Will Our Students Sink or Swim?

Written By aperkins

On November 24, 2009

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Have you ever wormed your arm inside a catfish hole on the bottom of a lake? Have you ever used your bare hands as bait to blindly catch a fish? If so, you have been noodling. If you are still having a hard time picturing the game of fishing without using a rod and reel, do a YouTube search and be entertained by the numerous homemade videos of amateurs using their forearms to hook an unsuspecting fish from its hole.

And what in the world does this have to do with teaching? I ran across the word noodling in a professional text I was skimming. The word lured me to stop skimming and pause to study this word in context and as applied to a classroom setting. The author’s message was that teachers need to fish around to learn the personal elements that broaden our understanding of our students as classroom learners and as citizens of a learning community.

Often times we cast a line of curiosity and have our students complete an interest inventory that first week of school. We ask for a snapshot into their lives. We are given small pieces of information on which to nibble. We trawl for information but the demands of day to day teaching often sink our hopes of developing these meaningful relationships.

So how do we catch all of these students before they are released to the next period, the next teacher, the next semester? We should consider the type of bait we will use. One suggestion is to engage with students in their habitats. A way to do this is to have an “Extracurricular Calendar” in your classroom. This would be a community calendar for students to note upcoming activities like sports events, choral and band performances, dance recitals, and community theatre presentations. Announce these activities to the class and attend as many as you can along the way. Be visible inside and outside of school.

Another idea is to keep a records system where you note things you notice about students. For instance, I might notice favorite colors, favorite reads, favorite foods, favorite artists, and snag daily bits of information. These ongoing notes informally serve as conversation starters in written or oral dialogue and formally as evidence to build engaging lessons.

Noodling requires us to jump out of our boats and dive in from our banks. By making an individual connection with each and every student, we help eliminate the feeling many of them have of being one small fish in a giant pond. If they know we are concerned about them within and outside of the classroom, they are less likely to sink and more likely to swim.