At some point, as the adult in the room, we have to recognize that as long as students are reading writing for a fabricated purpose, there is only so much energy and time that they will commit to the assignment. Churning out students who hate a subject but can perform in a standardized way isn’t doing anyone any good. Reading and writing, even in the context of a classroom can (and should!) be authentic. When we present students with an authentic purpose, and have cultivated a reason to read or write that extends beyond an assignment or a classroom, then we will start to see their voice and passion come alive. Now, the challenge there is that it’s going to be a lot harder to come up with something like that from a textbook or a worksheet. It may be an off the cuff assignment or look a little different than what the teacher down the hall is doing, but that is ok too.
As a fourth grade teacher, I had the pleasure of preparing our students for our state writing assessment each year. Have you ever tried to convince a 4th grade boy that writing is FUN? It was always a challenge! Realizing that the goal was to get them to find something they enjoyed writing about, or offered them a reprieve from a grammar worksheet was my mission. One year (pre Mrs. Teamann, of course!) we wrote letters to Troy Aikman, ℅ Valley Ranch and the Dallas Cowboys.The topic was “Why Troy Aikman should marry Miss Gattis”. Persuasive essay, check! Letter, check! We pored over and over those essays, edits and clarifications were flying through the room. No one wanted to let a typo get to Troy!
Any subject that we teach, has the opportunity to make an impact. We work with students, children, who haven’t yet discovered that they have the power to change the world. Motivating students to be critical readers, to read for enjoyment and knowledge is a gift that we can give them. Reluctant reader? We just haven’t found the right thing for them to read yet. Everyone has a passion and it’s up to us, as the adults, to help model what it looks like to be a lifelong learner…a lifelong reader. My elementary colleagues, it just gets harder as they get older…it’s up to us to make elementary school not only FUN but never losing sight of what it means to have academic integrity.
We live in an incredible world, where students have the opportunity now to connect with anyone, and I mean anyone. I have teachers who tweet authors, or celebrities, and colleges, all while modeling to their students what it looks like to communicate in a digital way. Students can blog and share their reflections with an authentic audience. George Couros has shared that when students are creating for their teacher it only has to be good enough, but when they are creating for the world, it has to be GREAT. There are too many opportunities for our students to read and write, and connect globally to not take advantage of their greatness!
I run into former students all the time…and I can’t tell you how many of them remember those letters we wrote. I bet you they couldn’t tell you one single prompt from an assessment from elementary school…but they all want to know if I ever heard back from Troy!
Amber Teamann is the proud principal of Whitt Elementary in Wylie ISD in Wylie, Texas. During her educational career, Amber’s comprehensive understanding of student learning has resulted in a successful blend of technology and teaching. From a 4th grade teacher at a public school technology center, to her role as a Title I Technology Facilitator responsible for 17 campuses, Amber has helped students and staff navigate their digital abilities and responsibilities. She transformed the way information is shared in one of the largest school districts in Texas by piloting a communication initiative that launched Twitter, and led to 100-percent campus participation. Through her campus level leadership, she has helped initiate classroom change district wide, empowering teachers at all levels.