By Emily Mikuzis and Mark Heintz

This is part of a blog series intended to document and define learning at Elk Grove High School throughout the 2018-2019 school year in order to increase student learning, give professionals autonomy, increase trust in our learning community, and foster a sense of personal-intellectual collegiality within the building across departments. You can read all of the previous posts here. I am going into each teacher’s class four times and then they are reflecting along their students on the learning that took place and what they hope for.

In the continued effort of defining learning at Elk Grove, Emily Mikuzis graciously invited me into her class and reflected on the learning in her dual credit College Composition class.

From my point of view, students were finding their voice.  Not an easy thing to do.  But in this case, students had agency: they wanted to know how to express their opinions in their voice. Why shouldn’t they?  They were finding their voice. In her reflection, Emily told me that last year, almost all of her students’ first paper sounded the same. It didn’t matter the student’s experience, the voice was the same.  She thought back on why this happened. She was guiding them too much, created an environment that favored writing was easy and offered little opportunity to truly express themselves.  This year, her goal is to change that. She wants to empower her students and at the beginning of the year, to find their voice in writing.

I’m very jealous of her students as they get to explore who they are and how best to express themselves.  We would all be lucky to have that opportunity.  Right now, learning looks like a personal journey and struggle towards what is meaningful to each student and how best to express it.

What did learning look like in the lesson? 

Emily: This semester, I am exploring ways to allow students to have greater confidence in their writing by increasing their investment and creating opportunities for student choice.
In this lesson, students worked collaboratively to identify how narrative and argument, which are typically taught separately, can be used together to create an effective piece of writing.
Students individually identified the story and argument present in a selection from Persepolis. I wanted students to begin to see that stories – even brief ones, can support a powerful argument. In this step, student learning looks like quiet reflection – low-risk exposure to a new topic.
Next, students read and annotated a part of David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon College. While they annotated, they watched this corresponding video clip: “This Is Water.” Students annotated for keywords, phrases, and sentences. In this step, student learning looked like gathering information to share with their group. Learning looked like reading to understand.
Finally, students worked through a text rendering protocol with peers. Students shared a single word, phrase, and sentence without commentary in order to identify the big picture meaning of the text. In this step, learning looked like working together to piece together and refine understanding of a text.
Student learning culminated in identifying the narrative elements and argument present in the piece. From there, they can compare the structure to two texts which incorporate the same elements but have different purposes and structures. David Sedaris’s essay “Jesus Shaves” and a story from The Moth, “Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me.
What do you hope to do for the next time?

Emily: Through the comparison of three engaging texts with very different structures and purposes, I hope to give students options for attacking their first writing assignment, Narrative as Argument. My hope is that students will begin to build confidence to make their own stylistic and structural choices in writing assignments. I hope to, throughout the semester, continue to create opportunities for students to work together to build understanding and hopefully begin to develop their own writer’s voice through greater investment in our writing tasks.

You can read last week’s post on learning here. 

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