Tag Archives: Louise Rosenblatt

What Will You Teach Into?

I am a week away from bringing my second daughter into the world, and after yesterday’s horrific shooting in Texas, I find myself revisiting the same fears I’ve often had when I consider my progeny. Primarily, I wonder: what kind of world am I bringing my children into?

As I fretted about this to my husband last night, he reassured me with statistics about how unlikely it was that either of our daughters would ever be involved in a shooting, an act of terror, a horrific trauma.

That’s not what I’m worried about, I told him–not that they’ll die or be injured by one of these awful events. I’m much more worried about the world they are going to have to live in, day in and day out.

A world where a 26-year-old makes a conscious decision to attack a church full of people. A world where this incomprehensible event has become common enough that it is, less than 24 hours later, already being reduced to a sound bite: “This isn’t a guns situation. This is a mental health problem.” A world where a conversation about terror and murder has become more binary than complex. It is; it is not.

I don’t want my girls growing up in a world that doesn’t know how to talk about, seek to understand, or attempt to solve these unexplainable problems–problems that certainly cannot, to me, be boiled down to a single cause or effect.

do want them growing up in a world where we try to talk about these things. A world where these conversations are never taken for granted, where they continue to happen, no matter how difficult and painful, as Kylene Beers writes in “Once Again:”

“Honestly, though, I don’t want tomorrow to be easier. My fear is that this day you face tomorrow has become too easy. My fear is that your students won’t expect that this horrific killing will be discussed. My fear is that tomorrow is just another Monday.”

As a teacher, a mother, and a citizen, I cannot agree more with Kylene. I feel more powerless in the latter two of those roles than I do in my work as a teacher, though, for I feel that teaching is where I can make a difference. I feel it is where we can all make a difference.

This week and every week, I hope teachers are having difficult conversations with our students. I hope we are not shying away from the ease of ignoring our nation’s pain in favor of teaching about comma splices or symbolism or character development. I hope our time with students is deliberately geared toward talk about these incredibly complex, nuanced topics. Kylene says it well:

“No one ever told you that you’d need to know how to sit with children or teens to talk with them about people in churches getting killed by a gunman or little kids in a school getting killed by a gunman or families at a concert getting killed by a gunman. No one. And you didn’t sign up for that. You didn’t. But they will watch you and they will listen for what you say and what you don’t say.”

I hope you are grappling with this and asking yourself:

For what purpose am I teaching?

And I’m talking about a larger purpose than the day’s essential question or the target content standard. I’m talking about how the day’s lesson fits in with the culture of the classroom, the messages we want kids internalizing day in and day out, the life lessons we want them to learn as painlessly as possible.

One of the texts my students and I study that helps us learn to frame instruction this way is Peter Johnston’s excellent Opening MindsIn class on Friday, we discussed Johnston’s closing claims (p. 123-124) about research-based instructional design:

 

  1. Our singular focus on academic achievement will not serve children or their academic development well.
  2. The individual mind is important, no doubt, but as the center of the academic universe, it is overrated.
  3. We have to take seriously the fact that the adult is not the only teacher in the room.
  4. Children’s social imaginations should be taken more seriously. They are the foundation of civic society.
  5. Our interactions with children in the classroom influence who they think they are and what they think they’re doing.
  6. Making meaning is good. Doing meaningful things is better.

We spent time unpacking each claim, wondering how to apply it to our varied content areas and age groups, but dwelled on the last claim:

Making meaning is good. Doing meaningful things is better.

We were reminded that none of us became teachers so we could fix comma splices. We became teachers because we wanted to change the world–our world, and our students’ worlds–for the better.

This Monday morning, I want us to keep that goal in mind as we teach and plan and reflect on how we’ll spend our time with young people. How will we make sure that our work together is meaningful?

quotes-about-doing-meaningful-things-3

If you don’t already see your work as a teacher as powerful, if you don’t see your role as one of an agent of change, try looking at this familiar work in a new way. Your interactions with children in your classroom influence them in powerful ways. You have the unique power of being able to help them develop their social imagination, their empathy skills, so they’ll never reduce a tragedy to a single cause with an unimaginable effect.

You have the power to choose: what will you teach into this week? Making meaning? Or making life meaningful?

Shana Karnes is a worrywart in the best of times, but an idealist in the worst of them. She is grateful every day to work with amazing preservice teachers at West Virginia University, to be mom and wife in a beautiful family, and to be able to write and think and learn with her friends here at Three Teachers Talk. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader

#FridayReads I Want All My Students to Experience This Kind of Reading

I’m always a bit nervous about how to introduce the volume of reading we will do in my AP Language class. Although students have heard that AP is “hard,” they don’t really know what that means until they start to see some of the texts they must read, understand, unpack, and analyze.

The biggest problem with all this reading:  most 16-year-olds are not readers. At least not when they come to me. (They do change.) Somewhere along their educational journey, the love of reading has gone by the wayside. Most tell me in our very first conference that they used to love to read. Few can tell with any specificity why they stopped. (I have my own theories.)

I’m constantly thinking of ways to help my readers fall in love again. If students are not reading, they are not growing as readers. It’s pretty simple logic.

And frankly, I want to live in a community of people who read. My current students will live on my street, work in the shops I patron, send their kids to my new grandson’s school. I want to be surrounded by families who enjoy literate lives because their lives will rub shoulders with mine.

Literature could change the world if we let it — if more people read it.

If we encourage what Louise Rosenblatt calls a sense of emotion, an aesthetic experience, in our young people, more of them would read. Rosenblatt explains how our readers need transactional experiences with the books they read:

“The transaction involving a reader and a printed text … can be viewed as an event occurring at a particular time in a particular environment at a particular moment in the life history of the reader. The transaction will involve not only the past experience but also the present state and present interests or preoccupations of the reader.” It’s like the letters on the page come to life, and the meaning of the words dance into the reader’s mind and heart. She has an experience with the text that remains long after she closes the book.

I want all of my students to experience this kind of reading.

novels in verse 1So the first week of school I opened packages. Thanks to Donors Choose I had package after package arrive at my classroom. Each packaged filled with brand new novels for my brand new students. Most of them novels in verse — a powerful gateway back into reading with next to no stress. Few words on the page, and engaging story, vivid word choice, and a storyline brimming with emotion.

I book talked Chasing Brooklyn. It found a home in eager hands, as did To Be Perfectly Honest, The Crossover, Like Water on Stone,  My Book of Life by Angel, and many more.

If you’d like to build your Poetry shelf, or just add novels in verse to your classroom library, here’s a sampling of the books sweet donors gifted our classroom with this fall:

Like Water on Stone

The girl in the Mirror: A Novel

Audacity

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling

The Red Pencil

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy

Perfect

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

To Be Perfectly Honest: A Novel Based on an Untrue Story

What My Mother Doesn’t Know

The Simple Gift

The Secret of Me: A Novel in Verse

The Crossover

One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies

Every You, Every Me

Brown Girl Dreaming

I Heart You, You Haunt Me

Sold

Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall

Love, Ghosts, and Facial Hair

All the Broken Pieces

Geography of a Girl

Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?

(Note:  Shana’s the expert on building a classroom library by getting donations. Read about how she does it here. She’s got more ideas than just Donor’s Choose for books.)

Share your ideas on helping students have personal and meaningful experiences while reading…

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

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