Meditations on a Cogen (No. 3) • Thursday, October 28, 2021

During the 2021-22 school year I’m having weekly co-generative dialogues (or cogens) with my students. In an effort to help me process these talks and document progress, I summarize and write reflections after each cogen. This is the third post in the series.

Because of parent-teacher conferences, all after-school activities were canceled today. As a result, my cogen met during lunch. It was an impromptu change that I made last minute to build early continuity. I didn’t want to miss a week. I also wanted to show the students that our dialogue was vitally important to me. Even if after-school was canceled, our weekly exchange needed to happen. We had to find a way.

Thankfully, I lucked out because all the members of the cogen have lunch 4th period. After running down to retrieve two kids from the cafeteria (they forgot), we ended up spending 30 minutes together over snacks. Heeding their suggestions from last week, I brought bottles of water for us to sip while we chatted. We had bevs.

We opened the dialogue by checking in. How was everyone doing? We had a funny conversation about Slim Jims and Pringles. Who knew there was “mechanically separated chicken” in those things? Ouch.

After more small banter that warmed us up, I asked if they would prefer to meet during lunch (since we all share it) or after school like we have been doing. They were all indifferent, so we decided to keep holding our meetings on Thursday afternoons.

Next, we reviewed last week. We debriefed the roundtable I had with each of the classes last week on collaboration. It happened Friday and the cogen helped prep me for it last week Thursday. At the roundtable, the classes and I co-created a rubric to help us improve things like communication, asking questions, and presenting problems — all key elements of collaboration. The cogen felt that it went OK, but, outside of period 3, they hadn’t noticed much of a change in the levels of collaboration this week. This was hard for me to hear, but I owned it. I had to keep enforcing the rubric. To continue to improve collaboration, one suggestion from the cogen was to turn it into an in-class competition. We didn’t know what the competition would look like and how we might measure it, but agreed that it could motivate students to collaborate more. I loved the idea. As time passes, I also hope that our chemistry improves. This would help us build a more cohesive classroom community, foster collaboration, and help us feel responsible for each other’s learning.

The second item on the agenda — and what I wanted to focus heavily on — was tutoring. After I led a good-sized tutoring session this week for students retaking our most recent exam, I asked the cogen about it. How was it? Three members of the cogen were present at tutoring. But even if they didn’t attend, I ask them to think about what would make a good tutoring session. How could we ensure that attendees get the most of these sessions, I wondered. Is it better that it be teacher-led (i.e. whole group direct instruction) or can students be organized in small groups with me floating?

Their feedback was really helpful. After brainstorming, we decided that I would provide an answer key of the original exam (it seems basic, but I have never done this) and additional practice problems that mirror those from the exam. This way, the students could see correct solutions for the exam, discuss them together and with me, and then be able to spend time actually doing math. The tutoring session earlier this week consisted mainly of me reviewing the solutions on a whiteboard (i.e. direct instruction) and fielding their questions, but included no time for students to actually do mathematics. In the moment, I totally overlooked this. It’s no wonder why several students did poorly on the retake.

Towards the end, we spent a few minutes discussing the “cheat sheets” that I allow students to use on exams and — surprisingly — how a good amount of students don’t actually use them. This led to a bigger conversation about note-taking and studying for exams. I mentioned the idea of my future plans for “notebook quizzes” and how this will help them be more intentional about the notes they take this year. There was a mixed reaction from the group, some professing their dedication to taking noes while others dismissed it as tedious and confusing. I appreciated their honesty.

As the session concluded, my vibe was that the students seemed to feel genuinely comfortable expressing their ideas this week. They seemed less rehearsed and more natural in their gestures and commentary. Nonexistent was the awkwardness and silence that lurked during our first two meetings. This was reassuring and proof that we’re making progress as a group. There was even some back and forth between students, which was a weak point of my cogens last year. They were exceedingly brief, but during those moments I caught myself listening in to my students being critical of the class without me needing to keep the dialogue afloat. I appreciated that.


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