Involving Students Emotionally in Writing
Our discussion this week hardly stayed on one topic because each idea we brought up led to another question or problem. We ran from one end of the spectrum to the other, with the common theme of how exactly we can involve and address students as whole people in our classrooms, and that includes their potent emotions that come with adolescence.
We began our discussion by evaluating the idea of Forgiveness Poems, championed in the book. We loved how these poems allow an exploration of what the author termed as “the explosive feelings of adolescence.” We think it is important that we address the holistic well-being of our students, not simply their academic success or failure. Their academic achievement, or lack thereof, could be a direct result of what else is going on in their lives. We liked the idea of our groupmate Melissa when she explained the lesson she created where students wrote forgiveness poems from the perspective of the characters of The Outsiders. In this way, students would be able to identify and work through emotions (hopefully to characters they relate to) in a low-stakes way.
We wonder, however, why emotions are always tied to poetry writing and not other modes or means of expression. For instance, our groupmate Sarah brought up the idea of writing letters. I think another means of expression could perhaps be narratives. In general, however, the conclusion we reached to this qualm is that writing in all forms is a means of expression of thinking and feeling (we just temper the feeling aspect at certain times for certain audiences in certain disciplines). As a result, writing, in any form, is a great way for students to express themselves.
We also liked the idea that Melissa brought up (she really loves Forgiveness poems) that was something she did while in high school- her class wrote poems forgiving themselves for something they had done. This would also help students come to terms with hard emotions, and these poems may not even have to be read aloud. The problem we found with this idea, however, is what if students bring up something they have done that is illegal? Or offensive to people in the class? Once again, with this question, our group is brought back to the our seemingly eternal question: Where do we draw the line as teachers?
This question has come up in every discussion we have had thus far this semester, and we have come to the conclusion that boundaries of course stem from what the teacher is willing to do (talk through issues with students, set classroom tone of respect, perhaps keep a confidential air in the classroom, as the author does). More importantly, though, is that each school, each district, each county, each state, and the national agenda will all set restrictions and standards for what teachers are allowed to talk about. If Danny teaches in an inner-city school who’s focus is to get students writing about their lives in any capacity, his practices will very greatly from Melissa who teaches in a conservative Catholic school. What efficacy, then, do we teachers truly have in this face of societal standards?
A further standard will be set on what and how teachers run their classrooms by the PLCs that they are a part of, just as we guide one and other in our group now. In today’s educational climate, teachers cannot really say “I want to do this—to heck with all the rest of you lot.” What are the set-in-stone standards of how writing is taught? We have checked out common core (which seems more of a guideline). How it is evaluated?
This discussion brought us around to the topic of how exactly writing is judged. Megan (me) recalled how she wrote a final paper last year for a class regarding the different discourses around evaluating writing. For this week, our PLC will read this essay and use it as a base for discussion (or debate). We have included below the link to a google doc with Megan’s paper that allows anyone with a link to comment. We would be interested to see practicing teachers’ take on how to evaluate and grade writing!