Remote Learning, Week 1: Self-Discovery through Writing

Nathan Coates

Nathan Coates teachers junior English at Mason High School, a large suburban district near Cincinnati. He tweets when he can remember to from @MHSCoates.


 

This post was first published on #MasonPLJourney and is reprinted with permission.

One thing I tried: As we started remote learning I realized that focusing on our content was going to be a mistake. For one there was almost a three-week gap between our last in-class lesson and our first online lesson. It didn’t really make sense to pick up like nothing had happened. And as we started there were still such dire warnings about how awful and how much death was headed our way. The anxiety of the situation we were trying to teach into was too real and too heavy to just keep discussing analytical essays.

So I pivoted a little bit and kept the focus on analysis but shifted to some self-discovery writing. We’ve done writing challenges throughout the year, which are typically short in length in order to encourage experimentation, and so we launched remote learning by reflecting on our quarantine experiences. I gave them my example and the choice of the following prompts:

  • What was the moment that you knew things were not normal, that this was going to be different?
  • How has your life been disrupted? What’s been good, bad, memorable?
  • Respond to the quote by Brian Kight: “Remember we’re supposed to struggle. The comfort of our routines quietly convinces us that struggle is the exception rather than the norm. The privilege of our circumstances fools us into believing struggle is optional rather than necessary.”
  • What has the event revealed about the gumption of you, your family, your community, your generation, and/or your country?
  • Which memes have best captured some aspect of the experience? Why? How?
  • Which songs or artists have dominated your playlists ? Why do you think you keep coming back to them?

The challenge, regardless of prompt, was to work on specificity as we eased into learning in a remote environment. The challenge focus gives them a little direction and also enables me to pinpoint feedback on that skill instead of feeling compelled to edit or comment on every choice they make. But ultimately it asked students to engage in self-discovery about where they were and how they had been affected thus far by events in the world and within their own households, to get their arms around some of the changes. It hopefully gave them an opportunity to pause before we launched into an entirely new way of learning.

What I liked/didn’t like: The responses were really outstanding. Students were honest, blunt, and humorous, which is the goal—to write with heart. These two examples show students wrestling with some real challenges and going through the self-discovery process in real time:

bell 2 student

I love the way the Bell 2 student is processing their role and how they should feel. I think it captures what so many of my students feel but also what many people everywhere feel∞a little guilty that things are terrible out there but not so terrible for me. That’s a pretty powerful connection that writing (and the self-discovery that it enables) unlocks.

bell 1 student

This Bell 1 student demonstrated such great self-awareness about what the change would mean in their house and within themselves. Writing opens the door to this kind of self-discovery.

Others wrote humorously about the dearth of cereal options now available to them or about the new pressures of their work environment (20% of my students are still working right now). Writing is therapeutic in times of uncertainty and great change; it gives us a place to order thoughts and take an inward pause.

What’s next: In week 2 we’ll move from thinking about specificity in our analysis to thinking about structure.

 

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