Today we completed our journey as writing mentors for Mr. Harder’s grade 8 students at Hawthorne Public School, a well as three students from Ms. Simser’s class. It seems just like yesterday that we were ushered into to meet the students and provided a sermon of sorts that for me touched on the importance of inquiry based learning and why part of what Mr. Harder calls ‘A Harder Learning Plan’ involves his students in cross curricular explorations of writing across history and geography. While the students had a range of options in terms of the type of writing students could do to fulfill the expectations of the students’ complex task, one thing was of great significance – identity. Mr. Harder noted that whether the students were writing a creative piece or a critical essay, he wanted them to try and understand the identities of the individuals and places they were studying. The general topic of inquiry for all students was immigration in Canada between 1891 and 1914. For instance, Mr. Harder suggested that if students were taking up the theme of loyalty, how does this have to do with the land and people’s relationship to it, and how do such themes of identity and courage make the historical moment of the Red River Rebellion, come alive. Additionally, and importantly, Mr. Harder asked his students to consider how what they were writing about interconnected with their own identities and to consider how the Canadian story is one of dislocation. Turning back to the work of inquiry, Mr. Harder noted that what makes the work of history is if we find the self in everything we do. On that final note, Mr. Harder reviewed that the goal for the young writers in the class was for them to learn new strategies to improve their own writing and for the mentors to support this work through whatever ways they thought may be useful.
While our four Mondays at Hawthorne flew by, I think we were able to build relationships through reading our way into our mentees ideas and lives. Working with a student from Ms. Simser’s class on a creative writing project, I was privileged to be part of his process of gathering ideas for his story and working through how his Jumanji-like story with a twist of Goosebumps would unfold. As I read through the blog entries of the other University of Ottawa writing mentors, I see posts of resources and stories of learning that are deep and important.
One theme that emerges in our blog posts is the privilege of having been able to listen Mr. Harder speak about entering the world of teaching as a profession. He reminded teacher candidates that each of you has a place in the machine which is getting a job, learning to work with other seasoned teachers, and to develop courses and lessons. He reminded us that taking each day, each lesson at a time is important, and to hold onto your core values in teaching despite all odds is important – without trying to change the world all at once.