As a measure of how little students trust themselves and their ideas, this is the question that I got today from a thoughtful student.
This summer I wrote about fear in the seventh grade classroom. Yesterday I heard that fear in the room, I heard my voice rising in frustration, and then I remembered – I needed to remind them that they are as qualified to write about the book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, as ANY scholar at ANY school ANYWHERE by virtue of having read the book and asked questions of the text.
So I made this sign for the board – and at the beginning of class I asked them to do Three Important Things:
1 – Make Peace with Imperfection: no one is perfect at something the first, the second, or even the third time they do something. (Well, they might be, but we would secretly despise them for it).
2 – Confer Upon Yourself Authority: They are authors of this essay; they have valid ideas formed from reading a book and asking important questions of the text; they have searched for answers and evidence in the pages of the book. I gave them this advice: never apologize for your ideas, don’t negate their strength, and write about them for others to read. No one has to agree with you. You just have to be able to show us in the book where your ideas come from.
3 – Be patient. They all want it done and perfect from the first word, springing fully formed from their brains like Athena from the head of Zeus. Doesn’t work that way. And yes, they can change the order of their paragraphs if they want. Oh, and I am really only able to individually assist one person at a time.
And the room was much happier today. There were fewer waving arms, fewer freak out moments, fewer students asking, “Is this right?”
And damned if it isn’t true: they have really great ideas.