i'm just an educator stumbling upon new ways to do my job better (i hope)

Colearning, Week Two: Finding a Little Rhythm

Pedagogues love to talk about scaffolding in lesson planning. I’m not against it, but it’s not really the type of scaffolding I’m interested in when it comes to colearning.

On the first day of school, we talked about the scaffolding one sometimes sees around a construction project. “It’s not the building itself. It’s just a structure that supports people and processes constructing the building.” That’s what I’m trying to provide here. In the second week, it started to look a little more like that. I covered the philosophical tenets of the course in an earlier post, but what I’m talking about here is the day-to-day structure of the class. Here’s the scaffolding for colearning in English 10:

MONDAY - Maker Monday - Creativity, Design, & Problem-Solving Challenges

TUESDAY - Common Study - Discussion of common reading and/or mini-lessons on reading, writing, grammar, etc.

WEDNESDAY - Writing Workshop - Drafting, peer editing, and review of writing projects

THURSDAY & FRIDAY - Independent - Student-directed work on writing, reading, or grammar/usage/ mechanics; Individual & small-group lessons available.

In order for this to work, everyone has to have enough to do that they can stay busy and enough variety in what they need to do that they can shift modes if they stall on a particular project or task. Part of the challenge in the first week was that they hadn’t started anything substantial yet--no books to read, no major writing projects. I didn’t have any samples of their work that would give me an idea of what would be widely relevant for common study. All we had to fall back on was me prodding them for questions about how these systems would work and a pretty long list of diagnostic grammar assignments to do in NoRedInk--neither of which would sustain everyone’s interest for long.

As the second week progressed, we began to build to a critical mass of work to do. Monday focused primarily on the creative task of building ideas: the improv exercise, “Yes, and” both on paper and in conversation. The results were mixed, with the conversational version proving that the colearners needed a more accomplished improv coach than me if they were going to succeed. The written version was a little better. On one paper, the various authors latched onto words like, sand, water, waves, and shells to create a relatively cohesive sketch of life at the beach. Another paper is derailed about halfway down the page, when one author’s non-sequitur Tofu hotdogs are actually pretty good was simply a bridge too far. Tuesday: quick notes to review perspective, narrative structure, conflict, and characterization, then some prewriting in order to have material for Wednesday’s workshop. Wednesday had some kids drafting, others doing character sketches, and still others soliciting and providing feedback on ideas and organization in early drafts. Thursday’s trip to the library put the last puzzle piece in place, so that now everyone had a book to read, a major piece of writing in progress, and usage/mechanics exercises to pace themselves through. Thus ended our second week. (NOTE: School was closed Friday due to the possible effects of Hurricane Florence. Everything turned out fine here, but others took a pretty devastating hit.)

Here, though, is my fear: This is where it starts to get hard.

The first week, while a little bit boring for me, was comfortable for all of us. We’ve done that before. Week two felt novel to everyone, as requests to have class outside were accommodated, individuals’ priorities were honored, and whole-class direct instruction only constituted 12 minutes of our total class time. I was even approached by a kid who wanted to know if he could be in the class, too, after one of my colearners had pitched it to him in the library.

But building momentum is one thing; maintaining it is another. I have one more major project to put on the colearners’ plates: book reviews. After that, every big piece of the class is in their hands. I’m left with only 47 minutes a week to execute a traditional lesson. As emancipating as that may seem, it’s equally daunting. In a traditional setting, if I have an off day or a bad lesson, I have four other class periods to recover from it. In this model, I have three options: eat the bad day and try to make up for it a week later, look for opportunities to address what went wrong via small-group and individual conversations throughout the rest of the week, or disrupt the scaffolding of the course and claim a day that should be student-directed. None of those options is great.

What’s more, it’s early days in every class right now. The school year still has that shiny newness. Teenage angst and ennui has yet to set in. But I’m going to refrain from going down that rabbit hole until I’m actually faced with it—that, no doubt, will be soon enough.

Colearning, Week Three: First Major Writing

Colearning, Week One: Feels a Lot Like a Normal Class