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Today was the last day of English classes for my 11th and 2nd graders. Technically also for the 10th grade, but on Tuesday they declared that they would be ditching today (though one student apparently didn’t get that memo). In this last week classroom discipline was already falling apart. These final days are more a test of our endurance, patience, and discipline as teachers than any other, and the last thing any of us wants is for the school year to end with one of us marching students to the deputy director for behavior issues. I means, seriously, who wants that as their last memory of the school year?
So I’m sitting at home this morning munching my buckwheat breakfast and languidly staring at my email (some notices about games I don’t care about being on sale now!) when an idea hits. Pros? Cons? It could work. It could also be a disaster. Huh. I almost feel, what’s that word? Excited.
I get to school early, as usual, and take care of some work (fixing homemade Mafia cards), and when my teaching counterparts arrive I pitch the idea to them. I expected resistance. So not really waiting for a response I barrel ahead with the list of benefits while downplaying the potential disaster. Of course, they grokked everything as soon as I blurted out the initial idea. Lesson plans be damned, we suddenly had a new plan and we went off to our respective classes.
See, both 11th and 2nd grade have English during first period on Thursdays. So I only work with the 11th graders on Tuesday. Today though, with the 2nd graders in tow, I found myself knocking on the English Cabinet door and asking if we could come in. Once we got everyone seated (2nd graders in front), I got to explain that today was the 11th graders’ final test.
We partnered up each 2nd grader with two 11th graders (that’s just how the ratio worked out) and then brought out many of the English books we’d collected throughout the year. The groups then read the books together. In most groups the 11th graders took charge, reading and translating, but as the “test” developed, many 2nd graders started taking charge, showing off their English skills by reading. The 11th graders still helped with translations and pronouncing more difficult words.
The students blew my mind (and I’m pretty sure that of my counterparts as well). I had feared that many students would take this as an excuse to goof off, chat up friends, and general, you know, chaos. Instead, they lived up to all of my positive expectations. The older students demonstrated leadership and integration skills, mentoring the younger students, pushing and helping as needed, but not dominating. They did everything they could to help the younger students, showing off what they knew. Younger students happily accepted the mentoring, but also tried to show off their English skills, eliciting compliments from their older peers. All groups churned through at least one book and came up for more. Even students who are often discipline problems, students who are normally distracted or listless, and students who don’t know a lot of English were actively engaged. Of course, when someone didn’t know a word (e.g. mouthful, mill, and a few others), we had three teachers ready to help, but things went so well that most of the time we just stood back and marveled.
Thanks to Darien Book Aid, Genette Book Donation, QSI, and even my dad, we now have 294 English books. We started the school year with 0. Maybe half to two-thirds of them were appropriate for today’s group reading. Without these donations, even the idea of this activity would not have been possible.
So I close out my classes with 2nd and 11th grade with a huge smile and an overwhelming sense of pride in them. Yes, there were bumps in the road (that’s teaching for you), but today made all of that go away.