Sunday, March 17, 2013

Put Me In The Zoo

 Last week I was urged invited to be a part of our school's Teacher Lab.  Basically, it's where a bunch of teachers, and a few other people, visit a classroom to watch the students and the teacher in action.  They observe a lesson and look at student engagement and thinking.  I didn't join "Teacher Lab" because I wasn't interested in being in "Teacher Lab", but that's a whole nother blog.  

So, on Friday morning, as I reviewed the schedule for the day with my class, I informed them that we would be having lots of visitors in the classroom during math workshop. I explained to them what "Teacher Lab" meant.    We have visitors on occasion, so it wasn't going to be anything new, however, on Friday afternoons we aren't usually involved in math and the students were concerned they wouldn't get to play chess, our normal late Friday afternoon activity.  I was more concerned with having my peers in my room on a Friday afternoon, with my squirming, active bunch of little ones.  

The teachers began streaming in around 2:30 and I transitioned the class into math workshop.  Teachers were everywhere as I settled in at the back table with one of my math groups.  Another group of students grabbed their math game or iPad and got settled on the back carpet.  The other group chose their math assignment and partnered up at some desks to begin.  After about fifteen minutes, students rotated around the room to a new activity, sidestepping around the adults. 

Thirty minutes later, after the fifteen or so people thanked us and left the classroom, five or six hands shot up into the air.  It was a little after 3 p.m. so I assumed they were going to remind me that we still had time to play chess. 

I called on one of the students.   She squirmed a bit in her seat before beginning. 
"Ummm.... can I say something about all those people in our room?" she began, with a nervous laugh. 

"Of course you can," I told her.  "I'd love to hear any thoughts or comments."  At this, at least four more hands waved in the air.  Seems they all wanted to give some input.  I love that about them.

"There were so many of them!  I felt weird cuz they were watching me and stuff," she continued, trying to put her thoughts into words.  Eight or nine little heads bobbed up and down in agreement.  

I reminded her, and the class, that the teachers were watching them to learn. I had told the students that they would be teaching the teachers today.  I told them to just do what they always do and to pay no attention to all the visitors.  

"I counted fourteen people in our room,"  one little boy.  "That means we had thirty-five people in here!"   

"Plus Mrs. Jeppson makes thirty-six," added another girl.  "That's a lot of people in our room!" 

The room was suddenly abuzz as the students told one another what they thought of the experience.  

"Two teachers sat behind me and watched me while I played a game on the iPad," one boy announced.  

Not to be outdone, another student interjected, "Well, we had four teachers watching us work on the Button Doll math.  And they were asking us questions and everything!" 

I let them share and talk a bit more before I grabbed their attention back.

"Does anyone have any other comments or thoughts besides the number of people in the room?" I asked.  "Before we move on?"

"I kind of felt like I was in a zoo or something," one little boy declared.

"Why do you say that?" I asked.

"Well....  because.... you know... they were staring at us and watching us.  Some were even whispering and talking about us," he explained.  "Now I know how the animals feel at the zoo!" 

In my own mind, I had been thinking it felt more like being under a microscope.  

Before I left school on Friday, a fellow 3rd grade teacher, who was a part of the lab, thanked me for having them in my room.  I explained to her how awkward I felt and she assured me that a lot was learned.  I met up with another teacher friend in the hallway as I was leaving and she told me they had a great conversation in lab about math workshop and appreciated me letting them come into my classroom.

I've been thinking about the zoo comment this weekend.  I've been thinking about what a great group of students I have, who on a Friday afternoon, adjusted their normal schedule and carried on with a lot of adults in their space watching them.   I've been thinking about how important it is to learn from one another.  

I pulled out my copy of "Put Me In the Zoo" which was one of my daughter's favorite books when she was little.  I think two parts in the book describe my Friday best:

                                    "Why should they put you in the zoo?"
                                    "What good are you?  What can you do?"

I hope we were put into the zoo because we can do good things.  And we're willing to try new things together. And because my students can help teach teachers.

Or maybe it's more like this:

"With all the things that you can do,"
 "The circus is the place for you."

And it would definitely be a three-ring circus.


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