or·gan·ic [awr gánnik] adj
1. of living things: relating to, derived from, or characteristic of living things
2. developing naturally: occurring or developing gradually and naturally, without being forced or contrived
3. intrinsic: forming a basic and inherent part of something and largely responsible for its identity or makeup
4. naturally efficiently organized: being made of parts that exist together in a seemingly natural relationship that makes for organized efficiency
#1 Melding Creativity, Critical Thinking & Community: The Commonplace Book
A place for reflection, art, journaling, life questions. A compilation of life at that moment, a consideration of the past that made us who we are today, and a contemplation of the future and its possibilities. This is my favorite tool that I always use with every class and every student. A cohort in the Ozarks Writing Project Summer Institute in 2009 presented this and I ran with it. I’ve presented on this twice at the Write to Learn conference.
#2 Project-Based Passion Projects English 12
The topic is their choice with three guidelines: it must be something they are passionate about, it must help a community, and it must be a challenge. They research primary sources utilizing real-world skills of emailing and interviewing, and then secondary sources for an exploratory research paper. They memorize their elevator pitch, write a proposal for their project, have actions that reach outside of school walls and help communities through speaking, websites, You-tubes, etc. Lastly, they present to the community on their project challenges and successes.
Freewriting, done correctly, is a miracle. Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” is my freewriting “bible.” Freewriting increases fluency, allows creativity, decreases writing fears, and most importantly is great for emotional health. I don’t read student’s freewrites unless they ask me to, allowing complete free speech.
#4 “Book Love” by Penny Kittle
So many students hate reading. This program takes the stress out of reading to simply enjoy reading. Given time, freedom and help to find books and removing the stringent assignments sometimes tied to reading, many students flourish.
#5 Modern Slave Narratives American Literature
Watch HBO’s “Unchained Memories” about the WPA Federal Writers’ Project where formerly enslaved African-Americans were interviewed to create the Slave Narratives located in the Library of Congress. We learn about modern slavery together. Students research a form of modern slavery and write a research-supported first person narrative.
The ABCs of Organic Teaching
#6 Social Issue Project
Students begin by brainstorming issues they are interested in, researching current news articles ending in debate and discussion, writing from different perspectives in multi-genres and finally choosing a part of the issue to argue for in a research paper. Lastly, students create a video to persuade/educate the public about their issue.
#7 Competitive Ad Teams
English 10, Eighth grade ELA
Students fill out job applications and are “hired” to work in teams whose mission is to create ad campaigns for local non-profits. Students hone creativity skills, practice real-world writing and completing forms, learn teamwork through daily competitions, and create a campaign using multi-genre writing. Culminating assignment: Teams present their ideas for their campaigns.
#8 Novels/To Kill a Mockingbird English 9-10
Scaffold with oral reading and discussion. Use commonplace notebooks to respond to reading with quotes, artwork, personal writing, found poems and theme. Ongoing project: The Shoes papers. Students write anonymously what it is like to walk in their shoes. These are read daily the rest of the school year to create empathy.
#9 Vow of Silence Writing Days
Creative Writing students responded in reflections that it was hard to write with the distractions in class. I took their constructive criticism to create Vow of Silence Writing Days. Two days a week when students entered the room a nature video or Hobbit cafe was running on the screen giving us beautiful white noise and ambiance so we could spend 45-minutes thinking and writing without phones or distractions. Culminating project: Students were prolific in their writing and in sharing that writing on Fridays, our official sharing day. I also used it in English 12 on occasion.
#10 Fifteen-Sentence Portrait All Classes
A simple page of directions helps students get over the scariness of writing creatively and produces a great little piece of writing.
An Extra: Decade Days Eighth grade ELA, Could use in American Literature
Explore the 20th century culture and literature through film, news headlines, music, food, fashion and fun. Culminating project: A day celebrating that decade: 1939 film festival, 50s Day with hair gel, dance lessons and smoothies, 60s day with a beat poetry reading (Snaps!), and so forth.
We should be pliant in our pedagogy, current in our curriculum, bendable in our beliefs. Living, breathing, growing.