What I've Learned

Vanessa Brown

This project has informed my thinking about approaches to teaching and learning and connections to social action. It has pushed me to challenge my own assumptions and to make what I took as familiar and deeply personal and see it through a new lens---the lens of the student. While I entered the school with my own agenda and values, I overlooked the important factor that the agendas and values of students were equally as important albeit not always clearly presented.



The road to social action is not necessarily a direct one.

This work has reaffirmed for me the significance of authentic experiences in teaching and learning. Children needed to experience how the school curriculum connects to the workplace the neighborhood, and to themselves as individuals. More importantly, though, students needed to make these discoveries at their own rate with the help and facilitation of teachers who provide literacy experiences that build toward these connections. Writing, reading, talking and listening to peers and knowledgeable others regarding critical social issues were key factors in movement towards these connections. Both of the students featured in this project and myself found that our assumptions and beliefs about important issues were informed and challenged by listening to others.

Having a safe and trusting environment for these experiences to unfold proved crucial to the willingness of students to risk having public critical conversations. Students needed opportunities to figure out how much and to whom they could reveal their thinking and to discern who would value these conversations. Teachers must be willing to take risk and to reveal some of their private selves as well.

Teachers must write when students write and do many of the assignments given to students. Modeling what it means to take risks is an essential factor in the classroom and contributes to creating the personal and social environment required for community building.

The road to social action is not necessarily a direct one. Teachers cannot live out their aspirations of activism through their students. Just as Calkins and others purport, writing is a process. Social action and human agency are also processes. They are processes that can be woven into and around meaningful and purposed literacy experiences by the careful and conscious teacher using critical pedagogy. This critical pedagogy seeks to transform consciousness to provide students with ways of knowing that enable them to know themselves better and to live in the world more fully (Keen, 1983). Teachers must provide a number of opportunities for students to determine their own aspirations, if any.

"Just because this is important to me doesn't make it important to them" (an excerpt from one of my teacher journals after an exasperating day in class).

The classroom, then, becomes a dynamic place where transformation in social relations are concretely actualized and the false dichotomy between the world outside and the inside world of the academy disappears (Hooks).

All of this has impacted my practice by challenging me to:

  • Rethink assumptions about teaching and learning with young adults.
  • Carefully the processes of exposing the critical linkages between literacy and social action.
  • Pay attention to words, mannerisms and the place of passion in the classroom.
  • Rethink what it means to design a social action curriculum.

My data sources include countless student and teacher journals, personal journals, lesson plan and unit reflections, anecdotal records, student work, memos, letters, student interviews, teacher interviews and hundreds of photographs.

(Links coming soon)