Do the Write Thing
Do the Write Thing
I didn't have a very supportive early education experience. In the Ireland of the 1980s, marching through a Christian Brothers academic regime, one was either an A student and heading to college or simply a warm body being moved through a system. Suffice it to say, I wasn't one of the successful, college bound, A students. As an adult I discovered I had a mild form of dyslexia. And while I love to read and write (and always have, despite the inauspicious formative years), both skills take me...
I didn't have a very supportive early education experience. In the Ireland of the 1980s, marching through a Christian Brothers academic regime, one was either an A student and heading to college or simply a warm body being moved through a system. Suffice it to say, I wasn't one of the successful, college bound, A students. As an adult I discovered I had a mild form of dyslexia. And while I love to read and write (and always have, despite the inauspicious formative years), both skills take me that little bit longer to complete. Therefore, as a teacher (who came to the profession in his mid-thirties), I have an empathy for students who are struggling academically and need a support system in place to help them succeed. I also feel strongly that not every student is -- what we traditionally call -- 'academically inclined’ and consequently I try to balance different learning styles in my teaching. I come from a background where creative writing and film appreciation were enthusiastically devoured (by friends and peers) and I attempt to incorporate these genres into my teaching when appropriate. When a student can articulate their choice of verb, adjective, theme or tone, etc., to a piece of their own work, and apply that skill to other forms of communication (visual included here), the sense of empowerment is palpable. Skills which organically come from the student, rather than the teacher, have immense value where an individual’s identity is concerned. When students see connections and start to own their own knowledge, I too, get a sense of fulfillment.
Many of the students I have worked with in the last ten years have struggled with both reading and writing. But if we are talking a philosophy of teaching, then I would have to say, getting students to enjoy reading first, is more important to me than what we think they should be reading. A student with poor literacy levels and weak interpretive skills will rebel against a work of literature that is beyond their skill level, no matter how classic the piece. I would prefer a student read The Hunger Games and enjoy the experience, than have to painfully drag them through War and Peace. When a student is engaged with a work, they want to ask the bigger questions. Likewise, I am also an advocate of challenging students (when the time is right) to perform at a higher level, whether offering them more sophisticated texts to read (selections from James Joyce’s Ulysses come to mind), or asking them to apply more sophisticated questions to, what may on the surface appear to be, unsophisticated texts. I have no qualms about latching onto a literary fad, if I have a captive audience.
In this technological age, teachers have, more than ever, a limited time to instill a love and appreciation of reading in students. In a culture where sitting down and absorbing a written work is not a priority for students, engaging students in the act of reading has become increasingly difficult. When students have a plethora of after school activities, “imperative” social media distractions, and homework for six other classes, is it any wonder literature takes a backseat? I have told my students: the world of books is huge, so there is something out there for everyone. Sometimes, we turn potential readers off at an early age, when we could make them lifelong readers by incorporating more choice into a curriculum schedule and more creative fiction and creative non-fiction into our classrooms: empowerment through individual art and words. Students who love to read from the get go, will always love to read. For me, capturing the imagination and interest of those who do not, is an important and worthwhile mission.
As for writing? The process is all important at every academic and skill level. Multiple drafts. Constant writing and feedback (which is not always possible when class size is considered), on both formal and creative writing, is imperative to the process. Students ask me how they can become better writers. I tell them: more reading; more writing; both good writing and bad; more constructive criticism, followed by re-writing. Empowerment comes through practice and support. Students need a disciplined pattern and a process to be successful in these skills.
One-on-one meetings with students are important to me. Notes written in the margins of a paper are not enough. General statements in class about patterns of weakness and strengths in essays are not enough. Having the opportunity to sit down and work through individual writing and reading issues with a student has been one of the most personally fulfilling aspects of teaching for me.
Finally, I believe students should be allowed to fail. Or, to be more precise, students should be given the environment to learn and grow from failure--whether on a poorly written essay; a poorly judged decision to plagiarize an essay; or on an ill-conceived answer to a question in a class. While not a big fan of Henry Ford per se, he captured my basic philosophy with the quote, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Failure has power.
Garvan hasn’t set a schedule.