So. Over the last month(ish), some of you may have been thinking any of the following things to yourselves: “Where has Lisa been?” “I thought she was going to write more frequently…” “So much for her blog idea.” “Lame.” etc. Well, guess what? I’m still here! And, even better, I’m going to tell you all a story from my college days that will hopefully better explain why it has taken me so long to write another post.
For those of you that may not know, I went to school for secondary education. One of the very last classes I took before my teaching internship and graduation was LS4050: Secondary Content Literacy. Content Literacy is the ability to learn new things via reading or writing in a specific content area whether that’s a subject such as math, science, or art, or a form of print such as textbooks, novels, magazines, etc. It isn’t really so much about reading comprehension (although, that certainly is part of it (kind of)), it’s more about the ability to learn new things while you’re reading using context of the words and a whole bunch of other little things to learn new vocabulary and the like. In any case, not to bore you all with the technicalities, the whole point of this class was to teach us, as future educators, ways in which we could get our students reading more and more engaged in that content. It was to teach us better tips and tricks to pass onto our students to pull more out of whatever it is that they are reading (word meanings and context and such).
That is a very small, possibly confusing, explanation of what Content Literacy is. Anyway… I LOVED this class and clearly I could still talk about it forever if you were to let me. The professor was awesome (despite the fact that I can no longer remember her name) and because I love to read and write, this class was perfect for me. My prof. was an elementary school teacher (4th or 5th grade if I remember correctly) who taught this one college course at the end of her week. We met every Friday evening right there in her elementary school classroom where we sat at the little tables/desks for the entirety of our scheduled two hour class.
At the start of the semester, we were given our rubric and the prof. went over her expectations for us and discussed the major projects/papers we would need to complete throughout the semester and the timeline for those projects/papers. The biggest one was a “Personal Inquiry Project” which was supposed to take approx. 2-3 months to complete. If I remember correctly, we were supposed to think of a topic that we wanted to learn more about and use the tools we had learned in class to help us research this topic and explore a little to see what we could find. After we were done with all of this research we were supposed to write a paper about our findings and the methods we used to gather all of our information.
I did my project in less than a week.
I chose to learn more about model cars (because why not, right?). It was a perfectly random topic and something that I have never done myself. My brother had put together a model of the U.S.S. Enterprise when we were kids and possibly even a car too at some point, but I always thought it would be too tedious to do myself. However, the thought of doing one still intrigued me so I thought it would be the perfect thing to research for my Personal Inquiry Project.
I started by conducting a small online search to see what types were out there, but that was overwhelming so I just decided to go to the store to check for myself. I figured Michaels would probably have a decent selection so I started there.
I wasn’t wrong and I was able to see a decent variety of cars and trucks and even airplanes that were either plastic or die cast (metal). I also found out that many of them required special paints and brushes to complete them and that it would be an extra expense that I couldn’t afford. I was in college and broke, and I’m pretty sure at this specific time I was probably only eating once a day to save what little money I did have so I decided that maybe I should do a little comparison shopping instead. I took a few pictures with my awful flip phone camera for later reference and then I decided to go look at Hobby Lobby across town to compare prices.
Hobby Lobby was disappointingly just as expensive, but they had a much bigger variety! They also had naval ships (which were neat to look at!) and a better car selection, but the prices were all very similar or identical to those which I had already found at Michaels and I knew that my model car building days were coming to an end before they had even begun. I turned around though and that’s when I saw it! It was a beautiful model pirate ship! Who doesn’t love pirate ships? They were sadly too expensive too, but it made me think of ships in a bottle. I wondered if they sold those at Hobby Lobby, but I couldn’t find any and decided to take my search back home after taking more of my awful flip phone photos for later reference.
Once I was home, I remembered that I have a friend from my Army days who had recently posted photos of his completed creations on Facebook. He had put together two ships, one in a bottle and one not, and they were gorgeous. I reached out to him to see if he could send me information on the process of building them so I could learn more. In the mean time, I started researching more about model ships.
My search consisted of the following:
Search 1: Ships in a bottle. I started reading about the different ships available to create and realized there were a lot of different ships. I had never considered this. I needed to read more so I opened a new tab in my browser!
Search 2: Ship names. I wanted to know more about these ships I was reading about. It was fascinating. While I don’t recall which ships I read about, I do remember that this eventually led to another tab in my browser
Search 3: Pirates! I wanted to read more about the pirates who were in charge of these ships. I wanted to know more about Red Beard and Black Beard and Black Bart and the real Captain Morgan! It was all very interesting.
I don’t recall the number of tabs I had open at one point, but there were a lot of them. Tab after tab after tab. I was lost down the rabbit hole for a good long time, for sure. I made sure to jot down a few interesting points from everything I was reading to be used later on with my crappy flip phone photos.
The next day, my friend got back to me and was majorly helpful! He had emailed me a pretty lengthy explanation on the process he took to put together each of his ships and he even included pictures that he had taken. They were beautiful and the amount of time and effort he had put into creating them (including creating his own cloth sails to replace the cheap plastic ones sent with the kit) was jaw-dropping. It was truly impressive. He had also described the process he had taken when building the case for his model ship. He designed it himself and used plexiglass and stained wood and put it all together.
At one point he mentioned lowering this entire case over the “plinth” (which he had also built) upon which the model ship sat. I had never heard of the word “plinth” before, but from the context of what I was reading and looking at the pictures he had sent, I was able to deduce that it was another word for “base.” I did another quick google search just to verify this thought and found that I was indeed right in my assumption. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a perfect example of content literacy (See? It all comes back to the main point eventually!). I was able use the context of what I was reading to learn a new word. It was all very fascinating to me.
And so, this was now way more than enough information for what I needed to be able to write my final paper/reflection. It only took me a couple of hours to write and when I was finished, I had something that is similar to what I have written above for all of you, that detailed my entire adventure, down to the last detail. It even included pictures! I turned it in at our next class meeting when it was due (yes, I had waited until the week before it was due to bother working on it) and waited to see what would happen.
It only took one week to get my professor’s response back. I was surprised at how quickly our project papers were returned to us and along with my returned paper, I also received the following feedback (which I kept along with my course binder because I loved it all so much):
First of all, I’m never going shopping with you. I was dizzy at page 2!
I am delighted that you found it difficult to stay focused on your original inquiry, because this Personal Inquiry Project is certainly the best I have ever read. It is a sample of excellence. Your references are extensive. You thought to consult a very talented source when your interests turned to model ships and I learned more than I can ever tell you.
Your technique of opening multiple tabs in your browser will serve your students well when you teach how to follow a line of inquiry. Bravo. Use a copy of this to show your students. Walk through it with them. It will give each individual student permission to explore freely while staying accountable through the reflection at the end. Your piece on vocabulary in your reflection was very meaningful to me because you determined the definition of “plinth”, in context, by reading the words around it and this is how vocabulary must be taught if a student is ever going to own the words she/he sees and hears. Bravo Lisa.
Please detach this grade memo and return the copy of your paper to me tonight. I want to use it as an example in future classes, with your permission.
And I did let her keep it. I wish now that I had kept a copy for myself, but I’m pretty sure at the time I thought, “It’s ok, I still have a copy saved on my laptop.” I have since ruined several laptops and any personal copy of my paper/project is long gone as a result, but I am so glad that I saved this letter from my professor as a reminder to myself of this fun project and her positive words regarding my thought process and writing style.
So. After that lengthy story (if you even made it this far), you may be left wondering “Ok, Lisa… What is the point to all of this?” because I promise you, there is almost always a point to the stories I tell. Unless, of course, it is a time that I really have no point, but luckily for you — this time is not one of those times!
This project is the perfect example of how my brain works at any given moment which is why it came so easily to me. I constantly have multiple tabs open in the browser of my brain and this is why it is extremely difficult for me to focus on one thought or idea for any lengthy period of time. This makes it a little hard to decide what I should write next for my blog, for example, because I have so many stories to tell, but pinpointing a good starting point… That’s much more difficult!
This is why it has taken me a month to write to you all again. I have plenty of stories (at least I think so), but have found it challenging to decide which story to tell and which angle to take when telling my stories, etc. (Not to mention the fact that I start to overthink this whole blog thing and get self-conscious about sharing my stories/thoughts/ideas with so many people.) Anyway, I think I may have finally figured it all out, however, so hopefully there will be no more month-long hiatus’ from writing.
And what is my solution, you may ask?
Finding the right topic and a good tangent to go with it.
And with that, I will see you all again next week! (I hope!)