Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Coconut Tales: Looking Closely At One Student's Spark

By Stephanie Bartlett

Hunter discovered a coconut in our Looking Closely centre.  He spent activity time looking closely, listening to the water inside, wondering and drawing in his journal.  "I wonder how we can crack this open?" He is a collaborative guy, so he quickly found a friend to share his discovery.  The group began to grow and our class discussion at the end of the day was all about whether we could open the coconut the following day and how we might do that.

The next day, I had my tools ready: screw driver and hammer to open the coconut in a fairly teacher-directed fashion.  Sure enough, a gang of them headed towards the unsuspecting coconut, each armed with scissors. The snippets of excited discussion I heard were the very things that I had been teaching all year.  They were talking, wondering, figuring out how to open the coconut and all the while, finding ways to listen and work together. I stopped the whole class and quickly told them there were some people who wanted to crack the coconut.  I asked everyone to just drop their toys, grab their journal and draw how they thought we might open it.  

Next we all gathered around the table.  When I turned back from gathering my tools to demonstrate how to do open our treasure, I saw that Rowan (who had just returned from a five month stay in Maui) grabbed the coconut, and used his scissors like a screw driver in one of the holes, saying "Let me do this. I used to open these every day."  What empowerment for a student who is working hard to return to routine, school, all the while learning a new language! There was no need for me to be there, so I quietly hung back and let him run the show.  

The conversation turned to excitement about the water inside. "What will it taste like?" "Can we try it?" Like a surgical assistant hoping to be helpful, I grabbed our class set of cups and suggested that everyone pour two shakes in so that they could all try the water.  So fun! And then...after some French oral language activities because I need to get them talking as much as I can...we counted to three and tried the coconut water.  "Eeeewwwww!" "Gross!" 
The last step was to graph who liked the taste and who did not.  We ended the day chanting "Je n'aime pas l'eau de coco!" 
This activity was made possible by a provocation that sparked the curiosity of one student. Then, he shared his interest and collaborated, all the while generating ideas on how to open the coconut.  Students then caught the spark and drew a plan.  This gave them an opportunity for authentic writing, then math and oral language skills.  Listen carefully to your students, teach them to wonder, question and investigate and offer provocations that will allow their curiosity to spark.  To me, this is a joyful way to teach and the results always astound me. What examples do you have that highlight student engagement?
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