09 December, 2011

My English is Having an Affair with My Science; or, Where Has All the Human Gone?

Here's a confession: I hate when I hear people say "I'm more of a Math and Science kind of person than an English and Social Studies kind of person." I cringe when I hear teachers or guidance counselors or parents buy into the statement or repeat it. I sigh when I note that Math and Science are on the third floor of my high school and Social Studies and English are across the hall from one another a level lower. (And where is World Language in all of this? I think it spans the first and second floor in its own little foreign wing; how ironic.)

The assertion drives me crazy for a number of reasons. First of all, it presents an assumption that English and Social Studies are related for a number of shallow reasons: Social Studies requires reading about people's stories and then writing about those stories. English, coincidentally, also requires writing... and reading about made up people's stories. CAPT preparation puts Social Studies in charge of the writing portion of the exam, while English is put in charge of the reading portion of the exam. Math and Science are always related because "you have to do math in Science class." This, of course, does not give any nod to the vast amount of reading that can be done in Science class. Math, it's just the annoying calculations behind the scenes in a calculator you will always use anyway.

The same origination of my secret loathing of the English/Social Studies assumption is the same thing that makes me love this video.

It's subtitled "Anthem for Science," but every time I hear it I want to shout, "Science? Don't you see? It's all the same!" It could be more aptly subtitled "Anthem for Learning," or better yet, "Anthem for Intellect."

What these people see in Science is the same thing we should see in all study. Listen to Carolyn Porco say "the quest for the truth, in and of itself, is a story that's filled with insights." Neil deGrasse Tyson says "If you're scientifically literate, the world looks very different to you, and that understanding empowers you." Isn't that what we want for our students of English? We want them to experience a way of thinking, and it is inevitable that once one experiences a way of thinking, it is impossible not to see the world differently. Being aware of how and why you are seeing the world the way you are is empowering! PZ Meyers says, "I think that science changes the way your mind works to think a little more deeply about things." Well, yeah! That is our hope every time we talk about a character and let ourselves become wrapped up in its life within the story. We see some part of our world and if we are brave enough, we let ourselves explore it.

There's the catch: The missing link in all of this seems to be the human element. The content in our disciplines looks different, but it's fundamentally not; It's all human in different forms. We learn in order to explore the various elements of being human because like Jill Tarter says, "The story of humans is the story of ideas that shine light into dark corners." I love that! There are these dark corners in our lives that we didn't even know existed, and then we read something and suddenly there is all this crazy light on it and we have to be brave enough to handle what we find. It's what we do in English class, or should do in English class, but we can be reminded of it by listening to a lesson in Science.

What if we created a place where students learned how to collaborate with one another not because it is simply "a 21st Century skill" but because it is capitalizing on our scientific disposition and innate need to connect to fellow human beings... because "we are all connected; to each other biologically, to the Earth chemically, to the cosmos atomically" (deGrasse Taylor). As the English teacher and fellow human, I quietly add "to one another emotionally" and then marvel in the "complexity to really get the pleasure" (Feynman).

01 November, 2011

Redirect the Energy

Great lesson at the dojo tonight:

"Don't resist the attack. Let the energy from it continue its circle, and then come out on top."

How many things am I fighting or resisting at school? I need to stop resisting, keep the flow going, and then redirect the energy at the right time in order to come out in a stronger position.

07 October, 2011

My Red Thread

I'm sitting in a PD day, and we have been asked to identify our "red thread": what are some of the common statements we make throughout class that create a particular culture in our classrooms?

Lately I find myself having to emphasize, "Ears and mouths function in two separate systems. If one is working, the other one cannot be working." (Thanks, Master Dan.) Almost always I am saying this in response to the fact that students are busy talking instead of deeply listening. I value listening, so while sometimes that means that I have to stop for "unproductively" long periods of time and the lesson isn't completed for the day, I do it. There is no use in pushing on just for the sake of completion if students are not listening.

I almost always refer to writing as "an opportunity to think," or "we are going to use writing as a way to think." I emphasize that the students should not know "the answer" before they start writing; this is not "writing as a means of recording." The students should make their thinking visible to themselves as they explore a question by writing.

And time is up.

06 October, 2011

Thursday, 10-6-2011 10A Pd 7

"Literature allows a reader to enter a conversation about a particular idea."

We introduced the idea that there are certain actions we take in order to have a conversation:
1) We ask questions
2) We listen
3) We respond with an opinion and opinions
          a) We can agree and explain why
          b) We can disagree and explain why

Don't underestimate the value of agreeing. We always think that we have to disagree with something in order to generate an argument or more thought. Agreeing is equally as valuable as long as you add your perspective to the conversation. Adding your perspective broadens the idea.

Students received their 1984 peer groups and began responding to one another's posts about "How do we know what is true? What creates and defines truth?"

HW: create a final comment on your own post that addresses how your thinking has changed / grown after reading through your teammates' comments. Be sure to quote your teammates at least twice.

summer reading review final copy due Tuesday.

21 September, 2011

What Keeps You Going?

"I empower students."

Those three words keep me going.

The best days have the moments in them when my students realize that they have learned to do things on their own. The victories are little right now. They come in the form of a student playing with how to remain in control of the revision process of his or her own paper during a writing conference. They are the mostly unprompted responses of "ask a question" when I make them remember the tool they've been taught for how to "get out of a dead end of thought." They are the baby step of a willingness to try and set a series of goals for the year and display them publicly to the class on their blogs.

And there's my reminder.


19 September, 2011

Goals for the Year 2011-2012

In accordance with our developing document outlining good teaching practices, I have begun the year by asking students to write goals for themselves. I know that the idea of goal setting can make people cringe because we are used to hearing students create goals that are totally unmeasurable or out of their control. ("The teacher will like me," or "I will earn an 'A'.") I wanted to change that for my students; I wanted them to be able to create goals for themselves that are manageable and measurable. Why shouldn't students be able to learn this like they learn anything else in school?

I am intent on making goal setting work for my students because I have seen how valuable it can be for people. It aligns one's efforts with one's intentions and suddenly "things" start happening. I'm also doing this as a result of operating under the belief that if students learn how to set and work toward goals for themselves, they can live and learn more deliberately. While I describe this process to my students as "giving them more control in their lives," really what I am working to do is empower my students to build the person they want to become.

As I told the parents at Back-to-School Night, helping my students make more deliberate choices means that they are really learning the foundational tool that will eventually create change in the world. We can't hope that change happens; "hope is for wimps." We need to intend to have things change and then act in a way that aligns our efforts with that intention.

That being said, I told all of my students that my personal goal for the year as a teacher is that...
I intend to focus on my experiences and opportunities beyond the school walls to make me a better person for when I am within the school walls. 

I also told my students that one of my goals for them this year is that...
I intend to provide opportunities for my students to use who they are outside of our English classroom walls as a way to influence their growth as students of English within our classroom walls. 

After taking my students through the goal setting activity, I have my sophomore A-level students creating a page per goal on their blogs. I intend to do the same for my two goals listed here. (And perhaps I will even throw in a non-school goal just for fun, like I have asked them to do.) It would be really great if I can publicly mark my work and mark my progress toward my goal and have students make suggestions and provide feedback about how I am doing.

Memoir Rubric

Each of my classes (high school and college level) are currently in various stages of drafting a memoir. The following rubric is a compilation of criteria for an effective memoir that my English 3A students created together through a class discussion. Students read two different memoirs and created this list based on traits they saw in both pieces. (I made the language sound a bit more fluent after their initial brainstorm. The ideas, however, are all from them!)



Content: Narrator’s self-discovery

There is an incredible sense of honesty: narrator freely and courageously dives into the content to answer “who am I really?” The narrator shows no fear to explore interests (i.e., what s/he wants to do, what s/he wants to be better at, and what s/he has made sense of through writing).
Investigation into the writer’s own thoughts is the foundation of the memoir, and readers are prompted to question their own morals or themselves as a person after reading the piece.

Content: Narrator’s self- development

 A change in character is obvious by the end; there is a sense of resolution by the end because the writer has realized why and how the events discussed changed who s/he is. (A satisfactory result and side effect is that the reader is prompted to care about the narrator.)
Specifically, events included near the end of the memoir are clearly viewed through a lens that reveals how the writer has shifted/changed/evolved.

Style: Fluent and organized use of time

Writer employs a comprehensive, fluent use of past and present events and incorporates different time frames into the piece’s sequence. (The self-discovery is a direct result of this integration of past events and present perspective.) The piece exhibits clear and appropriate organization that creates meaning.

Style: Details

There is an effective balance of details: the author “zooms in” and describes the setting, event, or thoughts in great detail when necessary and “zooms out” to leave more to the reader’s imagination when appropriate.  There is a clear distinction and effective use and balance of “show it” and “tell it.”

Style: Tone

Tone is appropriate for implied audience and generates an atmosphere that aligns with the author’s purpose.  This tone is accomplished through specific choices about vocabulary and syntax.  (Reminder: A friendly tone allows for a more personal connection between reader and narrator.)

Piece employs mechanical fluency appropriate to the purpose and style of the piece

17 August, 2011

Onward with Blogging

From "Education Needs a Digital Age Upgrade."

Ms. Davidson herself was appalled not long ago when her students at Duke, who produced witty and incisive blogs for their peers, turned in disgraceful, unpublishable term papers. But instead of simply carping about students with colleagues in the great faculty-lounge tradition, Ms. Davidson questioned the whole form of the research paper. “What if bad writing is a product of the form of writing required in school — the term paper — and not necessarily intrinsic to a student’s natural writing style or thought process?” She adds: “What if ‘research paper’ is a category that invites, even requires, linguistic and syntactic gobbledygook?”

What if, indeed. After studying the matter, Ms. Davidson concluded, “Online blogs directed at peers exhibit fewer typographical and factual errors, less plagiarism, and generally better, more elegant and persuasive prose than classroom assignments by the same writers.”

In response to this and other research and classroom discoveries, Ms. Davidson has proposed various ways to overhaul schoolwork, grading and testing. Her recommendations center on one of the most astounding revelations of the digital age: Even academically reticent students publish work prolifically, subject it to critique and improve it on the Internet. This goes for everything from political commentary to still photography to satirical videos — all the stuff that parents and teachers habitually read as “distraction.”

08 August, 2011

All I Need to Know, I Learned at the Dojo

Forever and ever since I formally started training in Muay Thai Kickboxing in December 2010, it has been irresistible to consider my own teaching and learning.

Something that I have been meaning to write about is the idea that there is a part of the performance of a physical skill well that is visceral, and until the skill integrates itself as visceral, it is probably going to feel slow and clunky and perhaps frustrating. Visceral skills are done intuitively and instinctively: when I am sparring with someone, if I continually have to instruct myself to duck when a hook is coming rather than just knowing and feeling to do it, my mind's energy is spent thinking about ducking rather than being devoted to any other skill that might help me act.

What skills do we want our students to learn and what needs to become visceral in order to open up their potential to increase the skill's complexity?

20 July, 2011

Look What Time Lets Happen II: 21st Century Skills

Thanks to another workshop the 10th grade team -- and the entire department if they would like it -- now has a document that clearly outlines Wagner's Seven Survival Skills for the 21st Century.

The purpose of our workshop was, as my colleague, Barb, said, "to get a grip on what '21st Century Skills' actually means so it's not just a meaningless buzz word." To do this, we looked at the extended definitions that Wagner's book, The Global Achievement Gap, provides and whittled them down to blunt, articulate statements we feel are now easily understandable and usable. (See below for these definitions.)

What became evident as we worked to articulate the definition of each skill is that much of what we do in the classroom now is actually in line with Wagner's Survival Skills. This begged the question of "what actually is new about the 21st Century in terms of the skills our students need to master?" To quote my colleague, Kim from our document:

"The 21st Century is marked by access to and the usage of technology; however, technology is a means to an end. These contemporary tools should be used to reach the goals established through Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills. Therefore, technology can be used as a tool during a student’s creation process or his product, but it is not a necessity in thinking and learning. It is important for schools to provide access to these tools and the associated professional development in order for them to be effectively integrated into the 21st Century classroom." 

While technology is a main , constantly evolving, component of the 21st Century, it is not the "end all, be all" of it; instead, this Century is much more about learning for the sake of creating. A much larger portion of the workforce is required to have the creative and entrepreneurial skills that only a select few were required to have in the past. This means that there is a necessity for teaching risk-taking and leadership to all students, whereas in the past it was more about learning how to be a competent worker who could follow directions and be "smart" enough to perform the tasks he was assigned by a superior.

Many of the skills identified, like "Accessing and Analyzing Information" and "Communicating Efficiently and Effectively" do not feel all that new to me. How did anyone really do his job well in previous centuries without mastering those skills (if he was in a position to use them)?

Most importantly, we realized that we have quite a bit of discussion to do within the department if we are to figure out how to honor risk in our assessments and teach students how to take risks. It is not fair or encouraging to a student if we instruct him to "take a risk in his thinking" but then penalize him through a low grade if the risk-taking does not prove effective. A series of checkpoints within the creation process should help a student realize when his risk-taking is not going to prove effective and a change of direction is in order, but that too requires a shift in teaching.

All good things to keep thinking about.

21st Century Skills Defined

1. Critical thinking and problem solving involves:

  • the ability to ask the right questions in order to continuously improve students’ processes and products.
  • the ability to rethink and think anew since, “Yesterday's answers won't solve today's problems.”
  • re-envisioning a problem from a new angle
2. Collaboration and leadership involves:
  • the ability to engage in teamwork
  • collaborating with a virtual team within and beyond the classroom.
  • leadership skills
  • demonstrating the ability to influence others
  • using technology to create a wider audience

3. Agility and adaptability involves:

  • situation changes and the thinker needs to adapt accordingly and apply critical thinking skills to the changed situation.
  • the ability to think, be flexible, change, and use a variety of tools to solve new problems.  
  • change with the problems because a particular problem may not exist in the future since our culture moves so quickly.

Emerged Essential Question: How do we meaningfully change the situation for students and teach them to be flexible and adaptable within it?

4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism involves:

  • honoring risk taking even if it doesn’t yield success
  • using the failures in order to improve upon solving the initiative. Get back up after you fail.
  • redefining what it means to fail: failure is necessary on the road to success.

How do we create opportunities to honor risk? This seems to be an area of weakness for our department.

What is an intellectual risk?
  • is it a personal challenge?
  • is it “simply” not taking “the easy way out”?
  • student centered risk taking; being out of one’s “comfort zone”
  • being OK with the discomfort that comes with risk and new situations.
  • perseverence

What is entrepreneurialism?
  • owning an idea in order to develop it

What is initiative?
  • intrinsic motivation

5. Effective Oral and Written Communication involves:

  • verbal skills, written skills, presentation skills.
  • the ability to be clear and concise in purpose and argument when communicating
  • the ability to  create focus, energy, and passion around the points students want to make.
  • the ability to write with a real voice.
  • the ability to avoid ambiguity when communicating one’s ideas

6. Accessing and Analyzing Information involves
  • effectively processing the information
  • search for information
  • find information
  • evaluate information
  • analyze information

7. Curiosity and Imagination involves
  • learning to be inquisitive to solve the biggest problems and impact innovation.
  • Results are “beautiful*, unique, and meaningful.”
  • people's capacities for imagination, creativity, and empathy will be increasingly important for maintaining their own competitive advantage in the future.

Emerging Essential Question: *What is “beauty”, and who defines it?

14 July, 2011

Look What Time Lets Happen: 10th Grade Curriculum

A couple days ago I got together with a few of my 10th grade colleagues and we continued to hammer out a document that articulates what we value in the English classroom. Our mission was to create a document that explicitly states the pedagogical and philosophical practices to which we subscribe. As I said in a past meeting once, it is an effort to "create 'the page' so we can all have a way to judge whether or not we are all on the same one. If I'm going to do something that is not on 'the same page' as the rest of the department, at least I should be able to tell when I am doing that." In the same way, this document can be given to any new teacher to the department or to the course so s/he can have something in writing to refer to when designing assessments.

One of the reasons I pushed so hard for this document is because I don't believe any real change can happen from the ground up in an institution without explicit statements about what is valued. Without these explicit statements, I think people very easily fall back on what they think or feel the institution values. Without explicit statements, it also means that teachers can easily, without guilt, just close their doors and do whatever it is they feel like doing in the name of good teaching... or in the name of whatever. 

One of the realizations that I made during the creation of this document is that the course-wide goals are ones that mostly fit any other grade, not just 10th. I posed the question at one point, "what about these goals is specific to tenth grade?" One of the answers we realized along the way is that it is good to have questions that are not readily identifiable as "10th grade goals" because in order for our students to really learn anything deeply, they need to spend a lot of time on the same questions but in a developmentally appropriate manner. I liked that realization.

For reference, the course-wide goals we created are:

Students will learn to:
Read to comprehend, to appreciate technique, and to derive pleasure
Write to explore ideas, communicate discovered ideas, and to spur thought in the audience
Develop a sense of ownership and investment in intellectual work
Develop intellectual curiosity, originality, and honesty
Develop the habits and mindset of a successful, independent student
Embrace the ambiguity and nuance of complex issues rather than reduce them to the simplistic
Compare and analyze multiple perspectives
Perform at grade-level standards in reading and writing on the CAPT

I also liked the collaboration process we engaged with in order to create the sophomore curriculum document. It took a long time, and this document is a result of several discussions we had as a larger tenth grade group throughout the second semester in course-alike meetings and during time on the professional development days at the end of this school year. It wasn't just a select handful of people that decided they were like-minded and wanted to write down their thoughts. Actually, our process is a great model of what we would want our students to do in order to create a good product. There were multiple perspectives, bouncing ideas around to reinvent them and tackle this problem from new angles, and hey, we even used technology to help get the job done because it was more efficient and meaningful than what we could do without it. 

Best of all, this made me feel like we are moving forward. We have a product. It is a product that feels useful and innovative, and it helps us shape our world into something we believe in and want to be a part of. 

Good stuff.

08 July, 2011

Pilot Meeting: July 8, 2011

Personal goals:
1. At a minimum, blog on the first and third Wednesday of the month and at least two comments on other blogs.
2. Students will analyze their successes, failures, and thought processes. They’ll share this process with each other in meaningful ways.
3. At least one class of your students will produce, by the end of the year, a true portfolio that makes their thinking visible and identify and highlights growth.
4. Meet on the first Tuesday of the month for an entire period for the purpose of creating a portfolio of our work; such as, assignments, rubrics, blog posts, etc.

Philosophical goals:
1. Emphasis on honest, public, authentic assignments and reflections.
2. Cross curricular sharing: develop common language among ourselves, creating cultures of thinking/mindset.
3. Paying attention to students at ALL levels through appropriate learning strategies, particularly in teaching students to identify, reflect upon, and overcome self-limiting behaviors.
4. Model, in our project, exactly the same habits of mind and work that we want to see in our students (i.e., frank understanding of our failures and the ways our future plans demonstrate learning from those failures).

External support:
1. Request that administrators take on specific roles and tasks that they hold themselves accountable for.
2. Invite an outside expert (e.g., Bena Kallick) to provide input on materials and to observe classes.
3. Get money and release time to go to outside professional development: Project Zero, TC, Tri-State, Bena Kallick type.
4. Release time (and subs) on the first Tuesday of each month so we can meet in person. Get two hours in the August professional days instead of a September meeting.
5. Tech stipends ($1500 each) so pilot members can purchase the technology that will best suit their particular classrooms.

04 March, 2011

The Culture of Change

I don't have anything else to say about it right now except that I am beginning to believe that we at SHS could be on the brink of major change. (For now and for the purposes of this blog, I'll keep this in reference to curricular change.) The reason I briefly point this out is because I am beginning to think that we could all benefit from learning about how people change and how change is instituted in organizations. I know there is a book out there (by Perkins?) about school change, and I definitely should get ahold of it. Beyond that, however, I think there could be great benefit from learning about stages of change and how people react to it. Perhaps we could feel more informed and gain an objective view of this whole process if we knew some of the psychology and philosophy behind it.

Ross School Visit

Visiting The Ross School in East Hampton, Long Island was a memorable experience. I continue to be amazed at how evident it became to me how readily a well-designed and decorated space can serve as inspiration for thought. That's what an unlimited budget can do, I suppose.

In terms of what I think we can realistically bring to our schools, the ideas are (un)surprisingly like many of the thoughts our department generated on the last PD day:

Teachers need consistent time to meet with other teachers: The Ross schedule allows for teachers to meaningfully collaborate. We were told that each teacher is a part of two teams: a discipline team and a grade level team. Teachers from all disciplines get to meet about a common set of students, and teachers from the same discipline get to meet about their subject. While we infrequently have time to meet as course-alike groups, the only time I ever meet and collaborate with other teachers about particular students is in some sort of crisis meeting. Sharing common students sounds like what we currently have (and label) as the "middle school" model. Let's change the name! Let's call it "the collaborative model" or something like that if people are going to balk at sharing students because they think it's "babyish." How much would our students benefit from having a group of teachers consistently share notes on them? Especially with a group of teachers who genuinely care about the students' well-being, the student would potentially be in an environment with a greater emphasis on his/her education as a whole student, not just an academic.

I was also impressed by the fact that teachers meet for three consecutive weeks before the students arrive at school. What a great way to be a prepared front for students and a way to create a calm place and routine for them to fit into rather than the harried, scurried beginning to every school year that we have with our two or three days of PD with little time to actually speak meaningfully with one another.

There is an overarching curriculum that guides the students' experiences through all four years in every facet of their education: There is a cultural history curriculum at Ross that has a particular focus each of the four years. For example, the curriculum for students in ninth grade is based on "Medievalism to Modernism." English class is "Integrated English 9," meaning that students study literature and meet other English related objectives thematically linked to the cultural history focus. We don't have to have a cultural history focus, but we need to have some focus! What ties a students' experiences together right now at SHS? In one way it's a dream come true to be able to teach with a focus on skills rather than major content (there are two or three core texts in each grade level and the rest is up to the teacher based on a supplemental list), but in another way it's a nightmare because it creates a very disjointed experience for students. With all the 21st Century talk of recognizing how parts fit within the whole and how smaller learning experiences in class actually translate to larger worldly activities, it seems critical to have a curriculum that allows teachers to confidently create opportunities within their classes that lets them practice smaller parts and understand a connection to an overarching curricular goal.

Students have a tangible project that they work toward throughout their four years: A natural extension of the curriculum is the senior project. It is an individualized culminating experience of true learning where students must use all of the skills they have developed throughout high school. It gives focus and purpose to experiences that occur in the underclassmen years. It allows students to highlight their individual interests, experiences and accomplishments.

Grading: I don't feel I know enough about their grading system to say much about it yet. I like the idea of "Distinguished, Accomplished, etc." grades rather than letters / numbers, but I would like to know more about how that translates to assignments for homework grades, quizzes, etc. (Maybe they don't have those; I don't know.) I am curious to know if they have class rank and GPAs.

23 January, 2011

Statement of Philosophy of Teaching

I love skiing. I love building snowmen and jumping in big piles of snow and ice skating, but I sure do miss the sunlight and the energy it brings with it. Thankfully, I was given an assignment that has had a fairly rejuvenating quality to it: create a statement of my philosophy of teaching.

I had to write one of these when I was a senior in college while I completed my student teaching, and while I have constructed a paragraph here and there over the years that outlines my thoughts, and while the pilot project furthered my thinking about my approach to teaching, this is the first time I've really had to sit down and put my philosophy all together in a comprehensive format. What I like the best about it is that I feel like I was able to tap into something greater than myself. Attending Fairfield University as an undergrad in a community that does a good job of making sure that its own philosophy of learning is present in all of its programs, I like that I was able to remind myself of why I felt such value in the intellectual, inspired mind while I went there and since I have left.

Since this is something I've been working on lately, I thought I'd share it with my fellow project members.

The purpose of education is to create students who are stronger individuals in order to effect positive change for the greater good of their organization and the world, and the purpose of a teacher is to guide and support these students on their individual journeys as they create the people they choose to become. The core values of a Jesuit Education comprehensively outline the students’ needs to promote growth, outline the teacher’s role in meeting the students’ needs and ultimately communicate the idea that learning is a series of partnerships.
 Learning is a partnership between the student and the world, which is why it is necessary for education to allow students to expand human knowledge and deepen human understanding. It is not enough for my students to read a piece of literature and explore it as its own object; instead, it is important for students to read the literature within the context of the world. Specific literary texts are simply a venue for students to explore the world and learn about themselves in the process, which is something I think all courses should require of students. My sophomores may read The Lord of the Flies together and learn about the various characters, but much more importantly they are provided opportunities to explore the thematic dimensions of power and leadership, and they are expected to use the ideas they grapple with as a lens to look at other world events with the same theme: the Holocaust, Hurricane Katrina, and the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to name a few. At the same time, they are required to use the information they learn about any one of these world events as a way to shape their reading of The Lord of the Flies. Exercises like these reinforce the need for exploration of the links between disciplines. I strive to break down the classroom walls for my students and create opportunities for them to learn in a way that reinforces the fact that they are global citizens, and they have a responsibility to learn about humankind through the literature they are given, but they also have a responsibility to see how what they learn through literature connects to what can be learned in other disciplines. The world may have created the literature, but it is their personal perspective of this literature - influenced by their experiences with other disciplines and life events – that they are expected to work with as a means to come to an interpretation they understand. In reading literature, my students are reading the world and, to pull from Marcel Proust, reading themselves.
Learning is also a partnership between the student and himself. While literature and a greater understanding of the humanities may be the content focus of English class, it is also my focus on educating the whole student that drives me to develop opportunities for students to strengthen their abilities as self-reflective learners. From requiring them to write responses exploring what they realized about themselves after engaging in particular assignments to my approach with intervention meetings addressing the needs of specific students in academic crisis, the emphasis always comes back to knowing one’s self in an effort to become greater: a greater student, a greater thinker, and a greater person. I want my students to be in charge of their own intellectual growth; I want to put the power of learning in their hands. In fact, my greatest achievement as a teacher will be the day they don’t need me anymore. The constraints of the school year dictate a limited amount of time for a teacher to be by a student’s side, which is why it is important for a teacher’s role to be that of someone who helps students realize their own potential and give them the skills necessary to learn on their own. This is why I created an opportunity for students to practice these skills this year with the Literacy Inquiry Project. It is a year-long commitment for students to engage in a quest for knowledge by exploring the world through various literacies. Students are charged with letting one experience with a text inspire a desire to find more information of personal interest. They are learning how to ask questions to which there is worth found in searching for answers, they are exploring various forms of media such as books, movies, research journals, songs, and even video games, and they are learning about themselves as consumers of information and as learners. There is freedom to explore the world in a supportive environment with an emphasis on growing to know one’s self.
Finally, learning is a partnership between the student and his peers. My Jesuit Education background has led me to devote much energy in my classes to building a community of learners as one more step to deepening human understanding and helping students realize their responsibility to use their knowledge to help one another. I consistently create opportunities for students to learn how to collaborate in order to strengthen their ability to rely on each other to make progress on their work rather than relying solely on teacher input. One of the ways I use technology as a means to this end is by requiring each of my students to have a blog where they post all of their writing assignments. The public nature of a blog allows students to comment on one another’s work and also means that students can see how their peers’ final papers grow from ideas, to drafts, to products. Many of my lessons are in the form of a workshop where students learn a skill at the start and are then asked to apply it to one another’s work. Recently, my students generated arguments about a text and then had a lesson about exploring opposing ideas as a way to strengthen their primary one. Students used the remainder of class time to work together to apply the lesson to one another’s work by commenting on the blogs and constructively finding opposing ideas to one another’s arguments. From there, they were required to offer solutions to help strengthen the writer’s primary argument. While students worked with one another, I too worked side by side with them.  My role was the same as their role at the time: thinker and collaborator and we were a community of equals with the same goal of helping one another become stronger by looking at each other’s work and offering insight from various perspectives.
These partnerships between the student and the world, his peers and himself are the means to his development as an intellectual individual. The partnership between teacher and student, however, are what make the other partnerships possible. Teacher and student enter into a contract to work with one another and to find inspiration in one another to help the student shape who he becomes through life’s journey. To be successful, both must willingly agree to work together in order to create something that neither can create on his or her own: an inspired mind. It is the student’s job to enter this work with a willingness to challenge himself and the teacher’s job to create opportunities for the student to engage in these challenges and serve a s a guide through the experience to whatever extent the student needs one. Teacher and student journey together through a relatively short span of time, but they mold a mindset that will shape decisions throughout the rest of the student’s life. In this way, a teacher’s influence lasts forever.