First period started with more mindfulness practice. They are starting to be much less silly and relax into it. I think they are also beginning to understand that dealing with stress is something we NEED to talk about as well. I'm framing each mindfulness practice with them talking about something they're worried about (sharing in table groups only), then doing the two minutes of mindful silence, followed by sharing something they're excited about today (again in table groups). The subtle shift from worry to being mindful to excitement is one I'm building very intentionally. I want them to end that feeling more energised and excited, and let the worries and feelings they had earlier drop away.
Since narrative writing is our focus in trimester one, I am giving them very short critical reading and writing application assignments so they can look at their work through a one-inch frame. This one inch frame is about using precise and interesting verbs in their writing. I had them highlight all of the verbs in two passages (the first is a greatly simplified version of the second, which is from Wednesday Wars, the novel we're reading together) and make some observations about the differences and the patterns they saw in the verbs in the second passage.
From there, I had them write a short piece on school lunches using as many good verbs as they could. This is the first time I've asked them to do freewriting - essentially, they are writing without stopping, without editing, and without too much planning. The goal is to shake some ideas loose and be able to get a large number of words on the page...even if they aren't very "good" words. They wrote for seven minutes and then shared with their table mates. Just as they finished sharing, 1st period ended and they went out to passing period.
In History class (again, same students as in 1st period - we have a double block with them), I gave them the geographical region their Neolithic society would be located. They looked up some basic information about that region and found pictures of what it looks like now. Many confused places that should be in Israel, Turkey, Albania, Iraq or Jordan with places in the US. That took a little explaining.
After that, we moved on to Minecraft. Today, we ran the farming simulation the afternoon class started yesterday. Their goals were to build a dirt shelter, plant and harvest crops, create a food surplus, build an animal pen, bring irrigation to the crops, and honour the gods with an alter and some wheat in tribute. They had the span of one "day" - or about twelve minutes to do all of that. And they couldn't use anything they found other than dirt and the water of the Tigris or Euphrates, depending on to which river they were assigned.
They played Minecraft for quite some time, with the volume level rising every minute. When I finally froze them with only a few minutes left in the period, the groan they let out was epic. I asked them to reflect on what challenges they thought farmers faced in this region and share at their groups.
After a few minutes of sharing, the bell rang and off they went to break.
During 3rd period (my prep) I answered parent emails and frantically did Kaizena feedback on the 10 students I hadn't finished in the afternoon class. I'm getting much faster at it though - I made it through a 1-4 minute video, scored on a rubric, and five written questions in about 7-8 minutes each. It took me a lot longer when I had to type my feedback, and the quality of feedback I can give them now is far in advance of what it was before.
When 4th period started, my 8th grade Strategies students entered the room already looking exhausted. They have a major paper in history class this week, a huge science project due today and a math test today. One girl asked me to help her with the math homework - simplifying equations with one variable. I dusted off my algebra skills and did about ten problems with her as the absolutely AMAZING ELL push-in support aide helped many of the 7th grade students study for their science re-take.
During that class, I also helped a student work through a grade dispute with her teacher. That situation did not go particularly well, and it reminded me that when you advocate for students, teachers sometimes feel attacked. In our profession it's incredibly easy to get frustrated and defensive when colleagues, administrators, parents, students and community members feel they can do our job better than we can. At my current school, I haven't experienced that much, but I do know what it feels like and it's really difficult. So while I understand teachers struggling with anyone catching their mistakes or with other teachers helping a student advocate for him or herself, I also try to stay laser-focused on what really matters: the students.
Andrew and I call ourselves student-centred because everything we do in the classroom is aimed at helping students become better readers, writers, thinkers, listeners and speakers. And dealing with conflict is a part of life that they need to have practice in before it could cost them a job or a relationship.
After Strategies, I heated up lunch and sat with a student who needed to make up a test. He finished his test and turned it in and I debriefed with Andrew about the morning I had and the full day he had.
During 5th period, I finished all my Kaizena feedback and got the Minecraft server reset and ready for my afternoon class.
6th period started the same way 1st did - mindfulness, announcements, writing tip #1 lesson, and an extended discussion of how verbs change the feeling of a piece of writing. The entire class period was really good up until the last part. In that discussion, I didn't structure it well enough, nor did I give students enough schema to make good observations, so students said some version of "all the verbs end in 'ed' or 'ing'" at least fifteen different times, and every time, said it like it was the first time anyone had mentioned it.
Something I'm really working on is not showing attitude or frustration when students ask the same question or give the same answer shortly after a classmate. I got lots of practice.
During break, I checked in with a few students whose parents had emailed me and asked me to check in about missing work. That, along with a quick snack, ate up the fifteen minutes.
In the last period, I hadn't introduced the society project yet, so I gave them the geographical region and had them start with doing some basic research on it. They then reported out to me what they learned as I circulated the room. It was an informal check, but it also showed me how well they could do research on their own given limited information. We had a brief discussion of what they would need to think about in starting their own society, but I could tell they were really gearing up for Minecraft.
Today we did the second part of the farming simulation, though many groups said that the crops they planted had been destroyed somehow. Still can't explain that one. We saved the world under a different name and everything.
They played Minecraft for about twenty minutes - I intentionally gave them more time so that they could rebuild what had been destroyed. About ten minutes in, I spawned in some pigs and sheep to see if they had built an animal pen that could actually hold animals. Some were successful.
Others were not.
After wrapping up the time, I had them each send me an email as an exit ticket. They reported what they had finished, and then told me about some of the challenges farmers would have faced in these conditions. As the bell rang, they sent me their emails and left.
Tuesday is my day for locker supervision after school, so I went outside and watched students pack up, load their locker and leave. I also watched students trying to pop an under-inflated balloon, and finally succeed when I suggested sitting on it.
It strikes me how much students carry with them. Their lockers overflowed onto the concrete, their binders overflowed into their lockers, and their backpack and laptop cases all wore the signs of being shoved into a small space far too quickly. But more than that, some students wore the exuberance of a good test grade. Others wore the exhaustion of knowing they faced hours of homework once they finished sports practice and made it home. Still others wore the strain of friendships gone awry, or the joy of friendships gone right.
As they slowly cleared out, I again thought about what I'm asking them to carry and what I'm expecting them to drop. Unfortunately, it's often too much and not enough.
I wish there was a way to help them feel the care I know their teachers have for them, and to take away the stress associated with the perfectionist tendencies most of our students demonstrate on a daily basis. I wish there was a way for teachers to stop assigning work at home and let them be kids. I wish I remembered more often that they ARE kids and that sometimes, kids daydream and ask the same question someone else just asked. I wish I thought more about how they hear me rather than how I'm feeling.
I wish that my students could stop carrying all of the things for a while. Hell, I wish that for me too.