After much preparation, we have begun our historical fiction book clubs. Our careful read aloud of “The Boy in The Striped Pajamas” prepared us well for our first round of discussions, and each book group did some background research into the time periods for their novels as well. The next step was to take our discussions on line – and our book blogs went up last week, complete with specific sentence starters and discussion prompts to nudge our thinking along. The weekend homework was to post one “juicy” discussion post and comment on the rest of the group’s posts as well. We did a mini lesson on this, practiced in composing them in small groups, and felt comfortable with the process. So far so good..
Come Sunday, however, I went online to check in and discovered that one student had composed an essay length discussion post – it was incredibly detailed, well thought out…awesome. But, it was not a discussion post, it was an essay! I just knew that her book group would be overwhelmed – how to respond to perfection? and which piece of perfection would one respond to? Only one other student responded, and she prefaced her post with, “Well, Rachel has said everything, but…”.
So, on Monday, I tried to clarify my instructions and we went over some responses (including Rachel’s) to try to decipher how to best create a “juicy” post, and how to comment on someone else’s post. For the rest of the week, my kids have continued to comment, and it has been wonderful – we talked about the process today, and everyone felt that this type of preparation for book club was so much better than the written responses they had been doing so far. Yay for that. But, Rachel’s group was still reticent…very few responses. So, we discussed ways of breaking down her lengthy response and choosing one point to comment on/react to.
Somewhere in my show and tell, though, Rachel began to feel “picked on.” I thought I was being fair, and sharing many types of examples, but she felt differently. Only, I did not know. I tried to be jovial about the whole thing – mainly because I wanted her group to feel they could still respond, that they had things to say. But Rachel did not feel that way. When we wrapped up for the day, I felt that tomorrow’s book club meeting would be awesome – my kids would be primed for great discussions.
At 9:00 tonight, I logged on for a final check of the discussion posts, and found an email from Rachel. She felt awful. She felt that she had messed up the assignment and that I was disappointed in her work. She felt that I had focused on her essay and made it a target for smirks amongst her classmates. She was upset. I was stunned. What had happened??
I did not waste any time trying to figure out this or that detail or bit of conversation about the book blog over the past few days. What difference would that make? The important thing was that my student was upset, and I had played a part in it. I wrote back immediately and said, in part:
I show mentor texts (I consider your piece to be this) as a way to push my students to think better, think smarter and aim for the best. Obviously, something has gone wrong in the way this lesson was received, at your expense, and I will correct it. I value your hard work and your exceptional example of all it is and all it takes to be a remarkable student. I consider myself lucky to have you for a student, and I hope that you will come and see me first thing tomorrow so that we can talk about this in person.
I hope you get a good night’s sleep…and that you accept your teacher’s apology for whatever it is that has caused you this much anguish. I promise you that I will set things aright tomorrow.
I applaud Rachel’s parents for sitting down with her, as they must have, and figuring out a constructive way to channel her feelings. They did not fire off a nasty email themselves, they let their daughter share her feelings with her teacher in an open and clear way. And I applaud Rachel for taking the initiative in communicating with me – she let me know how my actions had made her feel. As I go over and over the past few days in my head, trying to think about how all this has played out, I’ve come to realize that the only thing that really counts is that a student perceived she was being singled out – and that it is my job to reach out to her and to the entire class to set the record straight….to lead by example. We’ll have great discussions tomorrow, I’m sure…and Rachel will feel once again a valued member of our class.