Sunday, June 10, 2007

Swans, and Student Writing Journals

Originally published at Suite101

FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act - 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) and selected other laws on confidentiality make me leery of sharing details about my students. But this story is one I think I can share without giving away any private information...

Note: FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act - 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) can be accessed online.

Me... thinking about the next potMy students write. I think about writing a lot as I'm planning assignments. And the question of how to make writing fun is among the toughest issues that I think any elementary school teacher faces.

I went to a workshop a while back at the West Virginia Reading Association's annual conference. The workshop focused on a book called Amelia's Notebook, and on a strategy of journal writing in class. I tried it and my kids thought it was great. "Mr. Cruey, can we have homework in our journals?" I kid you not...

This week in reading we started on a story set in the early 1900's. The story was about how women in America got the right to vote. When social studies came around we talked about the concept of rights and I gave my students some time to write in their journals. They were supposed to write about what rights they felt they had (or should have).

Journal writing is a private experience and it usually takes five minutes to convince a group of 10 and 11 year olds that they really can't use it as social time. Class calmed down and got to work. I have various pieces of elevator music I play to cover distracting noises - everything from Yo-Yo Ma doing Haydn to Van Morrison sax instrumentals.

Ten minutes into the assignment (remember - the assignment about what rights you feel you have) a child raised their hand. I usually motion questions over to my desk where we can discussion whatever it is in hushed, library voices.

"Mr. Cruey," the child asked, "are all swans girl swans."

The child was expressionless. I was confused. How on Earth could this possibly be relevant? But the question seemed sincere...

In the analytical persona that follows me wherever I go, I answered with a Socratic question: "Well, if they were, how would they make baby swans."

The child looked puzzled and I could see wheels turning. It dawned upon me what tenuous ground I might soon be on and I pictured myself ending the discussion with some practical demonstration of how a prophylactic could fit over a cucumber - or something like that - (not that I knew right off where I might acquire either a prophylactic or a cucumber before class ended).

"No," I said hurriedly. "There are boy swans and there are girl swans..."

The child acted enlightened and said nothing, returning to its seat to take up the pen again and write further about the rights (hopefully) he perceived himself as having. And I felt relieved.

Socrates could wait.

I haven't worked up the nerve yet to actually read the journal entry...

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