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8th Grade Math Teacher from Memphis, Tennessee

I enjoy your blog and

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I enjoy your blog and understand that your have to plan your essential questions before you actually teach a lesson. Common Core is changing the face of education, it requiring us to be more precise when using high level thinking questions.

Teacher, Writer, and Artist


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One of my students, Huckleberry, doesn’t like to say anything. Even when I go ahead and tell him the answer to a question, and then ask everybody else not to say the answer when I ask Huckleberry the question, and then ask him to say the answer so he can hear what it’s like to say something out loud in class from his own larynx, Huckleberry will smile, but he still won’t say the answer from his own larynx even when he knows the answer.

But during the morning and afternoon break and while he’s waiting for the bus, Huckleberry’s out there with his buddies and he’s yakking away like Rush Limbaugh, with arm gestures and everything. He really does have a great smile, too, and a fuzzy wad of red hair with a life of its own. Huckleberry and another student named Flavio are best friends. In class and on breaks, Flavio is just like Huckleberry. The great smile included.

When I have to leave the classroom to take what I call a “teacher’s break,” with obnoxious finger quotes, I usually tell everybody to please stay in their desks and work quietly. I drink a whole lot of coffee and then follow that up with a bottle of ATOMIC JAMAICAN STYLE GINSENG ROOTS DRINK WITH TIGER BONE TONIC OPEN WITH CARE I obtain in mass quantities from my local Publix. A vile, gag-inducing beverage, sure, but it makes me a better teacher.

Anyhow, Spike always gets up the moment I walk out and roams around the room and gives his horrified classmates a quirky commentary of some of the items I’ve used to decorate the classroom. If Spike isn’t creeping around the classroom he’s paying attention and answering questions and offering up some mighty good discussion questions. When he participates like that you wonder why he comes to this school about the time Spike starts creeping around all over again. Spike is inquisitive—in an other-worldly sort of way.

Most of the time Tempest is funny and generous and kind-hearted. Then there are days when she’s just evil. Then they are days when she’s back to being angelic and if golden wings made of switchblades popped out of her back I wouldn’t be surprised.

Levon will cut enormous flatulations in class and isn’t embarrassed about it. Not one bit. Levon’s not even embarrassed when he’s asked to go outside the classroom to blow his bugle after he warns us he’s got a big one coming on. Even when he steps outside the door we can still hear Levon cut enormous cheese. Not embarrassed. About anything. I guess that’s all part of Levon’s quaint charm. Of course, that’s a whole lot of quaint charm to enjoy and I admit—we do.

Petal will shut down completely and will turn around in her desk for the rest of class and won’t look at you or acknowledge anything you say to her from then on. Not just for a class period—for weeks. But when she’s on she’s the very best at class participation of every one of my students. Probably in the whole school. But then there are those days when I wouldn’t be shocked at all if Petal, with her green cat eyes blazing, jumped out of her desk and whipped out a machete and attempted to separate my head from the rest of my body. Not shocked. I would not be shocked one bit.

Johnny can hardly read. Watching him try to read out loud is so agonizing you finally have to look away. But the effort he gives in trying to spit the words out is profoundly inspiring. I know Johnny knows how much we all admire him because we tell him so every day.

When Hoover forgets to take his medicine everybody else gets real nervous, too, because the possibility of Hoover flying out of his desk and crawling across the ceiling like a bug instantly increases. Funny, Hoover always apologizes for forgetting, so that sort of calms us down, too.

In homeroom, Spike also enjoys dropping onto the floor and rocking back and forth on his knobby spine with his ankles locked behind his head. While we watch. In mild horror.

Then there are all my other favorites, too. A whole bunch of them with a wide and wild range of learning, behavior, and emotional disorders they bring to school with them. During the day, they’re all trying hard not to do what their mind and body are furiously telling them to do, usually when it’s not quite the right moment in the noble process of knowledge seeking to do it.

But all that’s okay with me. Every bit of it. That’s why they come to this school and that’s why teachers teach here. You stay hopeful no matter what.

So is it patience a teacher of kids with learning, behavior, and emotional disorders possesses?


Patience means you’re waiting for some big payoff. Just getting them through the day with some knowledge in their heads is a payoff, and most days that’s satisfying enough.

So what’s the secret to getting them through the school years?
It’s durability and understanding is what it is. The durability of a battle tank and the kindness of human understanding. I learned that when you’re in the same classroom teaching the same subject every day and every year, instead of butterflying around campus, you get into a real knowledge groove. Familiarity breeds experience.

Kids and teachers—sometimes it’s a cantankerous combination, but when we understand each other and the reasons why we’re in school together, there’s a pretty good chance we can all learn something. Even when kids don’t talk ... even when some kids crawl across the ceiling like bugs ... and even when some talk too much.

Teachers included.

High School English teacher, graduate student

Yep, Mr. Diarist, that's

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Yep, Mr. Diarist, that's about right. I enjoy your posts. Maybe you remind me of Frank McCourt in Teacher Man.

Author of YA novel, special educator

Teachers need a lot of

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Teachers need a lot of practice with this. I'd love to see professional development workshops where they can try this out on each other in an authentic way. Also, students have to be given a lot more time to talk and to ask. They should be the ones asking most of the questions. They can be explicitly taught to do this, if needed. Let the students run the discussions for a change.

Teacher, Writer, and Artist


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A Monday is a perfect time to give some power back. I’ve learned that when you make major announcements on a Monday it gives the impression that you spend all your personal time on the weekend thinking up stuff on their behalf while ignoring your personal needs and desires and there are always some students who don’t act like they’ve been duped at all. Sometimes you think up this stuff while you pull into your school parking space that morning.

But I’ve given this next one a lot of thought and I decided over the weekend that since we’re really starting to cook in class discussion and some kids that haven’t said a word for a month and half are starting to perk up that instead of ruining the groove, I told them, that if you have to go get a drink of water then go get a drink of water. Without raising your hand and asking … get up … and walk out … and go get a drink of water.

Petal asked … Do we ask you to go get a drink of water?

I believe I just said you could just get up and go. Walk out without making a fuss and get a drink. I scanned the room and looked at their expressions.

Some of them mushed up their lips and looked at each other. Wow.

I said I’ve got another one. You’re not going to believe it.

No way!

I said I’ve decided to treat you guys sometimes like you’re in college and in college when you have to go to the toilet you just get up and go to the toilet. You don’t bother a professor who’s on a roll by raising your arm and wiggling your hand around like crazy and asking him if you can go to the toilet. That’s not what he got his p-h-dee for.

Jimmy Joe screamed that’s right! You don’t have to ask professors. My Sister’s in college!

Exactly. So whatever you’ve gotta go do … pee or poop … poop or pee … then just get up and go. Enjoy.

We don’t have to ask. You’re sure.

Nope. Just go.

Wow! Thank you! Awesome!

You’re welcome. Okay, now please get out your chapter seven study guides and …

Four of them, at one time, Tempest, Petal, Debbie, and Sonora, bumping desks around and nearly stumbling over each other, got up and walked out.

The rest of us watched in awe.

Ponder is a higher order literacy tool for inquiry-based learning

This is a wonderful post.

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This is a wonderful post. Thank you for it! It is interesting how little of a role technology plays in your recommendations. I agree! Perhaps the most valuable educational experience is that of a great, in-person discussion. Technology simply cannot replicate it, no matter how powerful that technology is. Great discussions require human interaction, a degree of comfort and intimacy, and timely comments and questions, none of which technology can wholly replicate. Still, tech can supplement, inform, and enhance it - which is what we hope we're doing with Parlor ( In any case, great work on this post; it's an invaluable resource.

Editorial Assistant and Blogger


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Hi Tennessee!

Thank you for the book tip. I'm not familiar with Peter Johnston's work...but I'll order it today! Appreciate it, Jennifer.

Editorial Assistant and Blogger

Thank you Stephanie! Writing

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Thank you Stephanie! Writing about whole class discussion was a good excuse for me to better understand follow up questions.


What a wonderful resource!

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What a wonderful resource! As we move forward with Common Core Standards and engage in professional discussions on how to enhance our classroom practices and engage students more in meaningful conversations, your blog, Rethinking Whole Class Discussion, provides a place to start and a vehicle for movement and action. Thank you.

Literacy instructor, Tennessee

This is a great resource.

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This is a great resource. Thank you for compiling it. I am going to share it with preservice teachers I am working with this fall.

For ELA and reading education folks who seek to resist the IRE pattern in their own classroom teaching, I would also recommend Peter Johnston's short book "Choice Words," in which he makes specific recommendations for framing classroom discussion and teacher-to-student feedback in literacy contexts (especially Ch. 6). Johnston outlines a whole new epistemological viewpoint for building conversations in which children are respected as experienced thinkers in their own right.

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