Kids Don’t Think the Way Adults Do
Kids are playing with a half a deck- at best because of the way our brains develop. They don’t generally engage in spontaneous metacognition. They don’t think about WHY they like something or WHY they should do something. They don’t examine a thought or a memory. Basically, they’re not here yet:
This is not because kids can’t do that kind of thinking, it just doesn’t occur to them. That’s a shame too, because if all of us thought critically about ourselves from a young age, we may actually know what we want… you know, before we’ve already chosen a bunch of stuff we don’t.
Adults Don’t Think that Well Either
Self reflection is hard.
We all live in a world where about a million decisions need to be made a day. Most of us go through them haphazardly. Why do this or that? Who cares. We’re all just counting the time until we can joyfully reunite with our couch.
What are your guiding values? What are your most important principles? What problem are you solving? What kind of needs do you have? This kind of deep thinking is cognitive work and after a long, crazy day its just too exhausting.
Up until reading Mindfulness for Teachers by Patricia A Jennings I didn’t think much about this stuff either. I was going through the motions, but I never stopped to think why.
Why not use your class to explore your own mind?
Avoid Boring “Bell Work”- Try Something Different
This year, after reading afore mentioned book I decided to do something differently.
Since I am a confirmed masochist, every year I give an exit survey to my Freshman Strategies Class. The opinions of 9th graders can sometimes be harsh, but I appreciate their feedback. The last two years, they’ve had the same gripe- bell work.
Let me step back for some of you who have not encountered this task or know it by another name. Bell work is the first- usually independent task, that the students complete while you are getting your life together. In high school this may be when you take attendance or put out your copies, or whatever it is you need them to not bother you while doing.
My bell work was boring. It was simple memorization from the lessons that had come before, what you may call distributed practice, really boring distributed practice.
They looked in their notes, wrote the answer in complete sentences, checked with a partner and then shared out. SO BORING. I was making my students into this:
So, armed with the idea that mindfulness could help my students I decided to fold some introspection into my lessons.
Instead, when they come into my class there is a question or prompt on the board. I don’t police them. They can write a fragment of a sentence, they can draw, or they can write in disjointed words. It’s their journal. Each question is a journey into their own mind. We explore memories, think of the future, examine likes and dislikes and consider our reactions.
I do give them a sticker for having something everyday, every so often, because everyone loves completion-based grading.
I don’t read their journals- that seems rude. We do share though. They share first with their partner, unless something is too personal, then they can opt out.
After partner share, we do group share, which often sparks a good class conversation. I moderate it, and I restate people’s points but I don’t judge.
The whole thing takes 7-10 minutes, but we start the hour from a place where we all see that we have changed, we’re changing and we can make changes in our lives. It makes everything else seem more worthwhile.
It also builds community. That’s never a waste of time.
Join In- You’re Not Above This
As I said before, I had not been in the know with my thoughts, feelings, goals and underlying motivations lately either. When I started this endeavor, from the start I wrote along with the students. I take my attendance really quick, then I write.
I keep it real in my journal, none of that sugar-coated teacher malarkey. I write what I actually think, feel, wish, dream and fear. I also share my entries with the students. At first I did this to show that sharing isn’t scary and to model good entries, but since I have gone along, the students have expressed that they like that an adult ALSO is still figuring the world out. They like that I experience the same things they experience. It helps normalize and validate their experiences.
It also helps dispel the “teachers aren’t people” trope that society likes to push. Teachers have no personal life. They have no feelings or thoughts. They want nothing more than their students to learn. They are nothing more than machines designed to promote learning.
Do yourself, your students and your profession a favor and be a person. Let your students experience you being a human being, like them. I swear it helped my students connect to me, and therefore what I was teaching, 100% better.
Steal my Prompts!
Making the prompts is so unbelievably fun for me. I never know which one is going to be a hit with them.
I stole a ton of these questions from various places on the internet. I peppered in some videos which teach an important life lesson or skill. I use gifs because they amuse me (the kids seem amused too). I like to make each one like a mini adventure to explore.
Since I love making them, and you may now be interested in trying them, I have provided the ones I have made so far this year below. Change the dates, make them yours!