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What if We Teach as if Teaching is a Story?

Sometimes I feel like a fraud. I spend all this time thinking, talking, teaching, and writing about workshop, and I love it, honestly– but sometimes teaching beats me up. You know?

Students ignore my feedback on their writing. They refuse to capitalize their i’s. They grab a random book off the shelf during reading time, thinking I won’t notice. They lie.

And usually I shake it off, tighten up the gloves, push off the ropes, and go for another round. But sometimes I don’t wanna.

When I get like this, and thankfully, it’s not too often, I have to stop and remind myself I possibleam teaching children. Teenagers, yes, but still kids who are not intentionally trying to drive me to an early retirement. They just don’t feel the passion for books, reading, writing, and language like I do — yet. Many have played the game of school so long they don’t see that they could actually like it if they’d play a different way.

Teaching is a puzzle, isn’t it? That’s what makes responsive teaching so important. We have to keep trying so all students have the learning experiences they need to grow, to change, to become.

Last week I attended a professional development meeting with George Couros, author of the Innovator’s Mindset. I jotted tons of Couros’ quotes in my notebook, all important to the kind of teacher I keep striving to become:

“How do you cultivate questions of curiosity and not compliance?”

“Data driven is the stupidest term in education.”

“Your childhood is not their childhood. Nostalgia is what gets us stuck.”

“Relationships matter! Nobody in this room is as interesting as YouTube. If you are all about the content, you are already irrelevant.”

“You need to make the positives so loud that the negatives are hard to hear.”

“Would you want to spend the whole day learning in your own classroom?”

“Every day is where your legacy is created.”

 

I think the workshop classroom IS the innovator’s classroom. It’s process over product and the whole kit ‘n caboodle.

8-characteristics-of-the-innovators-mindset

We are the risk takers in Secondary ELA. We advocate for choice and challenge. We confer with students, reflecting on their needs and on our practice — maybe more than those teachers who reuse lesson packets with their novel studies. We improve our instruction by networking and sharing ideas on mentor texts (check out this thread), assessments, mini-lessons, and how to match students with the just right books. We start with questions and often end with them as well.

No wonder it is hard.

Lately, I’ve been rereading Tom Newkirk’s book Minds Made for Stories (3TT is presenting at #NCTE17 on narrative with Tom as our chair.), and I keep coming back to this little bit on page 43:

Two Absurdly Simple Rules for Reading and Writing

If we had to pass on advice, under the limitation of twitter characters, here would be my advice for writers and readers:

  1. Read as if it is a story.
  2. Write as if it is a story.

More than ninety characters to spare.

Now, what does that have to do with this post on one teacher’s weariness, some student attitudes, and workshop as innovator’s mindset? Maybe everything.

What if we teach as if teaching is a story?

Newkirk asserts, “Reading. . . is not a treasure hunt for the main idea; it is a journey we take with a writer.” He explains that in reading we seek patterns of anticipation, tension, and resolution. We seek experiences.  He states, “. . . it makes basic sense to read dramatically, even when what we read does not easily fall into any dramatic genre… we can dramatize just about any text. We can ask what is at stake. What problem, issue, “trouble” is prompting the writing? What needs to be solved? What are the contending positions or alternatives?” In reading we take action as we link ideas. “Good writing has a sense of motion, pace, anticipation, and . . . “plot.” Critical reading is all about friction–trouble” (44).

Newkirk asserts that this provocation is equally valuable in our own writing: “What situation . . .calls for explanation? What problem [will] my writing solve?” These questions imply “a need to have our say” in response to the “tension, a friction, a puzzle, and incompleteness” our questions provoke. He writes, “If we’re only saying, “Me, too” or “I agree,” endorsing what everyone believes, arguing for the obvious, making no “news,” there would be no call to continue the conversation. Nothing is caused” (44-45).

There’s so much more in this book by Newkirk, and maybe it’s a stretch to think of teaching as if teaching is a story, but try this little exercise:  read that bit from Tom’s book again through the lens of teaching instead of reading or writing. Do you see it?

Workshop teacher-friends, we are on a journey. Many of us take risks on our campuses, going against the norms of traditional practices, feeling the tension when we offer ideas in planning meetings. We feel the friction from students set in routines that have left them weak in literacy skill and lacking in desire. We cause friction. We generate energy. We dramatize everything we love about books and authors and reading. We foster stories of change as young people begin their own journeys into more robust reading and writing lives.

And when we think it’s not working, we must remember we asked for it. (I asked for it.) We “caused” because we care enough to take the path that leads to student growth. I’ll end with this by Newkirk:

“Our best chance to grow, perhaps our only chance, is to travel.”

Amy Rasmussen teaches AP Lang and senior English at Lewisville High School just north of Dallas. She loves to cause a bit of trouble, share her love of books (Have you read John Green’s new one yet? Sooo good!), go on long drives with her handsome husband, hug her grandkids, and share her passion for workshop instruction. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk — and if you’d like to contribute to Three Teachers Talk, send her an email, amyrasmussen7@gmail.com. We are looking for regular contributors.

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6 thoughts on “What if We Teach as if Teaching is a Story?

  1. […] we’ve focused on narrative, specifically Newkirk’s books, lately. I wrote about how teaching itself embraces the drama of story and later shared some of the quotes that resonated enough to change the […]

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  2. […] wrote last week about teaching as if teaching is story, thoughts that sparked while reading Minds Made for Stories. The sparks […]

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  3. Shana Karnes October 20, 2017 at 5:42 am Reply

    Funny story, dear readers: Amy had a little writer’s block before whipping this post up. I wouldn’t have guessed, because it’s pure gold, and a great reminder of why I love Newkirk and teaching, for all its trials and tribulations.

    We’re in this together!! xoxo!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. mrsturnerblog October 17, 2017 at 5:18 pm Reply

    ❤️❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  5. lpdeal October 17, 2017 at 11:11 am Reply

    Thank you for this. I’m also presenting at NCTE, and feeling MAJOR cold feet right now because one of my classes is so stubbornly resistant to reading right now. I spend a lot of nights feeling like a total failure because I’m not succeeding the way I WANT to succeed, and it makes me feel better to read this coming from a rock-star role model teacher. (Also, when is your presentation? I’d love to attend it!)

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    • Amy Rasmussen October 20, 2017 at 12:47 pm Reply

      Aw, thanks for that rock star bit. I’m honored. One thing I try to remember when the going is hard, and the readers won’t read: some will. We have to celebrate the ones who see the difference reading makes in their lives, and we keep working with those who don’t see it — yet! I know you know that. It just makes me feel better to write it. I just had a chat with three senior boys who are in the “not yet” category. I’ve got 10 more weeks with them, and I will not give up trying.

      We present on Friday at 12:30. How about you?

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