Giving Students a Chance

I’ve never been a fan of negative talk or complaining, and a recent study proves how contagious negative talk can be amongst a group of people.  It spreads like wildfires and rumors.  When one person in a group complains about a particular topic or idea, other people are sure to jump on board.  It decays a community and brings the morale way down.  As an educator, I nip it in the bud as soon as I hear it.  From day one, I address how complaining and negative talk is one of my pet peeves.  I don’t want to hear it.  Suck it up and do what is being asked of you.  The best things in life require much hard work and effort.

Today in Humanities class, a short thread of rude grunting and complaining ran through some of the students as we introduced tomorrow’s activity.  “Tomorrow in class, to continue to solidify our knowledge on the physical and political geography of the Middle East Region, we’re going to step into the way-back machine and complete an activity we’ve done previously but this time view it through the lens of the Middle East.  We’re going to be making a tri-layered of the Middle East Region,” I said as I closed class today.  Then, a few students moaned or made some sound of disapproval.  I didn’t address them as they were low moans and only heard from a few students at the end of class.  It did leave me wondering though.  Do they not like this activity?  Is it not engaging?  Is it not a meaningful way to genuinely learn the physical and political geography of the region?  My co-teacher and I chatted briefly at the end of class about this.  We both felt that if this activity were given to us when we were students, we would have loved it.  It’s challenging but doable and it allows for much learning to take place.  So, what’s the issue?  Why do a few students seem unhappy about tomorrow’s plan?  Are they just natural complainers?  Some people seem born to always disagree with everything thrown their way.  Maybe that was the issue.  Or, were they not actually complaining but instead making some other bodily function noise that sounded like a moan of complaint?

Rather than dwell on the negative, I thought about using this experience as a teachable moment and learning experience for me, the teacher.  My hypothesis of their groans of complaint is that the tri-layered map activity is too difficult and doesn’t teach them anything.  They feel as though they already know everything they need to know about the geography of the Middle East Region.  Now, I may be incorrect in hypothesizing this, but something in my teacher gut tells me that I am right.  So, let’s give the students a chance to prove themselves.  Maybe they do know everything we want them to know about the political geography of the Middle East Region.  Instead of jumping right into the layered map activity tomorrow, what if we give the students a blank map of the Middle east region and have them label all of the countries.  If they can do this with 100% accuracy, they don’t need to complete the first layer of the layered map.  If they do already know it, why force them to repeat the skill multiple times.  Of course, they would still need to create the physical map of the region as well as a self-chosen population map, but they would not need to demonstrate their ability to identify and name all 13 countries of the Middle East Region.  Brilliant idea, I thought.

My thought is that all of the students will struggle with this assessment as learning a new region of the world is a difficult task.  They would all still need to create the three layers of the tri-layered map.  However, my co-teacher and I could then use this experience as a way to help the boys understand that hard things require hard work.  Learning the geography of an unfamiliar region of the world takes much effort and time.  Looking at a map and labeling the countries once isn’t enough to fully comprehend the region.  One needs to analyze the information and be immersed in it for true comprehension to occur.  We could explain this idea to the students and remind them that complaining and spreading negative talk is contagious and breeds negativity, which leads to a shorter lifespan, health problems, and a lack of learning.  I like this idea.  Not only would we be allowing the students to come to the realization that they don’t know everything, we would also be sharing knowledge about thinking and talking with the students.  This makes a lot of sense to me.

So, do we go this route tomorrow and try to impart knowledge unto our students or do we stay the course and jump right into the layered map activity, ignoring the negative talk we heard in class today?  Is one option better than the other?  I think so, but I’m not sure.  I feel as though addressing the negative groans we heard today and exploring their roots would be beneficial; however, I haven’t had a chance to bounce this idea around with my co-teacher yet.  So, until I speak with her about my idea, I’m not making any changes to tomorrow’s lesson.  I want to make sure that my idea isn’t totally out in left field.  The power of having a colleague to work and chat with regarding classroom ideas and lessons is amazing.  If  I didn’t have someone to talk to about my idea, I might implement it anyway even if it turns out to be a bust, and that would not be good for any party involved.  I do want to give my students a chance to show their stuff and prove themselves, but I want to be sure my idea makes logical sense first.


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