Meditations on a Cogen (No. 12) • Thursday, January 13, 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 12th post in the series.

New faces, new energy
This week’s cogen brought new faces! As the 2nd cohort transitions out and the third transitions in, several members brought their successors with them today. In all, there were 8 students: 5 were veterans and 3 were newbies. As we settle in around the table, and I dump the snacks and water in the middle of it, fresh energy and a feeling of newness envelop us. The kids are laughing. There’s a lot of chatter. The mood is affable. It’s refreshing.

I open the cogen with introductions. Everyone goes around and says their name and grade. I explain the formal name of our space, write it on a nearby whiteboard and explain the term “cogen,” and then ask the veterans to share the purpose of our weekly dialogue. Just like the first time this happened back in November, it is pleasant hearing the students speak of the cogen from direct experience.

As the vets finish, I remember to hit record on my phone and drop it in the middle of the table to capture today’s audio. I hurriedly ask a non-cogen student who is in the room waiting for their friend to snap a few photos of us while we talk. She agrees and says that she’ll email them to me later. Before moving on, I give my two cents to further illuminate the what, why, when, and how of the cogen for the new students. I ask someone to take notes. We’re off and running.

Journal reflections
Eager to know how the math journal went, I ask them about it. How was writing it? What aspects did you like? What can be improved? I inform the group that the assignment was co-designed by me and the first cohort and that the next iteration of the assignment will be assigned in the coming weeks. The students’ feedback today will shape what it will look like. It’s worth noting that a couple of students at the cogen didn’t submit the journal. I assure them that this is not a place or time for me to indict them on their incomplete work. Rather, I want to learn from them, too. Is there something about the design or implementation of the assignment that might help them be more proactive next time?

After I serve up my questions and talking points, they return with several really good critiques and suggestions. I plan to use them all.

  • Add sentence starters to the assignment. I love this idea mainly because I recently saw an English teacher at my school do this for a writing assignment of hers. I underline it in my notes.
  • Make it due on Sunday. This way, the students get the weekend to work on it before it’s due. We recently adopted this approach with DeltaMath and someone notes how it helped her get more of it done.
  • Allot at least one day in class to work on the journal. This is good idea, which I should have thought of myself.
  • Use the cogen to determine the problems featured in the journal. This last recommendation is the most intriguing — at least from a cogen standpoint. I ask the students about the problems I included in the journal; they had to choose one to write about. A few students say the problems were fine, but I suspect that there’s more to uncover, so I probe further. After a few more of my questions, one student asks, “Mister, what if we chose the problems?” I immediately love this idea and nearly hug the student. My vision for her suggestion entails me presenting the cogen 10 problems and then us deciding which 5 end up in the final assignment. We agree that some of the problems should come from the in-class problem set.

Math bingo
Last week, after I asked the cogen to think of an assignment or class activity that they wanted to plan and enact, the students mentioned Math Bingo. So, after we finalize plans for the next journal, I show the group a Math Bingo activity that I found in my Dropbox archives. With some minor edits, it aligns well with the specifications we decided upon last week. The students glance through the handouts that detail the game and like what they see. I remind the crew that they will be co-teaching this activity with me. Next week, we’ll begin our study of complex numbers and the Bingo game — which is based on complex numbers — will take place late in the week, possibly Friday. We field a few logistical questions about gameplay and agree to touch base next week to finalize.

Ideas for Semester 2
A few minutes remain. With all the new members here today, I’m reminded that these students are going to help launch me and our class into the second semester. I decide to do some priming and ask them — I’m specifically looking at the new cogen students, but open it up to everyone — if they want to change anything about the class as we move into semester two.

Any time I ask far-reaching questions like this, I don’t usually get anything of substance from students. These types of queries — how I frame them, at least — are too vague and inexact of requests for students to get into particulars, which is want I want. This time, however, the students prove me wrong! They have two very specific proposals:

  • Given one day per unit to work on DeltaMath in class. I think this was bridged from our discussion about the journal. It is a great suggestion. I should allocate class time for what I value most, right? This is a major takeaway from today.
  • Use the start of class to relearn quiz content in a breakout group. The start of class usually looks the same for us (whole class dicussion). But why? This suggestion is aimed at helping only the students who stuggled with the previous day’s quiz. This means I could use the first 10 minutes of class to reteach these students in a small group while the rest of the class works on something different. We would reconvene as a class after.

After the students leave, I stop my phone from recording and plop down at my desk to gather my thoughts on the last 30 minutes. I play two minutes of the audio, but know I won’t have time today to listen to it. Was I talking too much? Did I tap into 1 or 2 quieter students enough to ensure their voices and ideas were heard? The presence of the outgoing cogen students was so bright today. They were wonderful and engaged and unhesitant in their feedback. The demographics of the group stand out to me as well and I note how balanced they were. There was a nice mix of grade levels, genders, races, achievement levels, and special needs around the table today. I’m grateful for the perspective they offered me and to each other.

At this point, I’ve been alone in my room for 45 minutes. As I get up to leave, I remember that I’m still wearing my mask. I unhinge it from my ears and breathe deep. I smile warmly. My body and mind delight in the fact that, for the last 75 minutes, my cogen made me forget where I was. It transported me out of pandemic school year and into a normal one. We laughed, debated, and planned. There was no mention of Covid or remote learning. Both were banned from our dialogue and subtracted from our planning. At least for today, I feel far removed from reality.

I grab my things and leave satisfied.


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