I realized I've been spending a lot of time lately on this blog sharing what my 7th graders are doing, but haven't given much attention to what my 8th graders are creating these days. That's pretty unbalanced considering I spend equal time with them, and eighth grade is actually my favorite to teach!
We finished reading the short story version of "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes. Like a lot of teachers that work with this story, I use it as an opportunity to discuss disabilities and how we encounter and interact with people on a daily basis. As usual, during this time I'm very open with my students about my social anxiety and how that impacts parts of my life. I use this as a transition into the research we do with "Flowers for Algernon."
I shared an article my counselor passed out to teachers at the beginning of the year. Originally published in Psychology Today, Dr. Allen Frances wrote a piece called "No Child Left Undiagnosed" that sharply criticizes our current trend in overmedicating children for ADD/ADHD and other alarming behavior disorder statistics. (I can't find the full article online. There's an excerpt here: Undiagnosed, but trust me when I tell you that it doesn't compare to the full published version. If you can get your hands on it, read it and share it with every parent and educator you know. End soapbox.) We had some of the best, honest conversations in class that day about kid behavior and medication, and I got that magic feeling that I was providing an opportunity for kids to speak their minds about topics that have always been non-negotiable in the past.
Then I set them free. Pick any diagnosis or disorder and GO! Find out about it and create something to share with the class. The guidelines? 1. Be respectful toward your topic. 2. Create a properly formatted bibliography/works cited. 3. Be creative. I used to hand out a list of options when I wanted kids to do projects, thinking I was pretty special for including a variety of learning style opportunities: something for everyone! Then I stopped. It was still me dictating, under the guise of freedom. Now they have real freedom. Some run with it and create something truly amazing. Some don't. At least I gave them the chance instead of a false choice.
I was especially wowed by a few students who chose to make this project personal and create/present based on a diagnosis they actually have.
One favorite (yes, I'm picking favorites) was this video created by three boys. They chose to do their research on dyslexia because they all have dyslexia and they wanted to learn more about it. I'm not sure if they had ever openly discussed this with their peers outside of the resource room where they have a guided study hall, but when they stood up and shared this video, the room was silent. Talk about guts.
When I asked if I could share this video on my blog, they were all excited. They couldn't believe a teacher was so impressed by them just talking honestly about something they deal with every single day.
Another standout was a girl with anxiety who stood up and shared this in front of her entire 27-person class! It takes guts as an 8th grader just to say you like purple when everyone else likes blue, and I can't imagine the kind of bravery it took for her to stand up and share her personal struggle with anxiety in front of everyone. I wasn't going to make her read it out loud, but she wanted to. When she had her writing conference later that day, I told her she should share with her parents and her therapist that she did this because it was a major accomplishment.
We're done sharing projects now, and on Monday my eighth grade classes will be moving on to NaNoWriMo and starting our novels! It will be a fun change of pace after the serious work we've been doing over the past few week.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.