SOL: Extreme Learning

Finding reasons to avoid something is a skill we develop early in life.  The if-I-wait-long-enough-it-will-go-away philosophy might work sometimes, but not this week.

Monday came, and the presentations students were to share with the school hadn’t materialized, and the deadline didn’t change.

They were to be “interpreters” of colonial times.
Younger kids were coming to learn. From them.

My fifth graders weren’t close to ready.

All had done research; they started off full of energy and excitement.

Then K. got her feelings hurt.
T. reported that N., “Thinks he’s the boss of everything.”
And that, “He can’t tell me what to do.”

They argued about who should do what and how.
They complained that X. was fooling around.
S. was laying on the table.
Y. wasn’t listening to anything  C. said.

There were requests to change groups.

The problem: they had to hear each other’s thoughts and come to a consensus.

It takes a nimble leader to get others to listen and agree.
It takes great skill to have ideas and communicate them in a way that gets creation going.
It takes persistance, resilience, flexibility and I’d argue a deadline to get things done.

What seemed like a relatively straightforward exercise was an intricate dance of intellectual getting-along.

This is extreme learning.

My students had to mix with another classroom’s students and formulate a plan on how to teach something they had learned independently. They had to do it without me arbitrating. They had to do it for themselves. Together.

I sat them down and informed them of their predicament: they had one day to get their scripts written.  The deadline was 2:30. No exceptions.

“Can’t we work on it at home?” pleaded C. as the others looked on.

“Nope, you have to do this together, now. Write.”

We had space and desks.

Computers opened.
Voices rose.
Students stood around desks.
And wrote on the white board.
For moments voices got strangely quiet.
And then intensity around the work grew.
They shared their Google docs and fought out the work in the document.


Soon it was time to go.

Now, I’m alone in our little building. They’ve gone home, and I’m stunned by the silence and the effort made by those who rose above the mess and owned the work together.

Getting it done tore at some friendships. Strange alliances formed.

Collaborating is a delicate balancing act. For children and adults.

As usual, I learn from watching my students learn. I’m honored to be in their presence.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.