Mahatma Gandhi once said, “My life…”
Nope. Run-of-the-mill. Try again.
“My life is my message” is a phrase many hear…
Oh absolutely not!
The pacifist we have come to know as Mahatma Gandhi has eloquently proclaimed, “My life is my message.”
Welcome to the most recent Writing Workshop’s task taking shape in room 382. As we gear up to wind down as the end of the year approaches, we have taken hold of a striking quote and are playing with it with fervor and inquiry. Students know, in under a month’s time, they will inevitably be greeted by the New York State ELA Regents. Yet, we’re operating as though it’s not about to happen; you know…it’s going to happen to everyone else, and of course we wish them all well, but us testing? Nope. Not going to happen.
We are exempt.
We are not preparing for an exam. We are not losing sleep over this literary element or that grammatical rule. We are not counting the supposed seven sentences assigned to every paragraph or where to locate the anxiety-ridden answer to #23. We don’t care if our pencils aren’t sharpened to perfection or how 33.7 seconds should be allotted for each multiple choice question.
Instead. We are writing.
We are researching, connecting, analyzing, and sharing our insights. We are using Gandhi’s autobiography and other written works that were created solely for us; for us to explore Gandhi’s magnificent brilliance. We are using other pieces of literature that connect to this sentiment that yes, “My life is my message”. We are using literature that we’ve highlighted and annotated (to the point where the next reader is going to have to try to find space on these pages to do the same – good luck!).
We are not allowing ourselves to get caught up in the ardency of the testing hoopla. Instead we are reworking introductions, continuing to fill our door of completed literature, laughing a lot about students renaming book titles we’re enjoying (gone is The Freedom Writer’s Diary, to stay is The Freedom Writer’s Craft)… I am sure, at this point, those who have fully emerged in test prep have started biting their nails, twisting and tugging at their hair, and maybe even pacing as they continue to read this piece through the slant of a squinted eye. I understand.
I do. Really.
It wasn’t until this year that I shifted a vast majority of everything I do in my classroom…with my students…in my own head as I reflect. I was the educator who believed in preparing students, even if it meant solely for an exam because it’s always been rooted in support and wanting students to be successful. I am still that educator that believes students deserve success on exams. Yet, this year I want them feeling success on their exams because they feel creative freedom while still being locked into the three-hour time constraint. I want them to smirk while exploring their craft as they connect literary elements to the exam’s text; and not feel as though they need to lose a sense of who they have become as beautiful readers and writers. Mostly, I want them feeling confident that this year’s dedication to enhanced reading and writing is shaping how they look at the world; exam days not exempt.
Naturally, students’ anxiety about testing still surfaces, but this year, it remains there – on the surface. Students still have test specific questions, ones I acknowledge briefly and then move on…(deciding between four topic sentences is way more fun!) We still game plan so students know what sections they are going to attempt first…or last. We talk timing. We do all of that. We just don’t let it consume us.
And because we don’t, I have thrown away all structured writing graphic organizers that I used to believe supported students in elevated writing. Students are approaching their writing in ways that provide us all moments of pulchritudinous pause.
Students use varying angles in which to deliver a quote’s message and are demonstrating alternate ways on how to enter into that analysis with a fresh perspective. It is through this exploration that students have challenged me to educate with new insight. Our commitment to the process; pushing ourselves beyond boundaries; and most importantly, our collective energy still provides each new day with an exhilirating thrill.
From our classroom to yours, we wish everyone the best as the end of the year exams approach. We wish you continued laughter, reading, and much writing. And don’t forget to have a tremendous amount of fun along the way. We are.
What ways are you fostering the joy of reading and writing with your students during this stress-inducing time of year?