Sometimes, or maybe even most times I’m not sure where our conversations in the classroom will go. It’s like going fishing, you can pick a good spot and have some good bait but it may take a while and even then you might not get a bite. We are using the practice of looking for “Big Ideas” in all of our academic subjects, but it mostly shows up in Reading and Social Studies. As our read-aloud book we’re into Crash by Jerry Spinelli right now. For those unfamiliar with the book, Crash is a popular middle school football player who along with his friend Mike DeLuca are picking on Penn Webb, a neighbor who doesn’t wear the latest clothes, doesn’t believe in violence (his family is Quaker) and has a perky attitude that drives Crash and Mike crazy. I began the conversation by re-stating some of the threads we began in our last talk. What follows is a transcript of the conversation, some comments that simply re-state the last one are edited.
Mr. Slick: We heard from some people that Crash was being a bully and people said that perhaps people do the bullying thing because they can’t think of anything else to do, they’re narrow minded, they don’t think they have a lot of choices.
Yarahi: Yeah, they don’t know what to do, being a bully is all they know so it’s comfortable, it’s the only thing they know and they keep doing it even though they’re kind of sad.
Trent: I think the bullies didn’t know how to express their emotions.
Mr. Slick: Do you think that people like Crash or Mike will get it? Will they learn how to express their emotions? What can you do?
Niko: Maybe you could not be a bully, you could handle it inside
I’m always looking for a possible shift in the conversation that might lead to another idea, to continue the fishing metaphor it’s sometimes like looking for stepping stones to use while crossing a stream. Sometimes I’ll ask a question, or re-state a point to help things move along.
Mr. Slick: Say some more about that Niko.
Niko: like their emotions inside, maybe they could talk about it
Mr. Slick: Do you think sometimes people need help?
Niko: yeah, like anger management
Yarahi: Usually people can’t do everything by themselves.
Trent: If they have a counselor they could talk about what they’re thinking, because they might not know how to help themselves.
Mr. Slick: Is this what you’re saying? If someone takes the step and goes to talk with a counselor it’s opening themselves up and saying I don’t actually know everything, maybe I could use some help, Is that what you’re saying?
I feel like we’ve stated a new idea at this point. We began with the idea that bullies are narrow minded and act the same way out of habit, we’ve now introduced the idea of there being an inability to express emotion and getting help that “opens you up to another possibility”
Yarahi: Crash is narrow minded, he only has one target.
Mr. Slick: One target? Sounds interesting, tell me more.
I’m always listening for some phrase or idea like this. It’s an interesting phrase and seems like it might have some possibilities for further discussion. These talks are always about how far can we extend our thinking, how many new ideas can we add to our collection of thoughts on a subject.
Yarahi: He thinks that he’s the only one who matters and that he gets to crash into people, whoever he wants because they don’t look like him, or think like him, he gets to pick on people
I often like to re-state a point to make sure we’re all on the same page, but also to give more power to the thinking. If the teacher makes a point of re-stating what you just said then it just might be important. Yarahi is not a regular participant in our reading conversations so I’m definitely trying to build up her confidence here as well as re-stating what I think is a good point
Mr. Slick: What I hear Yarahi saying is that if Crash thinks he’s the only person who gets to crash into people, using that metaphor then he might think that everyone else has to deal with me, everyone has to play by my rules. What if everyone went around thinking like that?
Yarahi: it would be crazy
Mr. Slick: It would be chaos.
Yarahi: He thinks it’s all about him
Mr. Slick: I wonder if you go around with that kind of attitude you end up lonely because you’re looking more at what’s different between people.
Those are some great ideas there. These conversations are an important part of our work in the classroom. We started with an idea of someone being a bully which we’ve talked about before, but you took that and really looked at that big idea, you talked about how a person is narrow minded because they only see things one way and how that cuts off possibilities. We talked about how if you’re looking at differences all the time you start to separate yourself from others, so you end up lonely.
Here’s another point in the conversation where I re-state what we’ve said so far and remind students that we’re doing valuable work and we’re really getting somewhere. I think this is an important element of teaching especially when you’re striving for higher order thinking skills. There may not be a lot of obvious sign posts along the trail to say that you’re making progress, it’s not like climbing a rope in gym class or kicking a football where you can chart your progress in how much further you climbed or kicked today.
Samantha: Crash doesn’t even notice that he’s making fun of people for doing ordinary things, like Penn Webb being on the cheerleading team, boys can be cheerleaders.
Yarahi: I think Crash is trying to make others think like him, he wants Webb to feel bad because he thinks it’s weird, Webb doesn’t think it’s strange at all.
I think he really doesn’t like to be Crash, but he’s gotten himself into that and now he can’t get out.
Mr. Slick: What I hear now is the beginning of a new idea, that bullies can do a couple things, they can try not to be a bully and get help, and change or they can try to make everyone else think like them to..
Zachary: Embrace the bully!
Mr. Slick: Yes, embrace the bully, be like the bully, think like the bully that way you can look around and say “Well, everybody thinks that way” I hear it in school sometimes when people talk about a TV show or a musical group, someone will say “That show really stinks” and they expect everyone to go along with them.
(several students agree with this)
It seems to me that people want to be in a group where people think the same things as you do, is that true?
Samantha: yeah, nobody wants to be weird.
So, did I get any bites on this fishing trip? I think so. The conversation stayed around the idea of bullying but we approached it from several different angles and talked about some ramifications or those actions and connected the characters in the story to some of the issues and experiences going on in our classroom. As I shared in a previous entry I don’t put much energy into the old “text to self” connection because it’s usually a dead-end. That said, I do think there’s value in bringing student’s personal experiences into the discussion. Edited out of this transcript are several people talking about how they hear people making fun of Justin Bieber or One Direction etc. which took up about a minute of conversation time when I brought up people talking about a TV show or musical group. I recorded this conversation on an iPod which was handy because it’s small and easy to use but also because it showed that this conversation took over ten minutes. That’s usually the minimum for delving into the big ideas of our read-aloud books. It seems to me that if you want to promote higher order thinking skills (which is the goal of the research project I’m conducting this year) then you need time to let the skills develop. They have to be nurtured and while I don’t have any specific data on this, I would guess that many students are not being pushed to expand their thinking or even just given the time to think in other areas of their lives. And so every day students in my classroom can expect a few little trips to down to the stream of ideas flowing by to see what we can catch.