Tuesday, July 25, 2006

It's all about ME!

The hawk lazily circles over the running river. Butterflies flit across the path and bees are busy pollinating colorful, majestic wildflowers. Morning walks, ping pong tournaments and deep conversations over wine with like minded colleagues. Typical summer vacation for a teacher, right?

NOPE! I am deeply immersed in my summer CSETL retreat and while all those things are certainly true of my environment, this is a week of hard work and deep introspection. I celebrated some great success in writing last week: a powerful three-day writing workshop, the launching of my blog, the creation of a model to integrate writing into the content areas. This week – dissonance!

I have spent the past year researching and exploring literacy in an attempt to answer the question “What does it mean to be literate in social studies?” As a social studies teacher, I grow increasingly concerned with what I see in our classrooms. As I have mentioned here before – the TEST seems to drive everything we do. We eat, sleep, and breathe those assessments. We give up solid instructional strategies and our very passions, the reasons we entered this profession, for the narrow focus of preparing our students for this small moment in time. And while I tend to push teachers into thinking about a different way to practice their craft – it was pointed out to me today that I have fallen victim to the same trap.

I have spent this past year writing and rewriting and rewriting again the rationale and outcomes for a professional learning experience investigating literacy with the TEST sitting smack dab in the center of it all. That’s not what I intended, nor is it what I want to have happen at the end of my time with teachers. But somehow, I lost my focus and felt compelled to lure teachers in by dangling the carrot of the test in front of them. False advertising? You betcha! And the guilt associated with my religious upbringing is now weighing heavily on my mind.

So – I need to find me. What are my passions? What have my teaching experiences taught me? Why do I think what I do is worthwhile? That will make my work compelling to others and help me find other passengers for this journey.

Confucius, one of the world’s most powerful teachers, said “words are the voice of the heart.” Our voice is the key component to making our writing persuasive, provocative, and powerful. It took a conversation with a colleague I respect and a man I have grown to admire to make me seek my true voice. What will it take to help our students find theirs?


Jennifer B. said...

I'm glad you've had such a successful time at CSETL and hope every moment is an enjoyable, powerful one full of friendship and generosity!

Theresa G said...

Thanks Jenn - and in the spirit friendship and generosity, allow me to share an interesting strategy that we used last week to encourage student voice!

Finding Your Angle
While we can all insert our voice into topics we are passionate about (well, at least if we have already discovered that voice) - let's admit that at times, we ask our students to write on topics that they might not find as interesting as we do OR our students select a topic and then can't determine the angle they want to research.
Try this:
1. Ask students to think of the most boring topic they might be asked to write about. Perhaps -"statistics." Write that topic on the top of an index card.
2. In a group of 4-5, have students pass their card to the left and ask the receiving student to write one question about that topic that might give it a different angle. For example - "How might a politician skew statistics to appear more effective than they truly are?"
3. Once a question is written, pass the card to the left again and have students write another question: "If we taught students statistics in kindergarten, would people be more or less math phobic?" Keep passing the card to left until it returns to the original owner.
4. Ask the student to review the questions provided by their peers and star the question they think seems to provide the most interesting angle.
5. Have students begin to write about that topic, creating a great beginning and making up information if they need to, to try to find their "voice."

Here are some interesting findings from last week:
Toilet training - How would the use of Chinese split pants change the way we toilet train children in the United States?
Integrity of Steel - What would happen if all things currently made of steel were made of rubber?
Dust - Would you be able to find human DNA frpm 1000 years ago in dust particles?

Try it - let me know how it works!

Melodeel said...

I just came off a week of intense work with reading and writing. The first three days were spent with Kelly Gallagher at JCC. He truly is inspiring. He touched upon some of the things we discussed at our workshop last week. We even did the activity you described above. Sue, Ann and I already had a topic ready this time. We truly cannot separate reading and writing. The last two days I have spent with a speaker at our school who talked about the reading strategies and the importance of modeling them, as well as giving children time to discuss, reflect and write. Of course as you and I both know many a teacher asked the age old question, "How do we fine time to do all this?" Integration in the content areas is the key. I truly hope your workshop with social studies goes Theresa. It is so needed!!!

Theresa G said...

Any other great writing activites that you engaged in that you can share with us all?

You are certainly immersed in some hard work this summer - good for you! I can't wait to attend one of your workshops!!