How to Know What to Do

February 12, 2015

You don't know what to do?Our son, Robbie, is now a sixth grader at Mount Ararat Middle School in Topsham, Maine. He has the great good fortune to have Mrs. Latti as his principal teacher. She teaches the class science and math while Ms. Hopkins teaches them language arts and social studies. They are a team (the Magalloway 6th Grade Team), but when we have parent-teacher conferences we meet with Mrs. Latti.

We had such a conference on Tuesday, and I couldn’t help but notice this poster on the classroom wall. It’s Mrs. Latti’s standing directions to her class about what they should do when they aren’t sure what they should be doing. 6th graders are prone to such moments of uncertainty, but then aren’t all of us?  I’m glad Mrs. Latti is teaching them how to work through such moments.  (I don’t think that was any part of my 6th grade experience.)

I think the poster says it all — almost. That last direction takes some explaining.

“Reread the directions.” That often helps. “Take a deep breath:” don’t get frustrated; believe in yourself; you can do this.  If those don’t work, “ask a neighbor.” You’ve got friends: ask them for help, and be ready to help your friends when they get confused. “Ask another neighbor.” If the first friend can’t help you, ask someone else.

Mrs. Latti is teaching them confidence and self-reliance, and she is teaching them to work as a group, helping each other, even on projects where each person has to do his own work.

So what about that last instruction, “Get a Latti lamp”?  She wants them to know that she stands ready to help if they need her. They should turn to her only when they’ve tried to work themselves out of confusion themselves and sought the aid of friends if they are still confused. But if none of that works, they can turn to her. Across the classroom, on a shelf, are a dozen or so little electric lanterns she bought at the Dollar Store.  You go get one and turn it on at your desk. The light tells her you need her help, and it does so in a way that doesn’t distract others.

We all need a Latti lamp in our lives. But we shouldn’t use it until we’ve reread the directions, taken a deep breath, asked a friend, and asked another friend. What a great approach to learning.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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