Slice of Life Tuesday: NOT playing it safe in the classroom!

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Sometimes, you never know how a lesson will go, and you find yourself  right in the thick of it, wading through some through some rough patches, and asking yourself:  maybe I didn’t do enough to prepare my kids for the task at hand? maybe I didn’t explain the directions clearly enough? or maybe I left things too open ended? OR maybe the task is just a bit too sophisticated – what was I thinking, anyway?!

That’s where I found myself last Friday – standing in the middle of our classroom as my students leaned over the collection of political cartoons of the  Monroe Doctrine that I’d carefully curated, and listened to my kids as they wailed and complained around me: I don’t get it? What’s this mean anyway? How’m I supposed to figure this out? Ugh, I hate this!

Then, just as I was ready to collect everything and just download the essence of the Monroe Doctrine, in what my friend Bonnie derisively calls the “sage on the stage” format, everything suddenly clicked.  Someone had an ah-ha moment, and that led to a ripple of more.  Slowly, but surely, the conversation turned from one of befuddlement and irritation to one of emerging clarity.  Bit by bit, they began to assemble a framework for the Monroe Doctrine – what it stood for, what it meant for our nation.

The tension in the room eased.   My kids came through, as they always do.  And here’s what I’ve come to appreciate about students in general: when given the freedom to struggle over something interesting and challenging, with just a bit of information and guidance, kids can chart a path to an understanding that they own.  Even though it was hard to stay out of the mix and listen to the mounting frustration (with the task and with me), and do nothing – it was so worth it.  I’d rather hear  “Yeah, we did it!”, than “Yeah, thanks for telling us, Mrs. Smith.”

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And I was proud of their thinking in the Citizen’s Journal entries they wrote:

Dear Journal, 

I have just read about the Monroe Doctrine in the newspaper. I think that this is a very good policy. It shows that we are now our very own strong nation, and that we decide what happens near us. I think that it will help our nation tremendously, because it will allow us to expand in North America and the Northern Hemisphere. The Europeans will not be able to go and settle close to us in South America also, so this helps us and our allies from South America. By doing this, it will make our allies more loyal, us more powerful, and reducing the amount of land that the Europeans can control. I also think that this could easily go bad for us however. With this, it will affect our trade. I am a farmer, so this might affect my goods being able to be sold to Europe. This will affect many more people, not just me. In all, I think that the Monroe Doctrine is a great thing for this country to have,

Sincererly,

William Ebersteen

or:

New Jersey Gazette

BREAKING NEWS!: President Monroe as completed the Monroe Doctrine!!! It means that now the Americas are only for the U.S and the other new countries that have declared independence from European Nations. This new policy states that any attempt at colonization of the America’s will be considered an attack by the U.S and we’ll respond accordingly. Some of our readers feel that this is a great help to our nation and will make us stronger and safer. it also helps those baby republics and allows them to grow in safety to. The darker side to this, however is that other countries may put embargos into effect with us and maybe go to war. There could be a devastating economic impact. Still, most of the writers here at the Gazette agree that this Doctrine is a great idea and we are supporters of it!

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22 thoughts on “Slice of Life Tuesday: NOT playing it safe in the classroom!

  1. I love this line: “when given the freedom to struggle over something interesting and challenging, with just a bit of information and guidance, kids can chart a path to an understanding that they own.” This is where true learning happens. Good for you — and your students — for recognizing that!

    Jennifer

  2. This is what rigor is all about. What a great feeling of satisfaction for the students and you! I could just imagine the ripple of understanding make its way through the class.

  3. Love this: ” I’d rather hear “Yeah, we did it!”, than “Yeah, thanks for telling us, Mrs. Smith.”” Patience is the key, isn’t it? It’s hard to bite our lips & let things happen, but they do! I enjoyed reading the two pieces, too, Tara!

  4. This is a great SOL and reminder that we need to take chances in our teaching. We need to be willing to try and fail, or how can we expect the kids to take chances…Thanks for sharing!

  5. I think we all wrestle with the struggle of when to intervene and when to stay back. But this is a lovely story on persistence on everyone’s part. Your students are lucky to have such a wonderful teacher.

  6. I love how you teach social studies. This is how it should be done! And yes, I have those thoughts all the time about oops… they’re not ready, I didn’t give them enough. But you did good — wait time and a little discomfort can pay off big time! And this is the pay off — “Yeah, we did it!” versus“Yeah, thanks for telling us, Mrs. Smith.” — I think our goal should be to hear this kind of talk from our students. Bravo!

  7. I am glad that you didn’t give up, waited for the “a-ha moment”, let it ripple and “everything suddenly clicked.” Your students met your challenge and expectations.

  8. I really love this line: “Then, just as I was ready to collect everything and just download the essence of the Monroe Doctrine, in what my friend Bonnie derisively calls the “sage on the stage” format…” I have been there so many times, tempted to just TELL them. My friends and I call it “dumping” content. I’m glad to know I’m not alone, and I’m so impressed with what your kids DID do on their own!

  9. It takes faith and perseverance to just WAIT to see what happens. Such a great reminder to endure struggles and the uncomfortable! This inspires me (as your words often do) with practical wisdom! Thanks, Tara.

  10. “…everything suddenly clicked. Someone had an ah-ha moment, and that led to a ripple of more.” Thanks for sharing this NOT playing it safe experience with us. So glad you were able to WAIT through the frustration and do nothing so they could arrive at their own understanding.

  11. Tara- Such an important lesson! We had a conversation about this, related to math, with our teachers last week. When do you let them struggle? When do you wade in and help? How much rigor is too much? I’m sharing your post today! Thank you!

  12. Loved this post! “Freedom to struggle”–something all learners need and something we are very loathe to let students do. And I think you nail the reasons why–it’s very uncomfortable for us! My college students have experienced so many years of being told what to think, what to do, having even the most trivial details of an assignment spelled out for them. They don’t know how to create those paths you describe or know the satisfaction of owning their learning. I suspect that frustration, even momentary despair, is key to the most meaningful learning experiences. Will have to think on that more. Thanks for providing me with so much to reflect upon!

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