July 13, 2024

It’s All About the Dog

Meet Rufus, a super light stuffed dog that we use to decide who reads or answers a question next. How does an inanimate stuffed dog choose students you might ask? Well, using a complex AI generated algorithm I created a… Only kidding!!! As much of a techno geek as I am, I have come to believe that the human condition is best served by human solutions and while Rufus is just a stuffed dog, the students themselves are the ones that direct him.

I read articles all the time about whether we should cold call kids, ask for volunteers, use coral responses, opportunity sticks etc all with well thought out arguments as to why … is the correct way to go. When it comes to human beings there is no one size fits all. Especially when it comes to kids. The art of teaching is all about making the best choices based on what helps the largest percentage of students learn the most (math in my case), while at the same time doing no harm to any. This balancing act can be tricky at times and rarely is it perfect but that doesn’t mean that perfection is not a laudable goal. While some have argued lately that this is “Too woke” and we are turning our students into “wimps”. I find that the people that make these arguments are usually very sad people that just want other people to be as unhappy as they are. Spreading joy and happiness in the world makes me happy and being an ass makes no one happy. I’ll leave it at that. So how do I call on kids within all these parameters? Enter Rufus.

While I’ve used all of the above mentioned methods from time to time we have a lot of activities that require a single student to be selected. In the past I have tried name wheels, conscious choices, random number generators etc but they all left me wanting in one way or another. At one point this year I asked my wife if she had a stuffed animal that I could have,  because 2nd grade teachers have this type of stuff, and she gave me Rufus. He is super light and soft so he fit the bill perfectly. The next day we were in the discussion phase of a Conundrum activity and I tossed him to a student and asked for their answer. When the student finished I asked them to toss him to another student and thus it began.

Rufus was the name one of my classes gave him and after three months of using this technique I am super happy with the results for a number of reasons. First, it takes a lot of stress off of me and a stress reduced Matt is a better teacher. Second, It gives the students ownership of the whole process. Lastly, it helps more students be more engaged because their peers function on a unique level all their own. While I could give multiple victory examples of how successful Rufus is, I’m going to pick Juan.

Juan really struggles to read and as we do alot of reading aloud in class all of his classmates knew it. So one day as we were reading our learning objects one of Juan’s classmates sent Rufus his way. Juan tried to waffle out of it but we have danced this dance before. My class is one where struggle is celebrated because we know that’s where growth comes from. So Juan starts to read. I don’t let him skip big words  (asking him to sound them out) and even though I encourage him and his teammates whisper pronunciations in his ear it is obviously quite a struggle for him. When he finally finished, the entire class started clapping for him. It almost made me cry. While I might not have called on Juan any more, his classmates knew better. They knew that it was time for him to struggle again and they were right. Juan has gone from a totally checked out math student at the beginning of the year to one of my most engaged. Of course, like all things in class, his incredible growth as a mathematician is a product of our entire multifaceted program that created the scenario that put him at that place at that time. That being said, at that moment I was pretty stoked about that little stuffed dog.