Practices in Pedagogy

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Archive for the tag “EDU 3361”

Book Review on “The Freedom Writers’ Diary”

The Freedom Writers Diary describes an English teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California who truly experienced the harsh realities of being a new teacher. Erin Gruwell entered a classroom filled with varying cultures, racial slurs, and threats reverberating off the walls. The book discusses the most radical forms of diversity within the classroom, and how difficult a teacher’s position can be amongst learners with cultural, religious, social, and economic differences. Not only did her students refuse to work together, they refused to work at all. Gruwell was forced to adapt her curriculum to accommodate a culturally responsible teaching strategy. In doing so, the teacher created the best possible learning environment for her students. The Freedom Writers Diary is a collection of journal entries written by Gruwell and her students. It is formatted in four sections: freshmen through senior year, and dialogues the events that unfold within the Wilson High School classroom. With an amazing personal commitment, as well as the aid of concerned community members, Gruwell provides her underprivileged students with new books, fresh materials, field trip opportunities, full-time attention, and even guest-speakers of the highest caliber. The book is one of unifying love, redemption, and finding hope in the darkest of times.

I strongly feel this book has universal appeal, for it pertains to real issues and real people. Any high school student can connect to the student writers. High schoolers might not completely understand the harsh realities of gang life in Long Beach, but they can grasp the other conflicts these students are presented with: anger, jealousy, guilt, remorse, and self-loathing. These internal struggles are ripe with universal appeal, for we all experience them at some point in our lives regardless of who we are or where we come from.

Although I would most definitely have to preface a unit focused on this book with a letter home to parents—for the fact that the book deals with very real stories of violence, sexual abuse, and gang life– I strongly feel the benefits far outweigh the consequences. As long as each of our classroom discussions are guided with respect, maturity, and tolerance, I think this book could serve as an amazing basis for a unit in a high school language arts classroom.


Book Review on “A Separate Peace”

In John Knowles’ most famous novel, Gene Forrester returns to his boyhood school, the Devon School, and recalls events that occurred there 15 years ago. In the summer of 1942, he forms a competitive friendship with his roommate, Phineas (Finny), the school’s best athlete. Competition eventually lends itself to jealousy and envy, which in turn leads the two young boys down a dangerous path from which they cannot come back. Knowles explores the evil that resides within the troubled world of adolescence, all the awhile presenting a truly moving narrative about love, friendship, and war—both external and internal.

A Separate Peace is not only an interesting and engaging read, but is perfect to explore in a high school classroom. Knowles’ writes with an easy-going style, yet does not disappoint readers in providing a unique, insightful, and powerfully poignant story. Gene and Phineas are characters who anyone can relate to and learn from. The high school setting is an obviously relevant location for a high school student’s reading. The themes of friendship, betrayal, jealousy, adolescent angst, war (both internal and external), and the quest to find our individual identities all offer so much to the typical high school student. Warren Miller, in his critical essay on the novel, declares, “Mr. Knowles has something to say about youth and war that few contemporary novelists have attempted to say and none has said better. He deals with youth’s special friendships with great delicacy and understanding; what is more, he writes with wit and style” (Miller, 6). Not only is the novel an excellent starter novel for high school students, but it also offers so much in terms of real-life application. Therefore, designing a lesson around Knowles’ novel could be both a wonderful opportunity for close reading practice and an opportunity for students to see fiction’s insatiable power to communicate the truths of our lives better than any other medium.

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