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Choice

May 1, 2011

Teacher Musings:
I was always a “good” student. I knew how to play the game of school – how to figure out what kinds of answers the teacher wanted, how to always raise my hand on the first day and therefore be known as the kid who “always” volunteers, and how to fake read. In many classes I could look at the end of the chapter questions and then just go answer them from the chapter – without every actually “reading” anything. And the reality is that these strategies served me well because they were paired with my love of actual reading. I read books. Tons and tons of books. I didn’t always read the classics, although I still love The Great Gatsby, and I read Fahrenheit 451 for fun in the summer after 8th grade. But I mostly read Stephen King and Sweet Valley High like there was no tomorrow. And I also read the newspaper often, even if it was mostly the local and sports columns.

This meant that when I went to college I was actually ok. There was a ton of reading, and it was much harder than the work I had in high school, but I had enough reading confidence and vocabulary (and study skills) to figure it out. And there was also something else about college that also made a difference in my academic success.

I got to chose my classes.

My first quarter of college, I took a class on fairy tales and fables (in the English department), and introduction to Women and Gender Studies and Italian 1. That’s it. These are all classes I took that sounded fun. So, when the reading was hard, or I didn’t quite understand, I asked for help, paid close attention in class, and re-read and wrote notes until I understood.

Because I wanted to know.

Today there was a revolt in my writing class. We are learning about violence in our city so that students can write an op-ed about the issue from a knowledgeable perspective. We (the writing teachers) thought it would be an engaging topic – and for some kids it is. I did a poor job introducing it and getting kids interested, but I got an extra amount of push-back today with a chorus of “why are we doing this?” and “this topic is stupid.” I think part of it was rooted in the fact that we weren’t just talking about it anymore – we were reading complex and difficult articles about it that required serious reading and thinking. I was frustrated, they were frustrated, and we kept plugging ahead, even though I know we need to step back and re-group. I was trying to figure out what to do about this, and I have some ideas for how to deal with this tomorrow when we re-focus on their experiences and and questions. But I think one of the fundamental reasons they resisted these readings came down to this.

They didn’t choose to learn about this. They didn’t choose to investigate violence in our city. So, at some level, I don’t blame them. And I imagine the classroom where each student has a local topic that they are reading about and learning about with the purpose of writing an informed persuasive piece about it.

I wish I had been in that classroom today.

Do you think choice matters that much? How much choice do you give in your classroom?

Yummy Stuff:
After a crazy day it was time for some cookies tonight! I tried a batch of oatmeal cookies without Earth Balance that came out pretty good. These are based off the Chocolate Chip recipe from post-punk kitchen, but with my own yummy oatmeal twist!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:
7 TB white sugar
1 TB molasses
2/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or your favorite non-dairy milk)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 cups oats

1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cups chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease two large light metal baking sheets.

Mix together sugar, molasses, oil, milk and cornstarch in a mixing bowl. Use a whisk and mix really well, for about 2 minutes, until it resembles smooth caramel. There is a chemical reaction when sugar and oil collide, so it’s important that you don’t get lazy about that step. Mix in the vanilla.

Add 1 cup of the flour, the baking soda and salt. Mix until well incorporated. Mix in the rest of the flour. Mix in the oats. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Put a heaping TB of cookie dough on the pan. It will be gloppy, but they will turn out fine! Bake for 8-9 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack

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3 Comments
  1. >I did a similar project in Oakland, with similar results. We had read the news all semester about the violence in the city, and I framed a writing project around it. Many students loved it, others whined and fought it. I got more and more frustrated, because I thought I had come up with a project with relevance. One student (who later became my favorite), openly fought me on it. While other students were working, and he was causing trouble, he started yelling out across the classroom that the assignment was stupid, and he loved Oakland. He had taken offense to the idea that he thought I was suggesting that his city was all bad. I ended up opening up the assignment, and they were also allowed to write about something positive in the city (with research they had to complete on their own, as I hadn't done the background work). He took that option and ran with it. I believe it was the first assignment he completed all year, with revisions and all. And then he read his essay about the good in his community to his class 4 days after his brother was shot and killed right in front of his house. I'm not sure exactly how to interpret my own little anecdote, other than to say that I'm all for choice.

  2. This story is so powerful, and it reminds me that, once again, I need to consider context. If I’m being real, it is THEIR community we are talking about, not mine. And if their reading, writing and learning is going to be real, they have to own it, not me.

    I remember this story as well – just another great example of both the power of choice and the resilience and intelligence of our students.

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