The other day I did something that seems to have blown some fresh air right into my heart and the hearts of my students. Basically, I MGCed the whole class during a 30-minute independent work segment of the lesson.
Let me break it down.
First of all, 30-minute independent work segments aren't normal in my 55-minute class periods for ninth graders. For one thing, for anything but the most familiar of activities, you're too likely to have folks run into stumbling blocks and to then in turn become distracted. But in this case, we were answering analytical questions about a set of primary source documents, and the topic area was one that we'd had several prior encounters with. So topic familiarity plus activity familiarity equals higher likelihood of extended engagement for the whole class.
Second, I told my students that I'd be calling them each out into the hallway, either in a small group or individually, to discuss their midterm exam results. That signaled to my class that the 30-minute time period was win-win — they got to exert a bit of autonomy in analyzing some documents on their own, and they also got to look forward to whatever mysterious things I had to say in the hallway (mwa ha ha).
Once I had introduced the expectations and the why for the independent work, I quickly took one of my clipboard sheets and used Powerschool to record each student's exam score by hand. I had a general sense in my mind of how students did, and I knew individual student details would emerge once I got my mind warmed up doing MGCs.
Then, I started calling students out into the hallway — mixing it up between individuals and groups of 3-5 students. I called them out based on their score levels, but I tried not to let any patterns emerge — first a student who did poorly, then a few that scored well, then one from the middle of the range, then a handful that did poorly again.
There wasn't some elaborate system — I just trusted my gut and trusted that the point was getting them out there and saying things to them about their performance that were true and helpful.
- Abagale, last semester was rough for you — I could just see emotionally it seemed like you lost so much steam in November and December. Am I reading that right? So listen: I could care less about some number that pops out on a midterm exam — what I care about is your well-being, now and in the future. I care about you growing as a learner and a person, every day — and, Abagale, I care about you enjoying that process rather than being miserable in it. So how's something like that for a goal for semester two? Compare yourself to nobody in the class, just aim at learning. How's that sound?
- Hey group — congrats on scoring an 80% on the exam! That's gotta feel good — you worked hard for that! Now listen: semester two can't be coasting time. You did well, but now I want you each to look inside for 1-2 ways that you know you could be a little more diligent, a little more strategic, you know? What's that path for you to get 5% better as a learner and a person this semester? That's what I want you thinking about.
- Wow, Hunter — a 100% on the exam! That is crazy man. Kudos kudos kudos. You feel good about that? You should. But listen: do you notice how people look up to you in class? How they listen when you speak? I want you to really think about using that influence to build up the broader group this semester. When you hear folks talking down about themselves, get in there — not all bossy like, but in a “C'mon ya'll, we've got this. We can do this,” kind of way. I want you to play around with being a leader like that this semester, Hunter — I think it'll be fun. And I think'll it'll make a heckuva difference for more folks than it might seem.
Now remember: in a moment of genuine connection, all you're trying to do is make a student feel valued, known, and respected. You're making eye contact. You're speaking with conviction. You're smiling with your eyes. You're furrowing your brow a bit at the serious parts.
And the easiest way to enable yourself to do all those things naturally? It's to actually cultivate within yourself knowing, valuing, and respecting each of your students.
And, as it turned out during this little 30-minute stretch we did the other day, one of the best ways to stoke the fires of my own heart is to take some minutes to try stoking the fires of my students. Thinking about their academic performance and their humanity — side by side, as two interconnected things — stoked my fires, and it stoked some of theirs.
So maybe give this one a try.
And let me know how it goes! 🙂