Slice of Life 2013

Slice of Life 2013 Day 19: A Teachable Spirit

on March 19, 2013

Slice of Life

I’m participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.

The 7th grade language arts teachers at my school are working in conjunction with the science teachers on a project with our students. This project is called “The Human Body Corporation” and the students were required to create a 3-D model of a major organ of the body. They would then write a persuasive letter to the CEO of the Human Body Corporation explainimg their importance to the body system and why if anyone needed to be fired, it shouldn’t be them.

Students are taking on the role of brain, kidney, small intestine, skin, and lungs and doing some research to fully explain their role in the human body system and their organ’s importance.

My language arts colleagues and I decided this would be an excellent opportunity for us to collaborate with our science colleagues and use this assignment as an excuse to do a mini-writing unit on letter writing, with a persuasive twist. Science would cover the content; we would cover the writing of a business letter.

Sounds like a great idea, right?

Oh, did I mention that this is all taking place this week, six full days from the start of our Spring Break? That our kids are jacked up beyond recognition? That even our “old reliables” (the students you can always count on to behave and cooperate) are now part of the surly 7th grade pack?

But I digress…

After giving students a business letter format to follow, I thought I would work on the makings of an excellent introductory paragraph. We talked about the importance of having a “hook” to grab our reader, establishing our purpose for writing, and writing a strong thesis statement for our concluding sentence. I showed them several examples, modeled how to write a good intro for them, and revised and edited other student’s papers using the document camera.

Students who had brought their rough drafts to class were instructed to revise their introductory paragraphs for homework last night.

Today, I asked for volunteers to share their writing with the class. I would put their paragraphs up on the document camera and we would analyze them for quality and I would help revise if necessary.

Prior to this I explained that I didn’t want to see the following:

Dear Mr./Ms. CEO:

“Hello, I am the brain. I am located in the skull. I perform many functions and you shouldn’t fire me.”

(This most boring opening sentence was the standard yesterday in class.)

Any volunteers?

One after another, students came up to the front of the room and handed me papers with opening sentences just like the one above. Exactly like the one above.

When I handed them back and asked where their hook was, I got blank stares and responses like, “Why do we have to do that? Can’t we just write it the way we want?”

Um, no!

In each of my five language arts classes, I encountered this type of response by the majority of students.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a few who were genuinely interested in my feedback and were working hard to revise and improve their writing.

But the vast majority could not have cared less.

What troubles me is that I am seeing more of this attitude coming from students in my classes in the past few years.  My colleagues and I have reflected upon the causes.  Is it lack of engagement? Is the work too difficult? Too easy? Irrelevant? Boring?

Or is it something else?

Upon reflection, I believe I have discovered the root of this problem with my students.

Many of my students lack a teachable spirit. I believe that having a teachable spirit is a mandatory requirement for learning to occur. Without it, progress is unlikely if not impossible.

Students who have a teachable spirit are a joy to teach. You can see it in their faces, the joy of learning and the desire to improve.

Students without a teachable spirit  feel that we have nothing to offer them.  Instruction and guidance is offered but not accepted, like an unwelcome gift.

Can we as teachers help develop a teachable spirit  in our students?

If so, how?

If not, then what?


 teachable spirit


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