Clash of world views in the classroom

Here’s a post written some time ago by a person, a teacher, with deep insight into human nature, into learning, and into our profession with all its structural problems and personalities.
“The following is based on these concepts:
* Students respond positively to choice. * Each human being has a unique perspective and living situation. * Research on the “value” of homework. * Acquisition occurs via Comprehensible Input. * The pre-frontal cortex continues to develop long after they leave our building. * Young people can and will do the right thing when it makes sense to them. * Our world, especially in terms of “storage” is ever-evolving in a new way. * Our classroom is a society, a family, a team, a mini-civilization of sorts, with each member of the class affecting the others.
I ask students the first week to have a storage system for the items we are presently working with. How they choose to store items is their decision…as long as it works. I do reserve the right to communicate with them (and parents if necessary) about being prepared for class. We spend less than 5 minutes brainstorming options: a folder, a file with many pockets, a 3 ring binder, a large piece of paper from the classroom folded in half, a place in a “trapper-keeper” so all classes’ work is together, sharing a folder with a classsmate etc.
I reserve a table in the back of the room for in-class storage for students who prefer that. (this cuts down on tne number of kids who have to go to their locker….or who arrive late because they were “stuck” at their locker). I have dishpans from the dollar store labeled for each period and they toss their folder, etc. in at the end of class.
When I xerox/print copies for the class, I print 5 extras and draw a line across the time with a colored marker. Any student who cannot locate a paper may borrow one from the pile in the front of the room and return it. If writing is required, they simply do it on their own paper. They return the papers to the pile when we are done. Or, if appropriate, they look on with a neighbor.
I do not collect notebooks nor grade them.
I hand out papers as needed, not in advance.
Students who repeatedly come unprepared for class almost always have other issues that need to be addressed…..usually far far bigger than not being able to be organized. I work with guidance about those issues. If and when the student makes progress in the personal areas of his/her life, the organization problem resolves itself.
I emphasize and emphasize and emphasize the skill of “using the language in your head.” Therefore, outside of class, that is the language I ask them to draw on. Yes we have “lists” or “vocab sheets” of a kind, but the students are not expected to use those to complete assignments outside of class. (which are usually reading assignments…and kids will go on line to find out meaning of words they don’t know anyway)
My experience has been that students “appear” to use our systems in class, but when they leave the room, they juggle the expectations of every teacher to create and use their own system. So if there is a problem, that student and I talk about his/her organization system and how it might work better.
It may seem “too simple” and fraught with “potential problems”, however, when a student is repeatedly unprepared it is because he/she has been irresponsible or distracted or stressed…not because in his/her eyes the teacher has imposed a system. I have found that they are much more willing to problem-solve and work towards self-improvement when they have the ability to decide on a personal system.
Again…my students, my building and my community make this possible. Each of us must make our own decisions.”
What I would like to dissect is the way this approach or philosophy, if you will, confronts to mindset typical in education. The first target is the idea of personal responsibility. L., to use a pseudonym, frames personal responsibility in terms of what the student can do; most teachers frame it in terms of compliance with the teacher’s directives. For L., when a student goes off track, it is a failure to follow his own agenda, not hers, and is often triggered by distraction, stress, and just not attending to his responsibilities. The latter is often conditioned by models at home, and I don’t mean that the parents are personally irresponsible, just that for them, school and its attendant duties might not be high on their list of priorities. Teachers, OTOH, often cannot imagine a higher priority. A clash ensues in which both student and parents come off as being moral failures and “making poor life choices” (if I hear one more pampered prep school kid use that phrase to explain why other kids struggle, I am going to puke the arrogant and supercilious pose that presents can distract me from my lesson plan that’s my trigger). Raw material for this discussion can be gathered in any teachers lounge.
More to follow…..this is a rich post.

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