It is difficult sometimes to find the time to address the silent thoughts of our students. We are always running around with supplies or putting out fires, not even pausing to take a breath and realize that there are many thoughts in the minds of our students that can tell us more about who they are and what they believe.
I recently came across this story and wanted to share the importance of it. You can find it on author Glennon Doyle’s site, Momastery or you can also check out a video of it on the TODAY Show. The story profiles a math teacher who fights against childhood loneliness by asking her students some basic questions every Friday afternoon. Then she studies the patterns of their responses. This is something she does every week ever since the Columbine school shooting because she realized that lonely children were some of the most silent sufferers and that she had to identify which students needed help making friends or who might need an adult to step in, among other things.
“Every Friday afternoon Chase’s teacher asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week. The children know that these requests may or may not be honored. She also asks the students to nominate one student who they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her.
And every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, Chase’s teacher takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her and studies them. She looks for patterns.
Who is not getting requested by anyone else?
… doesn’t even know who to request?
… never gets noticed enough to be nominated?
… had a million friends last week and none this week?
You see, Chase’s teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or ‘exceptional citizens.’ Chase’s teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down — right away — who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.”
I was so inspired by this teacher that I wanted to conduct my own little experiment in my middle school art classroom. To say that I was extremely surprised by the results would be the understatement of the year.
First, I asked a question to gauge the temperature of the classroom. I have worked with these kids for about 9 weeks now and wanted to learn more about them. So, I posted a warm-up prompt on the board as students in one of my more challenging sixth grade classes walked in. It read:
What I was looking for in the patterns:
- Which students cared automatically and naturally about others and why;
- Who would choose to keep all the money to themselves;
- Who would give it away; and
- What is important to them, in order.
The class wrote their answers quietly, folded them up, and passed them to me in private. What I found out was amazing and just from this simple prompt! I discovered that some students would automatically give ALL their money away, keeping none for themselves. I also learned that some students care deeply for animal rights, breast cancer awareness, and their families. Lastly, I learned that some students would not donate any of their money. It was eye-opening.
When the students explained why they allocated their money the way they did, their reasons were just as compelling. One student donated to foster children because her sister was in foster care before she was adopted by their family. Some donated to natural disaster relief because planet Earth is warming. It was just amazing to see what these minds worked out.
Just by doing this little experiment, I understand my students a bit better. I was able to realize that some are facing unique challenges and some have unbelievable levels of generosity. It showed me what their interests are and where some of their priorities lie. This exercise obviously did not tell me everything about them, but it was a start. I highly suggest doing something similar in your classrooms so you can begin to identify the silent needs or thoughts of our students.
Plus, I really do hope that “Lucy” wins the lottery so that she can finally open her injured turtle rescue called “Flipperless Friends” because that would be amazing.