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Chaos Theory

February 12, 2012

Teacher Musings:
I had a moment this week that was really interesting, mostly because I had someone (my student teacher) observing me.  My students were starting their pre-writing for their next writing assignment, in which they basically get to choose any topic to write about, and have a choice of about 7 different forms to write in (ranging from news article to personal narrative).  It is crazy broad, but that is sort of the point.  This is the first time I’m trying this open of an assignment, and it is part of my testing out strategies before I try to assign a multi-genre project in the next year or so.  However, here is what happened on Wednesday in one of my classes, based on the observations of my student teacher and my own observations:

– One student sat in the back and daydreamed, doodled in her notebook, talked to my student teacher a bit, and finally decided on a topic to write about that she is feeling somewhat lukewarm about.
– One student pounded beats on the table except when I came by his desk, but also produced a rough outline of an article about sneakers after MUCH prompting and nagging.
– One student giggled and gossiped with her friend.
– Three pairs of students were talking to each other about their topics.
– At least four students were writing their first drafts furiously

Here is what I observed on Thursday, when students were finishing up first drafts that were due at the end of the period, in the same class:

– The daydreaming student brought in a one-page draft and talked to a friend who was struggling to get started writing the whole time.  The friend eventually got down some ideas.
– The beat pounding student did nothing.  (FYI – I have had exactly one assignment turned in ALL YEAR from this student)
– The two gossipers and gigglers finished writing their drafts.
– One student who struggles with reading and writing wrote almost two pages over the two days.
– Two students who love writing poetry went in the hall to read their poetry to each other and get feedback – with no prompting from me (other than permission to be in the hall).

These are just snippets of what happened in my class for two days.  But the reality is, that, for either day, if an administrator had walked in it probably would have looked like a “bad” class.  There were students exhibiting off-task behaviors like doodling!!  There were students who were talking!!  Heck, there was NOISE!!  As I reflected on the week I realized that none of this bothered me.  I was ok with the chaos because I believe (and have seen examples of) the way that chaos can lead to amazing breakthroughs.  Sometimes the doodling leads to writing when a kid is ready.  Sometimes getting to share your poem with someone makes you want to revise it and make it better WAY more than when the teacher tells you to.  Sometimes you gossip with your friend before you can get to work.  I know it’s not really ok, but sometimes, to do the real writing (not worksheet bulls#$t) it requires some minimal goofing off before you start.  Heck, ask me how many times I checked facebook and my e-mail while I was working on my National Board writing today!

But I wonder if my standards have become too lax.  To be fair, I got over 95% of my student’s first drafts from that class, and most are substantial and solid starts to their writing.  But it could have gone smoother.  There were off-task behaviors that were not productive and/or distracting to others.  I think part of my sees the chaos as acceptable because I’m rebelling against the ideas that my students, TEENAGERS for goodness sake, are automatons that I should be able to constantly “control.”  Not only can’t I, but I don’t want to “control” them.  I can manage a class (I think) but I’m not out to subjugate them.

I would love some feedback though.  How much chaos is too much, especially with writing?  How much freedom should a 16 year old have to develop ideas and opinions on their own terms, in their own way?  I nudge and nag them constantly, but I rarely bring the discipline hammer down for the little things they do before the ideas start to flow.  Is that low standards?  Or is it just real?

Yummy Stuff:

Today I began my quest to save more money.  I have been going out for bagels and soy chai waaayyyyy too much lately.  I had forgotten that being pregnant and teaching simply requires more morning calories than a slice of earth-balance buttered toast can provide.  So, I’m cutting my costs by making my soy-drinks at home and making some enticing homemade fresh bagels to top with some peanut butter for some morning protein to munch on as I walk out the door!  The G-man has been a bread-making fanatic, and he found some great, but complicated bagel recipes.  I opted instead for Vegan Brunch bagels, and they came out great!  They were also super easy when I substituted instant yeast (part of the G-man’s bread paraphernalia) for active yeast.

Vegan Brunch Bagels – Instant Yeast Version

Ingredients
4 cups of white all-purpose flour
3 TB sugar
2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 lukewarm water

Directions:
1. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.  Add in the water and stir until the dough starts to come together.
2. Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 10 minutes.  The dough will be a bit tacky, and not super soft.  Put the ball of dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a damp dishtowel.  Let it rise for one hour.
3. After the hour, put on a large pot of salted water to boil and preheat the oven to 425.  Put the dough on a dry surface and cut into 12 pieces.  Shape each piece into a bagel by rolling it into a ball and putting your thumb through the middle until you poke a hole in the dough.  Stretch the hole to about 3/4 of an inch.  Put the bagels on a baking sheet with parchment paper.
4. Once the water is boiling, turn it down to medium-high heat and put in three bagels at a time.  Use a slotted spoon to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pan (they should float up eventually).  Boil the bagels on one side for 1 minute, then flip them over and boil them on the other side for 1 minute.  Use the slotted spoon to transfer them back to the baking sheet.
5.  Once all the bagels have been boiled, bake them for 18-22 minutes.  Pull them out when they are amber colored.  You are supposed to let them cool for 15-30 minutes, but let’s be real – I will ALWAYS eat at least one pretty much straight out of the oven!

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From → Bread, Breakfast, Writing

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