Friday, May 30, 2014

Making It Real

Are you in your relationship because you love him or you like the fact that he is your “boyfriend” and that being in love is comforting and gives you a feeling of security and safety?...By reading [A Doll’s House] I realized it’s really important that your future husband likes you for who you are and doesn’t try to change you. Even though it’s tempting to try to change for being in love, DON’T DO IT! (10th grade student)
I just finished reading my favorite set of papers. (That’s the paper to have as the last one of the year!) They are full of idiosyncratic voice, deep insight into literature, sophisticated synthesis, practical application, and relevant biblical integration. I hope the students all keep them and re-read them in 5 - 10 years--which is actually the target audience. And nobody asked, “Why do we have to do this? The secret is having a good prompt, and then teaching to it. 

The prompt: “Write a letter from your current ‘reasonable’ self to your future ‘in love’ self, about the differences between infatutation or ‘being in love’ and love. Be sure to refer to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the excerpt from The Female Brain, A Doll’s House, and biblical principles. Also be sure to give yourself some specific ideas about how to make a good decision, since that won’t be your strong point in such a state.” 

Here are excerpts from student responses:

  • Watch him, my dear, and see how he acts around his family and around his friends. Infatuation will only take someone so far because they don’t truly understand the other person, just like Nora and Helmer (A Doll’s House)....Is it just oxytocin running around everywhere causing mayhem like Robin (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), or is it true love like the words spoken in the Song of Solomon?
  • You are not thinking of how you can share your true feelings with her more effectively, but furtively looking for opportunities to move your relationship with her to the next level, treating the relationship something like an online game you used to play when you were in high school. You do not love her, but it is the feeling itself that you love.
  • God intended for us to have love, but we see later on how it was abused. Samson thought that he loved Delilah, and he told her about his strength that ultimately ended his life because she was just using him. He didn’t see if she would wait around, but he fell into the trap of love and gave in. Jesus talks about marriage and he has some great advice He talks about how you should take care of the other person as you would take care of yourself for you are one flesh. God gave us this beautiful thing of love, and you should use it instead of abuse it.
  • Take a step back and look at everything from the perspective of someone who is not in love with him. Is he a good person? Does he have strong faith? Do you bring out the best in each other? Would he be a good father? If the answers to these questions are yes, then that is great and you are in the right direction. If the answers had some no’s and you rationalized them, then you are in dangerous territory. Rationalizing his mistakes can be a slippery slope because then you can start rationalizing him heating or hitting you and neither are acceptable. If he does it once, he will do it again.
  • A Doll’s House showed a marriage with pretty much the exact opposite [from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7] going on. Helmer (the man) didn’t always trust Nora (his wife)....Helmer boasted and sang about his fair bird or some animal (who was Nora)....Helmer was clearly finding self-satisfaction in his wife Nora. He was happy with how the relationship was going, but not because of Nora but because he was in love with Nora. When he found out that he was in debt to Krogstad, he was definitely not the most patient person. He immediately went on to beat his wife and shout at her. He went on to criticize her father and say what a bad person she was. During hard times, couples must be able to support each other. To persevere through the trials that they come across. 
When something works this well, I want to figure out what it is so I can recreate it. Here’s what I think:
  1. I start with a significant theme: Finding love.
  2. I create an essential question that will guide our reading: What is the difference between infatuation and love?
  3. I find nonfiction that grounds the theme in the modern world. In this case, the excerpt from The Female Brain about the chemical component of infatuation. (It takes Robin’s love flower out of the realm of magic and makes it into a symbol of a scientifically documented brain state.)
  4. This gives us the background for our purpose for reading one or more pieces of fiction. (In this case, A Doll’s House and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)
  5. While we are reading, we are continually thinking how what we are reading is helping us answer the question. 
  6. Because I believe that in a world that is made and sustained by God, nothing happens that God does not care about, there are always biblical principles that touch anything that goes on in that world. In this case, love. The two biblical principles I taught this unit were as follows: 
    1. Romantic love is a good gift from God when used according to directions (Gen. 2.18-25, Song of Solomon, John 2.1-2, Eph. 5.25-32) but devastating when used otherwise (Shechem and Dinah, Gen. 34; Samson & wife, Judges 12; Samson & Delilah, Judges 16; Amnon & Tamar, 2 Sam. 13). 
    2. The love God intends for a man and woman is a lifetime determination of the will to seek the good of the other person (Gen. 2.20-25, Matt. 19.3-12 [esp. The Message], Mal. 2.13-16, Eph. 5.22-33, I Cor. 13). Are you becoming the type of person capable of this type of determination?
In these closing weeks of the year, I chose to do the assessment as a timed, in-class essay for a couple of reasons. I wanted to see what students could do after 9 months of practice, just on their own in a single draft. And I knew that neither I nor the kids had the stamina left for a thoroughly processed paper. So I gave it a fun twist by telling the students they could prepare content before hand (they knew the basic idea of the question), but they couldn’t write the paper ahead of time because there would be a specialized audience and purpose given at the time of writing. I also limited my grading time by limiting the number of traits and criteria from our middle/high school common writing rubric which I assessed. (Only 3 of the 6 traits: Ideas/content, voice, and conventions; and only 1 of the criteria for ideas/content--addressing the prompt.)

In addition to reading wonderful analysis, voice, synthesis, application, I uncovered a couple of misunderstandings about conventions that I’ll want to address earlier next year. One of the most troubling was the handful of students who as soon as they are released from the “essay” form also abandon the paragraph. For pages. Both fluent and less fluent writers did this. There is also a small number of students who can’t NOT write an essay. Then there’s the pronoun mindfulness this context highlights: both the student who uses “they” when he is clearly talking about an unknown woman in his future, and the student who carefully inserts “he/she” when she is clearly talking about an unknown man in her future.

Celebrating what’s been learned this year, and already thinking about how to do it better next year.


  1. Kim,
    This is great stuff! Thanks for sharing - you have a real knack for making your thinking as a teacher evident. I was thinking as I read your post about how I wish every Christian school teacher could benefit from your reflections and your level of Biblical understanding/integration. I also appreciated the 6 steps you gave so that others might use this pattern in their work.
    Blessings on your work! Dan

  2. Thanks, Dan! Feel free to pass on anything you think would be helpful.