You know when you plan for something to go a certain way and it goes in a completely different direction? It doesn’t feel very good, but it teaches us a lesson. We can learn from our experiences, just like my friend did many years ago…
It was a very warm summer night in western Massachusetts. My best friend from college and I were driving around in my parents car. We had the metal music blasting and were having the time of our lives. As the breeze from outside the car felt good against our warm skin, we would occasionally put the windows down until the humidity became unbearable. Summers in New England can be quite unpleasant. When the moist air became too much for us to handle, we’d close the windows and put on the air conditioning. That felt great.
So, there we are, two crazy college kids driving on some road in Massachusetts in the middle of the night, when Tom pulls out a firecracker. He said, “We should totally light this and throw it out the window.”
My response was uninformed and ignorant. If only I knew then what I know now. Hindsight is 20/20. I said, “That sounds like a marvelous idea. Do it!”
So, as I drove, he lit the firecracker. As it started to spark and make that noise that firecrackers do, I felt a bit uneasy. An open flame was really close to me and a whole lot of gasoline. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea I thought. And that’s when everything went wrong.
My friend quickly chucked it out the window. Well, he tried to throw it out the window anyway, but as we had just recently shut the windows to turn on the AC, when he went to flick the firecracker out the window, his hand slammed against the glass window, causing the lit firecracker to fall into his lap, on the seat of my parent’s car. We both freaked out and didn’t know what to do. We froze and waited for the inevitable explosion. If you’ve ever been within a foot of a firecracker when it explodes, you know how loud the noise can be. It was horrifying. The firecracker exploded, inches from my friend’s thighs. We both screamed, loudly, as I tried to steer the car straight. Luckily, other than our ears and the small black hole burned into the seat of my parent’s car, there were no serious injuries. Although, in the moment, we were scared still, after, we laughed about it and learned a valuable lesson: Make sure your window is down if you are going to throw a lit firecracker out of it.
Like my friend learned on that fateful night in July, even the best laid plans can go awry. As a teacher, I love trying new things and taking risks in the classroom. I enjoy tackling new projects and lessons to help inspire and engage my students in the process of learning. So, when I had the brilliant idea of assessing my students on their current understanding of grammar based on the several mini-lessons I’ve covered so far this year, I felt very good about it. I spent much time last week putting the explanation sheet and rubric together for my students. I even told the students about it last week so that if they had any questions about dialogue, commas, or complete sentences, they would have plenty of time to ask for help and seek support from me. So, going into today’s grammar assessment, I felt quite good. I had a plan: Explain the purpose of the assessment, have the students review the expectations of the assessment with their table partner, noting any questions they had on their whiteboard tables, and then have the students complete the assessment on their own. Sadly, like my friend Tom, I forgot a step in the process.
While I had the students review the assessment, writing any questions they had upon their whiteboard tables, I provided them plenty of time in which to complete this phase of the task. I wanted to give them a chance to talk to a peer in order to process the assessment and information presented to them in written form. I then had the students pose their questions to me in front of the class. I fielded all of their questions flawlessly. I felt as though they were totally prepared for the assessment. I then let them get right to work. As they worked, I observed their effort. All of the students got right to work in a very focused manner. They seemed almost excited to be crafting an original story about any topic at all. The boys began feverishly typing. It was pretty tubular to watch. And that’s when it hit me. Wait a minute, I thought, I never introduced the assessment or explained its purpose. Do the boys even know why they are completing this task? Oh no, I totally messed up. But, as the boys worked, none of them seemed confused or bent out of shape with what I asked of them. They diligently worked on typing creative stories that highlighted their ability to utilize complete sentences, properly formatted dialogue, and accurately use commas in written form. I was impressed. At the close of the period, I did review the purpose of the assessment by asking the students, “Why did I have you complete this assessment today in class?” I was so amazed by their responses, as they all seemed to understand exactly why they were doing this in class today. What, I thought, how could they know if I never told them about it. Well, actually, I realize that I had back on Saturday when I previewed the week ahead. I mentioned it and briefly explained the purpose of the assessment. So, even though I didn’t go over the assessment in class today before I had the students begin looking over the handout and expectations, they knew what to expect and why we were doing it in class. Huh, maybe not introducing the task at the start of class today was okay. Even though things didn’t go as planned, they went very well. Most of the students nicely demonstrated their strong understanding of the grammar concepts covered so far this year on today’s assessment. Amazing!
Perhaps all of the effort I put into helping the students see the whys and hows of everything we do in the sixth grade classroom earlier this year, paid off. Maybe the students are just so self-aware of everything that they figured out, on their own, the purpose and role of today’s grammar assessment. Perhaps they have developed such great growth mindsets that I don’t need to say a thing and they will still be successful students, exceeding the objectives covered. Maybe, or maybe I just need to change my perspective and realize that the reality doesn’t always agree with what I think should or will happen. I need to be more open-minded when thinking about new tasks or lessons in the classroom so that I don’t get so stuck or fixed on seeing only one possible solution or approach to these new things. Life rarely goes as planned, and I need to be okay with that. In fact, I need to embrace the unknown and just jump right in to whatever will be, even if it means allowing a firecracker to explode in your friend’s lap.