Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Freedom Writers, Literacies and Learning

Recently I attended a literacy conference sponsored by Nassau Tract with fellow library media specialist, Anne Brusca. The keynote speaker was Erin Gruwell, the teacher who was featured in the movie, Freedom Writers with Hilary Swank.

I have to say that Erin was absolutely one of the most inspiring speakers I have ever heard. There wasn't a dry eye in the place when she was done. Not to mention, she was one of the most accessible, warmest people I have ever met. From the Freedom Writers' Website:
The movement was born in 1994 from a teacher's simple notion - inspire young, underprivileged students to pick up pens instead of guns. Since then the Freedom Writers Foundation has evolved into a renowned charitable organization led by Erin Gruwell, with the unwavering support of the original Freedom Writers. The Foundation is dedicated to replicating the Freedom Writers' success in classrooms across the country by equipping teachers with the tools they need to reach and empower their students.

How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change
Themselves and the World Around Them
By The Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell

The Freedom Writers Diary
is the amazing true story of strength, courage, and achievement in the face of adversity. In the fall of 1994, in Room 203 at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, an idealistic twenty-four-year-old teacher named Erin Gruwell faced her first group of students, dubbed by the administration as "unteachable, at-risk" teenagers. This group was unlike any she had ever interacted with.

The kids took bets on how long their new teacher would last in their classroom. Then a pivotal event changed their lives forever: when a racial caricature of one of the African American students circulated the classroom, Erin angrily intercepted the drawing and compared it to a Nazi exaggeration of Jews during the Holocaust. To her amazement, the students responded with puzzled looks. Erin was appalled to discover that not one child in her class knew of the Holocaust and its unspeakable horrors. When asked how many had been shot at, however, all raised their hands, and a battle-scar show-and-tell began that shocked Erin even more.

Erin's message to us: Never give up. She was given the students that everyone had already given up on. She found a way to reach them, to make them writers, to transform their lives.

Later on Anne and I gave a 90 minute presentation on "Increasing Literacy Through Web 2.0". Take a look at it!

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