A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to lead a district wide staff development session. The teachers in our district had a variety of sessions to attend and followed a rotational schedule. Each session was very different. The topics covered
included Google Apps for Education tech support, grant requirements and differentiated instruction strategies. My work for the day included the facilitation of the sessions on differentiated instruction.
I began the session with a video of Sir Ken Robinson and then worked through a variety of techniques. We not only discussed the strategies but also participated in each one. The strategies included a four corners activity, graffiti activity and the most popular one – R.A.F.T. writing. R.A.F.T. stands for Role Audience Format and Topic. I prepared ahead of time writing assignments for many of our staff members. For example, our Anatomy teacher’s assignment was to create an itinerary (format) for Oreos (audience) created by another Oreo (role) on the journey through the digestive system (topic). Needless to say it was a very detailed itinerary that was fun, creative and included all the appropriate content.
In the weeks to follow R.A.F.T. writing assignments were beginning to catch on and I noticed many students working on them in different classes across different disciplines. Specifically in our Health class students were assigned to write a letter from one organ of the body to another regarding the impact of smoking, drug use or alcohol consumption. Many of the students shared their letters with me and it was fun to see the creativity develop. Some of the letters were thank you notes to the brain from the lungs for finally giving up smoking. The students nailed the content, had fun and sincerely enjoyed the assignment.
One young lady modified the assignment just a bit but covered the content very well. Below is her letter spelling and punctuation word for word:
To my dad from me,
I was wondering if sticking that needle into your arm was really worth it, or was living in a jail cell most of your adult life fun? As I grew older and watched you deteriorate I knew I shouldn’t do as you were doing, so I have to thank you for that. I’m guessing that the side effects of heroin weren’t that pleasant either like the glassy, red looking eyes or the depression you felt, or the stupid things you did while you were high on it, and the depression you felt after the high wore off. Also when the police took you to jail I bet the withdraw was pretty painful, I know I wouldn’t want to experience that. So thank you for showing me how not to live because now I know that I need to keep my heart strong and healthy unlike yours which is now no longer beating. I do miss you but when I think back to what happened its sad that the way you died is from sticking that needle into your arm, I now see that is not how I want to be remembered. What you put your family, your friends and yourself through is horrible. A daughter should not have to see her father die when she is only 14 and a child should not have to burry their own parent. But I don’t think you were thinking about that.
There is not a Health lesson available that can help this young lady formulate a better understanding of what can happen when someone abuses drugs. She lived it, witnessed it and now shared it with her peers. When I read her letter I was nearly in tears. I could not believe what this child had gone through.
Daily students enter our buildings looking for just one person to care, just one person to make them feel important, loved and wanted. I share this letter as an example of the struggles many kids face each day. I encourage everyone to take a moment today to reflect on the home life of just one kid that may be struggling academically in your classroom, in your school or in your neighborhood. Think about the support this young lady had at home to help her with her homework, to study for a test, or to work on a project. For some students it just isn’t there.
What can we do to help students in similar situations or students that live in less than supportive homes experience success academically?