Another school year has almost spent itself, and I’m already thinking about next year. I’ve been buying colored paper – maybe I’ll color code my classes next year? – and have a new printer and speakers for my laptop and I’ve ordered a reading drills book I used to like (Will I still like it? Will my students be able to read it?) and I’ve got my ideas, if not my actual prep done for next years literacy centers.
But I’m still unsettled about the boys. They haven’t changed or matured at all this year, as far as I can tell. The early morning class still throws things at each other every day, they never bring pencils and only settle their squirreliness a little bit when I give them a vocabulary worksheet to do. I ‘d like to remind you that I do not like worksheets or workbooks, not at all. Yet lately, they are the only thing that settles the boys down for a minute. I’m convinced that they all love my class because it’s kind of like indoor P.E. without the rules that accompany the games they play.
A couple of days ago I swore off the vocab book and assigned them a project. They are to think of something they know how to do, write careful directions for doing it, create some kind – any kind – of a visual aid and present it to the class. I knew that it wouldn’t be done by all of them, but if I don’t expect anything at all, that is what I’ll get, right? So, yesterday from Jason and Calven and Ron I learned a great deal about how to catch a crappie or a bass. I learned about tying a little bell at the end of the fishing pole so you know when a fish is on the line. I also learned that those little bells cost $3.00 (can you believe it, for just a little bell??).
I started to learn how to break up cement, until Norberto decided it’d be better to teach how to make Rice Krispie squares. Joel is laboriously writing about how to bake brownies, and I have hopes that he might finish it eventually. He’s been trying harder since I made those complimentary phone calls home in the past couple of weeks. He told me his dad saves those messages on the answering machine, only those.
Unfortunately, I learned nothing from Alfonso, Luis, or Rafael, other than that they still like to make those little folded paper missiles and shoot them around the room with rubber bands when I’m not looking. The same goes for Jesus, Jose, Ernesto and Andrés, only they just poke and giggle and break their pencils.
I recently read an article in Newsweek about the problem with our boys. It said that half of the parents they interviewed had been to the doctor with worries about their boys emotional and behavioral needs. The article suggested that the problem might be related to the changes which have evolved in recent years in our expectations for our children. The author talked about increased scheduling of kids’ time, the reduction of free play time at home as well as at school.
While I don’t think my students’ time is especially scheduled outside of school, there is definitely a less than playful focus at school. We have our students in English class for two hours a day. There is so much to learn in order to be prepared for the big test in the Spring, that any less seems inadequate. To us, that is. I think it’s overkill for the boys. Our pacing guide has us reading at least two stories a week, teaching them twenty new vocab words and twenty spelling words along with the new vocab for the stories. What research says that you can teach any kids fifty new words a week, even if they aren’t English Learners? Oh, and when are we supposed to squeeze writing in there?
So yeah. Back to the boys for a minute. I really think their behavior is, in part, their defense against the impossible overload of the current school environment. These guys are still twelve, curious and exuberant all the time. I wonder if they might be able to handle smaller doses of an academic class that requires a lot of sitting down and focusing. Maybe we could break the blocks into two periods. That might be less blasphemous that suggesting we only require one period a day of English class. Or maybe I need to begin next year with different expectations. Maybe I need to plan to meet them where they are. Because I don’t see anything else changing any time soon.