Today I had the luxury of observing the first-grade classroom at a school I support. I was blown away at the level of teaching and learning that occurred. However, I was immediately reminded of two incidents I witnessed in my days as a principal.
The first incident occurred while on a field trip with my teachers the week before school started in 2014. We went on a field trip to view the community we serve and went into the apartment complex where many of our students reside. While at the community center, I was talking to a few boys about school. I love talking with kids because they’re brutally honest. The younger the child, the more honest they’ll be.
While chatting, one of the boys said everybody is excited that school is about to start, but that just means it is time to shut up and be quiet. At this time, the boys started to engage in some interesting dialogue.
Man, you can’t even talk at school stated one of the boys. Somebody is always telling you to shut up or be quiet!! That’s why we run so much for recess and P.E. What are you talking about bruh another asked? Oh, wait, leave him alone Eric is talking some real stuff. Think about it. You get on the bus and the bus driver tells you to shut and be quiet, if it gets too loud in the cafeteria they tell you to shut up and be quiet or you’re on silent lunch, you enter your classroom you’re told to shut up and be quiet and begin your bell ringer activities. Hey, bruh doesn’t forget about all the signs in the hall that say quiet zone or no talking zone. Yeah man, I hate those said another boy.
At this point, the dialogue started focusing on the system. Man, we learn all those sight words, spelling words, and have to use them in a sentence for homework and on a test, but never get a chance to use the words in a sentence with your friends at school because you always have to shut up and be quiet. It was here the little 5-year-old jumped in and said my teacher wants me to put my hand on my hip and my finger on my lip. Man, we look stupid walking down the hall. I always get in trouble because I don’t do the hip part. My behavior always is yellow or red (another commonly used practice in kindergarten that has a negative effect on the children). I always get in trouble at home for having a yellow or red. I never get green.
Finally, the last student stated man I got in trouble because the two times I knew the answer I yelled out the answer and got sent to the office. The first time, I got excited she gave me a warning, but I got super excited because the next question she asked I knew that answer too. That was the first time all year that I knew two answers in one day. Man, that’s messed up bruh, stated another student. Man my teacher pulls my popsicle stick with my name on it and asks me to read, and she knows I can’t read, but I get in trouble for yelling out a correct answer or trying to use one of those words I was taught in a sentence in the hall. It almost feels like we’re in jail at times.
The second incident occurred while a group of students was waiting to use the restroom. Two first grade boys were waiting to use the restroom and decided to kill some time by having a reading contest. The began reading the words on the wall and keeping scores They wanted to see who knew the most words (boys like to compete). This was a risk as it was “Quiet Time” in the hall. Hallways are considered “The Quiet Zone.” One of the boys began reciting the words and the teacher immediately said: “shhhhhh be quiet!”. The boys complied and said yes mam.
A few minutes later they started again. Didn’t I say be quiet? Do it again and you’re both on red. Red is the maximal consequence you can have in a day for bad behavior. Well a few minutes later, the boys began reciting words they knew. The teacher immediately responded by saying that’s it, you’re on red and timeout. At this point, the boys were crushed. Then one raised their hand to ask a question. The teacher asked how can I help you? I like the way you raised your hand. The boy calmly asked – “Why in the hell did y’all put the words on the wall, if we can’t read them?” Now I didn’t like the way he asked the question, but it was a good question.
Ms. Orr’s Class
I entered a classroom for an observation of a first-grade teacher, and she was reviewing the objective of the lesson. The objective of the lesson was to read an informational /explanatory text and identify the main topic, some facts about the topic, and some sense of closure.
During the writing portion of the lesson, students completed a descriptive writing exercise where they were planning and researching using informational text. Students had to pick from six animals and display the completed five senses template from a previous lesson.
The teacher began the lesson by providing a model. She selected a trout. The students were super excited. Being from Southwest Louisiana, they could all relate to a fish. When the teacher asked what the trout looked like, sound like, and feel like, the lesson in the classroom went to another level. When asked what does a trout look like? The students immediately responded with the features. However, one boy responded with the features of a catfish, another began speaking about a perch, one girl started describing the features of a flounder, and one student stated his dad caught an eel and described what an eel was to the class. Students were just blurting out the fish they knew other than a trout. It was organized chaos and the teacher never once told any student to STOP and be quiet! I was really intrigued at this point as all the students that were blurting out were boys. This continued through each of the senses as students were discussing their prior knowledge of different types of fish and educating their peers.
When students were asked what does the trout feel like? Students immediately researched the text and pulled the evidence of how a trout feels. However, it didn’t stop their one boy popped up and said, “depending on the fish the texture is different.” The students around him said texture, what is that? The other students yelled; it means how does something feel. He then asked how do you think the texture of an alligator’s head feels like? Everyone emphatically yelled, rough! Again, this organized chaos continues through each of the senses.
After modeling the lesson and reviewing what was the topic sentence and thoroughly describing the senses of the trout, where was its home, and what did it like, students were paired up based on the animal selected and find a space in the room to complete their task. There were six groups. Two groups had four students; two groups had three students, and two groups had two students. The directions were for each group to read and research the text and discuss and answer the questions to create their paragraph. Interestingly, by the time students were placed in their groups, there was very little discussion as students clearly understood the objective and they had an opportunity to give an example of the type of fish they knew personally. This provided students with a personal example which made it easier when reading and researching another animal.
During the lesson, I couldn’t help but think about the lost opportunities that would have occurred if the teacher would have silenced everyone and only allowed one student to respond. Let’s look at a few lessons that were learned outside of the objective:
- The definition of the word texture
- The texture of an alligator
- The texture and physical features of a catfish, perch, flounder, and trout
- What’s an eel?
- The best place in the city to catch each type of fish
- The danger of a catfish
- How to communicate effectively
Our students come to school to be nurtured, inspired, and to receive a ‘World Class Education”, but most schools are subconsciously participating in hindering students by simply not allowing them to engage in meaningful dialogue. Many times, this is unintentional.
At the conclusion of the lesson, I went to the teacher and asked her why did she allow every student to blurt out their answers? She responded that each and everyone one of them was engaged, everyone was discussing exactly what they were supposed to be discussing, and each wanted to express themselves and explain how they too knew of a different type of fish. It didn’t matter what type of fish it was as long as the students can read and research the text identify the topic sentence, know the senses of the fish, where the fish live, what they eat, and write it and speak fluently about what was written. Lastly, she stated, the students taught one another today and there’s nothing wrong with that! Wow! What an amazing lesson.