Tuesday, January 4, 2011

(Not) Deaf and Blind

This long-term subbing gig is the most continued exposure I've had to teaching middle school kids. I'm learning some interesting things about how teenagers think.

The students don't think I can hear what they say or see what they do. If I allow them to work on their own or in small groups, of course there's going to be a certain amount of goofing off. That's true at nearly any age; even in college when I worked in small groups we sometimes got off topic. But after a few minutes of not working, if it looks like they're attempting to blow off the work, I just look at them. And keep looking at them. In first period, I made one group of four girls - incidentally, the four that talks most; they certainly know how to seek each other out to "work" together - paranoid; one of the girls finally burst out that she was working.

They also don't think I can hear what they say in terms of under-the-breath snarky comments or talking to each other. Of course, I can't always hear what they're saying, but I can certainly see that they're talking. (I have no ventriloquists in my classes, which means that their lips move.) I will sit at my desk, see them talking, continue to look at them until they realize I see that they're talking, and often try to tell me that they're not talking. I don't even need to say anything; I just continue to look at them until they're quiet. The Stare of Doom, I guess.

Mrs. T., the teacher whose classes I'm covering, would just read a certain amount aloud; if we were to cover six pages in class, she'd read six pages aloud. That's not something I'll do myself. For one thing, I'd have to read the same pages six times each day, and quite frankly it'll drive me crazy - and I'll start to lose my voice. (This has already happened.) For another thing, while I understand that students process information differently, they also have to learn to become stronger readers; and to do that, they have to actually read. I'll start by reading the beginning section - say, a page or two - and then tell them where to stop reading. (If they want to keep reading, that's certainly not a problem.) This also makes them responsible for their own education, at least somewhat. I grok that they may not get everything they read, or that they may miss key elements of the plot, but we discuss what was read, so I can ascertain how much they understood as well as make sure they get the important parts.

Of course, sometimes they don't finish the reading. Some students are just faster readers, but some, like the group of first period girls, just chatter and don't read. Yesterday we started reading "The Most Dangerous Game." I read the first page and a half, and gave them about 20 minutes to read the next five and a half pages, emphasizing which page we would be beginning today. This morning one of Group of Four asked, "What if we didn't finish?" (Sometimes it's hard to resist the urge to be snarky and remind them that if she had read instead of talked, this would not be an issue.) The flip side to my reading aloud is that they often tune me out and don't know what's been read anyway. In each case of reading aloud and then making them responsible for a certain number of pages, I've had to repeat where we are in the book.

They need to be reminded to hand in late work, not realizing that eventually it's going to have a due date. To the rest of us, that work must be accounted for is an obvious thing, but of course when you're 14 or 15 you don't see what the big deal is and don't place the same amount of importance on such things. And of course if they don't actually hand in the work, the worst that will happen is the potential to fail and have to repeat the grade (as opposed to the result being, say, a hospital not getting vital medical necessities because they weren't kept track of). In the grand scheme of things, not handing in an essay is unimportant, but they don't see the long-term possibilities of forming good work habits. At that age, I didn't see it either. So, I'll need to remind them every day that I won't accept late work past this Friday.

Logical thinking is not their strong suit at this age. This doesn't mean I don't enjoy them, which I do, very much. It just means they think I'm unaware of their behavior; they need to be reminded what to do; they don't see the relationship between action and consequence.

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