Sunday, August 23, 2015

Writing Alongside Students, "Readicide", & Empathy

"You are the best writer in the room!" The facilitator repeated this refrain several times during his workshop for English professors. He seemed to know I needed a push, a reminder that, in my classrooms, I am the most experienced writer. I'd never thought of it that way. Yet the fact is, I've written quite a bit already - as a student, as a professional, and now as a neophyte blogger - I have decades of experience. Definitely more than most if not all of my students. I see now that this isn't bragging; it's the truth. 

The facilitator, Kelly Gallagher (a major proponent of using mentor texts) put us through several activities demonstrating how we, as the "best writers", could (and should) model writing for our students. That's a message I've heard before: write alongside ours students. Students need to see the how writers (I'm still uncomfortable with that label) generate ideas, craft sentences and paragraphs, and make revision and editorial choices - it's the "show" part of "show and tell" so crucial to learning. 

I've always liked the idea of writing alongside students. And I've "threatened" to do so a few times, doing an activity here and there with them. I've drafted a few paragraphs, demonstrated how I brainstorm to generate ideas, and have on occasion shared a draft, asking students to make suggestions about what I could do to clarify my ideas. I've even shared a couple of blog entries with them, but have been hesitant to encourage them to read them because I don't want them to feel obligated to "like" my entries. 

I decided this summer would be a good time to give "writing alongside students" another try. I teach in a special program for first-year college students that began in June. Our summer assignment is to read Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and write a response over the summer break. The purpose of the assignment is to introduce the theme of our learning community (African American perspectives), reduce "summer melt",  to promote reading, and send students a message that we mean to work hard in our program.  

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Avoiding Summer Melt & Prepping for Fall

Here's a common misconception: Teachers get the whole summer off to loll about in the sun, vacation, and otherwise divert ourselves. Pure recreation - not. 

Now here's my observed lived reality: Teachers' summers can easily morph into one extended prep period. Certainly, there's time for decompressing and recreation. But I find that even when I'm "off the clock", I've got teaching and learning on the brain.  Inspiration weaves it's way into practically whatever I do. I can't read a book, watch a movie, or listen to a song without seeing a new lesson for class.

I also use the summer, particularly this one, for reading to keep up with best teaching practices. Reading inspires fresh idea to try next semester. Reading makes me reflect on the assignments and activities I did over the last semester, figuring out how to be more effective. Instead of "being in the moment" of summer fun, I'm looking forward and looking back. 

Because I work in special programs, I've also devoted time to recruiting, admitting, and orienting students to those programs this summer. I teach in a Learning Community, a pair of linked classes that share a common focus. I'm the English professor, paired with a counselor who is the professor for the personal development class - sort of like a general colloquium, the "how-to-be-a-college-student" class. 

One of the learning communities I teach is Bayan, Tagalog for "hometown/heritage" or "community." Bayan is geared toward first-generation college students, and we focus Filipino American issues and perspectives (the program is open to any student regardless of race, culture, or ethnicity - they simply have to be invested in our focus).