Friday, December 7, 2012

More Than Unfair

"This isn't just unfair, it's more than unfair," expressed a student this week while reflecting on her experience with sharecropping. Throughout the unit, students completed short reflections about what they were learning and how they were feeling. Over and over again, I heard about the imbalance of the system as well as its inherent unfairness. Daily, on the hallway bulletin board, I posted spring crop prices, fall harvest yields and prices, and a running record of individual profits. The groans, lamentations, and exclamations that I heard were evidence of their growing discontent. They were invested in their rented plots and quite critical of my earnings as a landowner. At the same time, they started to appreciate the unpredictability of Mother Nature as well as the market. Finally, at the end of the simulation students blogged more thorough reflections. In reviewing their posts, it was clear that they were empathizing with the real sharecroppers. One summed it up quite well, “I feel really sorry for what had happened to those people who lived at that time and I feel angry at the landowners. I wouldn’t think that someone would have such a cruel heart to want to see someone else suffer and be in pain. I think that what these landowners did is unjust and should’ve never happened. I also think that these sharecroppers had no freedom, because they were being controlled and they shouldn’t have been. I just think that this wasn’t right.” Another wrote, “During this simulation I almost felt played or scammed. I do not feel like I was treated fairly at all. I also felt really nervous at points while also scared because if we actually have to provide for our families, I would not survive.”

After students were finished blogging, I surveyed them regarding the effectiveness of the simulation. Anecdotally, they felt that they were able to walk a mile in the shoes of another and would have missed that opportunity with more traditional instruction. Anonymously, students were asked to respond to the following questions: What would have made the sharecropping simulation better? What could Mr. Dunning have done to improve his instruction? Multiple threads emerged. To begin, students wanted the simulation to last longer. Additionally, they wished that I had included living expenses and that I had thrown more difficulties their way in order to make the experience even more realistic. After reading their responses and completing my own reflection, I am convinced that the activity was a success and look forward to using my experience and their advice to improve this unit for next year.

The mantra of "show me, don't tell me" was the focus of our revision process this week, and composition students worked on adding specific details to their definition essays.  When writers offer accurate details, they create focused pieces in which readers can make clear pictures in their minds.  Likewise, the writer demonstrates expertise and knowledge regarding a topic when he or she uses details that are accurate, precise, and original.

In addition to revising their definition essays, students began planning personal narratives.  Inspired by the 1950's radio series, This I Believe, hosted by Edward R. Murrow, students will explore the values that inform the decisions they make in their daily lives.  They worked this week to define the term 'values' and began to determine which ones were held most dear by their families.  By the middle of next week, students will begin drafting personal narratives about their most fundamental beliefs.  I expect it to be an enlightening experience.

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