While I have probably been at my new job long enough to declare either undying love or unmitigated frustration, it still too early to pronounce anything in between.  I am still getting to know the other staff and their particular education stylings.  I am fortunate not to be shut into my “speech closet” all day long; in addition to individualized pull-out speech therapy sessions, I also get to “push-in” to all sorts of literacy classes across the grades.  As the bloom is not yet off the rose during this, my second week, I am filled with silent admiration at the planning and activities the teachers are implementing, and how they’re able to engage their challenging students with interesting lessons that look more like games in the eyes of their pupils. 

In one class, a teacher puts 8-10 similar objects (leaves, apples, shells, rocks) on a desk in the middle of the room.  They are all assigned a number.  Each student is assigned a number, too, to correspond to the object.  After first brainstorming associated adjectives, verbs, and concepts, the kids retreat to silent writing.  They are charged with writing a short paragraph that will describe their specific object in such a way that the class will be able to identify it.  What at first seems impossible (8 black oak leaves – come on!) becomes not only a writing exercise, but also a perceptual task.  It requires focus and concentration to see that your leaf has more holes than the rest, that the color is not uniformly brown, but that it has tannish blazes towards the tips.  It requires differentiations beyond “big” and “small”, beyond “brown” and “green”, and has a motivating factor (the guessing of their classmates) built in.  The teachers participate to model their prose.  It’s a really nice activity that can continue throughout the year.  The types of descriptions are limited only by the types of objects displayed.  It’s endlessly more useful and engaging that generating lists of adjectives and rewriting “The girl had long hair” into revealingly adjective-heavy sentences like: “The cute little silly girl had long, curly, brown hair.” 

Another class is integrating their study of grammar (common nouns, proper nouns, adjectives, verbs, different types of sentences) with their study of Native Americans, so the classes are all designing games that have to include elements of 6 different grammatical concepts, and 6 different regions where the Native Americans originated.  Many of the games draw heavily on board games like Monopoly, Life, Sorry!, and Candy land.  A few kids designed a card game that uses 3 dice they made themselves.  This teacher understands that in order to make sure his kids understand the grammatical concepts, they have to be able to apply them in a more challenging way than outlining sentences.  In order to think critically about Native Americans, they integrate ideas about culture, food, geography, tool use, dwellings, and pull it all together in an admittedly very strange-sounding game.  I believe all of the kids are choosing to work in groups of 2-4, so they’re also using group problem-solving skills as they make joint decisions on what the dice should look like, delegate who will work on which cards, and figure out how to play the game.  It’s no group project I’d like to be made to work on, but then again, I hate group projects.   

I haven’t figured everyone out yet.  I’ve made first impressions, and I’ve had coworkers fervidly whisper personality traits into my ears (“Oh, he’s NOT flexible.  Needs to have EVERYTHING planned.  Just look out.) and passed along as a by-the-way (“I think she needs the help more than the kid does.  She just reacts strongly.  You’ll see.).  I think I’ll be okay, though.  As long as they’re treating the kids and the rest of us with respect and decency…as long as I’m given the tools and opportunity to do my job…I can tolerate a little personality here and there.