I’m so happy to share this video. We watched it recently at TLAC towers and have already started using it in our workshops.
It’s of Sarah Wright, who teaches English at Chattanooga Prep in Chattanooga, TN, and one of the many things it reminds me of is something that is somehow counter-intuitive to many people: that order and joy go together, that the best way to have students take pleasure in learning is to build culture and expectations and procedures intentionally so things work right and so students KNOW they’ll work that way.
When you watch the video, you’ll notice the joy first:
- The pleasure the boys take in trying to use vocabulary words and put them into the words of a character in the novel they’re reading.
- The way Sarah circulates and shows how she appreciated their thinking and their energy.
I mean it’s hard not to notice. Here, see for yourself:
But something else you might notice is how clear the procedures and expectations are in Sarah’s classroom. And those things, too, start to jump out at you once you start to look for them:
- How when Akheem reads his sentence, everyone in class is tracking him with their eyes and showing with the body language that his words matter.
- How the Turn and Talk snaps to life because she has such a clear in-cue for it, because students have practiced it, and because they know every classmate is going to dive in along with them.
- How the Turn and Talk ends quickly when needed because she also has a clear, practiced procedure for calling the class back to order. [Nothing is worse than a teacher letting kids do something fun, watching it spiral out of control and then angrily telling them they won’t have fun any more].
- How every single kid does–and does his best at–the writing before the Turn and Talk which gives them something substantive to talk about.
- How she has a system of “props” that she uses to let students celebrate one another’s work.
- How, eager as they are to answer, the boys don’t shout out their answers and this lets Sarah Cold Call Akheem and give him just the right chance at just the right time.
And of course here’s what’s so important:
That without those carefully built and reinforced procedures and expectations, none of the joy happens. It falls apart. It’s too risky for Akheem to read in the expressive way he does because classmates might snicker. Or it’s ‘normal to be passive… or impassive and so Sarah is always fighting to get kids to engage. Or, on the other hand, the fun activity becomes so inefficient and spirals out of control that the teacher never does it again. Or she keeps doing it… but there’s no learning.
Without order in this classroom, the joy doesn’t work [and probably vice versa].
So the next time you hear someone ranting about how orderly classrooms are a form of oppression done to young people to control and subjugate them–amazingly people really say that!!–remember Sarah Wright. And remember how utterly joyless the last disorderly classroom you were in was. I mean, where would you rather be???