Sunday, January 19, 2014

Intelligence Plus Character: Honoring Dr. King in the Classroom

I'm currently teaching one of my favorite units in our seventh grade curriculum.  I shared with you last week that my students had analyzed historical speeches as examples of literary nonfiction, identifying rhetorical devices in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address," and President Obama's "Yes We Can" speech and then deciding together how figurative langauge can enhance public speaking.  This week, we take our study a step further and students write their own persuasive speeches.  

While great strides have been made toward equality in our nation throughout the years, there will always be inequities that we will have to work to eliminate.  America is a competitive nation, a country that wants to nurture winners.  That competitive nature is taught from a young age, through athletics, and even in the classroom, thanks to testing.  I'm not saying competition is inherently bad, but it does have the potential to lead to the negative and the unkind. This type of competition perpetuates in the hallways and on social media as children choose their own winners and losers through the act of bullying and cyberbullying.  This is the focus of our speech writing.  My students focus their persuasive speech writing on encouraging their peers to eradicate bullying from their school.

When I started this week by explaining the assignment, I asked my students to be honest and raise their hands if they had seen bullying at school.  About half of each class would raise their hands.  I then asked them to raise their hands if they had seen bullying on Instagram or Facebook or, at which point every hand would be in the air.  The sad fact is that when bullying doesn't have a face, when you don't have to look another person in the eye, cruelty becomes easy.  It also becomes even more cowardly.  This is a real life issue.  It is one with which all my students can connect in some way.

Working through the writing process was exciting this week.  When students feel a personal connection to the topic, the tenacity with which they attack the task is so much greater, and that energy is why I became a teacher.  It's contagious!  Using the speeches we studied last week, as well as Internet research and knowledge of rhetorical devices and persuasive techniques, my students created some strong writing this week.  These are full length research papers, but I wanted to share examples of some of the concluding paragraphs that they wrote: 

I love the metaphors this student used!

Think about the imagery of anchors weighing down our society...

I love that they're finally starting to understand allusion! #teacherwin :)

What I love about each of these examples is that they show true understanding and personal connection to the topic.  Rather than assign our students mundane writing  tasks, I think we can create better writers if we, as teachers, create better writing assignments, ones that engage our writers in new ways and give them a voice for change.  Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote, "The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education." l can only hope to honor Dr. King's legacy by working each day to provide my students with a "true education," one that enables them to leave my classroom with greater intelligence, but also with greater compassion and empathy.

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