Time is a funny thing, especially when it is time in my classroom.
I try really, really (really!) hard to make sure that I am treating my 7th graders like authentic readers and writers. I tell them early in September that half of my challenge is to “unschool” them…and that the other half is to show them the power of their words. Inevitably, one of them always asks if these two things are related and then the real fun begins. We talk, a lot, about authenticity and about not writing for a grade. I show them, over and over and over, their workshop rubric, which is the basis for all of the grades that ultimately make up the letter they eventually see printed on their report card every 10 weeks.
The rubric simply and clearly puts into words what the process should look like each day in a workshop (having the right tools–materials– to do the job, staying focused on the job at hand, utilizing the resources to get the job done and working consistently to complete whatever the job is in front of them). But assessing process, at some point, means that I am assessing how they use their time. And, to be completely committed to this concept, I have to honor that how they choose to use their time will, often, be very different than how I think they should use their time. They are 7th graders, after all.
I watch them now, today, working out how to teach their chosen creation myth to the rest of the class. I have given them a week to learn the myth, learn about the culture, create a lesson plan, prepare the lesson which they will deliver early next week. I have modeled in our mini-lessons, each day, how I teach other creation myths, I have given them the parameters (include the history of the culture, especially the geographic information, and tell the story creatively so that they engage their audience), and I have set them free.
I find myself sitting on my hands and biting my tongue. I am hearing them talk about this afternoon’s pie eating contest in the cafeteria (in honor of Pi Day) and I want to say, calmly, “Stay focused.” I am watching them talk to members of other groups as they move in and out of the classroom to get a computer or a drink or just stretch their legs and I want to say, a bit less calmly, “Don’t waste your precious workshop.” They move chairs around to get more comfortable and I want to say, “Worry less about your butt and more about your plan!” I watch and smile and answer the random question, usually before they even send a delegate to my desk to ask it.
But I say nothing. They are focused. They are using their workshop time. They are doing what real teachers do when we try to learn about a new topic and determine the best way to creatively teach it to our students. And they are human. Perhaps recognizing that is really the hardest part about focusing every aspect of the classroom around the concept of authenticity.