Whoa! Didn’t See That Coming!


Motor Mouth, one of my least mature students in terms of behaving in accordance with the expectations I and school demand of a child his age, has really impressed me the last few days.

One of the traits I correlate with him more than any other is his propensity for raising his hand and then speaking without giving much consideration to what is about to come out of his mouth.

Now, don’t get me wrong. He is still the loudest during morning unpacking and the most distracted during independent reading. But, for whatever reason, he has, this week, been putting forth the most cogent arguments I have heard from him all year, and some of the best from the class as a whole.

Case in point: My class is one of three in the building that is piloting a test program, in which, rather than respond to their books every night, they are only doing it twice a week. We’re trying to study whether such a system results in greater reading stamina and/or improvement in depth of thinking.

Yesterday, I asked the class for their opinions about the change in structure, preparing some anecdotal evidence to present to the administration. Motor Mouth raised his hand – as he always does (it’s one of the things I really like about him) – and offered this paraphrased gem:

“We used to have to write every night and there were times when I had nothing to write. So I really wasn’t thinking much. Plus, we had to write post-its as we read, and we had to stop to do that. That made the books less enjoyable and harder to understand. Now, I feel like I’m improving in two ways. I’m improving as a reader because I get to just read and not stop. And I’m improving as a writer because I have a lot to think about and I can really write well.”

Well, Motor Mouth! With thoughts like that, keep motorin’!

Let this serve as a reminder to us. While it may seem like we are sometimes, or always, teaching classes of beings who constantly look at their fingernails as if they magically appeared this morning, or stare out the window as if a dragon was floating by wearing a top hat, or marvel in the wonder that is lead pencils, these kids are listening to us.

What an unexpected and pertinent lesson to keep in mind.

Let the record state that this was my first post typed exclusively on a Blackberry, and I did this in the backseat of a vehicle moving swiftly through the airport and highway traffic. I feel the need to toss my cookies. Someone call the nurse’s office for me.

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5 responses to “Whoa! Didn’t See That Coming!

  1. I will take the liberty of pointing to another lesson: People naturally tend to like and look positively on those who “meet the standards”, and react negatively to those who do not. These subjective impressions, however, are very often misleading.

    In the case of a teacher, his standards will often include “sits quitely”, “listens intently”, “does his homework”, and so on. (Note that I speak in general terms, not about you in particular—you may or may not be typical in this regard.) These factors are, however, not very strongly correlated with factors like intelligence, richness of inner life, academic ability, whatnot. Many teachers will, by this road, make mistakes in their estimates of students abilities.

    • I think it’s a variety of factors that influence how we view our students and the “progess” (often hard to quantify) that they make. I think most teachers will more than “look positively on” any student, regardless of achievement, if the student is motivated, dedicated, and pushes himself.

      You’re right about the correlations you put forth – that those “ideals” of behavior do not always signify achievement, nor do the lack of them result in lack of achievement. However, I make no statement on the learning styles or preferences of my students in that regard. I only say that when a student is disruptive toward others, then there’s a problem. But, yes, it’s clear that one’s disruption does not necessarily mean the light in his attic is turned off.

      Thanks for writing and please share your thoughts more often.

  2. Hi Matt,

    Just got to notice your blog, having followed you on Twitter for a little while. What a great anecdote – a really good example of what can happen when you don’t always have to follow some prescribed pattern of teaching/learning. It sounds like the change has really helped this kid :)

    I really wish I had a motor mouth in some of my classes. I teach ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) to groups of mainly European students. Sometime’s it’s almost impossible to get them talking – I’m going to blame an education system somewhere that seems to almost breed them into a passive way of learning.

    Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts!

    Mike

    • Mike,
      Unfortunately, even more than passivity, I think it’s the fact that students are expected to be instructed through curricula that have no resonance with them due to their reliance on means that are above what they presently need. The trick is to find ways to get around all of that.

      Thanks for reading.

  3. Pingback: Whoa! Didn’t See That Coming! | Edwize

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