Fires in the Mind

Bomb scare

A pre-service teacher wrote us this week after her solo student-teaching day was interrupted by what turned out to be a bomb scare. After the kids had been standing around for about 20 minutes, she struck up a conversation about fire-drill protocols with a girl nearby, someone whom she had noticed wasn’t doing well in math class, and rarely spoke up. “She told me that fire drills only take five minutes,” wrote A.B. “I shrugged, and then I decided that this would be a good time to talk to her.”

Starting with how much she hated math, the girl gradually opened up to talk about her life–a couple of difficult years in middle school, a transfer, friendship issues. A.B. writes:

She had no plans to go to college but she really enjoyed cooking. Her specialty — all types of chicken. I told her that I really hate cooking. So, now, that is our thing. We talk about what she made and what she intends to cook. It’s amazing how that one conversation has made her open up to me more and ask me questions when previously she had not said a word to me.

Back in the classroom, A.B. began to make more time to talk with other students. One was a boy who often slept in class, never seemed to do his homework, but could rip through problems at top speed when he was awake.

I told him that I was very worried about him and his success. After some pushing, he told me that he was working 30 hours a week but not to say anything to anyone. One other teacher let him do his homework during classtime, and he was able to get an A. A local college agreed to admit him if he got a 2.5 this year, and he’s keeping a C average by turning in a few homeworks now. However, since that discussion, he has been much more willing to talk to me about how things are going with my class and other classes. He has started to participate more in class, but he is not turning in homework assignments.

“One of these students lacks the confidence and the other lacks the motivation,” A.B. wrote, wondering how to use the information that they gave her to get them to perform at a higher level. I am struck by two things about her situation:

One is how powerful it is for students when their teacher simply reaches out to find out what is going on with them. The second is how much skill it takes to adapt our teaching plans so that each student is taking the next steps that he or she really needs (as homework or as classwork).

The second can’t be done without the first. So, if it takes a bomb scare to get the conversation going, grab the chance! It could open up your best thinking and planning ever for “deliberate practice” that’s geared for the individual—and your students might just join that thinking with you.

We’re collecting great examples of how teachers do such planning, to use in professional development workshops and to post as resources on this blog. Please send us yours–we’ll send a complimentary copy of Fires in the Mind to you for sharing your best examples with us all!


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