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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Stop stopping the violence: boys and writing

One of my assignments for my current graduate diversity class is to conduct research regarding a topic I am interested in, become an "expert" in a few short weeks, and present what I have learned to my classmates. I have been thinking about this assignment at the same time I am conducting interviews for my AVID classes for next year and coping with the frustration of not being able to recruit and keep boys in this program. When the tornado of my brain whipped both of these into its vacuum, I found myself searching Google for information about literacy and achievement gaps between male and female students.

I ran across the article "Misreading masculinity: Speculations of the great gender gap in writing" by Thomas Newkirk, written in March 2000. Much of my early career teaching seventh grade English was spent teaching writing, and writing is a key component of AVID's WICOR. So I chose this as my first article to read. 

One of many topics discussed in this article is the prevalence of violence in boys' writing. If you had asked me few hours ago, I would have said, "Bad, bad, bad. Boys should not be writing about violent topics in school." But Newkirk has swayed me:

(p. 296)

Reading this sent me directly back to my first year of teaching. I assigned something for writing, although the exact assignment has long escaped my mind. The details of B.'s paper, however, are clear in my mind. He turned in his work on green paper, and I marked it up in red pen. B. had written about coming into the school with a sword and attacking his classmates. His story culminated with my head being chopped off. 

Since B. was already a student with whom I had disciplinary issues (he was a 12-year old boy), I treated the writing as a threat toward me. There was a referral. There was a parent conference. There was a suspension. 

If I could only rewind time! I made the mistake of automatically assuming that B.'s "use of violence in writing [was meant to be] vicious or sadistic" (p. 296).  According to Newkirk, I missed a great deal of the complexity that was included in B.'s writing:
  • A video culture - B. had actually written his passage based on a video game he had been playing. This information was revealed during our parent conference, but my new-teacher ego was offended at the time. The last time I spoke to B. a few years ago, he was trying to become a video game developer.
  • A friendship culture or social world - B. never intended to offend me with his story. He simply cast me as the villain and himself as the protagonist in a story set in our mutual environment. He expressed that he thought I would be complimented to be included in his story.
  • "A curriculum culture - ...In transforming largely visual narratives to written narrative, students negotiate popular culture and academic work" (p. 297). B. was simply taking an idea from his everyday life and adding it to my assignment.
I have come a long way in the past 13 1/2 years, and I continue to grow and learn every day.  I want to build a passion for writing, not kill it (pun intended). The next time I see any of my boys including violence in their writing, something I have discouraged over the years, I will engage in more dialogue. I know that in our current times, not every piece of expression can be treated equally, but I am now far less likely to apply the sentence before the trial. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Exploring our futures with our head, heart, hands and feet (Part 3 - Student Samples)

As promised, I am sharing some student samples. I spoke to each of these students directly about sharing their work, and they were flattered that you would want to see what they produced. I hope you enjoy their work as much as I do.

Part 1
Part 2

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Exploring our futures through our head, heart, hands, and feet (Part 2)

The next piece I added was for my students to create their own children's books, telling the stories of their futures. We started by visualizing open-ended possibilities. I put some meditation music on, we sat on the floor, we closed our eyes, and I guided my kids to think of what they would be doing if no one was placing any restrictions on them.  
I honestly had no idea what to expect at this point. I gave my classes the option of creating their books by hand or by computer program and incorporating the elements of head, heart, hands, and feet. Other than that, I did not provide too many guidelines in an effort to increase creativity. But I was concerned. What would the kids produce? Would it be anything of quality? Would they even understand how to put a children's book together based on events that have not yet happened? I am proud to report that  

Image result for mind blown

Here are some excerpts from the best of the best that I received. This is a small sample, and after discussions with many more students today, I will be putting together a slideshow that includes many more. 


wanted to practice her ideas. She would get her fake 
surgeons' materials out and pretend to treat her patients, which 
would be her stuffed animals. She was happy when she thought 
that they were satisfied with the way they looked. 
for sure that she wanted to help people for the rest of her life. 
For most of her childhood, 
continued to practice being a 
surgeon on her stuffed animals and 
other toys. She pretended to make 
incisions in their bodies and did 
numerous other things she thought 
would also work on her future human 

When she was in school, she had a lot of homework to do. Sometimes, she didn't want to 
do it, but she knew in order for people to know about "Dr. 
DVM", she had to do 
nell in school. The most o 
s student reputation was built in junior high. She was 
nominated for many academic achievements and received many awards at the end of the 
school years. However, she could not have achieved any of her accomplishments without the 
nelp of her teachers. Because of them, she was able to learn many different things. She 
Decame fond of study ng because she became engaged in learning. 
idn't wait until vet school to learn about vet med. When she had free time, she 
Nouffstudy physiology, anatomy, virology, and pathology. By the time she got to veterinary 
school, she was well prepared. There was a girl named 
She was born on April 21, 2003 and had a 
passion for doodling, dancing, being 
active, and spending time with her siblings 
and family. She would always karaoke and 
dance together with her two brothers 
which made her feel special for being the 
only sister around. Whenever she would 
go to places, she would always bring her 
bear, Brownie which she loved and took 
care of ever since she was born. She had a 
pretty fun and good childhood, but she 
knew the bad things will occur soon...

I teach both seventh and eighth grade students, and due to my move to AVID mid-year, I have been teaching the same lessons to both. I will have about thirty carry-over students next year, so between now and then, I need to determine how I can use this lesson again with the students who have already completed it. It has been amazing and powerful and is sure to be one of my all-time favorites.