THINKING is Passionate, Purposeful and Playful

 Lately I have been thinking about what creates real readers and writers.  Much of this thinking comes out of the work I am doing in creating and planning a graduate course I am teaching this summer called:  Passion, Purpose and Play: Creating Real Readers and Writers. 

(See here if you are interested in one of our UNH Summer Literacy Institute courses as we still have some openings.) http://www.unh.edu/english/media/pdfs/Archive%20NHLiteracy/2013SummerInstbrochure.pdf

 I think back…what made me a reader?  A writer?  And there are sharp moments in time  that changed my thinking and the way that I saw myself forever.  One of those moments was when I was a sophomore in High School and my teacher was Mr. Dave Krauss.  We were reading Lord of the Flies.  Nothing revolutionary as many high schools today are still doing the same thing and reading many of these same classics some 30 years later.  But something in this experience for me was different.

I recall heated class discussions and at one point I even remember my face flushing to a bright crimson red as I stood up and shouted out,   “That is NOT fair!”  The entire class stopped and looked back at me and Mr. Krauss said, “Tomasen, I need to see you after class.”  I was mortified.  As a resident “good girl”, always sitting in the back of the class, don’t make any trouble kind of student, I felt as if my face might pop as it got even redder and my eyes begin to sting with tears.

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Photo Credit: esioh.com

 

After class I walked up to Mr. Krauss’s desk full of shame and defeat he asked me to sit down and asked me what was so upsetting.  Our discussion started with the idea of fairness and he assured me that “nothing in life was fair”.  I argued that life should be.  He did not disagree but talked about how there would be merit to thinking about things not in terms of fairness, but in terms of how each individual person is in this world.  He didn’t yell at me.  I didn’t get in trouble.  In fact, it was the opposite.  He encouraged me to speak my mind more frequently and the he welcomed my thoughts and ideas just like everyone else’s.  For the first time in my life I realized that perhaps I had something to say “in class”.  This was huge for me.  My thinking mattered for the first time in my entire school career.

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Fast forward 30 plus years to where I am planning for this course and out of nowhere jumps into my hands the original copy of Lord of the Flies that I read in High School.  For the life of me I didn’t remember ever even having it, and yet here it was.  The cover looked outdated and as I opened the book the spine cracked with a pop as the old book cardboard smell wafted into my head.  What was revealed inside was sheer magic. 

 Marked in red pen and some pencil and then some blue pen was MY thinking as a sophomore in High School.  Words and phrases were underlined and in the margins were the words, authority, changes in attitude, role of society rules?  It had never dawned on me that perhaps the reason this book stuck with me, that this experience was one of great magnitude might also have been because I was able to actually WRITE in this book and keep track of my thinking.

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I wish I could remember the circumstances around this annotating.  Was the school getting a new set because these were worn out?  Was this common practice?  Not that I remembered.  What did Krauss know that nobody else did?  And as I looked at the red ink I was instantly transferred back to remembering the actual red pen, the one that I used to use in my practice teaching in my bedroom.  “The” red pen of authority.  It was old and clear and the ink was clotty.  As I looked at my own handwriting I could recall moments of writing in this book and feeling so “grown up”.  Grown up in a way that made me feel smart.  I recall writing things just because I could even if they were not great thinking.  I loved the act of writing in this book!!  I don’t remember doing this again until college and again the nostalgia of marking and writing in between and around the lines makes me feel giddy! 

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So could it be that something as simple as annotating a text is playful and inspires passion and great purpose?  These words, in our schools, are not in vogue.  It is rare we talk about the passions, the purposes or the play anymore.  And while I have always hated the red pen as a student and teacher of writing, it was this old crimson  that recorded my thinking and allowed me to participate in discussions that made me a real reader with authority.

 It was during this course that I decided I would be an English major.  I wonder if Mr. Krauss understood the power of what he was creating for me as a student in the name of passion, purpose and play?  And underlying all of these “p” is thinking.  Thinking is fun!  It promotes passion, creates purpose and is playful and discovering one’s own thinking is priceless.

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Photo Credit: jackgallery.wordpress.com

 

I would love to find Mr. Krauss.  The last I heard of him he was working at the Admissions office at UNH and when I was a student I visited him.  He has long been gone and I have no idea where he ended up.  As a fellow educator I wish he could read this and understand just what he did for me and how it created the path that I am still on…one that is still seeking equality.  One who still stands up, turns bright red and shouts, “That’s NOT fair” regardless of the lessons learned years ago that we live in an unfair world.

Somebody’s gotta do it!

It’s only fair.

Think about it.

 

13 thoughts on “THINKING is Passionate, Purposeful and Playful

  1. Tomasen, when I was in college I met my husband who is a PEA grad. He underlined and made margin notes in the books he read. He was 2 years ahead of me. I never learned this in HS or college, but used the yellow highlighter to lull me into hypnotic trances as I read. Mindless underlining with not mental interaction. THEN I began to write in all of my books. Still have John Holt’s How Children Fail which was a seminal work for me as an undergrad. To this day I write in my teacher ed books. You should see my copy of Living Between the Lines where I have multiple colors of ink for the numerous re-reads. I then had taught my fifth graders to underline in books. We used Number the Stars which is a very good text to introduce this idea. (Of course I had to be sure they and parents understood the purpose of writing in a book and the inherent issues raised were covered carefully. IE never do this in anyone else’s book, etc.) It was very interesting to see and hear what the kids were sharing as they noticed, wrote and questioned. I find myself very engaged with the author when I write in my own books. I don’t do it a lot for the fiction I read now….but think it is a great tool for everyone to learn. As a teacher if you are going to use a book in class, if you read it a second time and annotate, it will give you lots to consider as you plan how you might use the book in class. (I am thinking here of Barnhouse and Vinton’s What Readers Really Do.) To engage kids in literacy we need texts that are going to raise big questions. Big ideas, help kids see that life is not fair, but what can we do about that.
    I suggest you contact the HS you attended. They probably have an address for Mr. Krauss and would forward your piece. I am sure no matter how old he is that he would love to hear from and about you and your great work.
    Passion, purpose and play…..if you read The Quality School by William Glasser and think about what he says about how we operate as humans, I think you will see why what you are talking about matters so much. Also understanding how the brain works is important, too. We like novelty. We want to learn new tasks. Watch babies investigating their worlds. Somehow we in schools have a system that can be mind-numbing instead of natural and energetic and effective. It has to do with getting kids to love to learn and read and think! And then there are the other outside problems inherent in situations of poverty, but I think all kids need the opportunity to realize that learning to be highly literate is a way to a better life over-all. As always you have sparked good ideas! (Have you read Peter Johnston’s Opening Minds? If not I HIGHLY recommend that, too. I think every teacher and parent should read it.)

  2. This is a wonderful blog! Thank you. Just to let you know that some of us have opposite experiences in high school — I also read Lord of the Flies but it wasn’t in literature discussions where I got into trouble. No, I was a radical and argued against dropping for drop drills (supposedly to save us from a nuclear bomb attack) and against de-facto segregation of our city schools. Unfortunately my high school teachers did not appreciate my views and I was often shut up (not encouraged to speak and given poor grades). I thank you for making this blog the question of how children best learn because that is the real issue. Whether or not I was too radical at the time, the teachers still handled it poorly.

    • Great story! Love that you were so passionate at such a young age. In these crazy times I am desperately trying to hold onto and reflect on what good teaching in for our kids. I so appreciate your stopping by and your kind words!
      Tomasen

  3. Tomasen,
    What a wonderful idea. This really should be adopted by every school. This seemingly minor action – writing in your book – I believe could change the idea of reading for a lot of readers and writers. I also grew up with the mentality that you cannot write in your book and even as an intern I was specifically instructed to never allow students to write or underline anything in their books. But, what are we really doing to them?! We are prohibiting an action that at times comes so naturally to us. You want to question, to wonder, to clarify, etc. while you are reading. But there is no room for that IN the book when your are in school.
    We expect from students to memorize and remember where everything is in the text when we are having conversations in class,yet we forget that they cannot memorize pages, paragraphs, or sentences. So many students of mine have asked me the question “why can’t I write in my book?” And I just sit there simply looking at them because I can’t just say “because they are new….” or “because we have to use them again”.
    When you talk with the text and create a dialogue with it, you make the piece your own. Students need to feel this ownership. The sense that they understand what they are reading and are able to comment, question, comprehend, and analyze on the spot and not, for example, the next day. The natural inspiration and enthusiasm that derive from that momentary urge to comment next to the text will not be there after a while.
    Just a small thing like jotting down your thoughts – ANY thoughts – could transform the way students perceive the process of reading.

  4. As a student in the course you mention in this post, Tomasen, I must say that you have certainly helped shape the way I think about the teaching of reading and writing.

    Here is one way I am currently thinking about the big ideas we’ve discussed during our time together:

    PLAY leads to enjoyment and engagement. Joy and engagement lead to PASSION, which leads to PURPOSE.

    Let me explain.

    When we allow our students to actually PLAY with language, together and individually, they genuinely have fun with it. For a lot of students, they have to truly enjoy what they are doing in order to be engaged with what they deem “academic” content. Once they have playfully engaged with language, they are able to develop a PASSION for creative discovery and the creation of meaning. (I think this is true for both reading and writing.) The passion itself provides them with a PURPOSE to make the big dive into the ocean of language, without the self-doubt that often accompanies the handling of intellectually challenging content.

    Earlier today, you asked us to pick up one of the laminated quotations you had spread throughout the classroom. I chose one from Rumi.

    “Out beyond ideas
    Of wrong doing and right doing
    There is a field
    I’ll meet you there.”

    Thank you for providing me with the language and resources to meet my students in that field.

    Ryan

    • Thank YOU Ryan for your intense involvement and willingness to explore,analyse, discuss and synthesize new ideas in ways that makes sense for you. You have chosen one of my all time favorite quotes ever!! Imagine if education had that as a philosophy!!
      Tomasen

  5. Reading this made me reflect not on any heated discussion of literature (I have always been the quiet one, afraid to speak my mind for fear of being wrong) but on identifying when I lost my passion for writing and sharing my ideas. I can remember vividly in middle school writing stories on my own time, bringing them in to share with my teacher and revising them again and again. One of my favorite unassigned pieces was a description of how I imagined Wild Bill Hickok at the moment he was killed, a full house in his hands. I have no memory of creative writing in high school, just reading novels and writing essays. Even in college when declaring my second major to be English it wasn’t due to my passion for literature or writing–I was afraid of Calculus but felt I could read and write in the ‘advanced’ classes in high school so why not English? I wonder when my passion for writing fizzled out, or why I never felt strongly enough about a book to speak my mind even if I was “wrong”. It’s too bad I didn’t have a Mr. Krauss to keep me writing all these years!

  6. I was never one to write inside of books as I always liked to keep my thoughts bouncing around inside of my head. On the other hand, I was never afraid to say what I thought even if that meant the occasional eye roll, sigh, or here we go again from fellow classmates and or teachers. What I do recall was my senior year of high school the teacher I had who changed reading and writing for me. This teacher was notoriously hard and proved to be just that. We had to go the entire year without using linking verbs in our writing and although at times I wanted to rip my hair our and toss my computer across the room, I stayed strong and only improved as a writer. She also taught me that ideas are exactly that ideas and that if you have one about a piece of writing or reading then who is anyone else to shut you down on it. At the greatest an idea can evolve into a discussion in the classroom and at the very least it gives everyone a different viewpoint on a reading or idea. I suppose the point of all this is that speaking up is important because how else are we supposed to pick out the best possible solutions if they are all hidden away inside the brains of our students.

  7. Tomasen,

    I feel that, although the whole piece was well-written, a couple select quotes did an exemplary job in portraying the importance of reading and writing in a student’s life (not just their ACADEMIC life). The characterization of your initial “Lord of the Flies” (won’t let me underline here, i know quotation marks aren’t correct) reading as a “sharp moments in time that changed [your] thinking and the way that [you] saw myself forever” has an intensely cathartic feel to it. Such a statement, a non-reader might think, is too powerful to be attached to a mere book. However, it is clear that it was not as much the book as the subsequent outburst and teacher conference which fundamentally changed you. Still, it is irrefutable that such a moment would not have occurred if you were not brought to such an emotional high due to the contents of a book.

    My other takeaway quote from this reading is your recollection of feeling “grown up in a way that made [you] feel smart” while covering “Lord of the Flies.” Being that you were a sophomore in high-school during the time of your reading, you were clearly on the verge of becoming an adult and must have been in a prime position to start to shape your larger view of life. The fact that this book gave you confidence is powerful and, evidently, made you into a much more certain, confident person, in and out of the classroom.

  8. Tomasen,

    We’ve talked a lot this week about my “uncomfortableness” with writing outside the genre of academic writing. This post got me thinking about it even more… When did I become such a narrow writer? And when did I loose the confidence to share my work? For me, the two questions are so different, but there is a definite link to them. It’s become so that I practically only feel comfortable sharing my work with the teacher/professor. How do I overcome that? (Easy question, by conferencing about my work more and sharing it too). These two weeks have helped me begin that transition. It’s a slow process. I believe next year will help a lot too – I have to practice my own writing (and in front of students – Yikes!) If I want to “write beside them,” like Penny Kittle does with her students.

    Like Caryl, I was always afraid to speak my mind in class as well – and for one additional reason. I was (and still am) always afraid that any comment I made would be insignificant. I wish I could be more like Garrett, but I still find myself listening to people chatter around me rather than join in on the conversation myself. How do I help students, like myself, get over that thought and realize that virtually any contribution is a good contribution?

    Thanks for sparking some questions for me…
    Lexe

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