Rephrasing the Question, Refocusing the Conversation

We had a class meeting today.  I know, it’s not Friday, but this was when we had time for it.  (If you’re new here or need a reminder of how we do class meetings, see this link.)

So we sat down, like normally, in a circle on our carpet.  I put up the class meetings flipchart and Archie got ready with the pen to mark our thoughts.  Today, instead of having the red dot count for things we thought we could do better on, though, I rephrased it to just be “things we want to talk about.”  I thought this might help some kiddos who might look at the list and not see an “issue.” Here’s what our dots looked like before we started our main conversation:

See all those red dots on Super SS on Monday?  Well that was related to the post about Monday’s Social Studies time and how well it went.  And unlike our usual class meeting conversations, they wanted to talk about it because it went so well!  YAY! As they went back and forth and shared, I kept hearing kiddos share how they thought it was a great day and why they thought so.  I heard them saying that they liked how they could work on the reading part in reading and then the SS part in Social Studies, how I had picked their groups for them (they admitted that often they don’t choose wisely and end up wasting their learning time), how they could work with me to make sure they knew what to do and then focus in to go and do it.  They knew that it was a good day and they wanted today’s SS time to be the same.  But then my friend Abigail asked a very important question: We know that we want it to be great again today, but it’s not as easy as just saying we’re going to do it.  How will we make it happen? I love it when a kid reads my mind and says exactly what I’m thinking!  So many times they just say that their solution is that they’re not going to do whatever we were discussing that the problem was.  And usually that doesn’t work.  Abigail knew that and was brave enough to call us on it.

They then took a little bit of time to discuss this, and made a plan for how they would go and get their work done in a focused manor again today.  And they did. 🙂

Monday, Monday…

Remember the other day when I told you that learning is messy?  Well yesterday was another day when that happened in our classroom.  But the reason I’m writing about it again is because besides being messy, it was again really successful.  Only this time, it was in Social Studies.

Mondays are very unusual days in our classroom.  At some points during reading you can look around and only see 5 or 6 kiddos, because of the schedule of pull-outs and other things.  And for whatever reason, Social Studies on these days always seems to be really hard for our class.

But this was not one of those days!  We’re studying Ancient West Africa, which is hard for many of us to wrap our heads around, since it was so long ago and so far away.  We’ve tried at least 3 or 4 different structures and plans to make this unit work for us, but it still seemed like we’d get to the end of the Social Studies time and feel like we weren’t any farther than the day before! Well, today we tried something else.

We’re working on creating class charts–think murals or collages–that highlight all of the things we need to remember for the kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhai.  The thinking is focused around the 5 disciplines of Social Studies: history, economics, civics, culture and geography.  Here’s some that were made for the Cahokia unit:


Well, this time around the idea was the same, but I changed some of the specifics.  Instead of working in groups completely on their own to read, take notes and then create their representation, we met in small groups during Reader’s Workshop to do the reading and research part.  I went through the text with each group (each was responsible for a single discipline, all related to Mali), and we read and discussed what we thought was important.  A recorder took notes for the group, then before they left the table, we made a plan for what their group was going to make.  We decided right then who would do what, and then their group left to get to work.  Instead of squeezing this project into just one Social Studies time (I know–crazy, right?  I’ve had several good friends tell me how stupid I was to expect it all to get done in 45 minutes!), we used part of our reading block and added on our Social Studies time, too.  Altogether, they were able to work for about an hour or more one day, then finish this part today (Tuesday).

I’m not really sure exactly what part worked out the best, but I know for sure it worked.  Every group was busy and quiet and focused for the entire time.  And when we were finished and I said my usual, “May I have your attention please?”, they knew what I was going to say.  This Monday, unlike many others, we were all going home in a good mood, having learned a lot.  They knew it was a good time; it just felt different. Our buckets were full and so were our heads–with concepts about Ancient West Africa as well as how to work together towards a common goal.  And they came back today determined to figure out how to make it happen again.