Friday, February 26, 2010

Creating Community in the Classroom

As teachers, we are always on the lookout for effective ways to foster not only a sense of community, but a feeling among our students that they are a community of writers. It’s easy for us to say this, but sometimes more difficult for students to see. Here is one way that UW Prof Peter Levine is trying to bring this about in his classes.

The Golden Ticket

To me, the term “golden ticket” was always affiliated with Willy Wonka. However, watching American Idol for the first time in years, I discovered that for the current generation, it means something entirely different. The golden ticket means an Idol contestant is going to Hollywood. A contestant will dash out of the audition room with the ticket clasped to their chest, family will shout and yell, grandmothers will be phoned—even Ryan Seacrest will shed a tear of joy.

I thought: Why not give out golden tickets in class? Imagine—if students were even a tiny, tiny fraction as excited about receiving one in my UW section, then they’d feel pretty good. I went online to find images of golden tickets and printed it out.

After reading introductory assignments, I handed out the first one (I decided I would do one per section, one per day)—based on the strength and swagger of a great piece of writing (or a particularly smart comment or reaction). The students were a bit bewildered but went along with it. We clapped for the first recipient. The student read her piece of writing. We clapped again. I said: “You’re going to Hollywood.” I felt like Randy Jackson. I didn’t say “I feel you, dog,” or “It was a little pitchy, but good man.”

There are a couple of hopes here. The first is that each day the student given the golden ticket will feel empowered, accomplished. Second, other students might want the golden ticket—recognition for work well-done, and the acknowledgement of their peers. Third, that the hand-off of the ticket will create a connection, so that classmates begin to use each other’s names in conversation, and drop the “I like what he said…” or “I think she can work on….” The foundations of a community, in other words. They are humble steps, sure, but you gotta start somewhere.

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