Thursday, October 19, 2006

i love my students

my students are encouraging and inspiring.

on monday, i did a thesis-statement writing workshop w/ my students. we identified different components of a thesis statement, looked at 3 examples of UC-personal statement thesis statements, dissected them, etc etc. my plan was for them to work individually and write a thesis statement for their personal statement draft. after 5 minutes of working, i could tell they were stuck so i asked them if they wanted to verbalize their thesis components (concession, assertion, reason, significance) to the group and work through them together.

it was amazing. yes, in the end they were able to accomplish the task, but in addition to that they were uplifting and validating each other.

example: rudolfo's writing about the accelerated math program he's taking advantage of. junior year, students cram through alg 2 in a semester and cram through Calc AB the spring semester. Senior year, students take calc BC as a year-long pace. the class of 2007 is the first class who is doing this. anyway, rudolfo has been really hesitant to write about this b/c he struggled through the class. he thought writing about the struggle would make him look "dumb". even after multiple conversations and drafts, i knew he still felt like it might not be the right topic. on monday, when he shared w/ the other kids his topic and working thesis he had the following:
concession: Math is my most difficult subject
assertion: I enrolled in an accelerated math program at my high school
Reason: I know that higher level math will prepare me from college.
Significance: BLANK.

my students always struggle at the significance. the so what? they hate that i always ask them, so what? why are you telling me this? what am i supposed to learn?

anyway, rudy started questioning the topic again and the significance. "did i really get anything out of it?" the other students started jumping writing it. "you totally need to write about that. out of everyone in the class you worked the hardest! remember how we all had mr. spear the year before and you were in mr. hunn's class? and mr. hunn didn't teach you anything? you were really behind. you stayed every evening working w/ mr spear to catch up. you missed all the club meetings b/c you were getting tutoring during lunch. remember when we visited so cal? you were the one that made us take our calc books so we could study in the hotel! you could have dropped the class but you didn't. you didn't give up. you ended up w/ an A-!" etc etc etc. Rudy's face totally lit up. these kids were repeating everything i had already pulled from up and reinforced, but it was different b/c it was coming from his friends, who according to him are the "smart" ones. and then he saw the significance of this-- not just that he went from a quarter grade of a D to an A, but that he didn't give up, he knew he had to ASK and SEEK support from his teacher and his classmates.

example two: Edgardo's worksheet had something like

concession: Richmond has a lot of social problems. There's a lot of poverty and hopelessness.
assertion: I started Y-ME? a club that helps our community
reason: b/c nobody is going to help us, we have to help ourselves. it's not fair that we live like this. most of us won't leave the city to go to college so people are suck here. anyway, people shouldn't have to leave their homes for a better life or a safer place to live.
significance: BLANK

Edgardo started talking about his passion for social justice and activism (he didn't use those words). he had a lot of reasons written and verbalized even more. he's a very silly and fun young man at times but also sometimes quiet, observant and introspective. as he kept talking about what why he started Y-ME? and he started talking about the community he got pretty emotional and started getting tears in his eyes. i think at first all the other kids didn't know how to react. i think maybe they were in a bit of disbelief. edgardo kept talking about how it's important for people inside and outside richmond to really think about what's going on and try to make a difference. then the other students started talking about the huge change the club has made on the campus and in the lives of the students in the club. "people care now b/c of you. people think they can actually do something and then they do it. you didn't even like talking in front of people but you started this club and you have to make the presentations and do the workshops and nobody can even tell that you're nervous. well we know, cuz we know you, but it doesn't seem like you're nervous. people are starting to change here and its because of you." edgardo didn't quite finish his thesis statement. we're working through a lot different topics. i'm trying to help him create a new outline that is more focused. right now it clearly demonstrates his passion through his words, but not through his actions. it's more "this is important because" not "b/c this is important, i did...." but no worries... it's a process. he'll finish.

although these examples may seem a bit small, to me they are HUGE. one of the biggest barriers of helping students write their uc personal statement is that they are asked to write about themselves-- their greatness and their contributions. they must showcase themselves. the students that i work with, who are primarily students of color, children of immigrants, and from working class families often come from a cultural background where you don't talk about all the great things you're doing, all the awards you've won. you refuse your compliments. you're brought up to think you shouldn't be proud of something you did, you're just doing what you needed to be doing. the college essay caters and thrives on a white middle class culture of entitlement, ownership, and perservation and adoration of self. it's so hard to get my students to "fake it" to write the statement. i know it feels so awkward, embarrassing, prideful, shameful to write about yourself in the way that basically declares, "HEY ADMISSIONS, I'M THE SHIT!!!!!" helping my students navigate that culture is very, very difficult. the beauty of monday was that the students affirmed each other. they have infinite confidence in each other. when they share their thoughts w/ each other and hear what other ppl think of them, they start to build the confidence that needs to come through in the essay. all of a sudden, it's not just me telling them that they are smart, resourceful, caring, leaders, etc etc but they're hearing from their friends. it is very beautiful.

p.s. sorry for the occassion posting. i've been very busy. i want to blog more often b/c its a way for me to preserve the happy things about work and life.... i still need to blog about the T4SJ conference.....

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