Saturday, September 12, 2015

Celebrating students willing to put in the hard work

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

This week I hastily gave my students some reading to do to go along with a writing assignment, not realizing just how challenging the text was.

You know how I found out?

I read it (after I assigned it).

Go figure.

See, I gave them the text of JK Rowling's 2008 Harvard commencement address because we have been talking and writing a lot about failure and why it's good for you. I remember some students at my old school did a portion of the speech as part of their forensics declamation performance and being so impressed with the speech's message. Ever since that moment, it has always been a part of my classroom mantra.

But it had been a while since I had watched the speech in its entirety and I foolishly asked my 8th graders to read it for homework without having gone back and reread it for myself. After all, if 6th graders were doing a portion of this speech as a forensics performance, surely 8th graders could handle reading it on their own.

None of my 8th graders actually complained about how hard the speech was to read. I just happened to point it out in class the next day and they affirmed my hunch. The thing is, I get the sense that they didn't mind how hard it was. They have seen that I have been modeling a reading and writing life for them, and as such, I wouldn't assign them anything that I don't see value in. Because they knew that I thought the message of that speech was worthwhile for their writing and for their lives in general,  they were willing to try without complaint. As a result, I have been reading some really thoughtful responses in their writer's notebooks. I'm looking at the printouts of the close readings they did and they have pulled out some really meaningful quotes to apply in their own writing.

So today I am celebrating my students' grit and determination to try hard things. Their acceptance and willingness to fail. Their inherent ability to know that the only way out is through and experience the rewards on the other side. 8th graders, you are awesome.

For every adult that has a lament over "kids these days,"  I have just as much, if not more, praise to dish out. To modify the well-known quote from R.S. Grey, "I believe they can, and they do."


  1. I love that you are celebrating these students and their energy and willingness to try. Just lovely.

  2. What a wonderful reminder that this generation that you are teaching has as much to offer the world as any other generation that went before it.

  3. So wonderful that they took on the challenge. It is an amazing speech, but yes, a lengthy one full of much to think about.

  4. It's quite wonderful that you already have their trust to give them the 'right stuff', Beth. Sounds like serendipity to me. You didn't mean it that way, but it worked beautifully & you may know more about them now than if you'd chosen something easier.

  5. How great is it that they didn't mind how hard it was. They really do and can when we believe in them. xo

  6. Love this post and those students who worked through the tough parts to get to what was meaningful. It says something about your classroom climate that they were willing to show grit and determination, especially so early in the school year.

  7. Beth, I enjoyed watching JK Rowling's presentation. Thank you for sharing that. Your #eduinspiration says it all.