Our Grey Band is prototyping the next level of the Long-View program this year as we stretch into the middle school grades and iterate from a school for 2nd-5th graders to a school for 2nd-8th graders. This year, the middle grades band is called Grey Band, but is also referred to as “The Loft” because of their location upstairs in the adjacent building. Our vision for this band is one of great independence. We want to see the kids standing on the shoulders of the work they’ve done with us in years prior, able to generate their own ideas, drive their own learning, and produce thoughtful and novel work. We are looking for a new level of agency and initiative over these years in the middle grades, and we are interested in solidifying their academic identities around curiosity for challenge, a desire for both agency and collaboration, and deep and varied interests.
Grey Band’s reading and writing instruction -- often referred to more generally as “literacy” instruction -- serves to showcase all of these goals. The Grey Band Literacy Block is led by Anna Lyon and she has just finished up initiating the kids into the ambitious work they will do this year.
Anna started out by teaching the kids what a “dissertation” is. She gave them some insight into her own dissertation experience and what it feels like to become an expert and be treated as one. The point of a dissertation is to contribute something entirely new to the field, something that hasn’t been said yet.
That said, we launched a reading/writing project that will keep the ceiling quite high: Grey Banders will be working toward deeply knowing an area of study, reading widely within the field across multiple genres, identifying gaps that need to filled based on their reading and research (within print and visual mediums), and then filling these gap with their own research and writing. There are a number of deliberate reading and writing goals here, but ever-present is the desire is to rectify some of the inadequate thinking patterns Anna noticed in her work teaching at the college level, such as the struggle her undergraduates faced in thinking across genres and the fact that the rigid separation of genre often caused them to struggle with overarching concepts.
A glimpse into the literacy block today showcased the impressive thinking, reading, talking, and writing swirling around Grey Band. After a brief mini-lesson and some words of advice from Ms. Lyon, the kids scattered to work independently, work in pairs, or meet with their Dissertation Group. The Dissertation Group that met today was formed because their research interests overlap under the umbrella “Social Justice and Equity.” The goal of the group’s work today was to help each “dissertator” figure out the main point or original contribution that he or she wants to make through his or her writing. As an example, Georgia began her reading/research work several weeks ago focusing on her area of interest around gender inequality. However, through her reading and in keeping with the idea that you should “follow your topic,” she became particularly interested in Malala Yousafzai’s story; subsequently and with the help of her group, she noticed that none of her sources were explaining why the Taliban would not want women educated. Therefore, with Ms. Lyon’s and the dissertation group’s support, she came to realize that her “original contribution to the field” is going to be to try to figure why the Taliban would not want women to be educated so that she can write about their motivations in attempting to assassinate a young girl in order to prevent the education of women from taking hold.
Some of the lessons that the kids have had, or will have, as they traverse the path of their dissertations are:
Becoming an expert means go through factual information, looking at current perspectives, understanding the complexities, and seeking conflicting information
A dissertation creates something that matters -- not just to simply create in and of itself -- but also so as to create something useful for other scholars
Good researchers ask: How does this author/genre/text help me access or think about this topic?
Good researchers “honor complexity” and refuse to pick sides as they read, as this is sometimes the most responsible thing
Discern the main point of an informational piece, even if it’s not implicitly stated
Pick a starting topic -- something that feels most urgent about but let your topic guide you
Once you have a topic in your heart it shows up everywhere
Use stickies to track the topic across your reading
Good researchers ask: What‘s at stake in this topic?
Power skimming can be helpful at times
Writing a flashdraft can assist you in stating your orientation toward your topic
We are all eager to see the kids grow in their creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking through their dissertation work this year! No doubt our community will also benefit from their deep expertise in a range of intriguing topics.