Friday, September 27, 2013

Year 4: Week 4 – Puddles

One of the common phrases that come up when I talk to teachers at my school is “they have to step in their own puddles to learn.” It’s the idea that in order for students to learn they need to make mistakes. Most of the time we find out about these mistakes after the students have made them, like when a students flunks a math test. Other times we can view students in the process of making a mistake and as teachers we have to make the decision whether or not to let them make that mistake.

Earlier this week, I saw some of my students walking towards a “puddle,” and instead of steering them away, I let them get their feet wet.

I asked one of my fifth grade classes to come forward and sit on the carpet so that we could sing a song together. The boys collected towards the left side of the room and the girls sat together on the right side of the room. I didn’t really mind the split in the genders and it some ways it made the activity a little easier to organize.

We had learned two different parts to a song and I wanted them to try to sing them at the same time. The first time we did it the girls sang well but some of the boys were singing in a silly manner. I told them to make sure they were singing in their best voice and we tried again.

This time some of the boys sang obnoxiously loud. We stopped quickly and I noticed that the boys were giggling. I decided to be more explicit, because clearly my previous directions didn’t work.

The boys seemed to comprehend what I was asking for in their singing and they nodded in understanding. As I faced the girls to complement them, I noticed two boys moving around the group  whispering while other boys nodded in agreement.

At this point, I knew that something was up, but I decided to move forward and start them singing again. This time most of the boys sang as softly as possible. After I stopped them again, it was clear some of them found this hilarious. We were just about at the end of class, so I excused all of the girls and made the boys stay behind.

Then I let them have it. I reminded them of the saying I have up on the wall that it’s not the mistakes that define a person's character but rather how they fix them. Yes, they made a mistake by singing too loud, but the way they reacted to it is what was the major issue. Then I pulled out my rarely used “I’m embarrassed as a man”-card.

I told them how some people have lower expectations for boys than they do for girls and the fact was that they reinforced the idea that boys are less mature. Not only as teacher was I concerned, but as a man, I was offended by what their actions say about the way people perceive what it means to be a man. Right after I excused them, the classroom teacher proceeded to have fifteen-minute discussion about what happened.

If I had stopped them before they sang that last time then they would have never seen the consequences of their actions. It’s our job as teachers to let students make mistakes in a safe way. If we always catch them before they fall, they will never learn how to get up. This may mean that in the short term that class seems to be less productive, but in the long run the lessons they learn from stepping in their own puddles will resonate with them.   

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