Reading Relief

I was in a state of panic today. It’s IB Oral Exam time, and I needed to consult with the kids I’d be recording during my planning time right after that class. I’m going to have a sub later this week, so I didn’t want to get “ahead” of the plans I’d already written for my sub the way I often do. What to do?

Yesterday, we’d written an impromptu yarn about a missing student – a story involving an exploding Batman cake and a Superman rescue after a birthday party gone bad. I’d tested out the new Quizlet game by having them help me write “Right There” and “Put it Together” questions (see Martina Bex on questioning techniques; hint: in Quizlet, put the answers first if a lot of them are going to be similar; you’ll see why).

One of the things I like about the Quizlet game is that it shuffles kids for you. I realized I hadn’t changed seating in a while, so we shuffled the seating chart, making new partners. I handed out a written version of the story, and walked through a tweak on the Anne Matava technique of creating a fill-in story: students underlined the structures they had to keep in their story. (This also gave them another run-through of the structures I hoped they’d practice with a new purpose.) I reminded them how to get around vocabulary they didn’t know.

Then, as I met with IB candidates to calm them and review the exam format, the others rewrote the story, mostly just replacing variables on the handout. I thought they’d all be very much the same, but I forgot that kids are creative. Several created a story about today’s absentee student. One group explained in advance why the choir teacher and many choir students would be going to San Francisco next week. Another group tried to make their story fit a particular song.

When I rejoined the class, pairs of kids read to the class. Two groups had had time to draw their stories on the board. I asked lots of clarifying questions because sometimes I didn’t quite understand, and I quizzed the listeners to make sure they understood too. (There’s something about time travel that I still don’t have: a tartis?) It seemed the relaxed rewrite was fun for everyone. They got to spin a yarn, I got to ask real questions, not circling-style questions, and by the time we were done, a lot of my teacher-panic was gone. Later, the oral exams were great! A higher-level student talked about what it’s like for Russians living in the former Soviet republics, and an ab initio student discussed the difference between Moscow as a capital city and American capital cities, as well as discussing his paper on soccer in Russia.

This day made me realize that sometimes simple is better than fancy. And I’m going to try to remember that right now, stress is building as the school year rushes to its close. If people aren’t being patient or kind, or if what they do isn’t exactly best practice, we must understand that they’re in the same whirl that we are. We don’t know what’s tugging beneath the surface. Let’s help keep one another happily afloat!

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