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Lydia Sheldon 09 March 2013 EDUC 515 Penn Mentor: Sandi Richards Fieldwork Notebook Entry 6 Personal Connection

to a Character in Literature As my students have been reading Anne Frank, Ive emphasized to them how relateable she is. Ive pointed out that shes around their age, and that she asks herself questions that most teenagers ask. One day this week, an informal discussion grew around the idea of a teenager keeping a journal. I asked how many students kept journals, and I was surprised to see even some male students raise their hands in response. (I was surprised because I wondered if the male students might identify Annes diary as feminine). In 8A, students talked about how they wrote in journals occasionally when they really needed to express their feelings, but couldnt figure out how they felt yet. In 8B, our students brought up the idea of Facebook as a type of journal. Sometimes you just need to vent, said Rachel. We talked about the idea of online posting as a type of venting to an audience, and the differences between that and Annes private diary. This prompted a fascinating conversation about the appropriateness of Annes diary becoming public. Was her father right to publish her private thoughts? Students seemed unsure. I wanted my students to be aware of the connections they were making to Anne Frank. These connections not only reflect the diverse personal links the students are making to the text but also their willingness (with your nudging!) to consider the more academic ideas of audience, genre, voice, and purpose in publishing a story. Hence, there seems to be wonderful blurring of the lines between individual and learner. The power of a young girls story to change the world an observation that is so central to any conversation about Anne Frank that it has sadly become a clich is an idea that seems to be reinvigorated through your students responses in your recent discussions and writing prompt included in this entry. No small accomplishment! At this point in my inquiry process, I was focusing my question onto students metacognition. How do students learn about themselves as learners? How does their perception of their learning guide what and how they learn? In particular, Im interested in this question in the context of a literacy classroom. How can a teacher facilitate students learning about themselves as learners through writing and discussion? What is the benefit of that type of knowledge for students, anyway? Should I focus just on their developmental learning in terms of learning styles and differentiation in a pedagogical sense? Or should I focus also on learning about themselves as people and building their identities? I wonder whether ones identity as a person can really be separated from ones identity as a learner: Does a students initial and strong personal connection with a text propel him/her to engage more intellectually with it? Or are the two so inextricably joined that they work simultaneously together to cultivate a rich array of understandings and meanings, both personal and intellectual in nature? In its current nebulous state, my inquiry prompted me to question how my students personal connections to Anne Frank were influencing their learning, if at all. In fact, were

my students connecting to Anne Frank on a personal level, or was I just forcing those connections on them? To find out, I asked my students to respond to the writing prompt, 1) In your reading of Anne Frank so far, what character, OR theme, OR topic, or IDEA, stands out to you the most? 2) Why do you think you connect with this topic? Use information that is unique to you, personally. The responses were thoughtful and richly revealing. But are how, precisely, are they useful for me or for my students? Ramzy, a Muslim student born in Indonesia but raised in the U.S., compared the stereotypes of Jewish people during this time to stereotypes of Muslims in America after 9/11. Just cause of that, because of the war in Afghanistan, and the prior war on Iraq people just hates Muslim for no other reason, other than what the media tells you. Simran, a quiet student from the U.K. who is new to our school this year, connected with Annes inner development as a teenager especially when she was describing how she is different on the outside; and how she wishes she could show her inside person. From Baowei: Parents over protect at sometime I think its most stand out to me because some time, my father or mother too care me. Like they want know where Im at all time. They wont let me go to some where to far alone. I think I am a big kids know. I can do something by my self. And Sallie: The topic about Anne finding out who she is as a person stands out to me most. It relates to me personally because I dont know who I am either. I have a sense of who I am but not a full understanding. Alright, so my students are connecting to Anne Frank! I think they enjoy these personal reflections. I suspect that they become more interested in the text and in the characters the more personal connections like these they make. Certainly, their reflections are informative for their teacher. I can locate each one of these responses within what I know about these students; this new piece of data fits into my developing understandings of them like a missing puzzle piece. So now what? Do these reflections really have a place in the literacy classroom? Do they count as metacognition? Are my students learning something useful about themselves as learners? A couple of students seemed to make the leap into a higher level of metacognition. Nahaadja wrote, I think I connect with the topic because its informational and interesting and it gives me a different experience about like because know I see what people like Anne Frank and her family had to go through back then Here, I think Nahaadja is not just connecting to Anne Frank based on her own experiences, but analyzing that connection itself. Similarly, Mark writes: Sometimes I feel like life is a stage play and we all just have to do our part I write many things and many of them are based on escaping reality. I do this because reality is often times painful and what is beyond it is up to the imagination. Mark seems to be responding to his response to Anne Frank. Both Mark and Nahaadja are questioning why they connect to a literary character. This is sophisticated thinking. What are its effects? Im delighted with Mark and Nahaadja for probing their own understandings. But what do I do with that information? When I ask my students to think about the connections theyre making with the text, Im asking them to evaluate their own reading. Its as if Im asking them to zoom out with a camera, to watch themselves read. Mark and Nahaadja take it a step further, drawing conclusions about what they observe in their learning. This seems valuable to me not only

because of the practice of higher level thinking, but because of the conclusions these young people are drawing about themselves as learners. My adolescent students are constantly occupied by questions of identity. As they study literature in their language arts classroom, thinking and writing about their identity as learners must enrich their understanding of themselves as people. Yes! This statement seems to capture beautifully the core of your inquiry study. Without personal engagement in the literacy tasks and texts, it is difficult (if not impossible) to begin to assess and understand oneself as a learner, especially for 13-14 year-olds whose identities are in the chaotic throes of being formed and appreciated. Perhaps Im getting off-track here. Im trying to isolate a tangible goal for myself as an instructor in all this student metacognition. What do my students need? Will or should my instruction of them change after reading their reflections? And yes, Im going to ask it: does this fit into my inquiry at all? Lydia, Your entry and questioning posture really resonate with me after an experience I had yesterday at a Penn Mentors meeting. We were asked to read, grade, and discuss some sample past portfolios in the interest of troubleshooting the process and establishing some common ground when accessing these culminating projects next month. One of the portfolios focused on a chemistry-related inquiry and, though well-written and thoughtfully executed, I just couldnt find my way in to fully absorb this analysis because I was unable (unwilling?) to grasp the content and cared so little about the topic in the first place. I was not a science enthusiast growing up and never felt any affinity for the required science courses I had to suffer through as a student. While this is shameless, I admit, the experience reminded me of how incredibly useful it might have been to know myself more as a learner all those years ago. Your efforts to help unearth patterns of meta-cognition in your students are admirable and essential if they are to evolve into confident adults and self-knowing learners. Yes, indeed, I believe your students poignant reflections fit perfectly into your inquiry for they serve to illuminate how vigorous personal engagement can organically invite a child to see the complexities of the world and oneself more fully and deeply.