My class had a number of friendship issues which were bubbling to the surface and happened to pop yesterday afternoon into and for my immediate attention. I listened to and questioned my students to uncover what the issues were. I found that they were wanting friendships for good reasons but possibly practicing unhealthy social skills. They understood why they needed friendships but they were struggling with how to act to maintain healthy friendships.
I pondered overnight on an effective way to help my students help themselves. In the morning over our daily arrival coffee, Leigh Ann and I were continuing our delightful never ending discussion about everything and anything. I shared my challenge and she, as usual drew from her wealth of ideas, suggesting I use a Verb Poem. She learned about the “How to be a Shark” poem approach from a Writer’s Workshop. Perfect! A poem format existed that was based on exactly what I wanted them to express in words - HOW. How was about doing so verbs were about to come alive with a relevance I’ve never seen before.
How was I going to facilitate the necessary discussion? I wanted the ideas to come from the students themselves not from me telling them what I thought healthy social skills were. I wanted to foster empowerment. How could I draw their contributions out? Google. I searched, “classroom questions” and the first two hits were very informative articles. I found exactly what I needed for effective questioning techniques and something called Wait Time II. I knew about Wait Time, waiting before responding to a question, from Barrie Bennett’s Think/Pair/Share but hadn’t thought about waiting after the response to a question. I was excited by what I read. I could make a tiny adjustment to my practice and know that I would be making a significant difference to student learning in the following areas;
I use Think/Pair/Share much of the time, however, when I do pose questions to my students, most are keen to answer but many do not practice listening skills therefore miss out on building on each other’s contributions and knowledge. Today this changed. I quickly made two red cards titled Wait Time 1 (3-5 Seconds) and Wait Time 2 (3-5 Seconds) for my session.
I was intentionally using Language Arts to facilitate the development of social skills. The conceptual understanding for Language Arts was Writing and thinking work together to enable us to express ideas and convey meaning. Thanks PYP, I couldn’t have phrased it better myself. The concept of Connection: How is it connected to other things? was the lens through which we viewed our topic: How do I connect to others? And our structure, thanks to Leigh Ann, became a Verb Poem. Use a Verb Poem to express your ideas about connecting to others and what connecting to others means to YOU. I wanted to avoid the word “friendship” as I felt that the students were putting too much emphasis on this category of relationships and interaction leaving no room nor realization for other types of connections. And in part, this unawareness was causing some of the problem.
During our discussion, what I did experience is each and every “quiet” student spoke today. Students’ behaviour changed and the quality of their responses did too. By waiting, they were forced to listen and incorporate the given response into their thinking before adding to the growing idea or the collective developing understanding. They were learning as a group from the group. I heard a lot of “I agree with...”, “I think differently than (peer x) about....” and not once did I say, “She/he just said that.” nor “Please listen and pay attention.” My behaviour changed.
I also noticed that I really listened and when I responded I demonstrated, through genuine acknowledgement, that I truly heard what they were conveying. I had always thought that not responding immediately to a question or answer was rude, I realized I was wrong and the opposite was true. Using this simple technique created the space for genuine appreciation to occur. I became a better teacher today.
At the conclusion of our discussion, I scribed notes on a poster from the class brainstorm centered on How do I connect to others? After which, I asked students to analyze the notes to see if they noticed any patterns so we could sort this brainstorm to make sense of it. They shared in small groups and then with the class. One group noticed the oral patterns during the brainstorm, “When one person used the word, share, then everyone gave ideas about sharing. And when one person said, help, then everyone shared ideas about helping.” They had found the verbs!
I showed the class the How To Be A Shark poem, pointing out the verbs and structure. They were delighted that it didn’t have to rhyme. They felt that a non-rhyming requirement let them have more freedom and increased word choice. I challenged them to only write down verbs and words in their poem they were going to live by. This would become a Promise Poem.
It is too early to measure the difference this session will make on their approach to friendships and learning healthier social skills. However, the impact of group discussion, developing a class consciousness of how we connect to each other through using writing has seemed to have made an immediate and positive impact. How do I know this? Students participated, opened up, shared, talked together and the day was measured by miles of smiles and a change from within, visible through their body language.
It’s got me thinking, may be in PYP schools we should encourage self-Essential Agreements. Agreements about yourself and with yourself but declared to others who you share your space and learning with. Those you will inevitably have an affect on and who will affect you. We all approach and respond to people in our own unique way and know ourselves best. Would this promote responsibility to and for your own set of standards of being the best you can be? A Promise Poem for Empowerment.
Hi, I am Natasha Hutchins an international teacher collaborating, exploring and sharing ideas with others, like myself from around the world, for our collective professional development and enjoyment of learning and teaching.