Meditations on a Cogen (No. 23) • Thursday, April 28, 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 23rd post in the series.

Because of spring break, it’s been two weeks since we’ve met. Fearing that everyone would forget, a couple days ago I give my cogen students a soft reminder about our session today. All six confirmed they can make it, but I end up with only five because one of the students is absent today. I drape the tablecloth over the table, dump the snacks out, and we’re ready.

I open with three quick check-ins and updates: our recent poetry assignment, tomorrow’s pre-exam review, and Tuesday’s group exam.

Before spring break, I assigned my annual poetry task and I ask the kids for their feedback on how it went. The feelings towards it are generally warm, with one student — who made a math rap — saying it was really fun. Another student comments that he found it a little weird to be writing poetry in math class, but thought it was cool. That said, two students convince me that next year I need to use class time to model how to write the poems. Poetry in itself, for some students, is already a heavy lift. And now I’m asking students to use the medium to describe a math topic with no guidance? I can see why it would be hard to do.

For what it’s worth: Given the growing success of the poetry assignment these last two years, I actually had a goal to invest more time and energy into it this year. I wanted to pour myself into making a memorable experience for my students. But with the emergence of my farmer activity, I didn’t have the gas to go that far. Its development was placed on hold until next year.

Next, I inform the students that tomorrow I’m going to be implementing their recommendation from four weeks ago: pre-exam review handouts. I share my excitement for this and my hope that it will resonate with my classes. The cogen students nod in agreement, relishing (I hope) at their suggestion being put to action.

Lastly, I ask for tips on Tuesday’s group exam. I rarely do two of these in a single school year, but after doing one in the fall which my cogen helped me reflect on, I figured, why not? I’ve been meaning to revamp the experience using their feedback for months. This is the perfect opportunity before the year ends.

What can the current cogen offer me in terms of advice? They don’t add much, but do double down on what my fall group suggested: keep groups to 3 or 4 people — preferably 3 — and be mindful of how many problems I give. Deal.

Today’s cogen really excites me because I get to “pre-teach” the students the topic that we will eventually coteach for what will be the third cogen-inspired lesson: rational exponents. The previous two lessons were game-based and not tied to any particular math topic like this one will be, so it’s an exciting challenge.

In preparation for today, I printed some Regents problems on the topic and made copies for each student. After our opening potpourri and my mini-lesson on how to convert between rational exponents and radicals, we use the problems as practice. We solve four problems and end up staying 10 minutes after our usual time. A few things stand out:

  • I underplan. It doesn’t take long to realize that I should have put more thought into the session. I hastily choose examples in the moment and stumble over certain parts of my explanations. I could have done a waaaay better job at sequencing and demoing. With just 5 students to teach in an empty, quiet room, I was too confident. I wonder how my instruction today will shape how my cogen students’ planning. (We will start that next week.)
  • Teaching teachers is different. Today was unique in that the students I teach will go on to teach our class. I know this going in, but my planning doesn’t take it into account. Discussing potential teacher moves while introducing the content would have been helpful and not out of the realm of possibility with these students. I miss the mark.
  • This is going to take longer than I thought. I should have known better than to think we could accomplish this in two 30-minute sessions. Considering that I want the kids to write a full-blown lesson plan with me, this process is going to take at least three weeks to plan, execute, and reflect on.


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