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You matter
By Mark Heintz
Sep 10, 2020

This post is part of a larger series. These posts started with the course syllabus and I encourage you to take a look it before moving forward to get a greater context of what is going on here. You can read the syllabus by clicking here.

You matter: Week Three

As I posted in the first blog of the year — the syllabus — a major component of this course is mattering. As Dr. Bettina Love, professor at the University of Georgia and an award-winning educational researcher, states

“Matter is civics because it is the quest for humanity. I do not mean civics narrowly defined as voting, paying taxes, and knowing how the government works; instead, I am referring to something much deeper: the practice of abolitionist teaching rooted in the internal desire we all have freedom, joy, restorative justice (restoring humanity, not just rules), and to matter to ourselves, our community, our family, and our country with the profound understanding that we must “demand the impossible” by refusing injustice and the disposability of dark children (p.7).”

I keep going back to this definition of mattering and I’m fortunate that my co-teacher keeps reminding me and the students of it, too. Mattering is central to my beliefs on learning. For meaningful learning to take place, it has to matter to a person. For learning to be the driving force in a classroom, students have to matter in that classroom. They have to matter in my classroom.

I think that is why I’m struggling right now. Since we are virtual, it’s harder to know what matters. It’s harder to make each and every single student feel like that are the reason for the course. It’s harder to show that they matter.

A couple of questions I have been asking myself as I plan:

How did we show that they mattered this week?

Furthermore, how did we focus the class so that it mattered to them?

To answer both, the students started with their identity. They created a google document and shared it with us.  We guided the students through questions that could help them getting a deeper understanding of who they are and what mattered to them. This whole process took entire day.

Here are the starting questions:

Since they shared the document with us, Mr. Pfeiffer and I were going in and out of the google doc and just adding a few questions for the students to further expand upon. I’ve never seen students write so much in one period. Some students wrote multiple, single-spaced pages.

Trust

The students trusted us with so much. Which I didn’t know if they would so early in a virtual setting. I found out who my students were and I found out who they were from their point of view. In a virtual world, knowing them is crucial. It’s easy to remove the human element to teaching when everything is through a computer and other platforms. Having them write out their identity jump-started this class for me. I feel more connected to them. As we read through their work, we made comments and thanked them for sharing. They mattered.

The last question in the identity response was, what do I see as problematic and what do I wish to change? We ended up changing this to, what matters to you?

Some of the students have deep concerns that relate to who they are and their community.  For others, we created a list of statements they could agree/disagree with — thank you to Kim Miklusak for sharing an example of this she did in her own classes years ago. The statements were meant to get the students thinking and take a stand. If they didn’t care about the topic, then we told them that probably doesn’t matter to you right now.

These were just a sample of the questions. But at the end of the survey they took a few topics and wrote down three that mattered most to them.

I have never been so impressed with my students as I am right now.  There is still work to be done. It’s not over, only beginning and a few students still have to do a few things. However, the students are driving their own learning.

We are going to be using their identity the rest of the year. They will modify it every week. They will see how who they are shapes how they consume information. Their identity plays a role in how an author creates a source for them to consume.

While I’ve never been so impressed, I also have never been so tired at the end of a week. Reading through everyone’s google docs multiple times wore me out. At the end of the last class, Mr. Pfieffer were worn out. Reading that much information at the depth we did, is going to be hard to sustain.  

 

At the end of the week, we asked the students a few questions for feedback. I will post those another day.

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