Sunday, October 6, 2013

Tough Questions:A Few Answers

Progressing along with the Notice and Note strategies, this week my class visited the "Tough Questions" strategy for comprehension. Tough questions are observed in stories when a character stops to wrestle with a situation. These questions, voiced by a character, often reveal an inner struggle, leading the reader to understand the story's conflict.

We began class by talking about some tough questions and not so tough questions. "What will I wear to school?" (my uniform) and "What will I have for dinner?"( whatever my parents give me) are not such tough questions for these eighth graders but there are a few life situations they have had to wonder about: What do I do if everyone around me is doing the wrong thing but I know the right thing? How do I survive a death or divorce in my family? Why was I born with dyslexia?

The authors of Notice and Note (Beers and Probst, 2013) always suggest a passage for the guided practice on this strategy and provide a copy of the text in the appendix. Another reason to buy this great book! The students caught on quickly to the tough questions in the excerpts from "A Long Walk to Water" the story of a young boy forced out of his Sudanese village. To follow up, we read the story By Gish Jen, "The White Umbrella." The questions in this text are subtle but do point to the conflict experienced by a young Chinese girl struggling to fit into American society. The story has an ending that the students love to hate and we had our own tough question at the end. Why, after four pages of obsessing over this white umbrella, did she throw it in the sewer?

After this story had ended, one young man announced that the story was pointless and that "those weren't tough questions". However, when given an assignment to create some visual images that represented the story, he added a picture of a Chinese flag and an American flag in the midst of a whirling conflict. So, I guess he did get the point after all!

As teachers we face tough questions everyday and sometimes they can overwhelm us. How do we answer the call to "rigor" (common core buzz word) and not lose our struggling students? How do we integrate technology with limited computers available? How do we get kids to read books when the their iphones have so much more appeal? How do we help them persevere in problem solving when the average attentions span steadily decreases? How do we challenge the brightest, support the most struggling and let them be creative when we have the threat of assessments always looming ahead? How do we keep going when it seems what we do has little impact and nobody ever stops to notice what we are doing right?

As usual, when I lift up mine eyes, help usually comes forth. Today's gospel from Luke asks a pretty tough question," Who among you would say to your servant who has just plowed the field, "Come here immediately and take your place at the table? .... Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, "We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do."

At church, Father Terry peered over his glasses at the faithful flock and said to us, "You do what you are supposed to do, take care of who is in front of you and don't worry if you get anything back." Our students may not rise up to call us blessed when we give them tough assignments, challenge them to higher level thinking, slow them down, speed them up or ask them to persevere. The state department of education will never stop changing things,, the local governing board will always have new ideas for professional development and just when we think we can rest on our laurels, a challenging new student bounces off the wall and into the front seat in our classroom to stretch us to new levels of patience. We do this and we ask as the apostles did long ago, "Lord, increase our faith."

May our faith be increased as we do the work we are called to do.

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