Tuesday, January 11, 2005

In Honor of Lynne Vance

Lynne Vance is a good friend of mine who is a teacher, one of the best teachers I've ever heard of, at Sumner High in the Amite-ish (not to be confused with the Amish-ish) neighborhood. Loranger?
How unclear is that?
Lynne Vance is a perceptive, generous, intelligent, loving teacher, and a great friend of mine. She's one of the best teachers I've ever heard of. She has ideas come to her like most of us have breaths. She called me around the Thanksgiving holiday and suggested a collaboration. She wanted my students to answer questions about themselves in writing and for me to mail their writing to her students so that her students could respond to my students with a piece of art and a piece of writing, which she would, in turn, mail to me. I mentioned this once before in this blog. She also wanted my students to outline their hands. My first thought was that these children of mine are way too un-childlike to consider doing such a thing, and I thought I'd be laughed out of Dodge. But Lynne was so earnest I told her I'd try. So she sent me a list of questions and I brought that to my students and asked them to do this for me. Of course they rallied, and they even outlined their hands. I mailed the stuff off to Lynne the week after the Thanksgiving holiday. She was to have her students read what my students had written and have her students make an artistic and a written rendering of the character of my students based upon what they read about them.
Saturday I received this fabulously mysterious looking package of the art and the writing. It was packed in a box from an auto-glass company. It was huge and strange and when the mail delivery lady gave it to me she said, "somebody out there must love you."
Lynne and I talked and planned about it before the package arrived and I told her I'd open it at home and figure out how to proceed after I saw what her students had done. But when I saw that great package I couldn't open it by myself. I had to let the kids see it. So I brought it to school, with absolutely no plan at hand and no idea about what would happen, and we opened it together.
What we found in there was beautiful. Her students had cut and pasted out of magazines and drawn and colored and used all kinds of art techniques on a piece of poster board, each one an attempt at expressing in visuals what they'd learned about my children from their writing, and each poster was attached to a black construction paper frame, making it that much more special. My children looked through the pile with big eyes, and I heard them say things like, "this is so beautiful," and, "this is exactly me," and, "that's my favorite color. How did they know?" and such things. I guess I had tears in my eyes all day. My children LOVED it and they felt SEEN. It was one of the sweetest days in teaching that I've ever had, and it was the brainstorm and the effort of Lynne. She is unbelievable.
What I see this doing for my students is that it causes them to take what they write seriously. (I just figured that out as I wrote here.) Lynne's students were more than an authentic audience. They were children who read what my children wrote and inferred or extrapolated my students' characters from their writing. Next time Lynne and I do this, and we're going to do it again, I'm going to make sure my students understand just how serious a thing it is to write. To be real.
Lynne's project had a serious impact on my students' learning. She brought verisimilitude to the classroom. Her project caused my students to take their writing and to take themselves seriously. My students were not writing into some empty nowhere where teachers pretend to be, but were writing to their peers and were glad for the opportunity to be real and to show who they are.
The people who were not in class that day in November when we drew our hands were very disappointed. That's another thing the project did. It made my students see that sometimes just showing up is the thing, that the potential for beautiful things like this to happen is just waiting in the wings and all we have to do is wake up and arrive.
Thank you, Lynne.

Love, Melanie


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