Meditations on a Cogen (No. 11) • Thursday, January 6, 2022

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 11th post in the series.

Starting with Gratitude
After a week of remote learning and another week of winter break, we were back. Learning from my mistakes, on Monday I reminded my cogen students about today’s session. I wasn’t going to back myself into another 5-minute cogen that is squeezed in on a Friday afternoon. By Tuesday, 5 of the 6 kids confirmed their availability (one is out with Covid). I supply another gentle reminder today during class.

With one student not able to make it last minute, four mask-covered faces accompany me around our table at 2:45pm. Not bad! Despite all that is eating us alive at the current moment, we manage to meet again. I couldn’t help but express gratitude to the students as we open today. I thank everyone for their time and commitment — especially now. I tell them that examining my teaching alongside students is different — and often times more productive — than when I do it with colleagues. Instead of talking above those who I’m serving, cogens bring me to the source.

Finding successors
The second cohort of cogen members is in its 5th week. A couple of meetings back I asked the group to begin thinking about their replacements. Today, I take a more formal stance and ask them to drop names. We go around the table and each of them chooses a replacement along with a back-up. I explain the changeover process and ask that they start reaching out to their person. Hopefully this time next week we have everyone’s successor locked in. (Today in class I helped one member secure their replacement already, which was nice.)

Earlier today, I finally finished my “Cogen Exit Survey.” The survey is 10 questions; I plan to give it to students when they “graduate” from the cogen. My hope is that it will help me measure impact and better understand my students’ cogen experience. Tomorrow I’m sending it out to cohort 1. This cohort will complete it in a few weeks.

Math Journal
I wanted to use part of today to collect my students’ early impressions of the math journal assignment. The previous cogen students co-designed it with me. It was assigned before the break and is due tomorrow. When I ask if anyone has started it, they gracefully shake their heads. With the week we’ve been having, I kind of expect this. We bookmark the discussion and place it on next week’s agenda.

Crafting their own assignment
After my last cogen, I had an epiphany: Why not have each cohort co-design an assignment with me and help implement it? Maybe my cogen ambitions are growing (or maybe I’m getting bored), but I want the responsibilities of the cogen students to extend beyond our 30-minute weekly dialogues and move into things like co-teaching. For the first cohort, it was the math journal. What could it be for cohort 2? What’s an activity, assignment, or lesson that they want to do with the class?

I don’t know why, but after I ask, a student immediately blurts out, “Math Bingo!” I’m surprised, expecting something more complex. After I think about it, however, it makes sense. We never play games. Years ago, I used to play them all the time, but along the way I have become stilted and set in my ways, I think. His blurting out Math Bingo is a sign: let’s have fun.

The group latches on and we talk logistics. They really surprise me with their planning skills. Some of them are talking like teachers! They walk me through their vision for the game; I request they co-teach it with me and they have no qualms about it. I promise to piece together the problems and create some gameboards. I’ll present this to the kids at next week’s cogen. Win!

DeltaMath Goals
We’ve been discussing DeltaMath completion goals for the last several cogens. This week in class I displayed completion percentages and we set a goal to maintain what they achieved on the previous assignment. The next DeltaMath is due Sunday. At the start of class on Monday, I want the cogen students to reveal the final percentages in a fun way. Since there are two members of the cogen in each class period, they want one student to have the real percentage and the other a fake one. The class would vote on who they think who represents the actual percentage and the cogen students would be reveal it. Going back to my earlier point, this activity extends the reach of the cogen students beyond the cogen itself and into class. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.

And the reward has been decided: me including two problems on next week’s quizzes (instead of one) and the students choosing which of the two they want me to grade. I like this because it avoids awarding bonus points outright, like we had previously discussed. The reward would only apply to students who met the DeltaMath goal individually.

I fill the remainder of the cogen with smaller questions that we don’t have time to fully explore. The first was, would the students attend the cogen if I offered no extra credit? I’ve been thinking about this a lot since September. I don’t love giving extra credit, but I’ve committed to it. What do the students think? Most said they would attend without it. In fact, three of them said they forgot all about the extra credit and have been coming simply because they like it. They admit, however, that the appeal of extra credit convinced them to be part of the group in the first place. As one student said, “It might be hard to get students to come without offering them extra credit, but once they’re here, they will see the purpose and kind of forget about it.”

I also ask the students what advice they have for me when teaching the class at 75% attendance? This has been a reality for the last week and its growing increasingly more difficult to manage. How do I keep absent kids in the loop? How do I approach the students who are present? The unpredictable nature of this phenomenon makes it even more tricky. The students give me little insight into what I should do, but do tell me what I shouldn’t: mandate Zoom for absent students. They are vehement about this! They do not like mandating absent students to Zoom during the in-person lesson. Doing this hasn’t seriously crossed my mind, but another teacher is doing it, so that’s why they mention it to me. If they’re absent, the students much prefer to be given the work to complete asynchronously. I’m still processing how I will adjust my instruction to account for so many missing students, but their feedback is a great place to begin formulating my plan.

Notes to self:

  • I usually take informal notes/minutes during cogens on paper, but in an effort to transfer more power to the students, today I asked a student to do this. It was a small act, but one that I hope to make routine each week.
  • I want to start recording the audio of the cogens. I should start next week by placing my phone in the middle of the table at the start, turn on the audio recording app, and hit record. There’s nothing to lose. It would be interesting to listen to these — especially in the company of other teachers.
  • At a future cogen, I need to grab someone from the hallway and have them take a photo of me and my students around the table. I need at least one!


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