The Sort-of-Scientific Method

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 08 2012

Broken Play

Day 24:  All told, my first month of school has been smooth sailing. Friday was my first real hiccup.

S was being completely goofy in the second row. Imagine spastic movements, singing, generally doing anything other than focusing. I’d seen this from S in other classes, so I knew it was possible, but she hadn’t pulled this crap in Science before.

I gave her a warning, which didn’t stop anything, so she quickly ended up at the seat I have separated from the others at the back of the room – my second consequence. Unfortunately, the goofiness did not stop. More sing-song voice, more complete inability to calm down.

In the meantime, at the front of the room, J was losing it. J is arguably the most challenging student in the 6th grade, and about a week ago, I began to realize she was very low academically. Friday was not the first day she struggled mightily to understand the material – Friday, it was variables – and as a result, her frustrations were growing.

Two students on opposite sides of the classroom, both volatile; if they mixed, explosion was inevitable. Eventually, S shouted from the back of the classroom, “Hi J!” J, in her frustration turned and said hi back. In the meantime, I happened to be, oh what’s the word, teaching.

What happened next felt like a broken play in a football game – when the plan fails, and the quarterback has to scramble to make something happen. I used the wrong tone with J, quickly and sharply admonishing her, prompting a “What the … ugh …” and J’s head on the desk. I bee-lined to S, let her know that was her third consequence, and that I’d have to call home. I told her she could choose to either come back to her seat and recover, which would let me tell her mom she pulled it back together, or she could continue down the wrong path. Her head went down.

All of this is going on during a game of “Cards Up!” I was asking my students to hold up cards with either “M” or “R” to indicate whether a variable was manipulated or responding. As I flipped to the next slide and read the next scenario, I went all the way across the classroom, picked up the water pass and handed it to J, who, thankfully, took the hint and left to get some water. She returned still frustrated, but no longer lost to the world, giving me a chance to explain why I used the tone with her, and invite her to tutoring with me after school so she wouldn’t feel so frustrated. She nodded; that would be a good idea. In the meantime, S made her way back to her seat, and after about five minutes of glowering, decided to get back on task. Which I immediately congratulated her for doing, and she smiled.

The result of this “broken play” was not an interception, nor was it a touchdown. I’d like to think I was flushed out of the pocket and scrambled for eight yards to keep the drive alive. Not bad for Friday morning.

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