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.

23 thoughts on “SOL: Extreme Learning

  1. I love this snapshot into your classroom and your patient way of letting the students learn instead of panicking and trying to do it for them, changing the deadline, etc. That was powerful teaching, and not for the faint-hearted. You are so right when you say collaboration is hard for kids and adults. It’s hard when you have different perspectives and philosophies, to come together and agree. I’ve been struggling with feeling kind of lonely at work. Everyone is personally lovely, but professionally I feel like some of the things I find really important and valuable are not necessarily what others see in that way. This post helped me see that I need to keep trying and not give into feelings of “this will never work.” Hope the presentations work out well!

  2. So much can happen when we’re forced to face the task, and not shy from it–glad your students had you and each other to pull them through. Group projects are so hard, but so important. Glad you keep them in the curriculum even though they can be such a challenge!

  3. OH I love this!! Group work is very hard, but such a valuable learning experience. I love that you made them work through the hard part. I’ve been using extended learning partner relationships with my class this year. They are assigned a partner to work with for the month, and they are partners for every partner assignment throughout the day. The first week of the month is always filled with angst, and trying to work out the social stuff and forming alliances, and trying to get me to give them a new partner. We work all of that out, then the learning happens.

  4. Oh yes, the dynamics of group projects. It can be a challenge to complete for both students and adults. I like the way you kept the deadline in place. It really made them get down to business! It’s all part of the learning process.

  5. I love that part of the work. That quiet hum when they realize they better get it done. I think that helps their muscle memory when they need to get to work the next time. Those watercolor photos are amazing. I have to do that! Vox me and tell me what app it is please.

  6. Once again you allow me to hear your students so well! And perfect timing! I started my 3rd graders on a group project where we randomly picked partners by drawing names. Some were definitely more excited than others with the groupings. I plan to read them your story today!! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Others have already praised your patience and I will, too, Julieanne. You didn’t waver, the deadline had to be met, an audience was waiting. Now I wonder if later you will take time for reflection, “what worked?” and “what did not?”. What’s for next time? Love seeing the pictures too. They are working it out!

    • Absolutely we reflect! This is a grade level project with a lot of moving pieces. Every year it changes based on that reflection AND the kiddos in the room!

  8. I know this place when you want the kids to figure it out because you know they must, but a part of you wants to throw in the towel. I’m glad in the end the work got done. I’m sure they are proud of themselves. And after all is said and done, you can breathe a sigh of relief.

  9. So true–the balancing required to collaborate. Julianne, I think you should write a book and call it “Extreme Learning.” 🙂

  10. “Collaborating is a delicate balancing act.” I love the way you listened, thought through, and nudged your kiddos in this journey. Beautiful work!

  11. All well that ends well. You saw the growth and learning. This is a big reason to celebrate. If we think of adults, even they struggle sometimes with collaborating.

  12. I love this! Truer words were never written than, “Collaborating is a delicate balancing act. For children and adults.” YES! Watching students work out things that adults struggle with is powerful! Giving them this opportunity will change them. Bravo, Julieanne!!!

  13. Collaboration demands that each party step outside themselves. A tall order for young adults…but definitely a step they must take in order to grow out of their comfort zone. It’s good for them to learn about boundaries from you, a person who so obviously cares about them.
    If you don’t mind my asking…what app do you use for the “watercolor” effect?

  14. Group work is always a challenge but so important that we make the time to have students engage in those challenging conversations and practice “working it out”

  15. Deadlines are sometimes what are needed, but it sounds like your students learned an important lesson about working together and coming to a consensus. Bravo to you for creating the conditions that allowed that to happen!

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