Meditations on a Cogen (No. 21) • Thursday, March 31, 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 21st post in the series.

Cohort 4
My cogen didn’t meet last week because of parent-teacher conferences, so this week is the first official gathering of the new cohort. This was their first meeting together, so I provided reminders yesterday. Thankfully, they all remembered. One seat from period 3 is unfilled (with a prospect in sight) and one of my period 1 students couldn’t make it today because of an appointment. She ran up to me during lunch earlier today apologizing for not being able to make it, which was super kind of her — and reassuring.

Despite the many cogens I’ve held this year, transitions are always tricky. I remember the first cogen changeover back in November and the anxiety I felt back then. The cyclical question of “Will the new students care as much as the old ones?” hasn’t gone away each time new students rotate in. In this way, new cohort kickoffs have first-day-of-school vibes. The students may have heard of the cogen from other students, but do not arrive convinced of its value. Trust and community aren’t inherent; the conditions need to be created for students to buy into this unusual space. This newness is exciting, but it takes work to help it all come alive.

I drape the tablecloth over the table and dump snacks out. I have a few items on my mind, but, on a limb, I ask the students about this week’s exam. It was yesterday. I haven’t finished grading them all yet, but I’m interested in how it went for them. This unexpectedly takes up the bulk of our time together.

Three of the students admit struggling, but the general consensus is that the exam was fair. One aspect of a problem on writing exponential functions using two points is criticized by the group because we only indirectly discussed it during class. I appreciated their honesty, because they’re right. When I probe students about their struggles, we get to talking about pre-exam review. What advice can they give me to help them feel better prepared for exams?

We first chat about about how I’ve used stations to review for the last few exams. The “review” has coincided with the end of problem set, so it hasn’t felt like review per se to me, but I think that’s how students viewed it. Each station was based on a different topic and equipped with dry erase sheet protectors for students to practice some given problems. A couple of cogen students refer to their chemistry teacher when they recommend that, instead of using stations, I create a review worksheet and dedicate the day before the exam to studying it in groups. In other words, instead of having stations with dry-erase practice, why not create a more permanent solution that students can study even after they leave class? They also recommend that I remain stationary during the review and allow students to come to me.

I’m on board with their recommendations and promise to try this strategy when our next exam rolls around. I do cringe a little inside when thinking about a review sheets and review days, however. In the name of the cogen, I’ll get over my discomfort. Perhaps there’s a way to remix the review sheet with the cogen’s help?

We shift gears and bring up the lessons that the last two cogen cohorts have taught (Bingo and Infinite Levels). What does this group want to do?

It’s an broad question and they hesitant to jump in. Sharing some personal reflections, I recommend that they teach a content-based lesson. The prior two lessons were based in a game, which is fine, but it would be interesting to try something new. Imagining I would use cogen time teach them an Algebra 2 topic first, I inform them we would then co-plan and co-teach a lesson about that topic to the whole class. The kids like the idea. They nod when I acknowledge that students have ways of explaining ideas and helping other students understand that teachers can’t match and this lesson could be a perfect illustration of that. One student sees us turning the lesson into a type of comedy show and using kids names in the problems. We end the preliminary discussion with excitement. I tell them that by next week I hope to have a topic identified.

With about 5 minutes remaining, I open up talk on another issue that may potentially be addressed by this cohort: seating arrangements. Since I can remember, I have been using a deck of cards to assign weekly, visibly-random groups. When students walk into class on Monday, I wait at the door with the deck spread out in my hands. They pick a card and each suit corresponds to a group. They can sit anywhere in the group, but have to be in that group all week. The next Monday we do it all over again. There’s a ton of reasons why I like this approach to seating, but I’ve been doing it so long that it seems natural to try something new — especially now that I have the cogen to help me think through it.

I ask the students how they feel about the random random groups, and they don’t feel strongly one way or another. They express concern about sitting with people they don’t know and I say that’s one of the chief reasons why I do it. I wonder out loud whether they could help me brainstorm a new way to seat the class. After just talking about lesson, we mention using the lesson as a vehicle to experiment with a new seating strategy. They appreciate this.

(After our cogen today, I search my blog and remember that I used to use four quadrants to assign seats.)


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