Meditations on a Cogen (No. 10) • Wednesday, December 22, 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 tenth post in the series.

Back to Zoom
The last week has been chaotic. After having few students in class on both Friday and Monday because of Covid protocols, it was decided that we transition to remote learning for the three days leading up to winter break. Like anyone else at my school with a pulse, I anticipated this and last week asked my cogen students if they were good to meet on Zoom. I emailed them yesterday and 4 out of 6 confirmed that they could make it. We were on.

So, this afternoon, after a wild couple of days, my cogen found itself back on Zoom. I say “back” on Zoom because the memories of last year’s all-online cogens showed up immediately in my mind when I logged in today. I held 24 cogens last year, all of which were on Zoom. Participating in a cogen online triggered mixed emotions for me. Obviously, I’d much rather be in person. The conversation is more dynamic and nuanced. Not to mention the snacks! At the same time, last year’s cogens were my first and made me an adamant believer in them. In this sense, holding them online today felt strangely natural and, dare I say, homey.

I opened Zoom ten minutes early and caught up with a student who showed up before our scheduled meeting time of 2:45 p.m. I asked him how the transition has been for him these last few days. Like a lot of students, he lamented about his boredom and yearning to get back into school. We chatted about our upcoming break. He was going to Rhode Island to spend time with family. At one point he asked me for advice on a personal matter that I vowed to follow-up on.

Our non-academic chatter served as a reminder for me that cogens aren’t just a place for teachers and students discuss classroom matters. They’re for getting to know each other, too. At cogens, teacher-student relations can be nourished without the demands of curricula and instruction.

When the other three cogen students arrived, he and I were in the middle of a playful discussion around the ethics of napping (smile). Feeling encouraged by our banter, I invited the rest of the crew to give their two cents on the napping debate. It was fun. I mentioned that I took a 10-minute power nap before 7th period today and the kids were rendered speechless. How is that possible? Why would you even want to do such a thing to your body? The only naps they know of are the multiple-hour variety and those that result in unintentionally waking up the next morning wondering what happened. One student, speaking as if it were part of his religion, said point-blankly, “Mister, I don’t believe in 10-naps.” I laughed harder than I did all week.

In Limbo
Given the whirlwind of this week, I was curious how classes were going for them. How are their teachers going about things? What have my colleagues done so far that the students have liked? I was transparent about my desire to steal ideas and adapt them for our class. I also wondered if the students could give me any advice on how to approach our new in-person/remote dilemma. If we remain in limbo — teetering between the classroom and Zoom based on Covid numbers — what are some tips they can offer me?

Above all else, the kids stressed the importance of checking in with my students. Many teachers, from their perspective, have a singular focus: work getting done. This was true of the last two years, but also this week. Disappointingly, the students struggled to offer me examples of things they enjoyed from their class over the last few days. The lone highlight came from a teacher who played Christmas songs for the class and did fun trivia based on them. I appreciated their honesty, but I was left wanting more examples of what the students saw as exemplary teaching moves. Maybe I need to be more specific? Perhaps next time I ask something like, What’s something you did in Chemistry this week that you liked? What about ELA?

Curious what “checking in” meant to them, I asked the students if they could illustrate their point with some examples. What does it look like when a teacher checks in? I did a few Zoom polls today in class to catch the mood of the room and the kids were in agreement that those were a great example of how to do it. One student commented that ours was one of her liveliest classes because of the polls. They also liked how I used the chatbox to refocus the class and grab their attention. I did this by asking 10 students, say, to respond to a given question. Both the polls and the call-and-response in the chat added an interactive component to our time together that they enjoyed.

In terms of the big picture, one student suggested that on certain days I assign the class independent work and use my time to conference with individual students. I liked this because it could work whether we’re online or in person. An idea that added more structure to it was to have a 4-day work week. The students said that the 5th day could be used for more intensive check ins and independent work. This made me think of Shraddha Shirude and how she modified her curriculum to make this structure work for her.

Dreaming and thank you
Wishing I had spent more time discussing this, I closed today’s talk by asking the group to complete the upcoming math journal assignment with a critical eye. I co-created this assignment with the first cohort of cogen students back in November and formally assigned this week. It’s due January 7. I told the cogen that after we come back from break I’m going to need their feedback on it. I want to use their experience completing it to make it better and more relevant for all of my students. I asked the cogen that they dream big, as all recommendations on editing it will be welcomed.

Asking the students to dream got me thinking of my own: How great would it be if I co-designed an assignment with each cohort of cogen students? If it’s not an original assignment, maybe we co-design a new version of a past assignment? If we can pull something like that off, each cohort would be in a position to critique their predecessors’ assignment and then go on to make their own.

Before we left, I profusely thanked the students for their time. Part of me can’t believe we actually made this week’s cogen happen. All I can say is that I’m seriously blessed with some amazing students.


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