Why I Love Teaching
By Jolene Borgese
Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of teaching a ten day writing course to middle school students at the PAWLP Youth Writing Project. I had run the first Youth Writing Project on campus with about 50 writers and six teachers. We weren’t sure what we were doing back then but we knew we were on to something big! It was a success that bloomed into a huge project for 30 years.
This summer, my 12 writers were a mixed bag of pre-adolescents who wanted to come to writing camp, and others whose parents had signed them up. They all made the best of it. They caught my enthusiasm for writing, and, in their preteen coolness, actually showed they liked my activities. After we wrote our first piece, a small collection of memories based on the picture book Wilfred Gordon McDonaldPartridge by Mem Fox, I had the students engage in speed responding. This technique is much like speed dating. The writers sat across from each other; one read their writing and the other listened and responded. Every three minutes I yelled time and the writers moved to the next responder.
I gave them the directions: 1) the writer will read his/her memories to the responder; 2) the responder will ask questions about the memories; 3) the writer will write down the questions or the answers to the questions to help them revise their piece later; 4) the time limit was three minutes. First I demonstrated the process with one of the writers and then I had them break into two groups with the writers facing each other across the table. Not only was it helpful for the writers, but the responders had to listen and come up with at least three questions to ask the writer. The short time cut down on any non-focusing and made it possible for all the writers in the class to hear each others’ memories. After the first group shared their memories I had them exchange roles and repeated the process. I observed lots of smiles and writers talking to each other about their writing. They moaned when I yelled ‘time’ but I could see they were enjoying this novel way of responding. Time is always an issue in teaching but this process helped my writers stay focused and be heard!
For the last couple of years I have been experimenting with technology in classrooms and workshop settings. I wanted to see if students (of all ages) were more responsible with their technology if they placed their devices on their desks or tables in front of them so they weren’t reading their devices on their laps. I included the devices in my lessons this summer, and encouraged my writers to use them as tools to aid with their writing. When discussing a topic I asked them to use their devices to find facts or stats on the topic. Although not every writer had a device they were more than willing to share. In the two weeks I worked with them no one abused the use of their smart phones. In fact, if they received a text or call they would let me know and ask if they could respond!
I read them the first two chapters of Kate Walton’s novel Crash, about bullying, which gave them the perspectives of the bully and the victim. The mentor text gave them an example to write about an informational topic. We brainstormed informational topics and discussed showing both sides of an issue. A few of the writers choose the topics of a no homework policy and a later school-starting time for middle and high school students. They used their devices for research and were delighted to find studies and stats on both topics that enriched their pieces.
I may have been around a long time but education is the future and technology is the future. Both must be embraced together.
Jolene A. Borgese is a writer, a reader and a learner. She earned her doctorate from Widener University and attended the first PAWLP summer institute in 1980. Her first Book, Revision Strategies for Adolescent Writers was published by Corwin press in 2012. Jolene loves to travel and swim in the ocean!