Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bored Kids Cause Problems

What I disliked most about my English classes was having assigned readings followed by whole-class discussions that sought right or wrong answers, so when I first heard about literature circles, I thought, “Why didn’t my teachers use these?”

picture by AKARAKINGDOMS

English 101, 102 Literature Circles

I have been mulling over the idea of using literature circles in my English 101 and/or 102 classes because I love the idea of allowing students to choose a book that interests them. I envision offering 5-6 different books and asking each student to choose whichever one sounds most interesting, rather than let them choose any book in the world, because HACC has a pre-approved list of acceptable books for these classes, and the list has a several very good, interesting books.

Prior to reading Literature Circles by Harvey Daniels, I was apprehensive about allowing students to choose from a variety of books because I assumed I would have to have read all of them and know them all intimately to be an effective facilitator. But Daniels has eased my mind and I am more excited than ever to use literature circles.

In chapter 2, Daniels suggests that teachers become fellow readers in a literature circle and model the process for their students with a book they’ve never read. I take this to mean that teachers do not have to be familiar with all of the books their students are reading. Apparently, I am not the only teacher to have this apprehension because Daniels says, “This mandate to model can be threatening to teachers, who assume they must be a paragon of cognition, of elevated literary taste, and authoritative interpretation” (24).

Tracking English Classes

I left public high school for a private high school after my sophomore year because I wasn’t learning anything. The teachers in public school spent their time on ineffective classroom management in untracked classes, which left me bored and frustrated. The administration’s answer was to offer me a spot in the “gifted” class – but that was just an extra class I’d have to take instead of study hall. I didn’t want EXTRA work – I wanted better QUALITY work, which I got at the private school.

Would my experience in public school have been better if classes were tracked? I doubt it. But because of this experience, I can easily understand the “misconceptions” that the “Untracking English” article mentions: “Parents and educators worry that the behavior of unruly, uninterested students will keep the teacher focused on classroom control rather than on teaching” (173). I must note, however, that it was not the “poor” or “colored” students causing problems; it was the bored kids causing problems, and that could occur at any academic level.

6 comments:

Heather said...

I can agree with you when you said that you were nervous about Literature Circles because you believed you would need to have read all of the books your students would be interested in doing for their LC. I like Harvey Daniels approach that teachers can be discovering things about the book right along with their students.

I would also like to say I agree with you idea that bored students tend to not be engaged in class or may misbehave. How you do think your public school could have handled this in a better matter? Were you one of the "bored" students and this is what cause you to choose to go to a private school?

Gabrielle said...

I went to a high school as well that was untracked. I was not a gifted student, but I was decent in school. I think because I was in between gifted students and the "low" level students I learned from both of them and it benefited me. The gifted students never complained that the class was too easy for them though. And the "low" level students never said the class was too hard. I think that depending on the teacher, the class can work being untracked. The teacher needs to differentiate their teaching a lot to accomodate for the different levels. Although this can be difficult, this will be our job, but I think it will keep things interesting rather than boring for us and the students.

Noelle Buckman said...

Your first thought about why your teachers didn't use literature circles instead of whole class discussions looking for right or wrong answers.... my first thought too. Why would a teacher use anything as nonproductive as whole class discussions with only certain kids participating and answering questions when she can have the kids split into groups and be fully engaged, thinking critically, and discussing literature.
I like that you commented about teachers being fellow readers instead of knowing every book cover to cover. That eased my mind as well. To start off the lit circles it might be a good idea to know about all the books so that you can help the students get started, but as they grow to learn how the lit circles work and can do them with ease, the teacher can be just as effective as another member of the group, giving insight and ideas instead of questions and instructions.

Arlen said...

Anne, I completely agree that it is the bored students who cause trouble, not those who are labeled "poor" or "colored." Unfortunately, it has more to do with the teaching if a student is bored. I think sometimes teacher's label students to defend their own poor teaching choices. I do think it is a hard cycle to break.
I'm glad you shared that you left public highschool due to not feeling you were learning. There is nothing wrong with that, I know other students who have done the same. Unfortunately I also know of a student who left private school for public simply because he is unmotivated and knew public school would be easier. For me, it shows that a student gets out of school what they want to.
I also agree with you that it is a relief for the teacher to not have to have read all novels. I also like it because the teacher as a participant in the literature circle seems like it would change the dynamic and take away the pressure of being the "expert" in whatever book that is being discussed. I think students would like it because they won't feel like the teacher is taking part for evaluative purposes only.

Becky said...

You guys got me thinking about the small group discussions in the LC format v. the whole class discussions that are more commonly used. Certainly I would think LCs help less vocal students to speak up about their ideas, but I wonder if this would spread to the class discussions after the LC experience. Maybe with some students it would, but I guess there will always be those students who just don't feel comfortable talking in front of a large group, and that's okay.

You also got me thinking about public v. private schooling, since I have never even been in a private school! But from the teacher's perspective, I wonder how different it would be to teach in a private school instead of a public one. What exactly are the differences? Is one preferable to the other? The only thing I really know is what my mom told me (she is an elementary LS teacher) and she said there is less state interference with curriculum. Sounds good to me! But I'm sure there is still the "canon" that they want taught, as Daniels talks about.

Sarah said...

"I must note, however, that it was not the “poor” or “colored” students causing problems; it was the bored kids causing problems, and that could occur at any academic level."

Students are blamed for a lot in school. I like how you twist that misconception; when I read this last sentence, I was reminded again (on a deeper level) just how powerful the teacher's role in a classroom is. Indeed, a class's quality is not determined by its title ("Honors" or "Gifted" or "Standard") but rather by the value and work that the teacher puts into it. It's a humbling realization.