A Writing Activity: New Year, Dream Big!

New Year, Dream Big ...Very soon, many of us will return back to school and greet the smiling faces of our students whom we have not seen since 2017. Granted, the time spent apart is much shorter than a summer break, but brings with it an important sign of starting fresh.

It’s the beginning of a new year; 365 opportunities to dream big and accomplish something new (or something that has been an unreachable goal until this year). For many students, it will be a time to reconnect with friends and teachers that they haven’t seen for a couple weeks. Some students are beginning new coursework, attending a new school, or even planning for graduation in a few months.

As a teacher, it was always my favorite time to have students write. Write about their dreams, goals, and ambitions, plus, it went perfectly with the start of a new year. Creative titles have always alluded me, so I simply called this New Year, Dream Big.

Students (and me, I always modeled and shared my writing with students) used the following questions to help spur their writing:

New Year, Dream Big…

  1. What are my dreams? In school? Life? Friendship? Activities? Etc. (Identify one to write about)
  2. Why is this dream important to me? Why did I choose this one?
  3. Is this a new dream? Old dream? Habitual dream?
  4. What do I already know or understand about this dream?
  5. What steps do I need to take to make this happen? Have I already completed or started any of these steps?
  6. What help do I need to achieve this dream? Who or what can help me?
  7. What is my timeframe for accomplishing this dream? How will I know I succeeded? When will it be time to give up?
  8. Closing thoughts and reflections?

 

At times, these pieces appeared on student blogs or influenced other writing done throughout the semester. Students were proud of their Dreams and shared them with everyone who would listen. And I was proud of them.

So consider having your students write to start off the New Year. Help them vocalize their dreams and make them a reality!

 

Hat-Tip to Regie Routman and Kelly Gallagher for providing inspiration for this work.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Censorship, & Banned Books

Adobe Spark (19)Last week, I began watching The Handmaid’s Tale, a Hulu original series based off of the novel by Margaret Atwood. Set in a dystopian society and ruled by an extreme, fundamentalist regime; the series draws viewers in with multiple storylines, dynamic characters, and pendulum swings oscillating between hope and despair. Along with the brutal objectification of females in this radical, religious Totalitarian society, The Handmaid’s Tale, sheds light on the power of the literate individual.

Books, reading, and writing are outlawed in Gilead, and one scene in an early episode where “The Eyes” are burning books and art, immediately reminded me of other stories about censorship and book banning, such as Fahrenheit 451. The ability to read, write, and think for oneself is seen as a threat to the new government of Gilead and there is not a more powerful illustration of this then in the “Closet Scene”  from episode 4. Offred, the main character, was locked in her room for 2 weeks straight and finds a Latin phrase, Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum, carved into the corner of her closet. This single phrase, written by her predecessor who failed to bear a child for the commander and his wife, risked her life to offer hope in the form of words that Offred couldn’t even translate. This small carving of words, hidden in the closet, reignited the fire of freedom that had been dimmed inside of Offered.

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Words have the power to transport readers to new places, they can inspire a movement, and bring hope to those who identify with characters they read about or quotes that sing to their heart. This week marks the beginning of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration that recognizes  Students’ Right to Read and emphasizes the First Amendment. The theme for this upcoming Banned Books Week (Sept. 24 – Sept. 30) is “Words Have Power. Read a Banned Book.” The words in these banned and challenged books have the power to connect readers to literary communities and offer diverse perspectives. And when these books are threatened with removal from communal shelves, your words have the power to challenge censorship. (ALA)

The Right to Read implies that individuals have the choice in what they read and the ability to be selective in this endeavor. The same freedoms are extended to the group as well and oppose the individual’s efforts to limit what others read. “The right of any individual not just to read but to read whatever he or she wants to read is basic to a democratic society,” (NCTE). Censorship and the banning of books limit the access of information for students. It distorts their understanding of information, creates bias, and neglects to provide a whole picture of the successes and challenges of a community or culture.

In this age of information and with the access to content at the touch of a button, it is essential to develop critical thinking skills and savvy discerners of information instead of limiting what students read. Just as important is the classroom discussion around censorship, along with individual dives into inquiry around bias, banned books, and healthy skepticism.

During Banned Books Week,  I urge you to take part in the activities or create one of your own. In my classroom, I had students select a commonly banned or challenged book, preferably one they were familiar with, and answer the following questions:

  • Why is this book banned or frequently challenged?
  • What passages, lines, words, or characters are often attributed to the challenging or banning of the book?
  • What are the different opinions about this book?
  • What is your opinion?
  • Should this book be banned? Should any book be censored or banned?
  • How does censorship play a role in your life?

This short exercise made students aware of the issue, the sides, take a stand, and defend their thoughts. It provided us a perfect launch into Huck Finn (another frequently challenged book), as well as a larger, conceptual lens on censorship and the Right to Read.

Literacy = Power, Opportunities, Democracy, and Improved Professional & Personal Lives. And although contemporary books and movies, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, paint an extreme cautionary example of censorship and banning books, it does illustrate the importance of freedom and the role literacy plays in our lives.

***And if you are wondering the translation of the Latin words Offred found hidden in her closet, here it is: “Don’t let the Bastards grind you down”… fitting, don’t you think?

Developing “Healthy Skeptics” in the Age of New Literacies

DevelopingHealthy Skeptics in the Digital Age.One of my most poignant “slaps on the face” in the classroom came while conferring with a student over their research paper. During our conversation, confusion arose from the conflicting information that he had found on the web. Upon further dialogue, I learned he relied heavily upon the source, Martin Luther King.org , which was supported by StormFront, a white supremacy group. The information that he found here was in stark contrast to many of the other sources he was citing. This insight hit my like a ton of bricks. I had done very little in terms of supporting students in the areas of discerning information, locating reliable and relevant sources, from learning abilities to the care of their body, with the help of supplements from sites as Reportshealthcare.com.

Technology has launched education into an exciting time in terms of literacy and instruction. These opportunities not only provide rich content, connections to a global learning lab, and creation modes unimagined; but also the exciting challenges to equip our young people with the skills and strategies to not only be creators to the sea of information but also “healthy skeptics” during consumption. This new era of information can bring a lot of benefits into young people, they are able to go online to find many useful things as information for their studies or supplements as this heart attack defender to keep good health.

Proficiency in these constantly evolving literacies will help to “define student success” in both their personal and public lives. Read, writing, communicating and learning in this digital arena is now commonplace instead of a rarity and we must, as educators, lead the charge in educating our youth instead of running away from the lion!

A foundation in multimodality in online media should be included across disciplines and grades. In fact, the Common Core mentions the introduction to digital text as early as Kindergarten. By the upper grades, students in a CCSS aligned district will analyze, synthesize and evaluate digital information, as well as using digital means in their own projects, writings, and multimodal communication.

Support on where to begin and how to build their own knowledge in New Literacies baffles educators. Here is a collection of my favorite resources to support educators and students!

Google Inside Search  – Understand how Google Search works, explore the interactive timeline highlighting the advancement of Google Search throughout the years, and view lesson plans for educators.

BrainPop – A video introduces students to search engines and how to use keywords and phrases to locate the information they want. This site also includes lesson plans which include multi-media ideas and also skills to promote with students for online research!

ReadWriteThink – A great lesson plan to help students focus their internet searching. This lesson not only supports skills need in the initial search, but also reading strategies to locate and evaluate information once it is found!