Fieldnote, 13 Feb. 2013

With the HS students. Turns out the UK students didn’t show up, so the oral interview recorded on my iPad idea wasn’t going to work. What to do? The President E wasn’t there either. There were fifteen students. Could I do something today? Did I have a plan?

I never have a plan. I had a plan.

“Sure, everybody got some paper? Get some paper, and a pen. Let’s write!”

Folks located some paper, they took out pens. Their was talk, people settled in groups of twos and threes in the library.

“This is going to be like a class,” said Erika.

“Sort of, yes,” I said. I hadn’t done one of these with this group for a while.

The formed into their groups, and I told them that what they wrote today I would use as material for the book. This way we could get more submissions. They seemed to be excited about the prospects of this.

I told them to write, and I would time them, and then we would move on to some different subjects. From the old interview trick about eliciting narratives through discussion, I asked them to write about their families. I gave them about five minutes to do so. They could write anything they wanted to.

Their hands were active on their pages. Some stopped to mention something, but others kept pressing on. I walked around the tables of students making suggestions about things they could write about, speaking ideas as they crossed my mind.

“Think about some of the ways you are like your parents, and not like them . . . What about your brothers and sisters, what are they like? . . . Why do you or don’t you get along? You can also write about where you are from. Tell me about where you come from if your neighborhood is your family.”

After five minutes they stopped.

“Okay, that was good, but you know, I don’t really care about your families.”

Some students laughed.

“Hey, my mom’s nice,” someone said.

“Yeah, all our mom’s are nice. Mine’s nice, but you don’t care about my mom. And what I really want to know about is you. So I want you to write now about you. So write on the page now this: what are my dreams? Go!”

They started writing. While they did so, I told them I would stop them in a few minutes. As I walked around I noticed students taking longer to write remarks for this question. When asked to write about their families they wrote furiously. For this question, they wrote guarded answers.

I asked them to stop after four minutes.

“Okay, so now, stop, and I want you to think about something. I asked you about your families, then I just asked you about you, now I want to know about your community. I want you to number one through three on your paper.”

I walked around to make sure they understood the numbering scheme.

“Good, right. Now I would like you to write the top three negative things that affect young Latinos like you.”

They looked at one another.

“Just write them down, one, two, three. They can be anything. Is it, like, one: no papers, two: gangs, three: drugs? Or is maybe one: parents don’t care, two: police, three: no mentors? Give me some reasons why you want to make a difference.”

I let students get these three ideas down for two minutes. They already were sharing ideas with one another as they did a quick brainstorm.

“Okay, now switch with someone sitting next to you.”

“What?” Elena asked. She was surprised that she would share what she wrote.

“If you’re going to be published, you’re going to have to think about this public voice.”

The students shared their writing with one another. I instructed the person reading over the writing to underline parts they liked and to add positive comments only. I wanted to build some confidence in their public voices with one another.

When the students got to the end, they shared once more around the table if they could (if they were in groups of three). If not, I told them to speak about what they read. Once the larger groups finished reading one another’s work, they also discussed what they read. I asked each group to focus on the last three numbered issues they saw. They spoke about these with one another. I could see some laughter and some serious talk, but for the most part they stayed on task.

After about five minutes of this, and me walking around and checking with each group, I gathered everyone’s attention. I told them to pick the issue they think is the most important, based on their list or on the new ideas they gathered from their group, and to write about it.

The students wrote for another ten minutes. They wrote quickly. If they slowed down, I told them to pick another issue to write about and go from there. There were no right or wrong answers.

Time for the meeting was running down. I had the students start another question about learning English, but I could see that some were beginning to leave to get to sports practice. I made sure to get their papers, as well as their email addresses.

I collected everyone’s papers.

Later when I typed these up, I was not surprised by the work they produced. Brilliant. More to come . . .

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