Last night I sent an email to Scott's teacher Rob to see if he wanted any help from me today. It wasn't the most sincere offer, since I was going to be helping out at Connor's school too, and it's the first day they're back at school after a week long break, y'know?
So it wasn't the most perfect moment when I found the reply, "Sure."
Sigh. So that meant dropping Scott, driving 10 minutes back to the dojo to open, writing for about a half hour, then driving back to the school.
Rob had an activity in mind. First, he passed out the master list for each child--the results of the goal-setting conference just prior to the Thanksgiving break. There is an "Independence" goal, a "Community" goal, and a "Fluency" goal. The fluency goals seem to correspond with the traditional academic-type skills, such as mathematics. First the kids were asked to recopy their fluency goal from Rob's master sheet onto their own worksheet.
I walked around the room and saw all kinds of fluency goals. Some children wanted to work on their math with a goal of getting to do middle-school math. Some wanted to publish stories. Some wanted to improve their typing.
Once the copying into their own handwriting was done, Rob numbered the children 'ones' and 'twos' and had the 'ones' sit on the table facing out while the 'twos' stood and faced them. They were to take about 30 seconds and share their goal with each other, with two tasks in mind. They were to notice if the other person's goal was similar to theirs, and write it down in a space they had on their worksheet. They were also to let the other person know if they thought they might have skills that would help the other person meet their objective. There was a place on the worksheet for that too. Then the 'twos' were to move on to the next sitting person. One sitting girl raised her hand: "How will I know if there's someone who's sitting who can help me or has a similar goal?" "Good question. The sitting people will have a chance later to talk to each other, as will the standing."
Rob carefully structured the process, telling them when it was time for the standing children to move on. Presently everyone had spoken to each other. A number of names had appeared on their worksheets--people with similar goals; people who had skills who could help others meet their goals. When it was time for the sitting group and the standing group to share amongst themselves Rob told them they would have to be self-directed. He pulled back and let the kids structure this themselves. It was very orderly, and fairly quiet.
As they were doing this Rob was writing on the board. He had them close their eyes and imagine themselves beginning work on the goal on their page. He wanted them to picture what this process would look like...how it would sound...what it would feel like. When it was time for them to open their eyes he had them write it down on the worksheet--how it would look, sound, feel. I walked around the room looking at what children were writing and drawing. One boy's writing I couldn't quite read and so I asked him. He'd written, "I feel frustrated".
Rob picked right up on this. He said, "As some of you are imagining working on your goals you may find you feel sad, or mad. When that happens, see if you can imagine what you might do to help those feelings. Maybe that might mean imagining yourself in a quiet place. Maybe it means going to one of the people whose names you have on the list as resources. And if you don't have a name under resources, I want you to put one. Mine. R-O-B. I'm a resource for you too."
I remembered back when we went to Scott's IEP meeting. I'd worried because I saw how intensively this classroom is based on reading: when the kids come in there are instructions on the board for them to read and follow. I'd worried that Scott was being left behind, left out. I was afraid that there might be a nice lofty goal that the younger children ask the older ones for help, that doesn't happen in practice. I was afraid the older children might scorn the younger for not knowing what to do. I feared Scott wouldn't understand the algorithm Rob had diagrammed on the board for getting help. I was afraid he'd be adrift. I'd confided this fear, and Rob had reassured me that this was a skill that took time to develop, identifying resources and using them, and that he did not leave this skill up to chance.
Today I saw that Rob was true to his word. Every step today was laying down a fundamental of learning, of learning-to-learn. The goals from conferencing weren't just an abstraction, they were anchored not just in today's tasks, but also in the mind's eye. Not only was each child being asked to focus on what they'd already stated was a goal of theirs, with their parents, but they were learning how to find resources to help them accomplish them.
I am so damned impressed.