Making the decision to move from my high school English Literature and Composition job after 15 years to build a makerspace and support tech integration for teachers, was very tough. I loved working with students and helping them read and evaluate texts. I thought I would never again be able to work with students to help them explore the deeper meaning of a piece of poetry and how it connects to their lives. After a year and a few months in my job, there are some thing I have learned about literacy that were not clear to me while in the classroom.
Literacy takes many forms
One of the things I would always focus on in my classroom is the importance of reading, writing, and speaking. All three allow a person to understand and communicate. No matter where you go in life, these three things will always help you. I see that this is only partially true. A person can read, write, and speak well, but if they do not know how to use those tools to problem solve, how helpful are they truly going to be? Watching students struggle to solve problems in the makerspace has shown me that there needs to be more time given to teaching these problem solving skills as part of their overall literacy. Using those skills to know how to identify a problem, research the appropriate sources, create a protoype, and articulate the problem and solution to others is very important.
There is not such thing as grade or age appropriate (kind of)
All too often, students would want to read something or explore something and they would be told that is not appropriate for their grade or age. The curriculum is designed to for grade and age appropriateness and teachers are stuck in that box. In the makerspace, I have learned that there is no such thing as age or grade appropriateness. If the student is willing to take on the challenge of something complex and want to work their way through it, why should I, or the school, stand in their way? For those that are going to say things like, "So I should let me 5th grader read "Fifty Shades of Grey'?" No, you shouldn't, but you should probably talk to them about why they want to read it and see what is at the root of their request. Let students experiment and push the boundaries of their reading, writing, and making. That is where they will learn the most.
The struggle is real and important
It can be so easy to just write the topic sentence for the student or do the citation for them. It is much faster when you have 29 other students to conference with over the next 40 minutes. However, they struggle of learning to read and write is so important as long as students are allowed to feel comfortable to try and fail. I think I got better with the try and fail aspect of writing in my class, but, for too long, it was a one attempt and move on mentality in my classroom. The Makerspace has shown me how effective a try, fail, try again approach to learning is needed in literacy and everywhere else in schools. Give student the time to experiment with their poetry or their essays. Give the students time to try new rhetorical devices. Let them struggle to find their personal, beautiful, and authentic voice by trying as many voices as they like until the find the one that is just right for them.
Leaving the direct instruction position after 15 years to a position that supports students and teachers in different ways has allowed me to take a step back and really see what literacy, and instruction overall, can and should look like. The best I can do now is share with the teachers around me and write on this blog.