Literacy Found In Identity (pt.1)

I want to write briefly about an “Aha!” moment that is changing the course of my teaching and my approach to literacy.

For some background, I teach at a local charter school in Durham that is based in progressive pedagogy. This is a significant change from the traditional public school where I began my career! So my teaching style had (up to this point) been heavily influenced by emphasis on preparation for high-stakes testing and ensuring that every concept was mastered in a uniform manner. This led to results on paper – but it failed to take into account the ability for each child to feel invested and in ownership of his or her own education.

I previously wrote about how my realization that my teaching style failed to ensure students like “Marco” (previous posts) were having education done to them, rather than owning education. But my first practice in actually seeing and enacting personalized education came in the “Aha!” moment from “Jeff.”

“Jeff” is a very bright and capable student – I first noticed that he is a highly curious kid! He would come into class nearly every day with a million questions about the world around him, from Minecraft to Neil Degrasse Tyson to how candles were made. These questions are all valid and to be encouraged, but they often ran in a completely different stream from the conversation or topic that the class was at the time covering.

He is also HIGHLY digitally engaged. This kid knows the internet like a teacher knows Bloom’s Taxonomy.  He was quick to make videos for projects, always asking to see more information through online streams, and weaving stories from the immense time he spent at home connected digitally to others around the world.

Finally, Jeff was almost totally disinvested in typical classroom activities.  For all his innate curiosity and passion for the digital world, paying attention in class to what the group was discussing, working on, or attempting was like pulling teeth. Jeff was born to run counter to the stream, and class was just one more example of how his identity didn’t mesh with the flow of those around him.  

For the first quarter of the year, our class worked on a large project that put the gentrification of the city of Durham on trial – research, interviews, practice runs, presentations, more research, more honing – for weeks, this class tackled in nearly every medium of literacy the pros and cons of gentrification. Jeff played his role, but what I failed to realize was how much he wanted to participate, yet couldn’t because the project didn’t bring out his inner talents and passions.

At the end of every major project, the grade puts on an exhibition for the community, allowing family and friends (as well as community members) to experience the work of the students.  The project was lauded and many students beamed with pride as they were complimented on the bold nature of their work.  Finally, Jeff’s father approached me and gently knocked me off my feet by mentioning that Jeff had been raving about the project at home – yet, as the father would go on to describe, “the true Jeff wasn’t in this project!”

Where was he, and where would it take me? Check back soon to find out!



One thought on “Literacy Found In Identity (pt.1)

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