The Heroic Classroom: Endurance

 The Heroic Classroom:  Endurance

By Christa Rawlings (MEd in IE; Grade 6 Teacher, Learning in Depth Teacher)

Welcome back to: The Heroic Classroom. Over the course of this year I am on the hunt for two things:

1. Reflections on my lessons and how various Heroic Qualities present themselves.

2. Observations of how/if students recognize Cognitive Tools in action and how they put the tools into use themselves throughout the school year.

I hope you continue to follow along on our IE adventure!

NOTE: Are you new to Imaginative Education? Explore the range of posts about it on this blog! Including podcasts.

The Heroic Classroom: September 15

Heroic Quality of the Day: Endurance

Friday afternoon and the kids are working on their “Dear Ms. Rawlings” assignments. It is a Slow Assignment. The vibe in the room of 29 kids is thick with focus.  Everyone is pushing themselves. Everyone is working so hard that you can practically see the steam coming out of their ears. These slow assignments are how I can manage a class of 29 in an inner city school with beginner ESL, learning disabilities, gifted, serious behavior and various medical and mental health issues all in one room. It is a calm, tiny, little portable. You would never know about all these complex issues my students are dealing with if you just wandered in. Last week I had them write me a letter to tell me who they are, what they are looking forward to in school and what they are dreading (a lot of them dread Dodgeball, but that’s another post).

The assignment is three fold:

1) For me to learn about these kids from their point of view

2) To see where they’re at in terms of LA skills

3) Give them a chance to experience a Slow Assignment

For the average student this work takes 3-4 weeks. Why so long, it’s only a letter? I’m glad you asked. It actually looks like any other work, in any other classroom but so much slower. We go through the process of a rough draft in letter form (purpose, refreshers of indentation, paragraph formation and layout of a written piece of work etc). Then the editing process (peer editing, reading aloud and finally teacher/student editing). Next is cursive practice.  This is where it might look different from other classrooms.  Throughout the first week the students have been introduced (or in a few cases reintroduced) to cursive. For me, the purpose of teaching cursive is to slow… them… down. To have them really think about what they are putting on paper. The good copy is then edited again and finally a Fancy Copy is created. This is where the endurance piece comes in and the letter truly becomes a Slow Assignment.

By the end of the second week most kids are beginning their Fancy Copy. There are quite a few false starts, many grumbles and many, many reminders from myself to not only slow down but that they are not robots and perfectionism is a curse! I often
speak to the students about feeling uncomfortable or a having a little ‘crisis’ when they find themselves up against something new or not immediately straight forward. Kids who struggle with academics are fully aware of this feeling. Kids who have sailed through school until now are not. It is those kids I am focused on. It is those kids I do this for. The slow assignments are putting all students in the same boat. At the beginning, I told them to write as much as they could. Some have ½ a page, but it was a struggle. Others have 2-3 pages and also pushed themselves. It works so much better than making a concrete demand of one full page of writing. With a concrete demand like this someone is always challenged to a point of shutting down and someone else thinks its a piece of cake and spends no energy at all on it but still fills the length of writing criteria.

I want each and everyone of them to feel the pride of doing their absolute best on an assignment. The beauty of the Fancy Copy is that I can make it a criteria for anything I assign. Every student knows that giving their bare minimum of effort is pointless because you can’t rush a Fancy Copy. By the end of the year we may have fewer completed assignments than other classes but I truly, truly believe that the energy they put into the Slow Assignments gives them so much more in terms of expectations on themselves. I am about to release these kids to high school soon. I want them to have the tool of endurance. I want to feel the energy of pushing past what’s comfortable.  None of us feel pride in something that was easy to accomplish.

Need to catch up? Take a look at some of the other posts from my Heroic Classroom series:

#1 Introduction to The Heroic Classroom

#2 The Heroic Classroom – Trust and Ownership

#3 The Heroic Classroom – Flexibility and Story

#4 The Heroic Classroom – Perseverance and Purpose

Other posts by Christa Rawlings:

Check out this post in which I describe why I use cognitive tools in my teaching:

The Selfish Teacher
Using Cognitive Tools to teach Place Value to Grade 6 and 7 students: Place Value and Really Big Numbers

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