We are over halfway through Lent as of last week and I just had to share how our Lenten journey in room 204 is going. On Mardi Gras (the Tuesday before Lent), I held a quick classroom meeting with each of my three grades. We discussed how Lent is an opportunity to grow in faith through abstaining of things and adding others, and each class reached the same conclusion: they wanted to give up put-downs for Lent and add more prayer in the classroom.
I was very impressed by this conclusion because truthfully, like any child their age, they do struggle with putting one another down, whether jokingly or unkindly. The classroom is sometimes a hostile learning environment for fear of being wrong and being laughed at because of this. As an educator, I can model the behavior expected and reprimand and correct whenever something like this happens, but I cannot control each scholar's reactions, expressions, and statements. Even at a Catholic school, kids will be kids and feelings will get hurt, regardless of intentions.
To help hold them accountable, I have three small pails filled with fishbowl stones. Each time I hear or see a put down in the classroom or wherever I am, I pull a stone from the corresponding pail. Scholars watch the stones accumulate at the literal feet of the crucifix in our classroom, just below our sacred space. Scholars may also put out stones, as long as they are not doing it in a distracting manner. At the end of the day on Friday, we make an Act of Contrition, confessing our sorrow for our sins and intentions to do better. I added this to help them remember that although we sin, we are also forgiven by Christ again and again. It can be disheartening to see our sins piling up, but seeing them wiped away through a sincere at of penance and repentance is an excellent reminder of God's great love and mercy in the sacrament of Confession.
As the weeks have gone by, fewer stones have been put out. The visual representation of their sins seemed to have really helped them realize the vast quantity of put-downs they use throughout the day. I'm hopeful that after IOWA testing (our standardized assessments) they will continue this positive change, even after the Lenten season. As teachers, we're called to teach but most importantly, help these young people realize their potential to be holy. I think that this small, simple activity is definitely helping our little future saints to obtain their promise of the Kingdom, one small stone at a time.
I cannot believe that the third quarter is about to draw to close in a week! If you're looking for new ways to pray and people to pray for, educators could use your intercession as we try to get everything done that needs to be done despite snow days, too much indoor recess, and not enough time in the day! I hate how rushed I feel but in the same token, my 7th and 8th grade scholars have completely finished their first entire Grammar workbook and my 6th graders have finished Rosemary Sutcliff's retelling of the The Iliad and are about to start her version of The Odyssey! They've worked so hard!
Despite the little voice in my head telling me we haven't accomplished enough, I refuse to let go of my afternoon institution of Free Read Fridays. They are as glorious as they sound and I am so pleased with how well my scholars do each Friday! The expectations are simple: bring something to read, grab a pillow, find a comfortable spot in the classroom where you aren't tempted to talk or fall asleep, and read the entire class period, I have to admit, I roll my eyes when people complain about this generation's attention span. These kids can focus is they want to... it's just finding something they want to focus on for 35+ minutes.
Free Read Friday is a sacred institution in my classroom for three reasons.
Firstly, our curriculum is beautiful but it does not have space for students to read what they like (even, sigh, Diary of a Wimpy Kid for the third time). Free Read Friday is free read. They can bring anything school-appropriate they want to read for the class period. Comics, magazines, anthologies, nonfiction, fiction... the list goes on and on. One integral piece of creating life-long readers is allowing them to read what they enjoy. They read what is assigned in class with vigor and strive to meet my expectations; they deserve time to read what they love.
Secondly, the concept of "schole" or restful learning is such a hard thing to incorporate. Ina nutshell, "schole" is the idea of good things, surrounded by good people, in a calm, comfortable setting. I don't have the luxury of always teaching from that beautiful place of rest but on Fridays, my young people get to rest with something they love. And hopefully, they know how to seek out the good in everything around them because of the critical reading that has been modeled for them throughout the year. God, as the divine inspiration for everything is present in everything God's children have written. Even that silly YA novel that you wouldn't recommend to anyone. Even that graphic novel you wouldn't touch with a ten-foot-pole. God is present and through intentional modeling, I hope my scholars are able to discern the good, the true, and the beautiful in everything they read.
Finally, I have been slowly, surely integrating more classical literature into their lives. Throughout third quarter, all my young people chose or had help from me to choose a time-tested, quality piece of literature. Frankenstein, Little Women, The Island of the Blue Dolphins, Hatchet, and a myriad of others are all available to challenge my scholars to read something of higher quality. But because they got to choose it, most of them have loved it! Several students have read Jack London's Call of the Wild and they love it! Just because a book is old doesn't mean it isn't good. I'm just so proud of what a little extrinsic motivation (a book review) and a quiet, restful space to read in can do for these young learners. I'm eager to read their book reviews this week!
Ready for Lent? Check out these great posts to help you have the a mindful Lenten experience:
First year Catholic educator in the Classical curriculum style. I teach middle school English-Language Arts.