Monday, February 16, 2009

we living our dream

we have begun our 2nd semester and are off to a running start. finishing our unit on stereotypes and reading "American Born Chinese" was enlightening to so many of the kids, who didn't believe that a comic book would actually make them think and reassess their own thoughts. so when i asked them to get "back in the boat" because we were traveling to a new area of the world, they got into it this time. they brought with them some new knowledge that they apply to their lives directly. i can't tell you how many times since this unit i've heard them call each other out on using a stereotype in a derogatory manner.

for my unit on biography, situated in the Middle East, i employed the use of outside resources. i'd been working on bringing a photo exhibit documenting the lives of Iraqi refugees into the school since November. in conjunction with the photos, i'm using a curriculum called "Nothing Like My Home", which was developed by the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility () the photos were taken by Lori Grinker, a photographer and photo-journalist who charted the journeys of 5 families fleeing Iraq. it has been an incredibly powerful experience from my students, who have done everything from charting out their ancestor's journeys through the world using our classroom floor as the globe, to imagining themselves as refugees and needing to "pack their bags". as we work through the unit, their assessment is to put on a community event where we discuss what we've learned and bring our school community into the conversation about the refugee crisis.

now, leaving something like this to 9th graders is a scary idea, but they've stepped up to the plate, with some amazing analytical and creative ideas for making this event a memorable one. we're on mid-winter break until next week, but i am really excited to return and get working on this project with them.

another project that i'm really excited about is the IPG. my 7th period class had a conference call with the U of M poetry mentors (thanks, Jeff!) two weeks ago, and while other projects have prevented us from making as strong of a presence on the site as i would've hoped so far this semester, it was really exciting for them to feel like they are in the "business of poetry". we're working on refugee/escape poems right now, as i'm trying to connect our classwork to this project, so look for them soon!

sometimes i'm in awe of the work my students do. case in point, S's poem, as posted to the IPG site:

Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King can walk
Martin Luther King walked so Barack Obama can run
Barack Obama ran so children can fly
so ima spread my wings and meet you in the sky
we all sleep so we can dream and we woke up
and we living our dream

as i'm grading today, i realize that even though i question myself and my own methods all of the time, it has been a truly memorable year, and just looking at the documents of their work is testament to the fact that they're becoming writers. most of them struggle and whine their way through the writing process, but they're doing it. they moan about reading, but they're building vocabulary and reading more smoothly. they complain about their brains hurting after my class, but they're getting at some complex thinking, even if it's disguised in playful activities. i believe that the best learning happens when kids don't even realize they're learning at all.


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