What Are We Calling Those Four Birds?

four calling birds

four calling birds (Photo credit: happy via)

If you learned the song in modern America, you probably learned to sing “four calling birds” in the fourth stanza of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” But had you learned it in seventeenth-century Britain, you would have sung “four colly (or collie) birds,” meaning birds the color of coal, i.e., blackbirds. Yes, those same unfortunate creatures who were baked into a pie in groups of two dozen.  In my neck of the woods, blackbirds are synonymous with starlings, despised by even dedicated birders. The local starlings roost in vast numbers, creating a serious health hazard with their histoplasomosis-laden droppings. They generate  an annoying racket with their calls, and no one in western Kentucky considers their deafening vocalizations songs. Shotguns and firecrackers are sometimes used to encourage the flocks to move along to another yard.

And this brings me back to my classroom. As a true believer in active learning, I frequently include pair or group work in my classes. As I move around the classroom monitoring a peer tutor or pair/share activity, I’m often surprised and humbled by how well my students explain challenging concepts to one another.  In fact, many of their explanations and analogies have found a place in my own teaching. However, all that chatter can create quite a din. It can be a challenge to redirect the students’ attention when it’s time to move back to lecture or another activity. I use the glitzy little hotel-style bell that I featured in an early post on this very blog.renal3

I suspect that anyone passing in the hallway during one of our active learning sessions might think that I’ve lost control of my class. Nothing could be further from the truth. My little birds are simply calling to one another, helping to make learning an achievable challenge for their comrades and enjoying being part of a group. It almost makes me wonder what the starlings roosting in my woods are chattering about.

Tomorrow: “He went to Jared’s.”


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