I found myself multi-tasking the other night with my book (Bill Bryson’s Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society) and a movie (Monuments Men) in the background. I was suddenly caught by George Clooney’s character’s comments regarding what they were fighting for: “You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, and you destroy their achievements, then it’s as if they never existed.” I’ve seen this movie a couple of times before but for some reason, that night, those words stuck with me and I began to wonder…
Of course at this point, we are wondering where I’m headed with all of this. I actually typed that question in my draft: What am I trying to get at? Why is this swirling in my head? I think it’s the time of year. I teach two regular level senior classes and the students are winding down. If we’re being honest, they’ve already wound down. When it comes to wanting to learn and continuing to work, they are kicking (and screaming) along.
So, I found myself thinking about the process of inquiring, creating, and achieving. Where the inspiration comes from, how the big questions get put into words, why we preserve, admire, and continue to discuss art from so long ago, why we still have the big questions and not necessarily answers…If we destroy, or perhaps what is more frightening, never even create our greatest achievements, what do future generations have to build on? What will these seniors that I soon send off into the world create? What will be their history? Their achievements?
Throughout the year we have read a lot and written a lot. Most of them would probably say too much, but I would argue that isn’t possible. As they prepare to carry their inquiring minds and creative selves out into the world, I want them to know and believe in their creativity and capability to do great things. I want them to remember how good they are at wondering.
In the past, I have ended the year with a “fun” unit. As students often pointed out, it was usually better defined as teacher-fun, not student-fun. Fair enough. This year I have decided to try something a little different with my entrenched seniors. First, they are ending with a literature circle experience. They chose 1 of 4 books to read, interact with through analysis and debate, and practice modeling their own writing. Their choices were: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, or The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie.
I wanted them to have books that could be read independently with success yet still provide depth for analysis and thought (RI 11-12.5, 6, and 10 or RL 11-12.5, 6, and 10). I also wanted books that modeled different ways of grappling with our past, present, and future and the issues in the world around us. In classes with a wide-range of abilities and interests, it took some finagling but everyone was able to find a choice that hit the standards, interested them, and was accessible.
I often wonder: are they leaving me as lifelong readers? I want them to be able to continue to draw on the words of the world around them. Going back to how this unit all began, as readers I find we are much like scientists in many ways: experts in the art of observation, questioning, researching, and often inquiring again. All of which eventually (hopefully) leads us to create and communicate. Achievements start somewhere, with some fragment of an idea, and then we build. When it doesn’t quite work, we ask more questions, revise, wonder, and build again. Reading and thinking, like writing, are a process.
Second, they are working on reflective portfolio pieces. Hitting our writing standards W.11-12. 2 and 3, as well as focused revision and targeting specific audiences, they are creating poems, speeches, timeline reflections, photo essays, goals, and a little bit of satire to leave for the underclassmen to enjoy. They are able to draw on the text they chose to read as a model for many of their components, practicing different styles and finding the nuances of their own writer voices. This part of the assignment even earned the label “student-fun.”
These portfolios will go with them. Hopefully to be saved and gone back to 5, 10, 15 years down the road. It is a small step in writing their histories. A point to return to, to rebuild from, and branch out from. A small achievement to remind them of where they have come from, what they are capable of, and what they have yet to accomplish…..