November 14, 2019
Old Room of Books and a Window

Nurturing A “Literacy Of Me” 

In “What Role Does Personalization Play in College and Career Readiness?” Julia Osteen includes Ed Hidalgo’s proposal that students should graduate with a “mission of me.”

Hidalgo describes this “mission of me” as a learning process to knowing one’s self.  Here is an excerpt from Osteen’s article:

More specifically, Hidalgo says, students should understand their “mission of me” which starts with students understanding their own strengths, interests, and values. Next, they should have exposure to the world of work so they understand the different paths possible for them. Last, they should be able to share their story and respond to the statement: Tell me about yourself. This foundational framework should start in kindergarten, so every child can graduate with a mission of me.

Over a year after reading Hidalgo’s concept of the “mission of me,” I began to lead a book study on the Quest for Learning: How to Maximize Student Engagement and found myself powerfully reminded that our students need to not only form learning networks in our physical classroom spaces, but need to also “use digital tools for virtual learning connections.” The argument is that without these virtual connections, students “will not be adequately prepared” for the future. 

After reflecting on both the article and my reading of Quest for Learning, I began to wonder:

  • Could my students each have a blog that allowed the students to explore their own unique stories?
  • If my students better understood the totality of their own “story,” would they be better prepared for college essays, job interviews, and have more confidence in entering the next “stage” of life, after finishing their education at the high school level? 
  • To comply with the standards I was teaching, could students apply the content they were learning regarding rhetoric and argument to the writing of their own blog posts?  Could each blog post help them to later construct arguments with both anecdotal and factual evidence?

Since I could answer “yes” to all of the questions above, I knew that I should give my students the opportunity to utilize blogging as a means to, first, explore their own stories, and, second, to apply the concepts and learning happening in class.  

The Steps to Personalizing 

In the first blog assignment, I asked my students to find a column that spoke to their own passions or interests in a future career field.  They then used this column as a launching pad to introduce themselves to others, so that, we, as a class, could get to know each other better.  Of course, there were additional assignment details, but the heart of the first blog centered on students crafting an introduction to themselves by sharing at least one passion.  

In the next writing, I gave students several options.  They could (1) share a story of a moment that sparked their interest regarding that passion in a particular field or (2) prove their passion in a particular field by sharing their knowledge using jargon and terminology or (3) share a positive story of an obstacle in which they learned a powerful lesson about character, discipline or a mindset that shaped them into the people they are today.  

When it came time to write our third blog, it was clear my students had not only invested themselves in their writing, but it was also clear that my students understood the connection from their blogs to their futures after high school.  This meant we had learning goals that embraced the standards but, even more so, we had developed a mission to write that was rooted in self discovery and personal understanding. 

This inspired me to see if students could write their own blog topics.  I asked, “If I asked you to create your own topic for your next blog, what would your topic be? What would be the next, natural progression for you as a writer of your own story?” 

In one class, students showed me their next blog topics on Post-It Notes.  After reading their topics and their writing in the first two blogging assignments,  I knew my goal to help them develop a “mission of me” or a “progression of your story,” as I often described it, had a chance of working.  It was also around that time that I realized several key components that were important to our experience. 

The Key Components Of This Experience For Learners:

Developing The Blog Experience
A Spark for Writing To develop the “mission of me,” can students trace their realizations back to a series of sparks that ignited their passions? If they can, these moments of metacognition- times when they think about their thinking- will carry with them as they continue to bring together the pieces of their identities in their blogs.  When students have one or more places of origin to reflect upon and describe, the strings that tie together pivotal moments begin to connect to offer a full picture of themselves. Journeying back to moments that “sparked” their passions, interests, or realizations is an essential piece in developing this “mission of me.” 
A “Refreshed” Take on Personal Stories and Information- Giving Processes: In the “mission of me” for our blogs, students know they are preparing for their futures each time they write.  They recognize that persuasion is a key part of their introductions to others. Instead of writing stories just to write, students are utilizing anecdotes, with imagery, dialogue and internal monologues, in combination with the appeals to accomplish persuasion each time they blog. They must convince their readers of a passion, an interest, or a realization gained each time they write.  Because students are working to solve this complex problem of answering, “Who am I?”  they are writing with a refreshed vision.  No longer are experiences just experiences. No longer are stories just stories.  Each moment being analyzed for persuasion is a part of the student’s journey to define:  This is who I am.  This is what I think.  
Individual Topic Creation and Goal Setting Once the students have begun their blogs to develop the “mission of me,” topic creation evolves to the full ownership of the student. With guidance, students can decide upon the experiences that are best for their story.  Often times, rather than assigned topics, guidance may be in the form of reminders regarding concepts and skills learned in class. For instance, an option such such as: “Share a moment in which you fell victim to fallacious reasoning,” creates a unique way for students to acknowledge a problem that results from fallacious reasoning and still offers opportunities for co-creation.  Students may then also choose to integrate: a variety of sentence-types, punctuation, and rhetorical terms to add voice to their writing. This means students are still owning the final topic and choosing the writing techniques that they most want to practice, making the students co-creators of their learning, without sacrificing the current studies happening in the classroom. 
Ways To Reflect On The Success Of The Blogging Experience
Self-Reflection, Curiosity, Risk-Taking, and Heart Is the student reflecting on their own human experience at the center of the events described? The power of self-reflection, curiosity, risk-taking, and heart shows the student is thinking about readers as an audience for their blogs.  While these moments that reflect these qualities are powerful moments for readers, they are most powerful for the writer’s themselves. It shows the student is intrinsically involved in the anecdotal experience- it shows they have connected with the memory of the event so strongly that the emotions at the heart of their writing must be inevitably, or unavoidingly, included.
Voice and Audience Awareness Is the student proud to share the story?  Students who are proud to share know they are writing for readers. In their writing, they recognize readers by purposefully including style elements that they know will enhance the reading experience.  For instance, look for techniques, such as a variety of sentence lengths and punctuation marks, that support rhythm and pace within the writing. Beyond this, imagery, in my opinion, is a tell-tale sign that a writer wants readers to imagine the events in their stories.  Often, imagery is a “makeover” element that moves anecdotal moments from good to great. 
Time and Pace When the assignment is given, do students immediately begin to write? Some might. I have learned and realized that while I am always eager for students to begin, it’s more meaningful when there are an array of start-times in the classroom.  Insisting that all students “begin” at the same time means as teachers we are treating the activity as an assignment- the same type of assignment we give day in and day out.  To develop the “mission of me,” students deserve the time to think and brainstorm. To have time between day one and day two. To have the flexibility to revisit the blog post at leisure. Moving too fast may cause frustration or inauthentic writing.  Currently, my students are working with a “window” of writing times. While, yes, we still have the traditional due dates, students can work at their own time and pace over a series of days.  
Hesitancy to Publish At the beginning of our process, I graded the first two blogs to monitor the students’ learning.  Now, I think my students and I deserve a certain hesitancy to publish. In the classroom, I knew students were internally motivated to write when a timeline passed and then another timeline passed. That’s when I realized that the authentic writing we were doing deserved a “window” rather than a rushed deadline.  Now, my students can write at their own pace.  Another change I made was in regards to grading.  After writing 2-3 blogs at a time, students will now choose their best blogs for submission.  This gives me space as a reader to enjoy their blogs, and allows students the chance to decide which blog post best offers valuable persuasion and voice. I’m happy with this move, and think it serves our feedback goals well. 

 

Creating An Audience When Students Write

In the Classroom:  When students blog in my classroom, we try to spend one day a week responding to each other’s writing.  To do this, the students created feedback prompts that serve to help them respond to other writers in meaningful ways.  Since my students are on blog #4, we have continued to compliment only strengths in their blogs. As a teacher, I want my students to be aware of meaningful moments in their writing that sincerely impacted readers.  This means more, in my opinion, than the tiny, grammatical mistakes that students need to improve upon or the small areas in the writing that could be slightly strengthened. For right now, I want my students to know they are authentically connecting with readers.  If they hear this, then will know their blogs have value, not only to themselves, but to others. What could matter more?  

 

Beyond the Classroom: My hope is that students will eventually choose one blog for both positive and constructive feedback with the goal of sharing their writing with others beyond the classroom.  In brainstorming with Learning Experience Designers Aaron Roberts and Joe Muhlberg, it is our collective hope to encourage interested students to 1) send a blog post for publishing or 2) send a blog post to an “influencer” in their own lives. This influencer could be a person who writes in the field of the students’ future career, an individual that the student admires, or a leadership role model that motivates the student. An opportunity like this could widen the student’s network for writing and plant seeds for possible future writing endeavors.  

My Reflection On How We, As Educators, Can Continue To Encourage These Paths Of Self-Discovery:

Admittedly, I am a big-picture thinker, and while, yes, I can only have an impact on the students in my classroom, I think, we, as educators, can, at times, limit ourselves by not expressing our ideas for moving forward. The ideas I express here are just that- ideas. I believe, though, that each idea is a seed that we can choose to nurture in our own unique ways.  

Here is what I believe: 

  • All educators have the power to nurture students’ perceptions of themselves each day. A simple “I loved your persistence in solving…” creates a self-discovery bookmark in students’ minds. It could mean to a student: I am persistent. I excel at challenges. Each time we reach out to students in ways like this, we are adding to their journey of self discovery, of knowing one’s self.
  • Putting a compliment in writing creates a permanent momento for students to remember. My teacher noticed my passion, my leadership, my kindness, my energy…these are all descriptors that students need to be aware of when persuading others of who they are- in their college essays, in their job interviews, at their first club meetings. Taking the time to do this not only strengthens the student- teacher bond, but it also adds to the students’ vision of self. 
  • Small steps can cumulatively lead to leaps of understanding. At the end of a group project, a lesson or a writing experience, we can ask: What did you learn about yourself today that you were not aware of before?  Or, we can say: Share one moment from your writing that seemed to authentically define you. Why did this moment define you best? By encouraging questions like this in our classroom, we can create opportunities for open dialogue.  These moments of open dialogue could help students learn even more about themselves: the personal philosophies, mindsets, and stories that help them to understand the “progression” of who they are. Slowly, this progression of the student’s story could, perhaps, lead to an even deeper and more complex understanding of self. 
  • Small steps lead to leaps then miles. A “mission” is partly defined as knowing one’s calling.  A “literacy” is partly defined as the expertise of being conversant in a particular subject.  I would argue that there are students who not only know their calling, but have the ability to articulate knowledge regarding their calling to others in meaningful ways.  In essence, I believe there are learners who have the potential to move from a “mission of me” to a “literacy of me” even while in their high school years. 

To encourage this progression from a “mission of me” to a “literacy of me” for our learners, all we have to do is see the dominoes in front of us.  With a series of small moves, we could support our students in reflecting on their calling, or “mission.” For those students who are especially confident in their “mission,” we could support them by further encouraging student ownership to develop a  “literacy of me.” This “literacy of me” would demonstrate the student’s ability to engage in conversations regarding current issues in the field using specific, content skills and academic knowledge. 

As an educator, I believe there are all kinds of endless learning endeavors just waiting to be made possible for our learners.  With imagination, risk, careful planning, and collaboration, we have the power to inspire ourselves and others by sharing our own ideas.  And who knows? Maybe one day there is a chance that our learners could truly have, not just an elevator pitch of the “mission of me” by the time they graduate, but a full-fledged “literacy of me” to share with any future educational institution or employer. 

With a little imagination, anything is possible.

Photo Credit: Clay Banks
https://unsplash.com/@claybanks

Shawna Parkinson

Shawna is an English/Language Arts Teacher at Mason High School. Her posts often appear on Allison Zmuda's LearningPersonalized.com. Articles are cross-posted with Shawna's permission. Twitter: @ParksinonLearns

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