Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Why Do We Always Cry in This Class (or, The Affective Domain)?

The "affective domain", of course, is the clinical, detached and sanitized language we use to refer to FEELINGS and EMOTIONS in the classroom. Ironically, many of us English teacher types work daily to provide our kids with examples of language that has life, voice and power. It's interesting, then, that we used (use?) the lifeless phrase "the affective domain" to talk about emotion and its role in learning.

This struck me the other day when my students were sharing, as I invite them to daily, from their journals. Reality being what it is in the Detention Center, kids come and go without warning or notice. One young woman who has come such a long way simply disappeared today. I filled out her transfer form with a sigh, hoping that someone "downstate" (as the kids call it) will have the eye out for her that we have here. Several of the other girls in the unit wrote about her sudden departure, and the tears flowed. Mine included, I don't mind sharing. One of the girls, sniffling and laughing at the same time, asked "why someone always cries at least once a week in this class?" An answer came from one of the Detention Staff that it's because the classroom is a safe space where students can share what's really on their minds. I agree, and I think that's the magic of these journals. It makes THEM the curriculum; it also allows them to write in a space that will not be judged or graded. Hence they can practice without penalty, just like one would with any other skill. (I can't imagine learning piano as if it were a recital every time I sat down to play.)

CS Lewis once said that we "read to know we're not alone." We write for the same reason. We write to connect and be heard. Vygotsky noted time and again that writing should be taught for the natural-as-breathing survival skill that it is. Allowing and in fact creating space for "the affective domain", that is EMOTIONS, in the classroom, honors the power of language.

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