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Archive for December, 2010

One of Indiana’s State Standards is following directions or the dreaded “Process papers.” I have a bit of a different approach. Since the standard is just “Follow the steps in a process,” I allow my students to choose the process they want to explain.

I begin by teaching them the difficulty of giving instructions. I call up my class clown. Have them listen to me very carefully (with eye contact) and tell them, “I want you to do EXACTLY what your classmates SAY, not what they MEAN.” I then tell my class that they are going to instruct this student How to shoot a basketball. It’s usually around basketball season when I do this, so I’m sure to have basketball players in my class. The student I choose to instruct the student with the ball is told they cannot use the words “Like this” or “Here.” They really struggle, and there is uproarious laughter as the student with the ball goes out of his way to misunderstand directions (Think Amelia Bedelia.)
When we finished, I explain that directions have to be specific because there are a lot of stupid people out there 🙂 I refer to instances like instructions on a hand dryer and tell the story of my friend fooling a fellow airport visitor into thinking the motion detector faucets were voice activated. I then show them a great YouTube video called “How to give a proper man hug.”

Next, they are assigned to choose a process to explain. They will first write a paper, (So I can approve their topics) then present it to the class. The key: It can be ANY (Almost) process they want. I encourage them to bring in food, show off a talent, bring a pet, etc. And the excitement is tangible. In the past years, I have had such a variety of topics as bike tricks, martial arts, Cheesecake, Skateboarding, how to hook up an X-box, How to defeat Chuck Norris, How to annoy your classmates, How to properly wipe yourself, How to order a pizza from Little Caesars, and how to feed a snake. As junior highers haven’t done Show-N-Tell for YEARS, it is an AWESOME opportunity to show off. It’s incredible to see the kid who never does anything explain and execute a 360 triple tap on a bike (Yes, in my classroom…) or watch the kid who everyone thinks is a nerd do a flawless butterfly kick (fancy roundhouse kick) in Karate. For once, everyone can be good at something, and it produces a great change. As one kid told me, “This is my favorite day in school ever!” (He and his friends did a skateboard “horse” game.)

For the ones who decide they’re going to be lazy, I have told them if they choose to not do their own project, they will do one of my choosing, and I am endlessly creative. (Note: I DO offer to help them think of something to do if they can’t.) I encourage students to bring in cameras as well. In the rare instances I have a student who doesn’t comply, I have had boys: demonstrate how to shave your legs (With shaving cream and the guard on), model Revolutionary War fashion (Usually GIRL’s Revolutionary war fashion), put on a mud masque, etc. Girls: Shave their face (Shaving cream and guard on), paint on a handlebar moustache with eyeliner, mud masque, etc…Definitely a memorable few days.

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Over the past two days I have a number of difficult discussions with students. It reminds me that we should never shy away from the tough topics. It’s through tackling the hard issues that we are really able to change lives. Here are my top 5: 1. I asked to see a student who had been responsible for giving another student drugs that she overdosed on. Luckily, she didn’t die. The police are watching the situation, but it’s difficult to get proof. This kid is incredible smart, but everyone else has written him off as “He’ll be in jail by the time he’s 16.” Hopefully, we can change that. I pulled him aside and said, “I want to talk to you about some of the choices you’re making. I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you, but you are incredibly smart. You have amazing potential, but you can throw it all away by making stupid choices. One of your classmates almost died last week, and I understand she got things from you. I don’t want to talk to you on the other side of s TV screen or be standing with you at a funeral like ( a teacher’s son who overdosed last week) and knowing it was your fault they’re there. You are probably one of the smartest kids at this school, but you’re wasting your life on stupid stuff, and you need to start making better choices.” The bell rang, and he nodded. He had gotten suspended that day, but we agreed to talk more at length. 2. I kept a student after class to talk about her relationship with her boyfriend. He always has his hands on her, usually inappropriately. I’ve seen her push him away at time, and he resists strongly, which makes me nervous! I have tried to talk to him, but he doesn’t listen, so I approached her. I explained to her what people think of you when you allow someone to be that physical with you in public. She said, “Oh, no, Miss Brailey, we’re not . . .” I explained that I was concerned for her and her reputation, and it concerned me that he wouldn’t leave her alone when she pushed him away. She thanked me and went to talk to him. He was a jerk to me in class, so I’m sure she drew some boundaries—we’ll see how things go. 3. After school, a boy came into my room. He calls me “Madre” because his relationship with his own mother is horrible, and I’ve told him I will stand in for her when he needs me. He and some friends were just coming to say hi. His friend pointed out the hickie on his neck. He blanched visibly, and said, “That’s my mom. Why are you going to say stuff like that about me in front of her?” I asked him if we needed to talk, and he said, “Don’t worry. There was no sexual intercourse involved.” I told him “Good” and “Be smart.” He also struggles with substance abuse issues, so we’ve chatted on numerous occasions about that. He gave me a hug, promising me he would. 4. On the way to the basketball game, I saw an alumnus of our school, and gave him a hug and asked how he was doing. “I’ve been clean for 10 months!” He told me proudly. “Awesome!” I congratulated him. “But, I’ve still got this.” He lifted his pant leg to reveal his ankle bracelet. He went on to explain that the court had tried to charge him with his friend’s overdose as a murder, but he’d gotten off. “I’m trying to turn my life around, Miss Brailey,” he told me. “And you can do it.” I responded. He told me he’s back going to church and trying to live like he should. I gave him a hug and headed to the game. 5. At the game, I ran into another alumnus. He had struggled with substance abuse through high school, and had come to my room often to try to sort out issues. He shared with me that his grandpa had just died and he had saved his dad’s life. When I asked what had happened, he shared that his dad had taken a shot of something because he was upset about his dad dying. He had stopped breathing, so my student had pulled the car over, dragged him out of the car, and punched him several times in the chest. Apparently, that re-started his heart, and he began to breathe again. He told me he’s still struggling to get out of drinking and drugs and get his diploma. “You always told me, ‘(Name), You’re smarter than this.’ and you were right. It just took me a while to realize it. It’s a journey, but I’m changing my life, I’m going to church, and trying to do what’s right.” He gave me a huge hug and kissed me on the cheek, “I love you to death.” He told me, “You have no idea. I could always tell you anything, and you’d never judge me. I’m going to get my diploma and bring it by your room.” Five kids and a normal few days of life. A good reminder to be willing to have the difficult conversations. You may not see the results immediately, but as my alumni showed me, you will see them.

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