in this episode, the final episode of the curriculum design series, we're talking with Laura Cruz and she is taking us on a deep dive into her semester long course on autobiography, Let me tell you a little bit about Laura as an avid reader, she has been immersed in stories her whole life from the Precocious Child at the table, listening to the adults talk to the high school english teacher reveling in her students passionate discourse about text, Laura's motivation and stems from setting the stage for authentic human connection and learning. She is the senior Manager of Learning and Development, a better lesson where she designs onboarding training and feedback systems for over 100 coaches who deliver workshops to teachers on topics ranging from blended learning to anti racist practices. After almost 20 years in education, she enjoys giving people the tools they need to create learning communities that become a meaningful part of their own stories, let's get to the episode, Hi, I'm lindsey Lyons and I love helping school communities envision bold possibilities, take brave action to make those dreams a reality and sustain an inclusive, anti racist culture where all students thrive, I'm a former teacher leader turned instructional coach, educational consultant and leadership scholar.
If you're a leader in the education world, whether you're a pro Principal Superintendent instructional coach or a classroom teacher excited about school wide change like I was, you are a leader and if you enjoy nerd ng out about the latest educational books and podcasts. If you're committed to a lifelong journey of learning and growth and being the best version of yourself, you're going to love the time for teacher ship podcast, Let's dive in laura Cruz, welcome to the time for a Teacher Ship podcast. Thank you lindsey. I'm so excited that you're here. I just read your professional bio but if there is anything else you want to share with listeners about who you are or why you're here, feel free to go ahead and share that. Sure. Thanks for the opportunity Lindsay. I'm super excited to be here and to tell my story. I've been in education for 17 years, which when I say that makes me roll my eyes into the back of my head. But I am a lifelong learner um lover of education and reading and books and fiction have to make sure I get some nonfiction in there.
But definitely fiction lover reader, dog mom, wife, friend and just constantly learning, I support the learning of coaches that better lesson where I work as a senior manager of learning and development one too many services, which means like professional development virtually or in person. But I often feel like I'm learning from everyone to So even though I'm supporting that learning people are such great teachers and the people that work a better lesson are just our coaches are amazing. So I'm constantly learning new things. Yeah, I guess that's me great, thank you Laura and I can attest to Lord has given me so many great book recommendations and oh my gosh, the love of books is real between us. I feel like we could just go on for days, particularly about fiction, but also sometimes can be a book book podcast, but it could be, it totally could be as we kind of get into things. I am so curious to hear about your high school autobiography course, which was a semester long course. I'm interested to know before we kind of dive into the episode.
If you could just kind of give a high level preview, maybe a summary of that course before we get into the weeds. Sure, yeah, the autobiography course was a required course at Fannie lou Hamer Freedom High School, which was the last high school that I work that for six years and it was the mastery paper that students had to write one of seven that they had to write in order to graduate. So that mastery project, we worked on it over the course of the semester and it involves them writing their own three chapter autobiography or memoir, a literary analysis paper of a memoir, published by an author and an art component which was loosely loosely changed over the years. At the end of the course, students were required to sit on a panel with 1-2 other students and present to two teachers who were not me who would decide whether or not they passed this panel um whether or not they they could go on and um when we say blue tagged get a blue tag, which meant they were done with that mastery and on this panel they presented about their work, they answered an essential question and then they answered any questions thrown at them by the teachers of Fannie Lou.
Those questions could range anywhere from style form, literary elements to the content of their autobiographical work. It all built towards that Fannie Lou. Hamer was part of a network of organizations that I also taught at a school that was part of that network, which is so cool to just be able to think about how when we're talking about education that is grounded in the critique of injustice and I think that's such a cool way of students creating these meaningful projects, presenting, getting kind of this conversation going with panelists and it just feels so much more meaningful than like I took a test and I got an a and now I'm done with the course, so I'm really excited to dive into that with you. And actually let's transition to that question. The concept of freedom dreaming. So Doctor Pitino love talks about it as dreams crowded in the critique of injustice, with that in mind, with the course in mind with the way that you taught in mind, what is that big dream that you hold for the field of education? Yeah, I love this question. Um and it's so nice to be asked to dream. We often are not asked to dream, as teachers were kind of given what, what we need to do and go do it.
The opportunity to dream was the opportunity that the principle of Fannie lou hamer nancy man gave me with this course and oh my gosh, did I speak to my soul? Because I loved creative writing in high school, I loved creative writing afterwards and I love stories and so being able to dive into my students stories and have them express their stories was huge. My dream for this course was really about allowing my students to figure out their identity or reflect on their identity And really dig into what does that mean, and who am I right? I mean, that's a big question for all of us. I mean, I grapple with that question at 40 years old and to give them the opportunity to grapple with that question at 17 18 1920 years old felt really important to me and not for me to do that necessarily through someone else's story, but through their own story. I mean, we read other people's stories along the way. I think of the Hamiltons quote, Who lives, who dies, Who tells your story.
And I felt it was really important for me to give my students the opportunity to tell their own story and to own their own story and to pause and reflected that. So, this course was taught in junior and senior year when students were getting ready to leave high school and move on to this next big step and have a moment to pause and say, what have I accomplished and what have I been through and what have I done and dealt with? What have I laughed at in the past? You know, 18 years of my life and now, what does that mean for where I go next and who am I when I step into that next space and the other opportunity, other dream I had for the course was not only do I know who I am or do I have a sense of who I am right now, but also who are you? And not just the use of the, the authors they read, but each other. I was just always flabbergasted by how loving and kind they were to each other as they told their stories and how big a realization they had when they stepped back and said that happened to you too.
Oh, it's not just me. Like, oh, I get chills right now thinking about it because it was so powerful as teachers. We have classrooms of kids in front of us every day And we don't know what's happening with them and they don't know what's happening with each other all the time. And it feels even more important in an age of social media where we can tell whatever 32nd story in a Tiktok or post a picture and tell a story. But when you put pen to paper, there's something different that happens to me. I think so. I really wanted them to have a space to process their big experiences, process their big emotions and to let them express. Working in one of the poorest urban congressional districts in the United States, my students faced a lot parents died, homelessness, sexual assault, mental health issues, neighborhood violence, alcoholism, but they're also teenagers. Right? And so they also experience friendships ending and friendships beginning and love and emerging sexuality and just like silly stories and memories to be able to allow them to really expressed like the diamond of themselves, right?
That there's many facets of who they are was really important to me. And just to see their own writing. Like I think until you're asked to write something from scratch, especially about yourself. You don't, you don't know what your voice sounds like your writing voice, you don't know what beautiful writing you can, you can do. And so giving them that opportunity for voice I think was really important. My hope was that they had a connection that they had a process to tell their own story. Um, and a moment to stop and reflect and to share. I love those goals. Those dreams for the course and I love some of the language you used to write the Hambleton quote was excellent. But also thinking about themselves as diamonds, right? And those multifaceted people. I mean that's just so powerful. And it's powerful how the students responded as well. How you were saying there was that connection and that that happened to me. So it's more than just I checked the box. I perform. I read my book aloud or I shared my thing with someone else. But there's this act like in between interpersonal thing that is happening that's fostering that class community that is grounded in justice and connection and belonging.
And that's so important. I think sometimes when we think about assessment and like what's the product at the end of the unit, we missed that piece of like what happens when we share it and how do we create conditions to share it in a way that students are responding in the ways that they were in your class, which I think is a testament to a much larger set up of your class culture going into the course that was necessary as we were planning for this episode. You pointed out that you know that dream, that experience of telling the story and really owning your own story is important for all schools. All students could you speak a little bit more about what you meant? Like why is it important for all students to have this opportunity? Yeah. So, and just to be clear, I am a white woman. I was a white woman teaching in Um, a school of 400 students and all of them were students of colour and had intersectional identities and it was 100% free and reduced lunch. Right? And so there's a lot of students who were different from me and my own identity walking in the door working in a school like that.
There's a lot of thought about what do we do to support students who don't have all of the opportunity for money for some opportunities of like a rich suburban school. And what I loved about Fannie Lou Hamer and the consortium schools is they were trying something different and they were doing something different with curriculum in order to really engage students and to make community schools where families were a part of the process. And As I was teaching, I thought, Wow, you know, this is great for my students to be able to tell their stories, but it's also good for any student like any any 18 year old kid right, needs a moment to stop and pause and think about who they are and think about what they believe in two. And I grew up in an urban fringe area that was very diverse. Then I moved to a rich white suburban neighborhood that we were not rich and I had an asthma attack and almost died in my freshman year of high school. So there was a lot that I needed to process in high school. And so I know my husband always talks about like sometimes when you become a teacher, you you end up teaching the population or the grade levels where you had some major like sort of change or experience in your life and you're kind of in some ways you might be trying to do a do over, right?
So I think it's really interesting to that for me, like those things happened in high school and now here I was in high school and the thing I was the most excited about was teaching english and reading books with my students in service of exploring our stories and being able to tell our stories. So that was a total side note. But all that to say I needed some way to express the big things that were happening for me too. And there was one creative writing course that you were able to take in junior or senior year. It was, it was a half semester course. I took it three or four times, You were only supposed to take it once, but I told my guidance counselor no, that's it. Like I'm taking it and I'm just gonna keep taking it because I loved being able to write so much and being in that environment where it wasn't an autobiography course, but where I could sneak in autobiographical elements and find my voice as well. That's amazing, wow, there's so much packed into what you just said, including personal experiences, thank you for being vulnerable enough to share those and also just the idea of repeating. Of course, I never thought about doing that.
And now I'm like, oh yeah, how cool would that have been? Okay, So that is a great tension and I'm really excited about digging into what your husband's philosophy of teaching the certain grades are, that could be a whole other episode to set the context for when you taught this at the high school level. Right? We talked about, this is a public school that you were teaching in. It was part of that consortium. So a network of schools who are really, you know, trying to get away from standardized test, trying to do meaningful authentic assessment. And I'm wondering if you want to speak a little bit more about the consortium's approach or even Fannie lou hamer specifically and their approach to education. I know we touched on a few things, but I'm curious here because a lot of times that this point in the podcast episode, I'll ask about mindset shifts and so if there's a person listening who the leader of the school as a teacher at a school, thinking, okay, my school doesn't do that right now, but I'm really curious to know how I get there or what that looks like. If I were trying to get there to do something like this, to have a course like this, to create a school culture like this. If you could just kind of paint us a picture of what that looks like.
So that listener could kind of start thinking about what that could look like for them. What I love about consortium schools is that they looked at the standardized test, the new york regions exams and said, what experiences and, and assessments can we give students? That will be as rigorous, if not more rigorous than those exams, right? Having students sit for those exams. And to me, I love that because standardized testing to me is it's unfair, it's unjust and it's not the way that I think we can raise kids and have kids learn in the best way pivoting to meaningful of an authentic assessment means really, really investing in backwards planning. And so Fannie lou, you know, they thought a lot about what, what do we want a kid who leaves this high school to be able to know and do when they leave and and not always content. No. And do, I mean that's definitely part of it, but what are the skills that they have when they walk out the door and continue to learn?
How can they continue to help themselves in an educational experience or were in the working world? Right. How can they have those skills? And so they had to get these mastery which were in the main subjects of math, science, english, history and then like an art and autobiography was something else. I can't remember right now. I think some sort of choice that they had, What is education, if not like the dialectic conversation and questions and and so students had to sit on panels. Not only did they have to write really long papers in each subject area, whether that was sort of a scientific report or explanation of math, comparative literary paper and defend themselves with that content around questions in front of adults and man, if you had told me I had to do that to graduate high school, I think I would have never graduated high school. All four years of the this experience in the consortium school in Fannie Lou in particular were backwards maps that kid's got to that point, you know, really being able to dive deep into a topic over breath and then practice the writing skills in the lower grades, it was red tags and the upper grades, it was blue tags for graduation.
But we gave them small snippets of those types of writing experience, types of reading experiences, types of of being a scientist or being a mathematician and writing about that and then also defending their ideas. We gave them those opportunities along the way and had them practice so that by the time they got to their junior and senior year, they were able to tackle those longer and more complex mastery with a lot of support, right? They're still teenagers and they were still learning and really giving them choice along the way. Like for me in my english class that I was teaching, they had to do a comparative paper. So we would read one book that I had chosen on a particular theme together and then I would open it up and let them choose what the next book that they wanted to compare that book with was. And then I got to the point where I said you get to choose the question, whatever question you want to write to is what you're going to write to and you're gonna write best to, you gotta analyze quotes, you gotta find evidence, but you are are in charge and you are going to prove to me your ideas and I think that those are just such authentic skills that kids would leave with.
Whereas when I was in high school I memorized a lot. I took calculus. My goodness, I cannot tell you anything from calculus, but I got through it and did well because I memorized but I didn't understand what it meant and what I loved it. My math teacher in the next room was those kids understood or they were working towards understanding what an equation meant and what that represented in real life. That is amazing. Yeah, you're speaking really to the application piece, right? I can memorize formulas of math, but I don't know how to apply math in a context to get me a solution right? I have no idea. And so I think I really related to that piece as well. I'm guessing it was the same for Fannie lou Hamer. But at my school, which was Manhattan International High School, we had a lot of collaborative planning to get that backwards design in place. So there was a lot of like grade teams who regularly and like planning across the grade. But then there was also departments who, you know, ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th grade had the same in our school. Anyways, they had the same rubric and it was kind of scaffold it back a little bit, so it looks slightly different, but the main themes or standards were present.
And so that scaffolding, I think also requires a lot of collaboration. So for listeners who don't already have that close collaboration in their schools, that's something I think that's a great starting point to just get together with someone else in your department, your grade team and start planning and mapping that out. Is that accurate to say that was the same at your school? Oh, absolutely. Yeah. We met in grade level teams, we met in content teams. I think the consortium has rubrics that you need to use and so how you use those similar, like we might scaffold them back a little bit for the earlier grades. The english team cross grade would meet and really look at that. The other piece that there's collaboration, I think amongst teachers and staff and administration. And then I also think there was a lot of collaboration between teachers and students and teachers and families. And so we had a really strong advisory program I know when I was teaching and when I came up, like Advisory was like really, you know, the jargon of the day and like very everybody's got advisory, it's really important.
But our advisory was for real. I was responsible for 18 to 19 students and making sure that from junior year to senior year, I shepherded them through the mastery process that, you know, they knew where they stood, that they knew what they needed to do, That they were emotionally supported, that their families were supported, that their families knew where they were in that process and and really making sure that they made it through the process. And there were some nights where I woke up many a night thinking, oh my goodness, are we gonna make it through for some of them. But I knew my students really well and I knew a core group of them and I would also support them when they had challenges with other students or other teachers. That was also an integral part for our consortium school around, supporting the students to to do something that looked different than what other high school students were doing, where they would sit for a test. And that was it. That's such an important point that those relationships are really fundamental. And and as you said at the start of the episode two, they kind of came through, I think in the course as well, in the, how people are responding to each other, telling their own stories.
So I'm curious as we dive into the details of the course you spoke about backwards play, so maybe we can start there. What was your planning process to get to? What eventually became your autobiography of course at first, thank goodness nancy handed me a binder was like, here's what's been taught before and I was so happy to have something to work off of. So those first few years were really kind of figuring out how did someone else backwards map this process. And then the next few years were spent making it mine and making it sing in terms of backwards planning. I really thought about what that final paper that literary analysis paper would look like. So how are we going to get to that, what are they going to read? What skills do they need that are different from writing creatively um that we're going to need and so where does that kind of happen? And a lot of that, I actually would plan towards the end of the semester, Once I had gotten their creative writing really flowing and they had a lot to work with. So I thought about that, and then the other piece was, they have to write three chapters.
And so how in the world am I going to get them to write these three chapters and their chapters, I think I required them to be 2-3 pages. Some students would write 10 pages for a chapter. We really ran the gambit there, but required a minimum of 2-3 to really tell a story. So I had to figure out what kinds of writing skills do they need? Around five senses and imagery and dialogue and topic. You know, what skills did they need and what models did they need to see to figure out what their own style was. So I worked back and had what we called memory moments. Actually I found a bunch of texts um that I could use as models for memoir, autobiographical writing. I used everything from Nikki Giovanni to martin Merino Vegas when the spirits dance mambo, she's a new you recon woman who grew up in new york, you know her story through her family and her love of music and then we read pieces of the other Westmore the color of water Amy Tan, fish cheeks and Sexton, Ishmael Beah Elizabeth Gilbert.
Like I just pulled a lot of different pieces where I would have them look at the topic of that piece. So like Amy Tan's fish cheeks pieces about the first time that her family invites this white, another student at her school named robert, her family invites his family over and she's asian, I don't know, she identified as asian american, but her parents were not born in America and so they eat dinner and she's just like, oh well the things that I love? Like fish cheeks. Now I see them through robert's eyes and how he sees me and oh no, am I weird, I must seem different. So grabbing something that was really reflective and deep and personal, but also had showcased some sort of really great writing skill and for that there was so much around the five senses because they're eating dinner and so their smell and taste and touch and um so we would delve into like an analysis and have them circle the five senses and but also we talked about the story and so then I would assign a memory moment where it was just, you know, a quick, dirty, rough draft of your parallel story, if you can think of one.
Um and so when is the time when you felt embarrassed by your family or your your identity or you know, and I really, I adjusted my expectations for what might come of that I also always said or something else, right? Like maybe that doesn't speak to you, maybe you don't want to go there. Maybe that's not it. Maybe you want to write about food, go ahead. So now I'm getting detailed, but if I zoom back a little bit, we did a bunch of those, I think 10 or 12 memory moments where we really dig into the writing style and into the topic they would write in response with their own story. So that they had all these little drafts that we could then figure out, okay, what are the three stories you really want to tell in this final autobiography piece? We also had writer's workshop, which was an interesting experience when I first started, I forced them all the whole class to sit in a circle. I think we had three kids that would read that each day, everybody had to give feedback, written and share a little bit out loud. That was hard, It went better in some classes and not so great in other classes, and I learned quickly about how to adjust that experience, but sharing was an expected part of their experience.
And so they got feedback and they got to give feedback on writing that writer's workshop, I was never willing to get rid of it entirely because that's where they saw each other's stories and that's where they connected and said, oh, you went through that too, just that feeling of not being alone and the things you've gone through, you know, like I said before is just really powerful for a lot of kids and in Writer's workshop is where some kids would cry, some kids would share some really personal things and at one particular experience was a young woman who I'm still in touch with and she shared about abuse she had suffered because of her father and due to his alcoholism and I mean, there was not a dry eye in the room and this other young man in the room like came over, I was like can I hug you like and just the outpouring of love for her was amazing and just the I. C. U. And humanity piece was amazing and it was really powerful for her. She after she graduated in college she actually, I don't think she read the story but she wrote more about it and shared that um with a college audience and a day about abuse.
She was really able to take that experience and to me I think take back some control around that experience and to say this happened to me but look at who I am and where I am And the kids were so great and we also had a Vegas roll. What's said in writer's workshop, stays in writer's workshop and I will tell you in the six years of teaching that I think maybe there was one time when somebody said something that somebody else said that wasn't a major deal but you know we handled it and I taught that every semester. So it's really I thought it 12 times and and student and kids got it. You know they they held each other's personal stories for themselves. I'm just thinking about so much of what you said in terms of a planning lens or kind of a pattern lens. I'm curious to know about the the unit arc like we're their separate units. I know that you said there were kind of multiple products that came out of the course, so we're those kind of seen a separate unit. It almost sounds like there was an arc of model memory moment writer's workshop. Was it more of like a pattern of just repeating activities or were they kind of segmented into different distinct units?
Yeah, that's a great question. Um the beginning, like the launch of the course for me was kind of one unit and then we would get into that habit of of repeated pattern like we're gonna read, we're gonna write, we're gonna share, we're gonna we're gonna we're gonna share. And then the third unit was really okay, now we're going to transition into you into you choosing published memoir that you want to read and get into and use as you answer this question and the question change sometimes, but like does our past impact our future? Like are we controlled by our choices or faith? You know, any variant of that question um or like is it important for us to think back on past experiences? So we would then transition into that, you know, where they were doing a lot of independent reading on their own of whatever book they were choosing or they could read in pairs or they could read with me if they wanted to and then they were doing more non non fiction writing, you know, doing that literary analysis paper of that. And then the last few weeks were always just write whatever you need to get this done. But the opening unit, I always started with a movie and I started with the movie Big Fish.
Um and he does have a memoir, but the movie Big Fish to me was a really visual way of talking about who tells your story. How do you tell your story? I don't know if you've seen it's a wonderful movie, there's all this magical realism that happens in it. And it's this father and son, The father is dying and the and the Sun comes back and he's been mad at his dad his old life for not telling the story the real story and not telling the truth of the story. And so then you you you see all the stories that his dad told. Um and it's really beautiful, but I wanted to show them a range of like, look, truth is subjective, you know, and you can tell every single detail or you can add a little magic in there, you know, that's really a range and what your truth is your truth. You know? It was an autobiography of course, but to me it was really kind of a memoir of course, because I wanted creativity and I wanted them to add it and not to necessarily lie or overblow, but just to to feel like it didn't have to be this happened, then this happened and this happened um that they could really have a voice and creativity in there.
I love that you started with that hook too because I think that really frames, I mean, I haven't seen the film, but I think to start with something that might have a little bit of magic in it, like I think that's brilliant. And I also just love the unit arc. It sounds to me like there was kind of this unit one frame that might have been more like teacher directed, kind of like standardized, this is it. And then there's more of like more and more evolution. It sounds like as unit two and three went on for more student choice, more flexibility, we adapt in the, in the workshops and the sharing process and it all looks different class by class. I think that's so cool for someone who's kind of interested in doing some student voice stuff, but isn't quite sure where to start. It's like a lovely scaffolding up to what in the end is incredibly student driven and so I just think that's really hopefully very comforting for someone listening who's like, oh, I want to start this, but I've never done any sort of, you know, let students choose their own question or book or something. So I love that you painted that picture for us. I'm wondering how your students responded in terms of what kind of work they created, what they said to you as they completed the course, you know, what did it mean to them?
I know you said you're still in touch with some students, including I know you were excited to be able to, to kind of, grapple with this question to any students who struggled with the course as well. If there was anyone who just needed an extra scaffold or something like that. Yeah, I'll speak to that first. This course was hard, like, it couldn't, I think for me who loves writing, I'm like, oh, that would be an easy course. It's a hard course. I asked a lot of my students and I really asked them to be vulnerable with each other and with themselves and with me, and it was not everybody's cup of tea. So even though, yes, there were great connections and um, great stories that were told for some students, there was a real strong, like, I can't do this, I'm not I'm not gonna do this. And that was very rare where they said, I'm not gonna do this. But there were a few students who didn't take autobiography and may have started in the first week or two, and we just couldn't, they were not ready to go inside, um, in the way that I was asking them to, and I couldn't, I mean, what am I gonna do, force them, like, no, I didn't want to, but it did also make me very aware that there were students who not every student wrote, you know, a heart wrenching, you know, sob grabbing story.
I was very clear with them from the beginning. I'm not asking you to bare your soul. I'm not asking requiring you to make us cry or anything you share to the level at which you are comfortable with. So it could be a story about the best BMX bike ride you had when you were in fifth grade, that's fine. But I had to continually remind them of that because some students did go there and then if people had responses, they might feel like, oh my stories aren't powerful or might not be enough. And some students were just really funny. They told really funny stories where they would vary, you know, they'd have a humorous story and like a thoughtful story and another, you know, a favorite teacher from their, from their life if it wasn't for all students. And I had, I definitely had one student who he had to go the route of just writing the most ridiculous fantasy stories as his life and I had, I had to be okay with that because I don't think he wanted to do it. And and that had to be okay. And it was okay because I think a lot of the students really brought in and, and shared the teachers who sat on the panels often said to me this is my favorite panel to sit on and again, to be clear, I didn't create the, I didn't like design the course from scratch, I stood on the shoulders of the great people who designed it before me, Kids would cry, they would cry, they would talk about real stuff and real life and not to say that talking about math and science and history is not important cause that's real too.
There's rarely tears involved with the math and the science I think, but not human connection That, that a, a teacher could see that in a student, a student could see that in a teacher as they shared back with them on those panels was amazing. Students would say like, Wow, I didn't think that I could write or I didn't think I had stories, I didn't realize that other people go through what I go through, you know, that that continually came out. So to me, it said something about just like the loneliness of teenager Hood, right? When I think back to when I was 15 and 16, I thought I knew everything, but I also wasn't talking with everybody at school, I didn't know what they were going through. I talked with my close friends and so it would be surprising to find out who else was going through challenging things or silly things or had a similar relationship with their parents or struggled with health issues or whatever, but not all of them loved it and I definitely collected their feedback at the end of the course and made some adjustments. I think the biggest adjustments that I made was around offering more choice. I wish I could go back when I started at Fannie lou, I was in my sixth year of teaching I think and had learned so much, but still I wish I could go back and be like give up a little bit more control.
It's going to be fine because I had originally had them all read the same book to analyze for the literary analysis at the end. One year we read The Color of Water, another year we read the Other Westmore, many years we read the other West and then I thought, what am I doing their reading all these bits of memoirs and getting interested in other people's stories and I have this budget to get books and, and I have a big library. So let me just open the doors and let them choose what they want to read because they're going to be way more excited and surprise surprise. So many more of them finish the book that they had chosen to read rather than the book that I have had assigned where they might sort of struggle through the end of the book. Um, so giving that control over and giving them choice, they get invested in what they're doing. And some students were always absent on writers workshop day, surprise surprise or some students didn't want to share out loud. So that was another thing that I actually ended up adjusting was instead of requiring everyone to sit around the table and have people read out loud and write the feedback sheets. I think I still did that sometimes for students who wanted the whole audience.
But I also said, go find someone else to trade with, You're gonna trade your stories and you're gonna give feedback to each other and then I would grade their feedback. That was an adjustment I made along the way to to make sure that everyone could give feedback and everybody could practice feedback but they didn't have to do it so publicly, wow, I love how you're also speaking to kind of the evolution and adjustments of the course. As you said, your lifelong learner and it's just coming through in terms of just your reflection and your reflective practice in this conversation, which is absolutely amazing. As we wrap up, a person might be listening to this podcast kind of holding two different roles, one being a teacher who's ready to create a course like this, or even just a unit within a larger L A course or a different course, even an art course, perhaps what can they do to kind of it started? And then also from a leader lens, if I want to encourage my teachers to have a bit more flexibility in creativity in creating something like this. I know you said you had that flexibility from your admin with something that an admin could do to support a teacher. I'll start with teachers first having a full semester was amazing because I could do so much.
But if you don't have that freedom in your curriculum and you maybe have room for a unit of it, I would really recommend thinking about the process and repeating the process because writing creatively is really a process, it takes time. And Lamont wrote a book, Bird by Bird, which is about writing. And in that book, I don't know if I can swear, but she has a chapter called Shitty First Drafts. I would read that with the students and just say, look, you're writing is not going to be perfect the first time. And sure we say that to kids when they write essays and whatever, but it's different. Even like I didn't want that pressure to stop them from putting pen to paper and to normalize the experience that you're not gonna love, the first thing you write and it's not going to be perfect and it might just be random images together through a teacher starting out. I would recommend go to the grain size that feels comfortable for you. I think two things, what are parts of that process piece that I can repeat so that kids can do it and do it again and do it again and do it again and then what literary element skills because if you're worried about moving to something creative and feel like this isn't authentic assessment or this isn't gonna support them to do well on the tests later on then what are those skills that they need to know?
What do they need to analyze for? How can you weave that into how they look at memoirs and what they practice when they're writing and they're not going to get it perfect the first time. And and some of them will, some will have amazing writing talent. You'll be surprised. But what are things that you can repeat so that you can really engage with the students And also how do you create community? I mean I haven't talked a lot about that and we had a lot of community kind of already built into Fannie lou with advisory and then small classes. The kids were really great. But you do have to create a safe space. And so how can you set out expectations for what will be shared or not shared what they can write what they might not right. I set the Vegas roll with them which they didn't all know what that meant. But they knew by the time we talked about it, even if you carve it into a unit. Really making sure even if it's later in the year so that you do have some of that community already, making sure you still address that it's a safe space and also be real with them that you may need to report something. I remember sitting in a coffee shop and reading a student's experience of rape and just I lost it.
And and just being like, I have to talk to the social worker and we have to make sure that this child is safe. And so establishing that relationship with a social worker, establishing that you have support for yourself, I will say it can be emotional for you to reading students pieces. And so do you have a space where you can process with someone? Do you have support for yourself as you're hearing what kids might share? And then have an open mindset. Kids are going to write from all different stories in different different places, ability wise, style wise, topic wise. So, can you see what the growth is for that student not. Did they master creative writing, but did they get better adding an imagery? Did they get better at adding dialogue to a peace? Did they, did they create this character and you can really visualize that character then, I think for leaders, this course is not for the faint of heart, so really letting a teacher choose if they want to do it or not. We had choice in Fannie lou And I know 11 of my fellow teachers did teach the course and was like, wow Lord, your autobiography course looks different than mine, because she was like, I don't want you all to go this deep, like do not, we're not, we're not doing that.
So they focused much more on the published stories and they went, they wrote that way and and did a lot of reading. So if you're gonna do it, know that it's an experience for you too. I also did right along with my students and shared along with my students, so that I was also in the process too. And it was vulnerable in that way. But I think for admin, you know, not forcing a teacher to do it, giving those connections to social workers or therapists or whoever, whatever support you have in the school. So that if triggers come up or around a concern like that communication is already there and it's not a surprise. And then I think giving the latitude to believe in the fact that creative writing is learning and does support skills that we think of typically on english tests or english assessments etcetera. Wow, that was a ton of great next steps for people who are listening. And I'm like, all right, let's do this thing. And I love to how you're speaking to that self care piece. And also the piece of preempting the stories like I know from teaching an intersectional feminism class stories of sexual assault always come up for my students. And so I made the mistake one year of not pre and every other year it was like day one practically where it was we're going to be sharing some things I want you to feel like you can share with me if you would like to, but you need to know, here's what needs to happen from my end from a legal perspective.
Oftentimes that can feel like a revocation of agency. Like I'm taking even more control away from you because you didn't know that was what would happen, but if you know that's what's going to happen and then you still choose to share. Okay, now you're doing what you need to do and that's what's best for you. So I really appreciate that because I'm just thinking from that lens that is hugely emotional for the student and the teacher and it can disrupt student teacher relationships. That could be great up until that point as well. So I appreciate that advice for teachers as we kind of wrap up here. I know you started the show by saying you're a lifelong learner. I'm curious to know what is something that you have been learning about lately or something you've been working on. I know you support people learning all the time. So it could be that lens as well in my current role. I'm supporting coaches to coach teachers and leaders and educators. And so I've been learning a lot more about adult learning and I've been diving into a little bit around micro learning and then also trying to figure out how to navigate learning when it's when it's online. Um, and and navigate that experience of mix of videos and text and checks for understanding and all of those things when I'm not the person like in front of the room or even around the room, you know sort of facilitating the experience.
So that's what I've been really thinking a lot about lately. So new coaches are going through that experience right now, so I'm excited to hear their feedback and make adjustments based on that in terms of what I talked about today, project based learning and um alternative assessment to people and I'm sure you know them but jennifer Gonzalez, the cult of pedagogy, I haven't been in the classroom for five years now but I still listen to her, I still read what she writes, I think she's really powerful and then AJ Giuliani is does a lot around project based learning. So if you're really starting out, if you like the idea of building to some really authentic assessment but you're not quite sure how to do it, that he's a really great resource, He has a podcast and instagram and wrote a book about project based learning and then I am a big fan of africa of fainting mills. Um she gets interviewed and talked about and I have a personal relationship with her but I love talking to her and listening to her interviews as a white person in the world and as a white educator, it helps me to learn more about my identity and other people's identities and other people's experience and how to be anti racist.
And I love the way that she speaks to white people who are educating Children in both a loving and a loving push way she's someone else too. I would definitely love for other people to listen to. And then for fun I do listen to a podcast called The Read. I try to vary the voices of the people that I listen to when I listen to podcasts so that I'm listening to, I'm hearing different perspectives the host of the reed R. Two queer black people. And so I just really appreciate hearing their take on pop culture. And then at the end they always do a read. So they they have their commentary on current events and how they see it in interpret it and feel about it from that queer person of color lens. And so that's really important to me. Um I also started listening to pantsuit politics which are like two white women in the middle of the country, one was Republican and one's liberal and the republican has moved away from being Republican. But they they also processed the news and politics.
And so it's another interesting perspective for me to hear. My favorite podcast is what should I read next where guests say, three books that they've loved. One book that they didn't like and then they get recommended three books that they choose from to read next. And that's the you know, fiction book reader in me that just loves hearing and adding to my to be read pile which is growing every day. You helped me get into that podcast too. So now I also love that podcast. Oh my gosh, there's so much here. I'm gonna try to link to all those places in the show notes as well so that people can just click on them and then go learn some more. They're speaking of links that I can add to the show notes, where can people learn more about you, follow you online, connect with you that kind of thing. You might be disappointed when you follow me. I don't post that much. Um, the best place to be on instagram I am at laura dot loves dot lit. I aspire to maybe do more books diagramming on there. But I'm not committed yet to fully doing that. But that's the best place to find me. Awesome Lord thank you so much for being on the podcast.
Thank you for having me Lindsay. This has been an amazing experience and what you're doing is incredibly important and I just love that teachers and leaders get to listen to you and and learn. So that's great. I'm so excited that people got to just hear about this course and I can't wait to hear how people are actually putting it into action. So feel free to let us know once you go ahead and make this happen at your schools. Thanks for listening. Amazing educators. If you loved this episode, you can share it on social media and tag me at lindsey Beth Alliance or Labor Review of the show. So leaders like you will be more likely to find it until next time. Leaders continue to think Big Act brave and be your best self.