Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"The World Depends On Saying"

Whether it is one little word or an entire speech, the power of language continues to move me.

Last week, I shared the One Little Word concept with my students and asked them to choose words for themselves.  A difficult task for some, but later in the week when I had students create "rationale cards" depicting their words and explaining why they had been chosen, I was reassured that this was a valuable exercise.  Most of them were quite conscientious and sincere as they shared the motivations and hopes that guided their selections.  Words like balance, passion, trust, horizons, courage and explore revealed the vision they have of their 2011, the year they graduate high school and begin to live the lives they have dreamed. Even my principal has joined in the fun.  He wrote about making his OLW choice on his blog and in doing so communicates to my students that words are important, they have power in our lives.  Plus, his kind words for me always give me the courage to keep learning and growing.

The power of language is not always demonstrated through positive circumstances, though. 

The safety of the world depends on your saying ‘no’ to inhumane ideas. Standing up for one’s own integrity makes you no friends. It is costly. Yet defiance of the mob, in the service of that which is right, is one of the highest expressions of courage I know. -- Gabrielle Giffords

These words were spoken by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in her 2009 commencement address to her alma mater (and mine), Scripps College.  I shared them with many of my students on Monday morning following the tragic shooting in Arizona.  What struck me, in addition to the truth of her statement, was that she spoke these words without knowing that in less than a year and a half, her life would be defined by them.  From the Scripps webpage to the news coverage to Twitter, these are the words we keep coming back to for a sense of who Ms. Giffords is. And in this precarious time, as Gabby fights to heal, and the hearts of those who lost loved ones break and begin to heal as well, words continue to be important.  On the Scripps College website, a Letters for Gabby page has been established so that people can send their thoughts to her in a forum that inevitably allows for us all to be encouraged. 

I try to push my students to harness the power of language to represent the truth of who they are.  We need to be careful about the words we choose, but we also need to be willing to put ourselves into words, to communicate with honesty the truth of who we are.  When we do this, we impact others -- we support, we inspire, we matter.

Though the situation is tragic, Gabrielle Giffords's words of conviction have already become woven into the fabric of our country's history.  The One Little Words my students and I have chosen have already become woven into the fabric of our personal histories. Language does that; it lives in us.  It can move an entire nation and a single heart.  Words can keep a woman breathing.  I know.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Me of Multiple Identities

The last two months have been absolutely crazy.  It began with a jam-packed November which included my first trip to the National Writing Project's Annual Meeting, held this year in Orlando and continued through Thanksgiving, the blur that was early December and finally the merriment and mayhem of Christmas and Winter Break.

Because Digital Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Online and Multimedia Environments (National Writing Project)I've decorated; shopped; wrapped; baked (to the detriment of my family); nurtured sick children, a sick husband, and a sick self; assessed students on a semester's worth of work; and spent way too much time on my new phone (LOVE that I can play Words with Friends anytime, anywhere).  But through the cloud of all this activity and chaos, my mind keeps returning to an idea I happened upon while in one of my sessions at the NWP Annual Meeting.  The session focused on the new book, Because Digital Writing Matters and the concept that struck me was that of multiple identities and how students today need guidance and instruction in terms of how those identities are formed and conveyed.  In the past, we had our various roles -- mother, teacher, church-goer, poet, friend, wife, and so on -- but to some degree we could control which of those identities others had access to and how each of these identities was presented.  Today, those multiple identities bump up on each other, overlap each other, become almost indistinguishable at times.  When I write a blog, its public nature means that my mom can read it, my brother, my husband, my pastor, my student, my student's mother, my aunt, my principal, my long-lost boyfriend from kindergarten -- and strangers by the thousands (or the dozens anyway!).  How do I acknowledge and respect all of these pieces of myself and still be transparent and sincere in what I share here?  When my audience is so broad, yet so potentially personal, how do I share my heart without crossing the line?

I don't have a clear answer, but I believe the best way to discover how to balance these multiple identities is to face the challenge they present as directly as I can.  I need to keep writing.  I need to keep asking myself how these readers of many sorts might respond to what I share, but I also need to remember that ultimately, I have to honor all of who I am.  I tell you, it certainly provides motivation to be a person of worth and integrity.  When each identity has its own space and expectations, we can rationalize the inconsistency of our attitudes or behaviors. When all of our identities are exposed at once, hypocrisies and weaknesses are much easier to see.

The multiple identities of Lucas: good, bad...you know the rest!
The Big Idea in my AP English Literature class this year is "Somebody Worth Being" and while I certainly intend for my students to grow in their reading and writing skills over the course of the year, I believe the most important learning will be in relation to that concept.  How do we become people of value and substance? Maybe it begins with all the parts of who we are making peace with each other so that we can approach the world with confidence and courage.  Writing is the way I make that peace.  How do you make yours?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

One Little Word 2011

When I read about One Little Word on the Two Writing Teachers blog, I knew I had to participate.  I did a bit of research and checked out the blog of Ali Edwards who started OLW.  I skimmed through the comments to her most recent post on the topic and found the variety of choices inspiring, yet overwhelming.

One word?? Only one?? So many came to mind -- beauty, truth, design, look, complete, move -- how could I pick?? But choose (or allow myself to be chosen) I did.

My OLW for 2011 is discover.  You'll hear more about it soon!  If you decide to choose a word, let me know what ya pick!  I'm sure I'll be jealous that I didn't choose it, too, but it'll be fun to see and follow what you do.