Writing to make the world a little bit smaller.

Childhood . . .
I remember Grandma and Grandpa and a trip to Norway to learn more about their family.
I remember receiving a winter headband with the name of a Norwegian ski slope.
I remember writing a report about Germany and sharing with my class.
I remember eating Lefsa at school with friends to celebrate nationalities.
I remember Grandma talking about her mother speaking Norwegian and English.
I remember hearing German phrases that had been passed on.

Adulthood . . .
Parents traveling to visit the places they had heard their family traced back to.
My daughter wearing the winter headband I had treasured from Norway.
Conversations with new family about heritage and what our children would inherit.
Still having Lefsa, at Thanksgiving, and sharing the tradition with new family members.
Finding a local brewery with a brew titled “Ufda.”
Helping my father translate the German phrases on his stein collection.

As generations pass, is it important to teach students to value their heritage and traditions as the world evolves? “Am I getting old?”, I wonder as I ask my students what their nationalities are and they are unable to answer.

Assignment 1. Traditions. I ask them, what are your family traditions? I assign them a project to create a family shield to show who they are and where they come from.

RESULT: Pictures of them playing soccer, reading, listening to music, cell phones. Instead of traditions, I am bombarded with pictures of what students enjoy doing. Interesting.

Assignment 2. Interview. I ask them to talk with their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, relatives. Where was each generation born? Where does their heritage come from?

RESULT: 4 generations of cities sprinkled throughout Wisconsin, an occasional city outside of Wisconsin, and very few traces of countries outside of the United States. I am getting old.

Assignment 3: SMASH books. This is a Spanish class, so we now start to learn about the history of Latinos in the United States. We discuss the difference between Latino and Hispanic and then take a look at history. Some stories we view have never been told in their history books. We take a closer look at Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Central America. After each reading, students create a SMASH book page. A SMASH book is kind of similar to scrap booking. It is a place for students to explore their thoughts in writing with pictures and choice. What are their books composed of? A title, 4 new vocabulary words, 2 important sentences that they read, and 2 reflections, all coupled with several pictures to show their understanding.

RESULT: Amazing! Much better than a worksheet. Wonderful application of knowledge and use of writing. We could dive deeper into the reflections. (Note for next year to improve explanation of reflections.)

Assignment 4: Journals. As a class we watch several videos from “Mi Historia,” found on the PBS web page. Students watch and react to Latinos from several countries tell their stories and share their experiences.

RESULT: Deep thoughts! And a mix of Spanglish in journals. Students sharing why heritage is important and people should be proud of who they are. BINGO!

Assignment 5: Biography. By this time we have studied quite a few details about Latinos in the United States. We have talked about immigrants, refugees, and citizens. We have explored why people chose and still choose to come to the United States. So? What’s next? Find a Latino who has a strong connection to the United States. Famous or Familiar. Who is he or she? What does he or she do? What influence has he or she had in the United States? 120 students and NO REPEATS!

RESULT: Learning through writing. Booklets that we will use until the end of the school year to show our understanding. Students were able to use their grammar, vocabulary, and knowledge to impress their classmates. Students asking for additional paper to write on. Classmates are interested in what they are reading. Students are excited, “You’re reading mine!”

What knocked my socks off?

  • Students excited to write and share their SMASH books with each other.
  • Students choosing to write in Spanish about topics that required deep thought or feelings.
  • Students conferencing about their biographies. . . Thanks Holli Reckin! “Hey — you always use the verb ser. How about different verbs?”
    “Take a look at your sentence, I mean the order. You talk about Jersey Shore, then Saturday Night Live, then Jersey Shore again.”
    “Vocabulary. I wrote you notes with vocabulary that I know to help you.”
    “It wasn’t easy to identify, so this is what I did.”
    “I really liked reading the introduction. I think you should definitely use this!”
  • Students learning about the real world and getting excited about it!
  • 30+ students choosing an optional assignment to read, Enrique’s Journey, a 283 page book as a follow up. A book that they will journal about and discuss. And as a grand finale, write a letter to to the author.

What needs more work?

  • Connecting students and personal history with current immigrant stories.
  • Interview questions. How to write thought provoking questions to expand learning.
  • Sharing of Journals. My painted author’s chair. Use it!
  • Guidance on writing reflection. How to tell the why and the how behind the what.
  • Outlines. Successful use of outlines before writing a first draft.

RESULT: Writing to make the world a little bit smaller and acceptance and understanding a little whole lot bigger.



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