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Controlled Chaos

Rachel Perugini Books, Life in the Classroom, Literacy

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I did a Google search for “Teaching is…” and the first four auto-filled responses were a work of heart, a walk in the park, my jam, and my superpower. Yes, teaching is all of those things, but it was surprising to me that nowhere on the list was a negative comment. No, teaching is stressful or overwhelming (because some days it very much is).

If I auto filled my own “teaching is” statement, I would mostly likely say my teaching is controlled chaos. The constant bedlam of learning with 30+ humans all doing their own thing exhausts my brain sometimes. But, underneath the chaos is a strict organization and structure designed ahead of time to ensure a smooth class where learning goals are met. I do this far too often as a teacher; I design ginormous projects where chaos will surely ensue and control that disorder with color-coordinated spreadsheets, charts galore, and a nice loud teacher-voice.

On Friday, I will challenge my ability to control the chaos; all 150 of my students will be presenting their free reading book project for the semester, with 3 other classes of students, at the same time. We will have close to 600 students presenting their project that day in an open house format. Basically, the idea is that half of each class will be presenting to small groups, while the other half walk around the room to check out books and evaluate the presentations they see. The goal at the end of class is that everyone presents, gets evaluated, and hopefully finds a book or two they might want to read next semester.

It is the most ambitious collaboration I do all year, with four teachers working together to co-design a shared assignment all our students complete and agreeing on the rubric the students use to evaluate each other. The most daunting task is assigning students to their presentation spot and coordinating who will be evaluating who in a 55 minute period; I plan where every moving piece is at any given moment and then send them on their way.

On the day of our event, the craziness is most of the fun. With the students all presenting and evaluating each other, I get to enjoy their projects— without grading! It is so fun to see all the hard work from our students and talk to them about the books they read. There is so much excitement about reading and books; it makes my heart swell. At the end of the day, we get to give out prizes to our best projects: new books and literature-themed apparel from some generous vendors.

Most days my classroom is not as chaotic or as elaborately planned as this, but teachers do a mini version of this all the time. We plan lessons with five different stations going on at once or assignments where students can show their learning in a variety of ways. We plan it all and hope it is enough organization to keep things running smoothly that day. Friday will bring enough chaos for me to finish out the year, but it will also be the thing my students will talk about for the rest of the semester, and that makes it all worth it.

Photo by Nandhu Kumar from Pexels

 

I am originally from Pennsylvania where I earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Shippensburg University. In 2012, I moved to Arizona to teach on the Navajo Reservation; I liked the state so much I decided to stay. I taught language arts, reading, and journalism for three years at Many Farms High School. During that time, I earned a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction for Reading. In 2015, I moved to Flagstaff where I currently teach 10th and 11th grade English. I have been an avid reader all my life, so I love that my job gives me that chance to read amazing books with my students all day long.

Comments 2

  1. Austine

    I love this idea. I work as an administrator for an ED/P program and I would love to see us do something like this. Thank you for the idea.

  2. YOLANDA WHEELINGTON

    Thank you for sharing this. “Organized chaos” is the term we use in Montessori to describe teaching in the elementary classrooms. It is a fitting description of my lower elementary class (grades 1,2,3). I appreciated reading about this phenomenon from a different perspective.

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