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Reflection 3

Sarah Moustafa's picture

During my field placement in a 5th grade classroom, the students are given a daily puzzle to work on. These word puzzles are very challenging; I myself often have difficulty coming up with the answers when I have a moment to look over a copy. The students have about half an hour during which they can work on the puzzle and start another independent activity that they have selected from a list of assignments that are prioritized. As my visits have approached the end of the school year, I find that the puzzles are getting more difficult. I have also noticed that the students do not spend as much time or effort on the puzzles as they did during my first visit. This can be summarized by the following interaction that I witnessed:

Teacher: “How far did you get on your plexer [puzzle]?”

Student: “Not far.”

Teacher: “How many? 3? 4? [Out of 16 or so]”

Student: “1.”

Teacher: “Try to get at least one more.”

It seemed that this student’s approach was the norm when it came to actually spending time on the puzzle. As far as I know, the students had been doing these puzzles all year, so they may have lost the novelty and challenge that they once have, simply becoming one more thing to do. Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed students who spend less than 5 minutes skimming the page, dismissing it as too hard and moving on.

            I can’t help but wonder whether the teacher’s “concerted cultivation” approach. As Lareau describes within Unequal Childhoods, concerted cultivation relies on suggestions rather than commands. This is expressed when the teacher prompts the student to “Try to get at least one more.” Is it possible that the lack of expectation surrounding these puzzles influences how much, or little, the students focus on them? Would they try harder if they were told to write an answer for all of them?

            Another interesting observation concerning this exercise was the students’ behavior when they went over the answers to the puzzles. In general, the entire class, as well as the teacher, worked together to work out the solutions to the puzzles. When students did know the answer, they excitedly raised their hands, proud that they had a response. When someone guessed incorrectly, there was no ridicule. However, the supportive atmosphere ended when one student started to talk about how many she got right:

            Student A: “This one was harder than usual. I got 4.”

            Student B: “I got 2.”

            Student C: “I got 1.”

            Student D: “I got 6!”

Though it did not seem that the students were necessarily bragging, the competition that stemmed from this activity was an interesting contrast to the camaraderie present when the class was helping each other come to the correct answer. I found this to be surprising at first, but not as much so when I remember the meritocracy that is so present in the education system. Though they were not comparing results to spite one another, the Student A seemed visibly deflated when Student D announced his answer. The lack of discussion of grades at Bryn Mawr may have influenced my interpretation of this interaction a bit, but I found it odd and a bit uncomfortable. The students, however, seemed to view at as healthy, normal competition.