"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

990/1200/1201: Literacy Narrative Rough Drafts

My student, S., writes upside down. Literally, she turns her paper upside down and forms her letters in a way I've never seen before.

My student, B., told me on the first day of class he had no intention of buying the book or reading it.

My student M. thinks this class is beneath him and keeps trying to trap me on loopholes.

J. can't come to class because her baby is sick.

A. has been homeless for most of his adolescence and may be the best natural poet I've ever encountered.

I have Liberian refugees in my classes, some brought over as children, some the children of refugees. Some have lived in north Minneapolis, a historically black and low-income area, for several generations. I have Hmong students whose parents are nervous that they're losing their language. My students are low-income, first-generation, some who take advantage of North Hennepin's food bank because they are hungry. Some think of community college as an easy alternative to classes taken elsewhere.

To say that my students are diverse is an understatement. To a one, however, their lives are focused elsewhere, away from where they come from. They may be escaping war, maybe poverty. Some are looking for a change in their lives. Every day, my pedagogy and I are being challenged--mostly in really good ways. I've been wanting to work with more diverse students since I taught in the W.H. Thompson Scholars program at UNL.

Primarily, I've noticed that the resistance I'm facing is largely fear-related. Many of my students are in my class (which is in the Baltimore model of composition, with developmental students in the same classroom as non-developmental students) have had terrible experiences with English classes and most of them believe that they cannot write, they hate to read, and to say reading and writing are boring is much easier than admitting that they struggle or that they're afraid to risk in their writing.

They're turning in the rough drafts of their first Writing Project, a literacy narrative, and seeing their work in the last four weeks, I know that many of them started off enjoying reading as children, but hated being told what to read in middle school and high school. Most of them have had bad experiences with writing, particularly high school teachers telling them that their grammar is bad or that they're not good at writing. (Which just makes my blood boil--who does that?!) And one bad experience turns them off writing and reading for life. I know that they're working an uphill battle in terms of content here.

I've noticed that the students most in need of my help are the ones who are most resistant, the ones who show up chronically unprepared, or don't show up at all. Retention is on my mind, but I want to keep them in the class because they need it on a broader level. I'm still struggling with the best way to do that.

One major change to my pedagogy is a much more committed effort to the scaffolding of assignments. A Think Piece leads directly into their rough draft. We do a worksheet-led activity on the Think Piece to help them expand into the rough draft. I've never used worksheets so prolifically before, but I learned early that with so many ELL students, they need a moment to think through the day's actity. My main strategy in rough draft workshops is for students to read aloud, but I'm needing to come up with a more effective strategy--and today, they're being guided by a worksheet. 

My student, T., is nontraditional and emails me that she wants to be in another group, because her group spends their time talking about how much they don't want to be in the class.

My student R., is Hmong and a member of the active duty military.

I have seriously underestimated the emotional component to teaching seven classes at NHCC. The teaching part, the pedagogy, the ability to reform class activities in my head because of immediate needs--that I've got covered. It's my student who's food insecure, my student without health insurance for her sick baby, the ones coming out of war zones--that I am finding very difficult. Rewarding, as I'm working my way through each class and marveling at the unique perspectives they're finding more courage to share, but it's not without its toll.

Week 4, done. I'm really excited to see where the rest of the semester goes.

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