When Susan Miera—who did her MA degree at the Bread Loaf School of English and is a leader in the Bread Loaf Teacher Network—invited me to join her and colleagues and students in Santa Fe, I jumped at the chance. I’ve known “Ms. Miera,” as she is lovingly known by legions of high schoolers, for many years, and I’ve worked with a number of Native American students she has mentored—and sent to Stanford. She’s a whirlwind of energy, and I know that I will always learn something new from her. This visit was no exception.
With support from Santa Fe Indian School (SFIS), the Bread Loaf School of English, and Write to Change, Susan, who directs the writing center at SFIS, and her colleague Alicia Fritz put together a day-long workshop on Writing and Teaching Writing in the Digital Age. The workshop brought together middle and high school students and teachers from SFIS as well as from Pecos (public) and Monte del Sol (charter) high schools, so bright and early on Friday morning about 30 of us gathered on the gorgeous SFIS campus to begin our day.
This eight-and-a-half foot bronze statue, by artist Estella Loretto, welcomed us to SFIS
Colleagues at SFIS describe it as a “grant” school, meaning that they receive some federal funds. But they are also supported by the nineteen pueblos of New Mexico, along with other local and state sources. What I sensed immediately was a strong sense of ownership among the students and faculty at SFIS, captured in what they said about their relationship to the school as well as in many posters and art works throughout the school that stressed commitment and pride:
After introductions and greetings, I talked about the necessity of collaboration for learning and for writing, enumerating four challenges I think we need to address: the individualistic premises on which most institutions of education rest; the fact that our classrooms are now public spaces; alternatives to the “lecture mode” still common in many schools; and the need to retain the best of the “old literacy” while embracing the best parts of the “new literacies.” Then we divided into groups, making sure to have students and teachers from all three schools in each group, and we got to work designing activities and assignments and policies we thought could address these issues.
The day went by in a flash, as groups presented their ideas and plans: everything from designing a Think-a-Tron machine that would allow people working in groups to immediately access each other’s thoughts (!), to presenting PARCC (State test) WARS, in which the students designed a movie trailer to parody the test, to designing a unit on Romeo and Juliet that is thoroughly interactive, participatory, and performative—and a whole lot more. Watchword for the day came from Steven Johnson, who in his “Where Good Ideas Come From” talk says “chance favors the connectedmind.” Once again, I had the privilege of spending a day with insightful, thoughtful, witty, and wise young people. And once again I came away convinced that today’s youth are prepared to use literacy—together—to reimagine classrooms, schools, and themselves.
Susan, Alicia, and me