Taking Habla to my class: Day 1

No promises on how long I'll be able to maintain this for...

You can see our plan for today here, and the slides we made here. It was based on my first day at Habla, which you can read about here.

This post isn't going to make a lot of sense without looking at the plan, but here it goes:

Periods 1-2

My "prep" period is first period, and my teaching partner, Yoli's  (teaches Spanish) is second period, which meant that today, we could start the day by teaching each class together, but with 29 kids in the room together rather than 56. We started with circle games. Walking across the circle while a teacher counted down from 10 was functional, but, done with kids rather than adults, was missing the element of fun. I added "rubber chicken" to raise the energy (it was all I could think of on the fly). 

I then tried "jumping at the same time with no leader". This was fascinating - the first group just couldn't do it at all. With a new group, the risk of jumping so profoundly outweighed the risk of not jumping, that very few students were willing to try it at all. I dropped it when we worked with the second group. Something to try later in the year, maybe. 

With the first group, we then did "blind walking across the circle", which was chaotic, and not especially gentle. Talking explicitly about gentleness would be a good addition next time we do this. This is difficult, awkward territory for teenagers, especially for a lot of young men. 

The second group eventually decided to assign a helper to every person walking blind. This was (as you'd expect) very successful. What was missing even then was silence, which is not  a huge priority (especially on the first day of school) but which would be nice to have. One issue I noted, which has resonance in other aspects of school, is that a pair would walk across the circle, get into their spot on the other side, congratulate each other on a job well done and start talking - while other people were still moving through the space. 

Yoli introduced "jumping and high-fiving" in pairs, slapping as many high-fives as possible while airborne (with both hands, so I guess they were high-tens). This was the most successful warm-up game we did. Really raised the energy, and made me realize all the games I was leading were a bit austere and severe. 

This left me with a few questions: the one that's really occupying me right now is this: how do I stay on the right side of the line between routines feeling ingrained, and feeling stale?

Period 3

We had the group together for the first time. We started the period with a deep listening exercise - kids got quiet for this (for the most part), listened intently, and talked about what they heard. 

Then we tried doing the vocal improvisations (like what Dario did). I hadn't wanted to do this in the full group (we were planning to do it during periods 1 and 2 but there wasn't time), and it didn't work, for a number of reasons: 

  1. There were about 27 performers, and I just couldn't get around them fast enough.
  2. Most people didn't have and extensive rhythmic vocabulary (at least in this context), so everyone was generally hammering out quarter notes together.
  3. Making vocal sounds is a big risk in a large group of people, so most people were going for clapping and stomping, which stops being interesting very quickly, unless you're really tight with it.

I got five volunteers who performed for the whole group, and it worked much more smoothly in a group of five. Then we split everyone into fives, and up until lunch, they worked on crafting beats together. 

I didn't call them "beats". If I had, the exercise would have probably been stronger. When one group performed their beat for me, I freestyled a short rhyme over it. Then we had another group perform for everyone (in fact, the original group of volunteers, who'd got very into developing their beat). Their beat was solid and complex, but when I heard it I realized that they were really putting themselves on the line and might ultimately regret it, so in front of everyone, I did another freestyle over their beat - which I hope lent it credibility rather than overshadowing it. 

Periods 4-6

This was after advisory and lunch. We launched Write Club - I realized my enthusiasm for the concept waned a little since last year, so I need to figure out how I feel about it. One kid rather brilliantly noted that the first rule of Write Club (which I was making them write, as I always have) was "Write what you care about", and asked "so should we write what we care about, or write this?"

I dug up the Fight Club and "Robot Club" (from Spaced) clips I showed last year, which I hadn't planned to show, when I realized that the way I was presenting Write Club didn't have any mystique, and it really needs mystique at the start. 

Then we wrote Hopes and Fears, and I introduced Human Atom in order to shuffle people up and make groups of four to share hopes and fears. There were too many people for the atom to work very well, but it was easy to identify issues with it, and I think we'll be able to fine-tune it in individual classes. 

After this, we introduced the day's big task: to arrange a chapter from The House on Mango Street to read together as a group of four - first arranged as a "clear reading", and then with sounds made by objects found around the classroom.

This was so awesome: we divided kids into groups randomly, which I imagined being a problem, but wasn't. They were attentive to the text as they read, and (after Yoli and I modeled it) seemed to understand how to divide the text for reading without any further help. 

After they'd worked on the "clear reading", Yoli and I performed our chapter again, this time with her reading and me providing sound accompaniment. Then the groups went to town on sound effects.

At a certain point, most groups decided they were "done" and people started milling about and hanging around.

I paused the full group (I'd done some "getting quiet" practice - this will be good to keep doing all week). Then I said "A lot of groups are telling me they're done. What if I told you that you're going to perform for the entire ninth grade in a few minutes?" Someone immediately shouted "WHAAAAAT?!" "You're not," I said, "but you all sounded a lot less "done" when I said that just now." 

The groups paired up with other groups and performed their pieces for each other. I encouraged everyone to focus on giving specific feedback about things they liked. This will be something to continue to develop.

It was cool to see so much attentive close-reading. I'm excited to see and hear the performances tomorrow!

Here are some photos from devising the readings: