Questioning Level 1 – The Town Meeting
We start each class with a town meeting. Go quickly around the room and inquire in English about what is going on with your students that day. You probably already do this. We can’t just barrel our way into stories – it spikes affective filters.
This light discussion requires only a few minutes and sets a positive tone for the day. Our efforts to build connections and trust in our classrooms are well worth the short time the town meeting takes away from L2 input that day.
Why do the town meeting every day? Our students need to know that we like them before we can teach them anything. Connecting and focusing on kids’ emotional and physical safety is Job #1 in schools, not teaching the subject matter.
Using L1 in the town meeting makes our time in the language smoother and more productive. The L1 used at the beginning of class is like putting money in a savings bank. We withdraw larger amounts of L2 later because of this L1 investment now.
The first thing to do in the town meeting is to ask a few general questions like who won the football game, etc. – just things about what might be happening in the school that day. Next, I ask them how their classroom jobs are going, if they are happy with them or if they want a change, etc. The class always shares important and real things on this topic, allowing me, especially, to keep tabs on what is happening in this important area of student jobs.
The reason for the jobs check-in is simple. If someone is not doing their job well, of course I know that, but I can’t just fire someone directly, which could foster enmity. I need the help of the class. So, I might ask how the class thinks the reader leader or some other hire is doing, and the kids tell me.
That allows me to fire the person in a very lighthearted way, with smiles all around. Problem solved. It’s a lighthearted group decision and you will see that the student being fired always accepts the decision in the spirit given.
This daily check-in ritual requires eye contact with each student. Students are not used to being needed in a classroom, but in an instant with the town meeting, attitudes change as the kids are reminded that they are indeed an important part of the class and that their presence, whether they have a job or not, is needed for the class to function at peak efficiency.
Students want so much to be of use and feel as if they are a valued part of a community, but they need an invitation. In the town meeting we thus fill an ancient human need to contribute to and be part of the group. When that first piece is in place, the academic part follows easily.
A Pleasant Time
The town meeting is a pleasant time. We haven’t seen each other for a day or two, and so, as colleagues often do, we check in with each other before getting to work. The students see a relaxed and happy teacher, no matter how we feel inside that day. The message sent to the students is that nothing is more important than them.
Once the town meeting is over, it’s almost as if we are a flight crew of an airplane bustling about, getting ready to take off. People are in their respective job hubs and, with everyone in place and ready to learn, the class begins.
The recommended amount of time to spend in the town meeting is 2-5 minutes, but this is completely up to the teacher. I have spent entire class periods, as many of us may have, just enjoying the company of my students in English without a pang of guilt. And if I had one, I’d just go get my pay stub and look at it and that would fix that.