Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Well-chased Rabbit.

There are days that I barely breathe between transitions.  You know what I mean, those days that have you living somewhere besides "in the moment" because your head is two commitments further along in your day, trying to reassure you that you're ready for the next challenge, or absolutely convincing you that you shouldn't have spent the night before ignoring the backpack full of work that you hauled home, hoping to finally "get ahead."

"Get ahead" is clearly not in my vocabulary.  I'm barely able to "stay on track."  (Another lovely description that causes an increased inferiority complex for me!)  Somewhere along the line this year, I made the decision to be consciously "in the moment" -- something that I recognized as being necessary for the good of my relationships AND my mental health.  

Am I distracted by my phone?  My email? The temperature of the room?  The next thing on my calendar?  Absolutely.  And I'm struggling, hard, to stay true to my goal. 

So it won't surprise you at all when I confess that today, I WAS IN THE MOMENT.  And totally off the lesson plan I had written for the day.

A Well-chased Rabbit 

My gifted and talented students are working on a project.  They're evaluating their lives, their interactions with, and connections to fictional characters.  More specifically, they're attempting to identify the 101 most influential characters on their lives. You can view the inspiration for this exercise here.   In addition to some serious reflection, conversation with parents, and trips through photo albums and videos of their childhoods, they're also considering how these same characters have impacted society as a whole.  Eventually the Final Four of Everything will happen, declaring a #1 for each student.

We began the semester identifying the five most influential preschool characters for each of them, after brainstorming a comprehensive list in smaller groups.  As we were transitioning to the next level of childhood characters, I casually mentioned the theory that exists that all literature, movies, and stories are rooted in one of twelve original stories, and challenged the classes to identify the twelve.
The two classes have been working on this task for more than 3 hours, and they are getting close to their final ideas for inclusion on the list.

It's a messy process.  There is disagreement, snide comments, side-talking, and something that often resembles a mutiny as someone attempts to seize power and control.  This is their first real chance to get to work together in a Socratic discussion, and it's really tough to do when you're defending Curious George's honor and reputation.  (Does George represent racism in America?)  Anyone stopping in my room during this process, without benefit of the reasoning behind some of the comments, might question the sanity of most of the people in the room.

When I was a kid, I read a story about greyhound racing.  (Don't tell me about the cruelty -- I agree with you, but I'm making a point.)  The dogs were on the track, motivated only by a mechanical rabbit mounted to an inner rail, that raced ahead, spurring them forward.   There are days that I feel like that rabbit, trying, desperately, to attract the attention of a class of teens to follow along on my planned lesson.  Sometimes I feel very mechanical, and attached, inextricably, to that rail in the center of the track.

And then there are days like today, when the rabbit comes alive, tosses the plans, and lets the discussion go wherever it needs to go with carefree abandon.  It was crazy.  It was messy.  It could have been perceived as awful.

I say it was wonderful, memorable, and offers a giant experience for reflection -- and a great introduction to the Habits of Mind discussion next week.  Sure, it wasn't what I had planned.  It was thousands of percents more effective.

My challenge, now, is to replicate that messy energy in the other section of the class that meets next week.