their groups, and there seemed to be lots of discussion.  Full disclosure here:  I am an external processor.  I do not know what I think until I have said it.  To me, discussion is a good sign.  One group of students caught my eye:  two boys were standing, and two girls were sitting, everyone looked glum, and no one was saying a word.  To me, this is not a good sign.  Deep breath and approach: 
How’s it going?  
Ok.
What sport did you choose?
Basketball.
What is your question?
We can’t think of one.
Hmm.  Do any of you play basketball? 
(one student raises her hand.)
Great!  So what area of your game would you like to improve?
I don’t know.
Let’s think about all the parts of basketball—what do you have to do to play basketball?
Dribble.  Shoot.  Be fast.  Be agile.
Good!  So dribble, shoot, run—which would you like to study?
(Silence.)
There are different kinds of shots in basketball.  Which is the most interesting to you?
(Silence.)
Well, I’ve always wondered why so many pros are bad at foul shots.
(Silence.)
Ok, so are you thinking in there?  Are you all internal processors?  Am I bothering you with my questions?  (I am related to some internal processors, and they have shared that, at times, talking is an annoyance.  I sympathize, but cannot empathize.)
(Silence.)
Well, I’ll let you process those thoughts, and I’ll be back.  

5 minutes later. . .No one has moved, everyone looks glum, no one is talking.
             How’s it going?
             (Silence.)
Got a question?
No.
Hmm.  You could always think about equipment in basketball.  Hey, I know.  I always see players rubbing their shoes before they go on the court.  Wonder why?
To get the dirt off (this is followed by a look which says, Do you have a brain?)
Well, maybe forces play a part in that.  Can you think which ones?
(Silence.)
You might want to look at your notes, or on-line to see what forces might be involved.
(Silence.)
Well, I’ll let you process those thoughts, and I’ll be back.

5 minutes later. . .No one has moved, everyone looks glum, no one is talking.
             How’s it going?
(Silence.) 
Got a question? 
No.
             Hmm.  Well, I was thinking about that shoe thing.  (I am getting desperate now.  The project guidelines say that they must have a question by the end of the period.)  My son played basketball in high school and college.  You know, in college the team buys your shoes for you, and one year my son was really disgusted with the shoes the coach had picked out.  No one on the team would wear them.  Can you imagine why?
            (Silence.)
            They said they were too heavy!  Do you think shoes could really make a difference, like in jumping?
            (Silence.)
            Ok, well, you process some more, and I’ll be back.  (Exchange worried looks with co-teacher.  We have been having similar discussions with other groups, and those groups have been making progress.  We got nothing here.)

5 minutes later. . .three of the students haven’t moved, but they are looking at me expectantly, and the group leader is approaching me where I am working with another group.   She is holding a notebook, and has a look of quiet confidence.  She holds the notebook up, and I read a perfectly wonderful question about forces and the lay-up shot in basketball.  We do a high five, and I say “well done” to the group.  They smile, and the boys finally sit down. 

            Here are my take-aways.

·      Wait Time works.   All those silences up there?  They were big, long, empty silences.   Doug Lemov (Teach Like a Champion) includes wait time as one of the championship techniques.  It can be painful, but it works.  Kids need time to process—my co-teacher and I had already been thinking about and discussing this project for some time.  We were familiar with it; the students needed time to catch up.
·      No Opt Out, another of Lemov’s techniques, works.  I kept circling back to be sure that something was going to come out of this group.  If necessary, we would have been there for some time after class, or after school.  It wasn’t an immediate No Opt Out, but it was in play.
·      Trust the process.  Project-based learning works.  Struggling is part of the process and is good for students—I almost blew it by inserting myself too much in the process.  I needed to let the students struggle, and be patient with the struggle.  Self-esteem comes from struggling and overcoming, not from writing down what the teacher said, however brilliant and insightful that may have been (I thought my shoe question was both!)  The pride on the faces of this group at the end of the process was palpable.  It wouldn’t have been there if we had given them the question—either as part of the assignment, or as they struggled to come up with their own.
·      A group of internal processors can work!  Quite possibly NASA already knew this, but I would never have thought it.   If these internal processors had been in groups with external processors, would they have gotten the chance to cogitate, ponder, wrestle, and finally succeed?  Is this another grouping criteria to consider?  If internal processors benefit from the space to process internally, would external processors benefit from learning how to work in a group in which everyone has to talk to think?  I want to investigate more about how internal processors work, so I can be more helpful to them.  If you have suggestions about resources, or are a self-aware internal processor willing to share, please let me know. 

1 comment:

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