Don’t Think, Because This is a Charter School…

…that I don’t mean business.

This letter went out to several parents last night.

Dear Mr. and Ms. Parent;

I’m writing to let you know that [your child] had trouble participating in today’s class discussion about the film we watched in class on Monday and Tuesday.

Participation is a major component of a student’s grade in English class.  While reading and writing are certainly important skills to demonstrate in English – and are skills that we will work with carefully and often over the course of the semester – I’m also interested in seeing how well students are able to express themselves verbally.  I encourage – and expect – everyone in class to contribute to what I call “class conversations,” where students lead the discussion about the literature we’re investigating; they make statements or ask questions of themselves and their classmates that demonstrate to me that they are fully engaged in the intellectual and cognitive work I’m asking them to do.

Before we began to view The Last Samurai, I gave very clear instructions that students were to take careful notes while they watched the film.  I expected them to write lines of dialogue that stood out for them, to sketch out what they thought were significant scenes, and to ask questions about things they didn’t understand.  I told them that I expected this for the express purpose that they have those notes to refer back to when it came time for today’s class conversation. [your child]‘s voice was notably absent from our conversation, and I am unable to discern how much of the film she really engaged with.

I plan on taking [your child] aside tomorrow to ask her what conditions I can help her create to get her more focused and participatory in class.  I suspect that she doesn’t participate because she feels she has nothing of value to say, and I hope to make her understand that I don’t expect her – or any of my students – to have all the “right” answers.  I do expect, however, that they show me, on no uncertain terms, that they are present and mindful and engaged in class.  It’s okay to say “I don’t know” only if it’s followed by “but I think….”

Please feel free to email me with any questions or concerns you might have.  I’m invested in [your child]‘s success in our class, and I’ll do everything I can to help her create the conditions she feels she needs to do well.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Chili

Seriously.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Don’t Think, Because This is a Charter School…

  1. I don’t think you could have worded that much better.

    Out of curiosity, is the reason you cite for the student’s lack of participation the real reason, or were you just trying to be diplomatic?

  2. magicalmysticalteacher

    With your permission, I’m going to borrow your letter, edit it, and send it to several parents. They need to know what’s going on—or not—with their children. Thank you, Chili! ;-)

  3. Falcon, I’m not sure yet WHAT is causing the lack of participation. I plan to find out, though, rest assured…

    MMT, TAKE IT! I’m always – and I mean ALWAYS – happy to share.

    Everyone, if I’ve got something that you think can make your life easier, feel free to boost it and make it your own!

  4. twoblueday

    Maybe The Last Samurai just didn’t engage the student(s) to whom you refer. Of course, they could always participate to the extent of saying so.

  5. Darci

    I agree with TwoBlue – perhaps this student(s) was not engaged by the movie as it was not something that appealed to them but then this needs to be rolled into the discussion – i.e. no empathy for the main character or conflict, not interested in story line, no concern for conflict resolution.

    Ahhh. The issues of the dispassionate student.

  6. twoblueday

    There’s nothing wrong with being dispassionate about issues/ideas/art that do not have significance, that do not resonate.

    I’m not going to do one of my screeds here, but only say that, in reality, movies don’t matter a bit in the realm of important life issues.

    • Melissa

      Twoblueday, you don’t think that movies can help people connect to important life issues they are facing themselves? I can’t say for sure that any of Chili’s students are finding themselves in The Last Samurai, but it’s certainly possible. Your comment makes it sound like movies – or any kind of storytelling – don’t matter. Care to elaborate a little more? I’m curious about what you mean.

  7. twoblueday

    Well, Melissa, I’ll try.

    I tend not to attribute significance to very many things. I watch movies and read books primarily for entertainment. Hmmmm. That doesn’t really explain what I mean. I think of all “Art” as entertainment, in a general sense. (This is harder than I thought, I’ll have to give it some more thought to make a better presentation of my views).

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