Thursday, September 25, 2008

Problem Solving

I've long been advocating for more problem-solving, cross-cultural communications and team work in the English/language arts classroom. Nancy Atwell put it beautifully: "Problems make the best curriculum." She echoes Dewey, Freire and Montessori here in recognizing that experience is the best teacher. As best I can in the context of the Juvenile Detention Home (security is always a factor of course), I try to build team problem solving and an awareness of (mis)communication and culture into my lessons.

Just a few days ago, I posed what seems like it should have been a simple enough problem: the kids were to line up in order from youngest to oldest--silently. They could not speak during the game; of course this forced them to cooperate and communicate in a variety of other ways. A breakthrough occurred in at least two units where it dawned on one student that they could use my whiteboard. The leading students wrote their birthdays up and other students soon caught on, allowing them to all line up in order, without having ever said a word. When we debriefed, I praised the use of alternative strategies and resources. I will continue to advocate for such goals being viewed as a valid aspect of any Language Arts/English classroom. Problem solving is critical to any aspect of life, and if communicating clearly and effectively isn't a "language art", I don't know what is.

Friday, September 12, 2008

It is always a good day when

one of your students, working on his Martin Luther King, Jr., essays, says he's "not used to thinking this hard." Dr. King would approve, I think.

I'm always amazed at what an intimidating process writing is for so many kids, which is why I repeatedly counsel them to "get it down before you get it right." When we wrote a class rubric together, detailed what an "A" essay should have and do, and so on through an "F" essay, spelling and grammar are always the first thing they think of. That's important, of course, but what about the ideas? Weaning them away from the mechanics over substance is a difficult process, and there is so little time with each kid here to accomplish it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Savage Inequalities: Invisible Edition

So a particular student of ours here was meant to have been released Sept 5, and meant to have been released May prior to the Sept tease. Our leadership was pushing a bit to have him released on the 2nd instead, as that was the first day of school, to let him begin a new school year fresh. This young man has been hear since before Christmas 2007! According to our principal, he has not received a visit from his P.O. or lawyer; I'm also told that his lawyer has not returned phone calls.

How is this possible? How can anyone consider this equal justice?

Amazing, the kid manages to come to class each day with a smile on his face. We hear now his new court day is early Oct. I wouldn't blame the kid if he didn't believe it. He's written "never" under Release Date on his class folder.