Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Sand Mandala and 7.8/3 Students

The Sand Mandala is a wonder. The monks spend countless hours honing and place each grain of sand in a design. By itself, the placement of the sand means nothing. Yet, when seen in a larger configuration, all the pieces fit together to create something that leaves an impression on the viewer.

In this, much can be gained in understanding our students.

Both sets of students will be setting their minds to composing something long term in nightly increments. The seventh graders have their writing assessments on Chapter 5 due on 11.16. Students will have to compose two work samples as well as two defense pieces in final draft form. This cannot be done the night before. No matter how talented the student, no seventh grader can effectively complete work of this magnitude the night before it is due. No way. This is not to doubt the capacity of our students. Rather, it is a hopeful attempt to pivot towards to developing a life skill of recognizing that the most daunting of tasks can only be done with steady and consistent work on an incremental basis. The most amazing of construction tasks are ones where a plan of attack was followed and developed into a final product. Process and product are very closely related. It is here where students' are being tested. The idea of making progress each class period and each night in work is of vital importance. Students have a timetable of where they should be in their packets. The "chunking" of this assignment into smaller pieces is designed to help students recognize that a long term task can only be done with accomplishment of nightly benchmarks. Students have also been advised to recognize that the halfway point of the 9th should be where one final draft of a work sample and one defense piece should be completed. I will read rough drafts until the 9th or the 10th, so students can also take advantage of this in the completion of work. It is my hope that students recognize that there is little shame in devoting nightly work to each subject in order to reach a level of scholarship that can both bring pride to student work and to ensure that future success can be reached with the development of strong work habits.

In this vein, the 8th graders will be composing five identification paragraphs for submission on Thursday. Students will have to plan out how to write five paragraphs by Thursday. Perhaps, this means composing one in class and another at home, or some other arrangement. Students will need to compose the five identification paragraphs by the start of Thursday's class. For so many of our 8th graders, the need to plan out effectively in order to find success is something that is evident in our students. It is also something that can be continually harvested over time to reap even more benefits.

One final point is left to be made. As students wrestle with tasks over a long period of time, it is important to develop an incremental strategy as to how a formidable assignment can be "chunked" in order to make sure work is done and done well. Students can adopt a "backward design" mentality towards this. Essentially, students determine on what day the assignment is due and then work backwards from that due date to make sure a small amount is done each night to bring them closer to that elusive end. For example, if students have two writing tasks and two defense pieces due on the 16th of November, then that becomes the starting point and students "work backwards," figuring out if they will work on weekends and how much a night needs to be done. If eight sections of reading need to be completed, planning how this will look over a period of four days is essential. What will be done in class? What will be done at home? How much will be done at home? What will this look like? This is a life skill for students in being able to plan out and chart the course on getting work done. It will also avoid headaches for parents/ guardians dealing with stressed out students who waited until the last minute to get assignments done. At the same time, working backwards also helps students identify particularly challenging elements that need to be addressed in completing long term work. The ability to make a schedule, keep to it and make sure that they are following a designed plan teaches advocacy, responsibility, and allows them to be proactive in solving problems. This is a life skill and I hope it is one that will empower your emerging scholar. I hope that you will be able to help both of us in this process of learning.

In the end, our students might be no different than the monks who recognize that the beauty of the Sand Mandala can only be accomplished by carefully recognizing the need to identify accomplishment of specific sand placement, incrementally and carefully, in order to accomplish something magnificent and worthy of honor.

As always, if I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me at school or at my home.
All best.
Mr. Kannan

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