In my graduate reading class this week, we were discussing the following passage from Kylene Beers' When Kids Can't Read. I want you to try to figure out what the passage is about before moving on. The struggle, if you have one, is part of the process.
Are you ready? Did you figure it out? Then keep on readin'.
In my class of adults, there was a great deal of discussion about the information in the passage. I own the Beers book and have used this particular passage in a number of workshops, so I did not have any original thoughts to contribute. I sat back and listened to what my peers had to say. One classmate got hung up on the numbers from the beginning, thinking it was a math problem. Most everyone got past that stage and pieced together a general idea of what is happening, but we were all making up completely different stories about who the people are - a married couple, a first date, friends, a brother and sister.
Back in my eighth grade classroom, I knew I had some time to fill. We recently finished a unit, and I had a couple of days open prior to a district test. Why not see what the kids think of this passage?
I started by giving my students the passage and asking what it was about and how they figured it out. Quite a few thought it was a math problem and could not get past that idea. I actually had to have kids act out the scene in one class to try to get the kids to see it as a mini story. Once we walked through the passage, like my college peers, my students immediately began making up stories about who the people were and what the situation was. So I ran with it.
For the first time ever (insert drumroll here), I have students working collaboratively in a Google Doc. They are writing the full-length story of the initial few sentences. My students are sitting face-to-face in order to discuss what they want to write, then they are writing together in a single document. I walked them through setting up the document step-by-step, and you would have thought I had performed a spell straight out of Harry Potter. They oohed and aahed like I was the greatest wizard to ever live.
Since I have not done this type of assignment before, I was concerned that the kids would be off-task, but I can honestly say that not one single student was discussing anything but the story. Two of my girls are writing the world's greatest love story, and when class ended the other day, one told me that she could not leave her characters hanging all weekend; she needed to know what was going to happen with them. Two of my boys are writing a fantasy version. Two others have turned the passage into a story about my date with John Cena (currently my imaginary boyfriend who doesn't know we are involved). Many students could not believe that I was having them stop because class was ending. They were completely engaged in what they were doing.
In addition to all of these wonderful moments, the best thing I realized about this impromptu lesson is that I have blended learning taking place. Blended learning is an important component of the new Texas teacher evaluation system that will be put in place next year, and I feel like I am working through some practice rounds to prepare for that. My students are working together both face-to-face and online. They have control over the content of their story. They are determining the structure of their collaboration, and each partnership is quite different.
This might not be a giant step for mankind, but it is a step for my classroom and for my own thinking. Sometimes I do not think I give my students enough credit for all that they are capable of, but I am determined to continue pushing myself to break out of my safe zones in order to challenge them, even if it's only one baby step at a time.