Field Notes, 2/13

njohnson's picture

The overall theme that I noticed today that was striking to me were my own conceptions of "ability" as it pertains to the classroom. I see ability in the classroom in two ways: the first is the teacher's perception of what the students are capable of and the second is what the students themselves feel that they are capable of. 

Using the movie "Ruby Bridges" we talked about what it means to show tolerance. It is my understanding that the lesson done today on "Ruby Bridges" is parter of a larger social studies lesson on tolerance since she did some review of the definition in class at the beginning. While the movie made sense to me, there were some deep and intricate themes and I was really blown away by her decision to present a movie, despite being made for a younger audience, that dealth with segregation in the South. I wasn't blown away becuase I thought it was risky subject matter, however. I was more taken aback by the fact that second graders, who in my mind still seem fairly young, were engaging with this material in a way that did not seem to be going over their heads. She framed the movie by asking each student to think about a time in the movie where tolerance was shown and a time when it wasn't. I guess what I found impressive was her ability to boil segregation, where the history is so complex and politically charged, down to something that the students were able to digest all without minimizing its importance or trying to put rosy spin on it. The integrity of the material was still there and whether or not the students understood the scope of what they were learning, they were engrossed by the movie and had a lot of commentary. Throughout my time in this field placement my own notions of what students can or can't do have been really tested. It seems that conceptually they are at a level much higher than I am giving them credit for. However, when it comes to more basic skills, they can underperform in a way that doesn't make much sense to me. Which leads me to the second notion of ability which is students' own perceptions of what their abilities are. 

As I just mentioned, the students are very bright. Despite coming from a variety of language and education backgrounds, they are, for the most part, on the same level with each other cognitively which seems like a big deal to me. I obviously don't know this for a fact and it very well may not even be true but very rarely are students being pulled out to meet with specialists which is a very large departure from some other classrooms that I've been in. Regardless of how factual this may be, however, I have seen them do well on quizzes and get 100% on their homework and it's clear that, from what I'm seeing, the teacher is assessing them with materials that are appropriate for their ability level because they consistently are able to perform. The issue, however, is that they don't necessarily seem to see it this way. Any activity that they have to complete in class, which occurs every day, they immediately ask for help before they even look at the worksheet. I realize that this could just be a form of them wanting to get their work done as quick and painlessly as possible but it seems noteworthy to me the amount of times that a student has immediately said to me "can you help me? I don't get it?" and I will start reading the problem aloud and they'll instantly know what to do and will get the question right. It seems like either an innate sense of insecurity or seeking comfort from adults through knowing that they are over your shoulder, looking out for you. Even when they have test they will ask me or Ms. B to help and Ms. B always says the same thing, "I can't help you on a test." to me this distinction is important because she's not saying "no, I don't want to help you." or "no, I can't help you in general" but it's more that specifically for the test she cannot be of aid but that she's willing to help normally. now that I write this, I'm starting to question if my argument even has validity still but I guess the question that I keep returning to is how do you know when a child actually needs help or is just asking for help in order to do less work or for attention? going beyond that, where does a child get the immediate idea that he or she "can't" do something? is it assumed? is it actually true? 

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