I think every teacher spends Sunday evening thinking about the upcoming week. We plan for lessons, meetings scheduled, copies to be made, grading papers we didn’t get done this weekend. But this Sunday I’m thinking back on last week. It was a hard one, for several reasons. But this posting isn’t about me. It’s about one small success I experienced with my students. It’s about that thing that brings me back every Monday morning, ready or not.
I think my students learned something.
I teach four different classes of freshman English. One of my classes is a self-contained special education class. Three of the students are repeating the class, and all have learning disabilities or conditions which affect their rate and degree of comprehension and participation. I truly like them all. Every day brings a challenge which keeps me eager.
All freshmen, as part of the introduction to William Shakespeare, have to write an original sonnet. They choose the topic, and I help them mold it to the correct form of three quatrains, one couplet, and iambic pentameter. I have a love/hate relationship (to use an oxymoron as per Shakespeare) with this assignment. The students start out saying, “I can’t do it”, and I wonder if they will. But by the end all the students do it. It is such a great experience for them.
So one student, a tenth grader, began writing a sonnet about playing football. He isn’t a highly able student, but this year he seems willing to try. He got two quatrains down with my direct help, but just couldn’t make the third one work. So I typed up his draft and asked him read it to the class.
Objective for the lesson: Students will review the sonnet form by helping James fix his original work through discussion and revision. As soon as he read it aloud, students started telling him what was wrong. “You don’t have ten syllables”. “The EFEF rhyme scheme is wrong”. “Your meaning gets lost halfway through.” I was thrilled – they were actually applying acquired knowledge without my direct prompting. It took ten minutes, ten peers, and zero teachers to help this young man revise his sonnet correctly.
The best part? James had never before (at least in my class) shared work that he had written. He looked so proud. I believe all the students were proud that they had helped him. Their eagerness to do so taught me a lesson. By letting the students teach each other, they taught me.
I can’t wait to mail the finished product home to his mother. I can't wait to see those kids walking into our classroom.