“Formal education must change. It needs to be brought into closer alignment with the world as it actually is; into closer harmony with the way human beings actually learn and thrive.”
The One World School House
Salman Kahn, of Kahn Academy, asks early in his manifesto, The One World School House, “Who knows where genius will crop up?” Kahn is making a case for free, excellent education without boundaries.
This blog may or may not be about genius. We’ve settled more along Garrison Keller’s trademark: “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” We hope this blog does that. And we agree with Salman Kahn that school doesn’t access enough brilliant minds and brilliant actions. We’ve changed that in our classroom, and we hope to change that for teachers striving to be more effective in their classrooms.
Teacher Kelly Gallagher urges teachers to find “the sweet spot” of teaching in his Readicide: How School are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About At. Pattie, Joan and Ressi read the book for different messages at various times in their careers, but Pattie pulled our attention to what Gallagher calls the “chop-chop” approach to over-teaching novels. Gallagher’s toxic recipe:
The Kill-a-Reader Casserole
- Take one large novel. Dice into as many pieces as possible.
- Douse with sticky notes.
- Remove book from oven every five minutes and insert worksheets.
- Add more sticky notes.
- Baste until novel is unrecognizable, for beyond well done.
- Serve in choppy, bite-sized chunks
And if you really want to teach students to hate it, make sure to serve this casserole in every English class they’ll take in high school.
Unfortunately, Gallagher’s satiric recipe is played out in classrooms that we’ve seen. Gulp. Our own classrooms, for example. One great thing that saved us from chop-chop teaching was our students. Joan already worked with disenfranchised students who questions in the connection between school and the “real” world. She already knew that free choice reading and project menus motivated her students into reading and writing. Pattie was already an avid reader of social issues and deeply involved in social action, so linking real world issues to literature was a natural progression. Ressi is an educator who is always looking for a better way to enrich students’ learning. When she learned about connecting social issues to literature, she was off and running, learning as she went.
But we should probably introduce ourselves: we’re all English teachers from Oregon’s stunning Willamette Valley, and we’ve had over 60 years of combined teaching experience. Luckily for us, we met through an Oregon Reading Association conference; all three of us saw the power of working together to parallel literature from our classrooms with powerful non-fiction about the world.
We started to talk and share our ideas; in our excitement, we interrupted each other, but in a thriving, learning spirit. It was the kind of learning and classroom that we love: it reflected the way we learn, and it involved a palate of beautiful books.
At the end of our first meeting, we agreed that we believe deeply in helping young people—actually, people of all ages—see the connections between literature and current social contexts so that we all can contribute toward righting inequities.
- to be generous with what we know;
- to respect that what we share in the classroom has the power to nurture and to transform;
- to help readers celebrate learning as joyful, cultivating, and abundant;
- to help readers take words into action.
Will this work increase test scores, assist graduation rates, and develop readers and writers? Will this blog give former students cocktail cleverness if the conversation takes a turn toward Jane Eyre?
Can life be our school? Can learners of every age stay in the glory of school forever, basking in new learning, new challenges, new accomplishments?
Time will tell. We do promise to share what we know and to listen hard to your comments. We already know we’ll learn and grow in the process, and we’re grateful for that.
Oregon still has historic one-room schoolhouses in various conditions in every county in the state. We love the idea of that kind of school, and reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books help fuel our imaginations of people of all ages learning together. Let this blog be another version of such a school. We pledge to keep it in good repair and open to you. Welcome. And while you’re visiting, consider this recipe:
The Create-Socially-Responsive-Learners Soufflé
- Take any required novel.
- Add a little Paul Freire’s advice*
- Stir in a few sticky notes to hold your thinking.
- Spice it with a parallel non-fiction books and other materials
- Let simmer.
- Serve via conversations, investigations and projects that take students from the classroom into the world
*First assignment—not sure of the Freire reference? Read or re-read Freire’s introduction to Pedagogy of the Oppressed before you don an apron.
Joan, Pattie, and Ressi