Education professionals think that they have come up with a way to get middle school students to share their life experiences in a way that is both therapeutic and instructive but the exercises they have concocted may prove to be intrusive at best. “In their writer’s notebook, students draw a horizontal line across the page,” Karen D. Wood writes in the May 2008 issue of Middle School Journal. “Above the line, they note the highlights of their lives; moments that are fond memories.”
“Below the line, they note the lowlights of their lives; noting events in their lives that have been difficult.” Those difficulties can be tragic indeed.
Wood writes about the real-life dramas that surfaced in a pilot program using their “multi-genre” approach. “More than one student wrote about the death of a grandmother, the most meaningful figure in their lives,” Wood relates. “Another student wrote about a brother who went to prison and how the weekly visits affected her and her family.”
“Still another student wrote about the terminal illness that eventually killed her father.” Such concerns used to be exclusively confided to family, friends and clergy.
Now they are all “teachable moments.” “Finally, students are encouraged to share their texts with peers before giving the text to the intended audience,” Wood reports. “During this powerful sharing time, students meet in small groups and listen to the words read by the author.”
Although the progenitors of this program hope that it will prove to be educational, as practiced in tryouts, the course seems designed more towards the expression of feelings than the transmission of knowledge. Moreover, in at least one case, students in the program appear to be in need of the latter as much as they might desire the former.
“Students in one eighth-grade class recently began work on the Multi-genre Life Moment Project,” Wood recounts. “The girls that participated in the multi-genre project were all members of a pilot, single-gender class at a middle school in Piedmont, North Carolina.”
“Academically, the girls have struggled to meet grade-level proficiency as outlined by state standards. As is true of many of their counterparts across the nation, although they have struggled academically, each of them has an overwhelming desire to succeed.”
“The multi-genre unit gave the girls a voice in their academic work,” Wood explains. “Instead of assignments that focused on content beyond their world in history, math, or English, the multi-genre project was about them as individuals, their thinking and their experiences.”
“As a result, they looked forward to coming to class and, as a community of writers, they were engaged in a project that mattered to them.” Perhaps, and it is surprising that the classes were not co-ed but isn’t “content beyond their world” the whole purpose of education?
Ronald Reagan, for example, wrote about his hard-drinking father’s difficulties remaining employed but only when the 40th president was rich and famous and on the verge of becoming governor of California. By that time, he had already spent about 50 years absorbing “content beyond his world,” the same one that, as chief executive, he would rescue from the scourge of communism.
Malcolm Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.