A learning moment when you least expect it
So, I am enjoying a pint this past Friday after school which was perfect timing because it had been an extra busy week. I had about an hour to relax and enjoy some quality time with my wife Neila Steele before the craziness would begin. At 5 pm, kids would start arriving for a sleepover to celebrate my son Tai's 9th birthday. Tai had requested that I make him and his friends my homemade pizzas and his favorite spicy sausage pasta for dinner. At about 4:15, Neila went home early to meet the kids. I squeezed one more pint in and did some writing in my journal.
Now, feeling the pressure, I had to bolt over to the imported store to get all of the necessary ingredients for the big dinner. My phone was ringing away as I was officially late for starting up dinner, but I was trying to remain calm. I rushed over to pick up my son's birthday cake at the German bakery around the corner from our house and made it just before they were closing up. We had ordered the cake the night before and sent the birthday message by iPhone to the bakery. Of course, the birthday message should have read, "Happy 9th Birthday Tai!!" However this was my reality when I checked the cake:
You can imagine my first reaction, "Nope, wrong! That can't be my cake!". But, I soon realized that it was indeed the cake and a colossal screw up had taken place. At that point, what could I do? Nothing. So, I paid for the cake, ran to the taxi that was waiting and went home having to deliver the news to my wife who was getting things under control back at the house.
My frustration soon faded while in the taxi and I had quite a good laugh about it. When I showed my wife, she too laughed. When we lit the candles, we didn't say anything to the kids and waited to see if they noticed. They did. I then told them the story about the birthday message by text being lost in translation and they all laughed and thought it was hilarious. All of the boys at the party have lived in China for some time and have all experienced distinct language difficulties at one point or another in the past.
We've all had moments in our teaching when things don't seem to be going as we would like. I had a moment this week in one of my classes when I thought that I had been very clear about what my students had to do. However, once I set them off to work, a few didn't seem that engaged, so I had to push them a bit. They still didn't seem to be on track and I quickly realized that they didn't know what to do. They were kind of aimlessly messing around when I stepped in to clarify if they understood the expectations in the activity. It became immediately clear to me that they didn't understand and they were native English speaking students. Imagine my students who are are not native English speaking!
As educators, even though we feel that we have been explicitly clear when instructing our students what to do in an activity or assessment task, I wonder to what extend the students truly understand. How often might we have students who go through the motions but don't fully get what is going on? Those seemingly disengaged students often times don't have a clue what is happening. Although we address these situations in our teaching, the cake ordeal last Friday really made me think about how easily important ideas, instructions and expectations can often times be misunderstood by our students.
To extend upon this idea, what about our daily interaction and communication with our colleagues? People are not always going to understand things as we do. Even though the cake mess up on Friday was quite funny, there is something to be learned from this experience. How can we better assess the level of clarity in which we communicate with our students and colleagues? Just something to reflect on as we begin a new week at school. Have a good one!