Tuesday, January 09, 2007

violence played to my advantage

Sometimes convincing my students to read can be like pulling teeth. From a grizzly bear.

I think most adults, myself included, have only a hazy recollection of what it is like to be in middle school. Status is everything and what's expected is nothing. I spent too long first semester expecting my students to do something because that was the expectation. It doesn't work that way in the middle school mind. It is much more effective to find a way around the road block of defiance my students set up in my path and get them to do something because they want to do it (and simply don't realize it is also good for them).

Enter Freedom Writers and the way it has transformed my classroom. I started seeing previews for the Freedom Writers movie just before Christmas break. Intrigued by the true story aspect of the movie I took a gander at Amazon.com and snag myself a used copy of the book. It is phenomenal. Not only are the stories heart wrenching and thoughtful, but they are powerfully written. I decided with the mess my schedule would be for the first few weeks back and the fact that The Outsiders has yet to appear at school yet that I would start my own Freedom Writers project with my kids.

From moment one my students were hooked. And when I say hooked, I mean Tony, who won't do anything you ask him to do, but everything you tell him not to, was stone silent and staring directly at me as I read. Freedom Writers is so effective in my classroom not just because of the MTV hype surrounding the movie, but also because of the mentality of my kids. My kids want to be gangster. There are a whole myriad of reasons I think this is stupid, but bear in mind: I'm going around the roadblock of defiance. The first three pages of Freedom Writers start with someone getting shot. Hook, line and sinker.

The beautiful thing about all of this is that my students are writing, begging to read and actually talking about violence, bullying and racism.

Getting around that roadblock is an exhilarating feeling. And so much easier than pulling teeth.

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