Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Re-purposing Our Students

I love to thrift store shop! The possibilities of finding some hidden treasure wells up inside of me as I enter a store! I scramble to my favorite sections, quickly scanning the shelves for my list of collectibles: book ends, globes, and bird cages. I then retrace my steps, taking time to discover any oddities, such as an antique cast-iron Mancala game board; at least, that's what I think it is :-)


My favorite thing to do with my second-hand store finds is to re-purpose a seemingly ordinary, mundane object into a completely unique, out-of-the-box item!

This morning, after dropping my son off with my mom, I decided to give myself just a few minutes of freedom before chaining myself to my computer. Upon entering one of my favorite thrift stores, my eyes instantly feel upon a dome-shaped, metal container. Initially, I thought it looked like a bread box, and I was right!



But, as I held it, another image crystallized in my mind! Since I don't need a bread box, I thought it might serve as a functional garage for my son's collection of cars:



This way, he could still have his cars out in the living room, but when not in use, they could be cleverly concealed inside a sleek parking garage:


The idea of re-purposing items I find at thrift stores made me think of some of my students. You know, the ones who come to us broken or beat-down by an education system that they just can't seem to conform to? When these students come to me, they have very little self-value. They have buried themselves beneath years of trouble and strife, forgetting that they, too, have a purpose!

When I look at these students, I try not to see the labels others have given them; I try to look beyond the troublesome category in which they have been placed. What I try to see in each one of these students is their potential: what they can become! These possibilities might not fit into the compartmentalized world of our public school system, but just as I discovered this morning, a bread box doesn't have to hold bread; it can hold cars!

Why can't our students be re-purposed, too? Rather than rows of "cookie-cutter" students who obligingly regurgitate the day's lesson, why can't we have classrooms and schools that think outside-the-box and embrace a student's potential? We can! And, more and more, I see it!

To provide my own personal experience, I received a 5th grade student one year that came with much baggage! He was notorious for being a "trouble-maker" and "class clown". In 4th grade, he had often been sent to my classroom just to give his teacher a break!

So, on our first day of 5th grade, I privately conferenced with this young man and told him he would start the year off with a clean slate. Knowing some of his background, as I had had his older brother two years prior, I knew that his parents placed a lot of pressure on him to be smart. Unfortunately, he spent most of his time fighting to get out of this box in which he had been placed because, in addition to his intelligence, he was quite funny!

Using this information to my advantage, I placed this student in charge of our Weekly Idiom. For this job, my student was responsible for choosing two students to be his assistants, one girl and one boy. The trio would pick an idiom from my "Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms", and then devote their free time over the coming days to creating a skit that they would perform in front of the class.

My student was spectacular at this job! He was able to expend his creative and hilarious energy on the Weekly Idiom that, for the most part, he was much more focused and attentive to his other studies! Of course, we weren't completely without incident, but his grades and behavior markedly improved.

In a way, I had helped re-purpose my student into a "studious comedian", in which both facets of his personality, his intelligence and his humor, were celebrated!

This was my little Slice of Life this week :-)


8 comments:

  1. I loved this paragraph: When I look at these students, I try not to see the labels others have given them; I try to look beyond the troublesome category in which they have been placed. What I try to see in each one of these students is their potential: what they can become! These possibilities might not fit into the compartmentalized world of our public school system, but just as I discovered this morning, a bread box doesn't have to hold bread; it can hold cars!
    So true - and we try, every day.

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    1. Hi Tara, thank you for your kind, encouraging words! It's nice to hear other educators who feel the same! So many people give up on these students :-(

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  2. And a nice little slice it was! It really was a thinking piece. I was wondering how it all fit together with the repurposing theme. Nicely done. Very sweet.

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    1. Thanks so much for your visit, Brittany :-) I wasn't sure how it all fit together, either, until I began writing; then, it all just came out! This is one of the things I love so much about writing and teaching writing :-)

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  3. Why can 't our students be repurposed too?? I loved this post! I loved your solution for your class clown. I am totally with you in this plan to escape the cookie cutter mentality :-)

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    1. Hi Amy, thanks so much for your comment! I had always done a Weekly Idiom but I used to choose the students on my own. When I got this student, I knew putting him in charge would be better for both of us :-)

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  4. Sounds like teaching and learning at its best! Helping someone find a purpose for natural talents, having that sense of purpose lead into growing in other areas...this is real education.

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    1. Yes, outside of testing scores and data we find the real meaning of education :-) Thanks for stopping by!

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