Live at CATE: Are you an Upstander, a Bystander or a Victim?

Biggest takeaway at CATE: pretty much everyone seems in agreement that the Common Core standards, though not perfect, are full of exciting possibilities (as opposed to the Common Core tests, which are almost inevitably paired with the phrase “train wreck.”)

All the technique-based sessions I’ve attended have focused on close reading and inquiry to address Common Core ideas of analytic reading and writing.  Most of the techniques are variations on the Say/Mean/Matter strategies that Catherine Stine uses at Animo Leadership and many strategies use multiple short texts, including art, film and photograph, to approach a single question.  Over the next couple of weeks, rather than post about every single one, having learned all these techniques, I’ll be adding a Great Strategies bar to this blog, focused on specific hands-on tactics for attacking texts.

For me, though, the most exciting thing I’ve learned wasn’t a technique so much as a lens through which to view text; it came in a session called “Close Reading is Re-Reading: Helping Students Read the Text a Second, Third or Fourth Time,” led by Tim Dewar, who directs the Secondary Credential program as well as the South Coast Writing Project at UCSB.  Dewar offered an array of strategies presented by students in his Methods class, all of them quite useful, but what stayed with me was an essential question asked by two of the student teacher/presenters: “Are you an upstander, a bystander or a victim?”

The writing project is proposing this as an Essential Question through which students view text throughout a unit or even a year.  “Upstander,” of course, is a person who stands up and takes action, as opposed to standing idly by.  I love the idea because implicitly it addresses the students’ identity, linking their reading to possible future action.  It makes texts relevant and urgent; it raises a question in their own minds that may frame their understanding of the world and of themselves.  As a context for reading and writing, it involves students not only in finding meaning but in taking a role in the world because of that meaning.

The student teachers (and I didn’t write down their names—I wish I had, they were wonderful) had their middle-school students watch Malala Yousafzai’s speech to the U.N. while also reading and annotating the text using a strategy called “They Say/I Say,” which is a variation of Say/Mean/Matter in which students write a literal paraphrase on the left side of the page, and their own interpretation on the right.

After reading and annotating, students are asked whether Malala is an upstander, a bystander or a victim and to prove their claim with textual evidence.  The text is rife with evidence, and what I really love is that this particular text is highly relevant to teenagers, since Malala is so young, and also truly inspirational.

It would be a terrific kickoff to an academic year, I think, and could be adjusted to varying academic levels, paired with other speeches, films, art, longer literary texts.

I love it and I’m dying to try it out!  I want to be an upstander, too!


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