By: Rachel Barry
A Math Teacher's Jealousy
I admit it, I'm jealous of English teachers. All of the time. I hear about the moving essays that students write in their English classes, sharing insight into the students' pasts. There is a different, deeper relationship that can be built when you have read someone's words and heard details of their life experiences. When I talk to English teachers, I am amazed by the openness that students are willing to share their personal stories, of which I am then jealous that I am not privy to seeing this side of my students. Also, at a school with students from many different backgrounds, including numerous students who do not call English their first language, these teachers are better able to understand the student's level of English proficiency.
If I ask my students to write an essay outside of class, would they do it? Am I adding to their plate when this is not a skill assessed in either of the courses that I teach? Will they do this if it is not for a grade? After much brainstorming, I came to what I believed was a solid solution. What if I asked students to submit an essay that they have already written? I finally decided that I just needed to find a platform to be able to read my students' writing.
As students were finishing up their finals before Winter Break, I asked them to submit any essay that they have written. For some of my seniors, this could be a college admissions essay, while for my other students, I offered that they submit an essay in which they share insight into who they are as an individual or an essay that they are proud to have written.
This. Was. Awesome.
I learned soooo much. I learned about a student navigating life with immigrant parents, a student who had a parent suffer a life-threatening accident and the journey towards recovery, a student who had been diagnosed at a young age with epilepsy, a student who skipped a grade in elementary school, a student who is a DREAMer, and many students shared their passions for various sports/activities/technologies.
This exercise has not only opened my eyes to future possibilities, but it has also opened the dialogue with other teachers.
Call To Action
Now that I have a much better understanding of students' writing abilities, I want to build more writing in math. I want to focus on building opportunities in my math courses to have students write more in class, to express their mathematical understandings. In a future blog post, I will reflect on the writing about the current mathematical content.
If you have other ideas for interdisciplinary activities that can gain insight into students' writing and/or details of their life, please share by stopping down in the Collab Lab or in the comments section on this blog!