It's May, and even though we have five weeks left in the school year, there is always an atmosphere that arrives in May that makes it seems as though tomorrow is the last day of school when in reality it is five weeks away. Prom is now over, AP tests begin next week, and so the struggle to stay focused continues. On the good side, the overwhelming majority of the students are putting forth the effort, preparing for class, and responding positively to the requests I've made over the last couple weeks. And the "poster class" is still doing pretty much everything right. However, the other classes, while certainly better, are just not quite as on track as the poster class. So, this week I tried to pinpoint exactly what it is that the poster class does better than the others, and I think I've figured it out: they listen.
By that, I don't just mean that they hear one another. No, they really listen to one another. They seriously consider the suggestions of each and every person in the class, trying to find the possibility of a solution in each proposal. They respond to the questions and confusion others are experiencing, adjusting their explanations in the hopes that the new description of the solution will hit home. They takes turns, rarely having more than one person in the group speaking at the same time. They politely make corrections to the proposed solutions of others in the group. There is a level of respect for the individual, in particular for the value of both their contributions and their needs. And in all of this, the conversations do not feel forced or stilted...they are very natural, complete with a reasonable but unobtrusive dose of joking around.
The question, of course, is: what has gone right with this class that has not in the other three classes? The answer to this still eludes me, because from my perspective I started each of the classes the same way at the beginning of the trimester, but have needed to give reminders to the other classes throughout the term that the poster class simply hasn't needed...if it ain't broke, don't fix it is coming to mind. I really need to continue sifting through things to try to figure this out.
Finally, there is a very real test of Harkness coming on Monday: I won't be at school. Pascha is this Sunday, so in addition to those church services we will be back at church on Monday morning. The test will be this: the plans I left for the sub state, quite simply, that the class is run through student-centered, student-run discussions, that the kids know what to do, and that they will take care of the class for the day, including keeping track of the participation points. I told the kids this at the end of class on Friday, so they know the expectations for Monday. We'll find out in Tuesday how much progress they were able to make and how much they have taken responsibility for their own education. In other words, we'll see how much Harkness has become part of the way they approach learning. I'll let you know the results next week...