As part of our writing programme this term, we get students to write about their lives everyday - we call it "recording a bit of our lives everyday."
The aim for this is for students to realise their own potential, that they can be an author, that what they have to say does matter, their life matters, and that somebody is listening to what they have to say.
Today I asked students to write about their house.
Firstly, I wrote about mine (with some exaggerations, for effect), and read it to them. I asked them to close their eyes, and picture in their heads what my house looked like (trying to stress the descriptive language).
After reading, I asked the students to open their eyes and tell me what they saw. Hands flew up. They told me about the pink flowers outside, the shoes by the door, the red couch, the picture of my niece and nephew on the fridge, the pile of clothes on the floor. They got the point of it. They got to mentally walk through the house and see what I saw.
So, it was my turn to see what they see.
The students went off and began writing about their houses.
Of course, I knew that they all live in state houses. Of course, I knew that only a small group of my students have their own bedroom. Of course, I knew that only some of them have internet access at home. Of course, I knew that most of their home lives, aren't glamorous, to say the least.
But the writing they produced got to me a little..
"As i walk though the door i could see my blue and green seats.I walk up the stairs and i can see little things on the stairs.I walk im my bedroom and i can see my new shoes under the bed and they were dirty.so i thought i could clean the house."
"As i walk up the 3 steps i find a big pile of shoes in the front of the door. I walk inside my house and i go into the kitchen and i see lots and lots of dishes on the bench. When i go through the hallway i see 5 rooms and when i go past them i see 2 messy rooms and i see 2 clean rooms i one really big giant room that is clean. I go into my room and i take my bag off and put it on the floor. I go into the kitchen again and i go to get a drink from the fridge. Then my sister comes home from college then i my parents come home then when they are here we relax." - i.e. she goes home alone and waits for her family to turn up
They mentioned over and over having 'broken' something, having a 'dirty' something, and hardly anyone mentioned coming home and doing homework or doing anything with their siblings and parents. They talked about the rooms in their houses - mostly a lot of rooms, to represent the lots of people that live in the one house. I knew what their homes must be like, but to hear it from them was a lot harder to hear than I thought it would be.
What got to me, was how normal that all was. They talked to each other, compared stories, gave each other ideas (as they have been to each others houses before) and didn't seem to be concerned that they didn't have a bedroom, or that there was ten people living in two or three bedrooms, or that on a weekly basis someone in the class doesn't have lunch because all their families money went on rent that week.
It was a quick and harsh reminder of the home lives my students come from, their normal.
We talk endlessly of national standards for reading, writing and maths. The students are below the 'norm', we have to push them and put in all these special programmes to get them to 'norm', but the 'norm' is bullshit.