My seventh graders were in the process of researching information about Jackie Robinson in order to create an expository essay. Together, we were reading the book, 42 is Not Just a Number, by Doreen Rappaport.
In the first chapter, the author writes of how Robinson's family did not have much money when he was a child. Some nights they had bread soaked in milk or water with sugar. I explained to my class that my family had often eaten some very limited meals as well, but as kids, we didn't know that we lacked money.
I have always believed in the power of storytelling in a classroom. Equally important to me is sharing about my own life so that my students can see that I am indeed a “real” person and not just a teacher who gives them writing prompts each week. They know that I haven’t always been Mr. Ramsey, that I was once “Little Timmy” who drove his parents crazy on a daily basis.
I don’t believe that teachers need to “bare their souls” and share every detail of their lives. But I do know that there is great value and relationship building when students can relate to their teacher as another living, feeling human being. My students alternate between narrative essays, expository essays, and persuasive essays roughly every two weeks. By the end of the year, they have written several of each genre.
During those weeks, we also focus on several mini-lessons revolving around language, vocabulary, and technique. For this time around, I wanted the kids to start thinking about how to infuse their voice into their work....