I find most of what’s reported on the news today to be either deeply disturbing, horribly demoralizing, or downright exhausting. It almost feels like the past few months have been less of an end to summer/start of fall and more of an obstacle course of the absurd, obscene, and disappointing.
However, in the unending quest to inform our future electorate, we forge on. Articles of the week, hot topic debates, impassioned student speeches on the criminality of injustice, and an endless stream of quick writes to vent some of the hot, hurt feelings. Then there are the daily discussions on the struggles we face, the struggles of those we need to know more about, and the struggles to balance it all when sometimes we just want things to feel whatever definition of “better” might help us through.
In the face of all of this, here is a recent success I had that championed choice and voice (coupled with a bit of creative reflection) around some of the news that might get overlooked in the whirlwind of our current news cycle.
- Students selected an article from several that I had re-tweeted in recent weeks with our class hashtag –#fhslanglife. Topics varied widely and I simply went through and briefly highlighted the focus of each article in an effort to pique interest. Here are a few I included. Student response was awesome. We could have easily talked about these articles for the full 86 minute class period:
- “Five Ways to Develop Your Writer’s Voice”
- “Raising a black son in the US: ‘He had never taken a breath, and I was already mourning him’”
- “Why Nerds and Nurses are Taking Over the U.S. Economy”
- “Little House And the Art of Hiding Your Feelings”
- “33 Maps That Explain the United States Better Than Any Textbook”
- “To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee Taken of Mississippi School Reading List”
- “John Green Tells a Story of Emotional Pain and Crippling Anxiety. His Own.”
Are my students reading pieces on the economy, info-graphics, and authors (even authors they love) on their own? Not often. Are they talking with gusto about the relativity of these pieces, sharing insights on author craft, and talking about topics that impact them in the here and now when they are offered up as choice? You bet.
- Then, inspired by the Three Teachers Talk Twitter chat earlier this week with Tom Newkirk (#3ttchat), I stole a quick idea (the very foundation of Twitter chats,yes?). I love the quick and dirty nature of professional educators hurling greatness at one another in rapid succession and a maximum of 140 characters. For this week, I was immediately able to implement the single line, or as I told my students, “THAT line. You know the one” craft analysis. Based on the awesome insights of my fellow chatmates, I asked my students to do their reading and zero in on THE sentence that made the piece.
Students read for 10-15 minutes, jotting down reflections and searching for “the one.” Once they were finished, I challenged them to respond in their notebooks in a creative approach they didn’t usually use. A dialogue, letter, poem, etc.
After sitting silently for roughly 30 minutes, I had students get up and connect with someone from the other side of the room. Get the blood flowing a bit. They were to connect with someone who read the same piece and debrief. Ideas flew around the room.
We then came together to share and here is a sampling of what I heard throughout the day:
- From Ward’s piece on raising her son, Kaitlin pulled out: ” I hope I love him enough in the time I have with him, that while he can be a child, I give him the gifts of a childhood: that I bake chocolate chip cookies and whisper stories to him at bedtime and let him jump in muddy puddles after heavy rains, so he can know what it is to burst with joy. “
- The info-graphics brought Nhan’s attention to: “We can trace the US story through stereotypes.”
- After looking over the maps detailing climate change, Karan wrote a dialogue between President Trump and an environmentalist.
- Several students brought up questions about college vs. career after reading about the jobs of their future.
- Jerry Khang (who told me to publish his last name so you all know who he is even before he’s famous) read the John Green piece and wrote the following poem in about 4 minutes flat:
Books are a closer look into a person’s soul.
We find ourselves deteriorating, gloomy, and so dull.
But when we are able to read, to relate, to medicate our minds,
We’re temporarily fixated on happiness in a short burst of time.
When we provide students with relevant, yet challenging reading material, choice, time to write, time to think, and time to talk, 30 seemingly innocent minutes reading an article and writing about it can be beautifully rich, engaging, and rewarding.
And beautiful is something I think we could all desperately use right now.
Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. Her social media scrolling is driven largely by searching for class related articles and pumpkin soup recipes. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum