Stepping into the forest of my mind

Stepping into the forest of my mind
Just as every journey begins with a first step, every story begins with the first word.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Grade School "Brain"

Have you ever encountered the grade school "brain"? Each class usually has one, and this time it is usually a boy. You know the type. The boy who doesn't need to do the assignment left you by the teacher like the rest of the class because he already has more work accomplished than the teacher requires. I was substituting for a fourth grade New Jersey history class and the students were in the midst of finding ten facts about their particular city or town in New Jersey. Luckily, I knew some information about most of the places the students had chosen because the class couldn't use the library or computers that day, like the teacher had planned, as there was a "Battle of the Books" debate.

The students' desks were arranged in clusters of six desks each. As I walked around the room checking each student's list of facts, or lack thereof, I found "Frankie" playing with his Silly Bands, chattering away, instead of working on the project. The other students in his cluster of desks had their lists out, but they couldn't help noticing the goofy shapes and colors of Frankie's Bands spread out all over his desk. So I approached Frankie's desk first and asked him to please put away the Bands and pull out his project.

"I'm finished," he declared while still rearranging his Silly Bands on the desk. "I have 18 facts--more than anyone else."

As I walked around the desks in his cluster, I asked him to show me his facts. Without disturbing a Band, he pulled out his cryptic page of notes. His town was Haddonfield, a historic luxury town located in South Jersey. I asked him if he had any further information about the Indian King Tavern Museum, and he promptly pulled out a small stack of computer-printed information about Haddonfield. Looking for something constructive he could do so as not to distract those around him, I suggested that he write a few facts about the Museum in sentences. He sighed, replaced the Silly Bands on his wrist, and began writing.

I continued to roam the classroom, filling in some details about Lucy the Elephant in Margate and Victorian Cape May for students at one cluster of desks, and historic Campbell Soup Company in Camden and Frank Sinatra of Hoboken at another. I instructed all students to write in complete sentences, using specific details that they had discovered in some of their research.

When I next noticed the "brain," he was back to manipulating his Silly Bands on his desk. I checked his sentences, and we added some detail about the architecture of some mansions in Haddonfield using his computer notes. We still had about twenty minutes left of class, and that's when I remembered the "silent reading book." This is a personal choice book each student carries around from class to class. If a student finishes work early, he or she is to read a book, quietly. If a student is silently reading a book, he or she is not distracting others in the class who need to finish an assignment. This comes in very handy when you have a grade school "brain" in your class.