Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Miracles ARE Possible

Today, a miracle happened at Roncalli Middle School in Room 7. Okay, maybe it isn’t a full-blown miracle, but my classes (yes, all of them – not just my “good kids”) behaved. They were happy. They were engaged. They enjoyed the entire lesson. And they were quiet when they needed to be and answering questions when it was time. Like I said, that’s just about miraculous at RMS! Now, what did I do differently, you may ask? Well, this week I started a new reading program called Jr. Great Books. It’s an interesting compilation of short stories written for grade level shared inquiry discussion. First, I read the story aloud to the entire class and have them act like it’s story time. Their only job is to figure out what the story is about. Then, we briefly discuss the story as a class. Then, I tell the kids that they will re-read the story silently, but they have a time limit so they must really focus. Their job while reading the second time is to find new, critical information that may be beneficial to know before answering a focus question (that they do not yet know). After everyone finishes, students raise their hands to inform the class about new information they found that time that they think will be helpful. Then, I write the focus question on the board, and the students must copy it onto their own paper. I read it aloud to them a few times, and then it is their turn to write down their answer. The question is NEVER a yes or no question, and it always has multiple answers. There is never one right or wrong answer I’m looking for, and they know any answer is acceptable AS LONG AS THEY CAN PROVE IT WITH EVIDENCE FROM THE STORY. That is the critical part here. These kids are used to sharing their opinions, but now they must find proof to back them up. This is what I love! They can feel my energy, and they take this seriously. I love it. At the end of the discussion, after I have written all of their answers on the board around the focus question and they have copied the answers down onto their own papers, I ask which answer they think is the very best and why. They have to PROVE to me why one answer is better than the others. It’s very interesting hearing what they come up with, and it’s a great lesson for teaching them how to find supporting evidence, which is a critical skill for higher level thinking.

This has been working so well for my class this week that I wanted to share today’s story and focus question with everyone. The focus question is: According to the story, would the moth have been better off setting his heart on the star or standing on a streetlamp? Yes, the question sounds odd. It won’t be so weird after you read the (extremely) short story below. Have fun!

"The Moth and the Star" by James Thurber

A young and impressionable moth once set his heart on a certain star. He told his mother about this and she counseled him to set his heart on a bridge lamp instead. “Stars aren’t the thing to hang around,” she said; “lamps are the thing to hang around.” “You get somewhere that way,” said the moth’s father. “You don’t get anywhere chasing stars.” But the moth would not heed the words of either parent. Every evening at dusk when the star came out he would start flying toward it and every morning at dawn he would crawl back home worn out with his vain endeavor. One day his father said to him, “You haven’t burned a wing in months, boy, and it looks to me as if you were never going to. All your brothers have been badly burned flying around street lamps and all your sisters have been terribly singed flying around house lamps. Come on, now, get out of here and get yourself scorched! A big strapping moth like you without a mark on him!”

The moth left his father’s house, but he would not fly around street lamps and he would not fly around house lamps. He went right on trying to reach the star, which was four and one-third light years, or twenty-five trillion miles, away. The moth thought it was just caught up in the top branches of an elm. He never did reach the star, but he went right on trying, night after night, and when he was a very, very old moth he began to think that he really had reached the star and he went around saying so. This gave him a deep and lasting pleasure, and he lived to a great old age. His parents and his brothers and his sisters had all been burned to death when they were quite young.
Moral: Who flies afar from the sphere of our sorrow is here today and here tomorrow.

Do you see how it’s fun for a class full of 12 year olds to be able to hear a story read to them, interact respectfully with their classmates (which is new to them), and get to share their answers with everyone else in the class? They are loving it, and therefore, I am too!


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