I know everything, apparently

How do dolphins have sex? How do fireworks work? How come the fireworks echo like that? How do stingray tails sting? How are stingrays related to sharks? How do you know if you’re in love?

My one little word for 2019 is “listen,” but we are nine hours and fifteen minutes into the year – and let’s be clear that I was asleep for most of those hours – and I have already yelled (just a little). We are on vacation. I am sitting on the couch trying to write, listening to the gentle creak of the hammock behind me, the not-so-gentle rise and fall of the children’s voices as they talk their way through some version of tennis on the beach (raquets, a ball, and nothing else), the heavy footfalls on the stairs as the adults try to get ready for the day.

The sounds paint a lovely picture, and I am listening, but I have already been asked approximately 304 questions this morning. Can we go to that abandoned house you found? Can I take home a seashell? Why not? Can I use your phone to take pictures? Can I have more for breakfast? Can starfish swim? Can you read to me when you’re done writing? Can we go swimming? Can we go now?

The metallic thud and clank of the screen door warns me that I am about to be joined again. The boys know that I need some space when I’m writing, but somehow quiet space is hard to find in this tropical paradise. Our senses are alight with novelty, and experiences blossom around every corner. No one is getting quite enough sleep because every minute – even the quiet ones – is full of something.

What’s the name of this bug? What is cassava? What makes bioluminescence? Can we keep it in a jar? Why not? What are you writing? What time is it? What’s for lunch?

So, this one little word thing, this “listen”, this may be a challenge for me. I guess I already knew that. But now – literally as I am writing – the sounds have come together and, astonishingly, I have found the quiet in the centre of the noise. And what I hear behind the tennis negotiations, the breeze, the hammock and all of those questions, is security, admiration, love. There will come a day when these boys will know that I do not, in fact, know everything – or even all that much. There will come a day when they will think I know nothing at all, in fact. These questions show me what a central role I play in their lives right now. Right now, I know everything, apparently.

So here is my blessing for myself today: May I hold onto the revelation that questions are love in wrapped up in words during the 4,537 questions that are yet to be asked today. May I listen and may I hear. May I not lose my temper. (And may I forgive myself when, at question 4,538, I do.)

Why do the birds follow some people and not others? Why do stores close on holidays? Why do we have to go home? Are you done writing? Can you come play yet?

Yes, yes I can. I’ll be there in a minute, my loves.

 

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Listen

We’re working on sharing our opinion in grade 10 English. Wait, I’ll be more precise: we’re working on politely sharing our opinion. That’s a little harder.

Last year, I learned that sharing opinions can be a little easier if we start with oral work and move towards written work. Not that group discussions are easy. How

penny for your thoughts

many times have I witnessed “discussions” where three kids dominate while two fall asleep and everyone else says one thing and is done? Sigh. Over the years, I’ve developed a few ways to support kids when they’re just getting used to group discussions. We pretty much always do a penny discussion (everyone has to put their two cents’ worth in before anyone can talk a third time – I use actual pennies, and students have to pay to talk) and a

Image result for discussion web twine

visible web (twine goes between students as they speak – in the end we have a physical map of the discussion). The kids mostly hate the artificial confines of these discussions; the magic is in the debrief. As it turns out, the best discussions involve everyone, but not everyone needs to talk equally.

Once we’ve laid the groundwork for talking, we start using conversation cards that I made up last year. These cards have sentence starters to help students politely agree, disagree, ask questions and state opinions. I developed them because last year’s crew was having trouble using, um, “academic” words. They laughed their heads off when I suggested that “I hear what you’re saying, nevertheless…” could replace, “What the *#$! are you talking about?” It was slow progress, but we got there.

Last week, the students chose to discuss: “What Advice Would You Give to Your Mom, Dad or Guardian on How to Be a Better Parent?” (I love this 

NYTimes list of 1,000 writing prompts for studentsEach one links to an introduction and an article that provides some background. Careful though, the Times has a limit of 10 articles per month if you’re not a subscriber.) They were excited at first, ready to dish about their horrible parents, but once the discussion got going, the kids came quickly to the conclusion that their parents and guardians are doing the best that they can because they generally want the best for their children. The kids responded to each other, (using those cards!) and by the end they agreed that they really wished that adults would listen to them. In fact, as the conversation shifted to advice they would give to teachers, they talked their way to the same conclusion: they know that we want what’s best for them, but they really want us to listen.

I know that I’m just a kid, but sometimes I have good ideas. But adults interrupt and they talk over me and they don’t even want to know why I did something. I just want them to listen to me, to take me seriously.

That was Thursday. Since then, I keep hearing the same thing: listen. On the web somewhere, someone said, “Listen for the request in the complaint.” My son asked me to snuggle at bedtime and listen to the things that had happened during the day. I thanked my husband for listening to me as I worked through a sticky problem. My friend called and asked, “do you have time to listen to something that [my child] did?”

Listen. Just listen.

It’s a straightforward request, powerful and important. I value this, yet it’s not something I’m always good at. By the end of Thursday’s discussion, my students decided that if they could give their parents and teachers advice, if they could make a New Year’s Resolution for us, it would be “Listen.”

Well, I’m listening. For 2019, my resolution, my one little word is listen.

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