Saturday, October 19, 2013

Enhancing Writing Skills

Over the past several weeks I've witnessed a dramatic transformation and enhancement of writing skills by my freshman students. Having observed my son's personal dislike for writing assignments many years ago, it warms my heart to see individuals slowly coming into their own, developing their "voice" on paper in a way which demonstrates both perception and reality for an assigned topic. This past week my 1st Block class had the pleasure to Skype with nationally-acclaimed writer Ken Harris, author of the many "Don't Know Much About History" textbooks. It was an awesome experience and my students came away with a better understanding of people and events that occurred in early American history. Mr. Harris spoke about ways to work on their writing skills, alluding to the fact that it takes ongoing practice to perfect those skills. Although some in my class had used Skype at home, they had never been involved in a group call...making the experience all the more meaningful. I stood on the sidelines and watched their expressions in reaction to the conversations taking place between Mr. Harris and the class. It was everything a teacher wants...and more.

When our Skype time was up I asked students to use a Type 2 Writing Prompt with a reflection on what they learned from this interaction, and what followed surpassed my greatest expectations as an educator as they wrote from the heart and the head. In all my years working with salespeople, few wrote with genuine passion for what they observed. This group has come very far since that first day of school and I constantly remind them that as they invest more time and effort into their writing skills they will become all the more comfortable in their approach to higher education, not to mention a greater asset to any potential employer in the workplace. They "get it" like few groups I've ever associated with and this motivates me to create more creative lesson plans.

I pity those educators who are teaching the same lessons over and over again, thinking that today's students are listening, thinking and comprehending information the way that their predecessors did 10-20-30 years ago. Nothing could be further from the truth, and those who practice this regimentation only compound an ongoing problem in education. I am encouraged by what I see and feel taking place in my classroom, knowing that my students are truly engaged and fully-vested in their education.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Who Controls Your Life?

Although I have a great group of students for AP Economics, I often turn to my freshmen in US History for input on important issues and how they might relate to them. As we near the end of our unit studying the causes of the American Revolution, I provided an opportunity for that to happen. Earlier in the week we compared ways which a colony was much like a child, depending on the parent/home country for defense food, safety. A child will eventually leave home, striving for independence and the opportunity to grow. The American colonies desired independence from England as they sought to make their own decisions. Using a graphic organizer, I'm able to arrange these concepts to compare and contrast ideas as they are offered up by my students. It provides an immediate connection to something they can directly relate to, achieving total independence from home and moving into their own apartment.

As we wrapped up a short quiz, I let them know that I wanted to add an additional question to the list. "Imagine that you're 18 years old and you just graduated from BDHS. Congratulations! You move out of your parent's house, into your very own apartment, and get your first full-time job. Here's the question for you to respond to..... WHO CONTROLS YOUR LIFE?"

Some required an additional prompt, reminding them that they had achieved independence from Mom and Dad. I was careful as to not imply in any way what I felt was the correct response. It was a true 'thinking question' for them to wrap their arms around. When they were done, I immediately assured them that any given response would be rewarded with a point. I then asked if they would share their responses with the entire class, applying the literacy skills of listening and thinking. They agreed and one by one they spoke with a genuine confidence of knowing the answer. However, to my dismay I discovered that over 2/3 of the class stated the government controls their life. The other third gave me the answer I was looking for...."I control my life." For the twenty students who listed the government, I inquired as to whether rules and laws came into their thinking, as these define rights and responsibilities for citizens as a whole.  Their feelings centered on the concept that the government provides, therefore they control.

This blew my socks off, but I wanted to assure them that it was THEY who ultimately controls their fate. I needed to be careful not to associate any feelings of politics or intimidation, rather reinforce the concept of liberty, freedom, and individual choice. These are the principles which guided our ancestors to lay claim to their independence from England, desiring full control of their lives. It is a principle which we should all keep at the forefront of our day to day living. When we lose sight of this important fact, either in the classroom or throughout society (regardless of age), we sacrifice freedoms which our ancestors have fought so hard to protect. This was time well-spent and provided a direct correlation to the bid idea for the day. My class GOT IT!