“Mr. Sanders, wh-…oh never mind. I shouldn’t ask that.”
Now I’m always too curious to let something like that go. We were nearing the end of creating short stories in our 8th grade English class, and this comment came up while discussing the standards for narrative writing and revision. So, of course, I pressed on, assuring my student that it was fine to ask the question.
“Well, what is really the point of this creative writing story? I mean, I like it and everything, I just don’t know when we are going to use it.”
The showdown at the OK Corral was on. All eyes were on me as the first bullet had been fired in my direction. What would I do? How would I defend myself against this personal affront? How dare a bright, hard-working student dare question her teacher!
But I was thrilled that she asked! We were able to talk, as a class, about the fun, the practice with words, and the experimentation that narrative writing encourages. We talked about other students’ uses for being creative and telling a story, even though nobody wanted to be a published author. And we were able to talk about the power of a story in persuasion and argument as well.
Narrative writing, however, is not the point of today’s post.
The point is that an 8th grader was so worried about asking me if she would ever use something we were doing in class that she almost didn’t ask it. Our students have been trained that the teacher will teach, and learning will happen in our classrooms. But where does the ownership and freedom come in?
If I am going to choose something for each of my students to do in my classroom, I better be able to articulate exactly why we are doing it, what my students should get out of it, and how it will benefit them now and in the future.
Why would I be offended? At what point in our school culture did we decide that our students should not be able to think for themselves, value their education, and be concerned about doing something pointless?
When a student politely asks me why we are doing something, it shows me that she is interested in owning her learning and is engaged enough with what we are doing to care about why she is doing it. Now how could anyone be upset about that?
And because I had an answer for her, it was a worthwhile experience in everyone’s eyes.