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Bright Beginnings

This year had to be one of the best beginnings of the school year for me, and I’ve been at this 15 years, so I’ll take it!Т  Reflecting on the differences between this year and previous ones, I attribute a lot of that change to my using several of the things we did in our summer workshop.Т  Also, I just decided toТ  ignore the imperative that you have to start the year firmly with authority and enforce rules and set the tone for the way things are going to be and blah blah blah.Т  That may work for some teachers, and I’ve followed the formula with mild success all these years, but this year I decided to go for a sampler of what I want my classes to be about: thinking, reflecting, sharing, vulnerability, Т taking risks, and honesty. Т I’ll build the curriculum on top of that foundation. Т Here is how I’m starting to create that foundation in my non-Pages English 11 classes (I also did some great things with my AP English Pages class including the introduction to mindfulness, meditation, and the going outside for an object and writing about it lesson):

  1. I started my English 11 classesТ with the video Brandi showed us on Growth Mindset andТ asking the students some reflective questions, and then asking them some more getting to know them questions.Т  We discussed the video, and I saw a lot of eyes light up at the possibility that they CAN learn with some struggle and effort.Т  What a great way to capitalize on the students’ inherent interest in doing better with a new school year.
  2. In an attempt to create more student-centered learning, I’m doing interactive notebooks this year, and I’m following the whole left side (creative output)/ right side (teacher imput) method, which I anticipated some objections that students “didn’t know how to draw” etc., so I finally got to use my awesome book, Sketchnotes, to go through some drawing practice and emphasize that their left side entries are about Ideas, not Art.Т  So, day two was drawing and my chill electronic Pandora station – which I recieved NO objections to!?
  3. Day 3 was Six Word Memoirs. Т I shared mine, which I wrote in our workshop: Mouthed off to cop: still alive. Т I wrote that because I saw the Sandra Bland arrest video and remembered a time that I talked back to a police officer who pulled me over in front of my house for not stopping all the way at the stop sign, taking 45 minutes with the lights on to write the ticket. Т I shared that story with my students and told them it upset me that I was given very different treatment even though I may have been doing the wrong thing in talking back to a police officer (and I had recently had a beer before driving on top of that, so I certainly wasn’t innocent). Т Sharing that experience helped the class dive deeper and many shared their six word memoirs and their stories behind them. Т The one that stands out to me the most was from David, who has dark skin, “dread”locks, and said he lives in the hood: Т “My skin color is always noticed.” After that he talked about how he couldn’t even count on his hands how many times he got stopped by the police this summer, just walking down the street. Т He also qualified that he wasn’t doing anything wrong because he is a good kid. Т My heart breaks for him and the many others like him, and my goal this year is to do what I can to amplify those voices. Т I invited him to Cincinnati Goddamn. Т Hopefully he will be able to come.


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