I cannot believe that the third quarter is about to draw to close in a week! If you're looking for new ways to pray and people to pray for, educators could use your intercession as we try to get everything done that needs to be done despite snow days, too much indoor recess, and not enough time in the day! I hate how rushed I feel but in the same token, my 7th and 8th grade scholars have completely finished their first entire Grammar workbook and my 6th graders have finished Rosemary Sutcliff's retelling of the The Iliad and are about to start her version of The Odyssey! They've worked so hard!
Despite the little voice in my head telling me we haven't accomplished enough, I refuse to let go of my afternoon institution of Free Read Fridays. They are as glorious as they sound and I am so pleased with how well my scholars do each Friday! The expectations are simple: bring something to read, grab a pillow, find a comfortable spot in the classroom where you aren't tempted to talk or fall asleep, and read the entire class period, I have to admit, I roll my eyes when people complain about this generation's attention span. These kids can focus is they want to... it's just finding something they want to focus on for 35+ minutes.
Free Read Friday is a sacred institution in my classroom for three reasons.
Firstly, our curriculum is beautiful but it does not have space for students to read what they like (even, sigh, Diary of a Wimpy Kid for the third time). Free Read Friday is free read. They can bring anything school-appropriate they want to read for the class period. Comics, magazines, anthologies, nonfiction, fiction... the list goes on and on. One integral piece of creating life-long readers is allowing them to read what they enjoy. They read what is assigned in class with vigor and strive to meet my expectations; they deserve time to read what they love.
Secondly, the concept of "schole" or restful learning is such a hard thing to incorporate. Ina nutshell, "schole" is the idea of good things, surrounded by good people, in a calm, comfortable setting. I don't have the luxury of always teaching from that beautiful place of rest but on Fridays, my young people get to rest with something they love. And hopefully, they know how to seek out the good in everything around them because of the critical reading that has been modeled for them throughout the year. God, as the divine inspiration for everything is present in everything God's children have written. Even that silly YA novel that you wouldn't recommend to anyone. Even that graphic novel you wouldn't touch with a ten-foot-pole. God is present and through intentional modeling, I hope my scholars are able to discern the good, the true, and the beautiful in everything they read.
Finally, I have been slowly, surely integrating more classical literature into their lives. Throughout third quarter, all my young people chose or had help from me to choose a time-tested, quality piece of literature. Frankenstein, Little Women, The Island of the Blue Dolphins, Hatchet, and a myriad of others are all available to challenge my scholars to read something of higher quality. But because they got to choose it, most of them have loved it! Several students have read Jack London's Call of the Wild and they love it! Just because a book is old doesn't mean it isn't good. I'm just so proud of what a little extrinsic motivation (a book review) and a quiet, restful space to read in can do for these young learners. I'm eager to read their book reviews this week!
Ready for Lent? Check out these great posts to help you have the a mindful Lenten experience:
In the classical curriculum model, one of the inherent pieces is constantly bringing our scholars back to the Truth. As followers of Christ, we know that the Truth can only be found in God and God's Word. Obviously, this means that the Bible needs to be a frequent (if not constant) component of the classroom. Working in Catholic school enables us to do more than just pray or talk about God in the classroom, it also means we can teach about God regardless of our content area.
Our guiding light at St. Regis Academy is to cultivate our scholars natural desire for Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. We can only do that by offering them God's Truth found in the Scripture. In my classroom, I try to offer exposure to God's Word as frequently as possible. Our cursive workbooks are brilliant for this; they use different verses to reinforce the letters being taught! As students practice a particular set of letters, they are reinforced through the copying of verses that use that particular letter often. Scholars don't have to memorize or talk about the Bible to feel the positive impact of it Similar to how we believe that Beauty in our churches help us connect to God's wonder and love, the simple act of copying down God's Word can help scholars be more inundated in God's Truth. We need to be mindful of what we consume of adults, intentionally choosing positive things to read, watch, and listen to. Similarly, when we are mindful of what expose are students to as educators, it becomes easier to share the Truth with our scholars, even with something as simple practice cursive using Scripture.
Classical curriculum relies on primary texts; reading real books, not just excerpts or pieces. So far, 8th grade has read two and is almost done with their third. We are currently reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. As we read about the budding relationships, I frequently return our conversations to St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians. Although often misinterpreted, St. Paul's description of a Christian marriage is an excellent north star for young Christians who are starting discern their vocation. St. Paul instructs his readers that wives should be obedient to their husbands and that husbands should love their wives "as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her". My scholars are slowly able to apply the concept of the verses to their characters, considering which relationships are selfless and giving, willing to serve and trust the other with total abandon.
Other opportunities to incorporate Scripture arrive often. Answering questions about a particular verse makes for good morning work or a Talk About It Tuesday. Philippians 4:8 (my all time favorite verse) makes for a good guiding light when we need a reminder for behavioral expectations. I try to model text-to-text connections by comparing Sundiata to Solomon or Mercy to Ruth. I'm looking forward to using it more this coming month as we explore God's great promise of Christ through the Jesse Tree tradition. Classical curriculum provides space for us to go off in many different directions, pulling whatever we've learned back to our faith. God is the divine inspiration for everything; there's no reason why we can't return everything we learn back to God and God's Truth.
Pray for me as we enter the last few weeks of the semester, I want to do my best to prepare my scholars for Jesus' birthday (even if they don't learn much about grammar this month). After all, at the end of the day, our ultimate goal is to get them to Heaven and how can they do that without the Truth?
First year Catholic educator in the Classical curriculum style. I teach middle school English-Language Arts.