So what is the “real main idea” here, Miss?
At the beginning of each unit, I present my mini-lectures on reading skills. It never fails that as I am talking I suddenly focus in on my students’ faces and think, “Really, Cindy? Do you think they really care about the main idea (etc.)?” Just this semester, I have a student whose 12 year old sister threatened to commit suicide, a student who was “working 2 jobs totaling more than 60 hours, taking care of her sick father, and taking 4 classes,” a student who “just wants to play baseball,” 2 students who told me they “are just here to play football, nothing more,” and a pregnant student who feels sick all the time. (I’m sure you have the same “stories” sitting in your classroom.) And I want to talk about main ideas! I feel Charlie Brown’s pain!
So let’s talk about the “real main idea” here:
I just read a book called Mister Owit’as Guide to Gardening: How I learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart; an unexpected gem because it happened to speak to me in my life right now. Through his work in her garden, Mr. Owita teaches Carol a thing or two about life. An unexpected friendship develops and the two help each other through personal crises and to reach a greater understanding of how to deal with what life deals us. Yep, sappy! Long story short, the book ends with this line: In every moment there exists a lifetime. Every day brings something good!
As I finished the book this morning (Tuesday, 3/9), I stepped out into our back yard and thought about my teaching day ahead. Aargh, 4 more days and then spring break! TG! Then, as I glanced down, I saw a rose bud on my brand new yellow rose bush called “Easy Living.”
The main idea: In every moment there exists a lifetime. Every day brings something good! I can’t wait to answer my student’s question!
One of my students’ favorite projects is the Shoebox Literacy Autobiography Project. They collect at least five artifacts related to their personal literacy story and describe the artifacts via a short oral presentation in a small group setting. They follow up with a short written reflection on what they learned and how they felt. For children’s lit, students include at least one children’s book. For CRE101, they include at least one book.
I model the process by sharing my own story of literacy and explain how literacy in our family has been passed down through modeling from the older siblings to the younger ones. This photo is of my father’s family. He’s the one in the short pants. The older ones helped the younger ones be successful and go to college. It was a group effort to help the members of this farm family rise out of poverty and achieve success.
By sharing a bit about ourselves early in the semester (usually by week 4 or 5), students tell me they feel closer to their classmates and have a deeper understanding of literacy in their day-to-day lives. Here are a few comments that came in this week:
By then end of my presentation I realized that reading has been a big thing in my family. My mom’s parents encouraged her to read, not just for fun but for her own good.
Something that I learned from this experience was that we are all different in many ways but at the same time we shared some of the same sentimental items. One thing was that we all shared a picture of a love one and how they impacted our lives as literate human beings.
The interesting thing in this book is that it is written in two languages, English and Spanish. They learned a few words in Spanish. I still remember their happy faces when reading.
Even though not everyone is a big reader we’re all connected with literature one way or another.
I have always known that I am privileged to be able to say I am as educated and literate as I am, but telling other people about the process of how I got to this point of literacy in my life made me realize a few things about myself.
In “Enhancing Rigor in Developmental Education,” the Scaling Innovation team discusses productive struggle: “the ultimate goal of instructional activities that require productive struggle is for students to develop a healthy disposition toward uncertainty in their pursuit of skills and knowledge they will later revisit and apply in other contexts.”
My favorite story of the week exemplifies productive struggle.
Students were to read about critical thinking and define the 15 critical thinking terms used in the article. My goal is to have them start using the language of critical thinking. Not surprisingly, they returned with 15 dictionary definitions that did not mean much! My next goal was to get them to use the dictionary to learn all they could about the words (as opposed to just copying down definitions they didn’t understand.) They read through dictionary entries and found new synonyms, learned how to use the pronunciation symbols to figure out “how to say it right,” discussed etymologies and how knowing the word history helped them remember and understand how the word came to mean what it does, realized how knowing the part of speech helped them use it correctly in a sentence, and argued about the “appropriate definition for the context” in the article. Sounds boring but they were engaged and admitted that maybe dictionary.com is not always the best option for really learning new words.
When we were finished, a student said, “Teacher, when I came in here I thought I knew everything but now I know I knew nothing!” I asked her how that felt and she replied, “It feels great! There is SO much to know!”
Getting students to work hard is hard work! From the grumbling gentlemen in RDG081 who refuse to justify their answers to critical reading students who can’t write in complete sentences, it takes me several weeks to get them to struggle productively but it is beginning to surface that they are learning and that it feels good!
I’m a bit of a Coke-Cola nut and one of my favorite ads of all time is begins with, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”. As a kid listening to that song I couldn’t think of anything nicer than to share my favorite beverage, sing, and do kind things for other people. Yes, yes as a child you can see that I had some “coke bottle” thick, rose colored glasses, but really what would our campus look like if each of us were intentionally more kind? If we started going above and beyond to spend our days showing kindness to each student, staff, faculty, and administrator we come into contact with, what would the possibilities be? Would we see more smiles, more openness, and even more successes!
If you’ve taken time to read this post I challenge you (as I’ve challenged myself) to focus each day to be kind to those you encounter. I’d enjoy hearing about your experiences over a Coke…on me.