We’ve all seen it before: in the middle of every sports movie (and many others as well), we are treated to the montage of clips set to beautiful music showing the progression of beginner to pro. Rocky Balboa did it, The Karate Kid did it, even a kid named Rudy did it. It is also a fitting device because the audience will simply not believe the transformation if it isn’t on screen. Despite the transformation often taking weeks or months, even in movie time, we are able to connect the dots and accept that such a transformation happened. Several education-themed films have used the same device, though usually with less panache: a montage of kids toiling over problems on paper is rarely as exciting as a large man pummeling a side of beef. Nevertheless, these education montages are eye-candy to teachers.
We long for those montage-ready moments; the ones we will recount later, when success has been reached, as a real milestone in the progression of our students from beginner to pro. They are hard to spot. They are usually just typical Tuesdays or Fridays.
I had a montage moment today. I wasn’t really looking for it, I was just trusting that natural interest in what we were doing in class would motivate them to continue working on it all hour. They were doing peer editing on Google Docs. Each pair had shared their writing with each other, and they were discussing them. At one point, I realized that the students in every single pair were engaging in true dialogue, not just conversing. I saw active listening and clarification, specific observations, not simply suggestions, and best of all, I saw real respect among peers working toward a common, yet individual goal. I witnessed similar scenes the next two periods. It was inspiring.
Then the other shoe dropped. Another period came in, heard the same instructions, yet were not able to work together in any way like the previous groups. There were indeed other variables. It was the last period of the day, and the group is much more social than the others. Regardless, the class did not function in any way as the previous three had. My montage moment became a miserable moment as I realized my students accomplished very little, and became more negative about the process to boot. I wondered how anything that had worked so magically for three class periods had failed to gain any traction at all.
Tomorrow, my approach with this group will take into consideration today’s experience, and I will begin working on a different montage moment with them. It may be that the transformation this group needs is completely different than the others. I’ll need to help them learn different skills. Without a doubt, I will need to find different ways to help this group learn together.