The start of the second semester has been refreshing–maybe it was the two-week break that felt indulgent and a shuffling of students, or the fresh snow that sweeps over the Wasatch mountains weekly, perhaps the feeling that it is “August” in room 104 and we creating a rhythm with new workshop routines.
After attempting a balanced approach in a new school, giving students only glimpses and tastes of workshop, I have fully shifted gears for the second semester now that I know this school wants the creation of readers and writers, not compliance or approval seekers. This semester, I plan to take laps around narrative, informational, and multigenre writing, and although each genre study will be faster than ideal, it is better than sticking to the old ways.
Starting with narrative in a new year, several quick writes and write besides in our notebooks invited students to notice the rich source of their own lives. As a “first lap,” as Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher term craft study in 180 Days, with narrative, I asked students to craft or select a picture that symbolizes their lives as second-semester juniors. I asked, “What is your life like now? Who are you today, a junior in 2019?” Students are at a transitional time in their lives– they are looking ahead to the next step, making choices about what direction to go and who to be. I want them to show, tell, explain, and reflect.
My students needed a change. My logic, like so many of you exploring and diving into workshop, was this:
Discussions as Readers x Discussions as Writers / Mentor Texts = Authentic Writing
- We need to get back into our notebooks. As we explore narratives, taking “laps” around mentor texts and reading like writers, students will write beside these texts. Rooting into what students know, themselves, will offer an access point to workshop writing.
Years of traditional English classroom expectations + My misguided start to the first-semester x The 3 by 5 Paragraph Essay = Is this what you wanted?
- My students need to be challenged with choices and the decision-making process. Majority of students see writing as an English-only endeavor and are hesitant to break from “Is this what you want?” to “I made this decision here because ___,” putting their choices and ideas at the center.
Required Curriculum + Low Classroom Investment = Disengaged Environment
- Asking students to select a picture that reflects who they are in this moment, their fears, challenges, what makes them feel successful and unique, is another way to connect to students, as well as create space for student voice and individuality. The task mirrors notebook writing “beside” or “around” a picture, poem, or mentor text, which we spent time doing sporadically last semester and daily this semester and challenges students to be the creator and curator, making editorial decisions as an artist, then explaining as a writer.
As we have drafted, revised, and share I have learned more about my students and they are finding a cathartic release.
Abraham reflected on the importance of animals to his culture: I also love farm animals and horses. These are important not only to me but also to my parents because they grew up with farm animals and they helped nourished them and their families. All these animals have become a major part of our culture, specifically the horse used for work or transportations and rodeos. Then we have other farm animals that shape our traditional dishes.
Ronata’s picture showed the importance of art in her life: I like to think that justice is an art. A piece so beautiful and unique, it is impossible to recreate. I’ve been taught about justice all my life, that it’s about people being treated equally. BSU has helped me realize how unjust the world’s ways are, and what ways I can help people understand that everyone needs to be treated with the same respect. Everyone has the same rights, yet society makes it seem as though people of color’s rights have no meaning at all.
Katherine is seeking balance: The presence of my phone indicates a contrast between stereotypical adolescent behavior and my reality. As many teenagers utilize their iPhones and Macs to pursue recreational avenues such as social media or Netflix, I spend the majority of my time enveloped in the educational bubble. Rather than Snapchat or Instagram, my school email is open. Each unopened tab represents something I have to do. This chaotic nature is indicative of my own thoughts, in which I endeavor to maintain a semblance of control.
(portions of pictures used with permission)
So my life now? A desk full of post-it notes with mentor texts, a dog-earred copy of 180 Days that is being read for the umpteenth time, a continuously revised calendar, a check list of students I have conferenced with, all next to a coffee cup. We are off to a great “re-start” with workshop.
Maggie Lopez is enjoying ski weekends in Utah while pretending it is August in her classroom. She just finished Killers of the Flower Moon and is currently reading Beautiful Boy to convince a student that it will not be “boring” compared to Tweak. You can follow her at @meg_lopez0.