Thursday, February 18, 2016

Breaking the Cycle

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Ever since I heard a teacher use the "breaking the cycle" I have been thinking about it. The term comes from an incredible story about a teacher who helped a young girl break the cycle of non-readers in her family line. You can hear it on the back end of this powerful podcast by Penny Kittle: Book Love, E1 V1. Please listen to it--you will be moved and motivated (and, full disclosure, not just because I play a bit part, lol).

In short, a high school student was not a reader. The teacher gave her Go Ask Alice. Without spoiling the experience of listening to the teacher tell the story, the student goes through some significant life changes. We learn that this student comes back to visit her teacher and shares that her child is now a reader. This teacher helped a young person break the cycle.

I wonder how many cycles we help recreate in any given year. Students have individualized habits and cycles in reading, writing, and within every other subject area. For example, I have never been competent in math. It crushed me in school. Broke my heart more than the girls. Everything about math almost ruined school for me--seriously. I survived and clawed my way out of it. I didn't break that cycle.

A current cycle I am challenging my class to break is their habit of writing outside of class...and their habit of only writing for school. That is a huge cycle. If I can help students rebuild that habit and belief, it will be a victory.

I challenged my classes this marking period: write for ten to fifteen minutes a day for you. Use your writer's notebook and jot down ideas, lists, sketches, maps, pet peeves, observations, venting, snippets of overheard conversations, memories...anything.

Several times a marking period I do spot notebook checks. During the 2nd marking period, my kids were trending downward as writers. They were not writing as much as they were during the 1st marking period--and, in my estimation, not growing at the same rate. When it comes to literary volume matters (and I tell them this).

Some of the reflections about my challenge were insightful and fair...and not everyone was thrilled about being challenged to break that particular cycle. One student's reflection is representative of most of the feedback I received from students:
Time. Anxiety over importance. These are two of the things that hold me back from writing. When I write I love it, but there are some things that just keep me from it. I know a lot of people say that they have busy lives but I do too. I know the things that I do aren't important and are irrelevant to the class but I always feel like I don't have enough time in the day. I know though that there are ways to help overpower these. I think what I can do is plan out sufficient times to write. For example, before I go to bed I can sit in bed and write for 10 min. Also at times where I am watching tv I can turn it off and write or write during commercials.
When it come to anxiety over importance, I freak out if I have multiple things to do and I try to cram them close. I seem to almost do the “important” things first then the smaller things. Ways I can fix this is I can plan ahead and set specific times and or make sure i'm not cramming things in small periods of time. I think it’s not much of you to ask us to write everyday, I just think that many people have seen writing as a extra, not important thing that they will only do in class. I do think though if we start writing more at home it will become more of a habit and less of an assignment.
Lisa (pseudonym) hits all of the notes shared by her classmates; however, what strikes me most is the line "many people have seen writing as extra, not important..." That is a cycle worth breaking.

We have about 80 days of school left, including testing and all of the fanfare of the end of school. It isn't possible. We can accomplish a lot in 80 days.

After all, didn't some people travel around the world in 80 days, or was that just fiction?

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