In between our core text days, I will provide them with a poem from Dwayne Betts’ poetry book
Bastards of the Reagan Era
. The title is “ For the City That Nearly Broke me,” on page 40; there are several poems by this title. I’d like my students to discuss the language and imagery, topics, and style of the writer. I will introduce literary techniques, so they can formulate their own poems. Again, performance and receiving praise for courage will be a continuous action in the classroom.
I witnessed this in the drama therapy practiced at a local elementary school in New Haven. At the film screening, a classroom of 3rd graders performed with their drama therapy teacher. They started by repeating norms that declared children should be safe, taken care of and loved. They then took turns reading personal letters to their drama teacher. A nine-year old girl confessed her brother was dead due to gun violence. After she said this the teacher replied, “Isn’t she strong?” The kids agreed, and then she asked them to touch their own hearts and say, “you are very strong.” The girl headed to her seat with a look of satisfaction as if she knew a community was there to support her with her hardships. Children are praised and their strength is acknowledged when they express vulnerability. We will discuss how the reader deals with his pain and trauma through writing.
We will explore ways in which writing can be a tool for healing, and I will share works by some of my incarcerated students at this time.
As we read
, we will observe how the writer constructs scenes and dialogue and why certain close ups and fade outs happen in screenwriting. I hope to guide them into seeing their creative writing as mini movies that show pieces of their life.
An assignment will be to create a crucial scene in their life, and how they would want the outcome to have been. If the situation didn’t have a positive outcome, how could they write one? I’d like them to write the reality they would like to see. This is an empowering exercise and may prove to be cathartic. There will be a focus on the power of words, and how their creativity can empower them to new possibilities.
Before the final project, we would have built enough rapport and trust in the classroom. I will ask students to take the ACES survey and to observe it as an informational/functional text—which is a major focus of Common Core Standards. They may share their score with me or keep it private.
I want the narrative to be based on an interview of a family or community member. The requirement will simply be to extrapolate the life lesson from the interview. From this we will focus themes on resilience, and how people of all ages use their personal experiences as strengths when dealing with difficult times.
From the start of my teaching career, I have been invested in the power that language has to transform an individual, society and the world. I have seen the clichés happen before my eyes. Books have changed lives. Books have saved lives. I have received numerous prison letters thanking me for literacy. I have students who are still imprisoned, yet write and read to be free. This is liber-acy.
I am confident that this unit will provide new lenses for my students to approach literature and themselves. It will empower them to create healthy lives even while living in dire conditions; as educators we must all be hopeful that this can actually happen. I care deeply about my student’s understanding, but after my research, their health is also my concern.
The etymology of the word doctor is “to teach” from the Latin,
What if all teachers knew this role? We are not simply knowledge givers but actual healers.