Roses and Thorns

By Marion Dear, Lower School Teacher

At night the Heritage volunteers share the best and worst parts of our teaching day. We call this process “roses and thorns”. It helps us find creative solutions when things are not going well, and it also helps us and share our joys and triumphs when they are.

I’ll start with my thorn. My Book Clubs were a bust. For the last week, we started doing advanced work in reading seminar, and I think we got a bit out over our skis. Students met in Book Clubs to read material at their “just right reading level”. The lesson here is how to talk about literature, in hopes that the discussion pushes everyone to higher understanding.  In addition, because of the inherent social nature of the assignment, this activity should be fun. I worried that a week would not be enough time for students to finish their novels. Was I ever wrong! I know Sarah Plain and Tall is a quick read, but the group tackling this rich story finished after one day. The group reading about Prometheus finished The Theft of Fire by the second day. Now what? Although I am skeptical about the degree to which these students understood and appreciated their novels, I tell myself that part of teaching is recognizing when to drop back and punt. We needed to move on to a new advanced activity. We finished the week by participating in a jigsaw project on ancient Egypt. My colleagues and I joke about having a plan B, plan C, etc. up to plan Z.

Now I’ll wrap up with roses. We finished the week by reading non-fiction, and then participating in a jigsaw activity. In small groups, students became experts in one aspect of ancient Egypt. Then they were tasked with teaching their classmates about this topic, the rationale being that the best way to learn something is to teach it to others. The final activity is a test or quiz. Student experts gage how well they taught their topic by how well their classmates do on the final assessment. During the information gathering stage and the teaching stage, students were engaged and studious. They worked hard to make sure everyone in their group truly understood the material. Also I think they were genuinely interested in the topic. In any classroom, you can’t go wrong with pyramids and mummies.  Our final assessment showed that the class understood at least basic facts about ancient Egypt.

We finished our last class with a celebration American style. This means we enjoyed juice and cookies, a daring move on my part, in a country where daily struggle focuses on finding food to create a meal. At this point, students shared their own individual roses and thorns from the 3-week reading seminar.  Students lifted up working in small groups as a highlight. They also enjoyed analyzing stories set in their culture. They gave me credit for not punishing them, when they made mistakes, and categorized this as a rose. The predominant thorn of the students’ was the noise interference, due to the open air nature of the buildings. I value my students’ reflections, and while I too found the noise level distracting, I suspect something would be lost if we hermetically sealed up the classrooms with glass windows.

At week’s end, we gathered in the courtyard for a goodbye assembly. After the Lord’s prayer and a few hymns, we thanked our students and managed a tearful goodbye. Kwesi told the school to show that they were true Fante children.

“Du asomdweemu!” they bellowed in unison. “Safe journey. Go with God.” Once again, these children grabbed my heart. And they do not let go.

G_lord is my shepherd


Gathering the in the courtyard for assembly and “The Lord’s Prayer”

About Westtown School

Westtown School is a Pre-K through 12th grade Quaker, coed, college preparatory day and boarding school in West Chester, PA.
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