Today I visited a 9th grade Economics* class. Students were working in groups helping each other figure out a word problem.
“How do you get a good grade in this class?” I asked a group.
“Oh, it’s easy maam,” said Hassan.** “You just have to pay attention to the teacher, do your homework, and when you have a question, you can’t just sit there and be quiet, you have to ask the other kids.”
“So how do you think you’re all doing?” I asked.
Hassan looked around the room, tilting his chair back, then looked at his group. “I think everyone in this class is going to get 100,” he said confidently.
I liked Hassan’s answer.
Is everyone in this class really going to get 100%? Probably not. Could Hassan be over-confident? Absolutely. And should we make sure our students really understand how they’re graded? Yes.
But here was the essence of Hassan’s answer: As students, we are learning how to be responsible and work as a team, and we’re getting good at it.
Later, I watched the teachers, Mr. W and Mr. H, coach the students as they worked in their groups. Mr. W was sitting with Hassan, who was explaining something to his group.
“Wait,” Mr. W said, interrupting Hassan. “Before you explain it, you need to make sure you have everyone’s attention.”
Hassan, paused, slightly stunned.
He looked around his table. One girl, recently arrived from Yemen, was only half-facing the group. Shy. Separate.
Hassan leaned towards her and tapped the table. The girl turned around and faced the group, looking instantly more comfortable and focused.
Hassan then launched into his explanation, only to be interrupted again. “They’re having trouble picturing your explanation,” said Mr. W, reading’s the group’s confusion. Hassan looked around, then dashed from the table, and returned with a whiteboard. He sketched out the problem, and and in seconds, the group was listening to him.
Listening, and learning. Mr. W and Mr. H are unlocking their students’ natural human abilities to be helpful, social, and responsible, so they can learn the easy way. He’s creating the conditions for students to experience their own greatness, whether that means getting 100%, or even better, being part of a team that gives 100%.
* Economics is a Social Studies class that students must pass in New York State in order to graduate from high school. We are offering it in 9th grade to support our students with the financial literacy aspects of the New York State Regents Common Core Algebra Exam, which is normally given in 9th grade. We have a math teacher, Mr. W, and a Social Studies teacher, Mr .H, co-teaching the course.
**Not the student’s real name.