Sunday, March 30, 2014

Letting go of Flat Stanley

One of my favorite teaching stories is the story of Ray.  Ray was Alpha Dog in my little 4th grade class. Though kind and considerate,  he questioned me, again and again, and  in doing so he guided the classroom to success.

It started about 2 weeks into school, I had a wonderful "project based" (circa 1980 something) lesson which was kicked off by reading Flat Stanley. In my "plan" kids would do pamphlets about the area of Texas visited by our little flat friend, write letters back, and talk about why Stanley couldn't really be flat...Reading, Writing, Social Science and Biology.  I had done this unit 2 times in 2 years and was excited, because kids from past years had loved it.

Friday before the kickoff, we finished reading the little book.  Ray raised his hand.... 

"Ms K, I'm sorry but this is a stupid book."

"Really, Ray, what didn't you like about it." 

"If a steam roller ran over a little boy, the boy would not be flat; he'd be dead.  There would be blood and guts all over the road."

I said something like, "Yes, that's what so funny about this book."  

Ray was not amused and the peanut gallery chimed in, "Yea.. this is a stupid book." 

SIGH... So much for my plan .... it rested on humor and good will towards Stanley.

I spent that weekend revamping my plans ... SPORTS.. Matt Christopher fiction and  non-fiction sports books.  Human body muscle connection for Science   ... and we wrote the teams in the major cities of Texas.  It was a great, most of the sports teams sent a nice note back.  The kids enjoyed the sports venues and could identify major cities by the teams that played there. Concepts of  "Human Body"  "Our State" and "Writing Letters" done, done and done.  I learned the power of Non-fiction for students. 

This particular class held 2  non-readers. Ray taught them to read that year.  His interest and excitement was contagious, because guys wanted to be in "his group" and he was a good reader, they stepped up their game.

Here's what I learned

1. Don't be afraid to scrap a plan and start over.  If students aren't interested you may be "teaching" but they aren't learning. 

2. You aren't the only expert in the room.  Ray taught his friends to read.  If you have kids who love to teach others, let them!

3. When questioned, be opened to being wrong! I had a poster that said "The teacher is never worng"  and later as a principal, we sang a song "I like me" which was about how we all make mistakes.  Different can be better!

My dad once told me, "If you're on the right track, don't be afraid to be questioned. If your argument is strong, then it will stand; if not, then accept that you could be wrong."    Don't be afraid to be wrong.

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