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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Challenge Yourself: The Franklin Challenge

The study of literature is the study of the human experience. I love that what I teach has along with it this great opportunity, and responsibility, to talk about life. Sometimes I hear a students say that we've gotten off topic when addressing an issue in the classroom while reading, and while sometimes true, I would beg to differ that we have had an opportunity to make the reading relevant. In an English class, or at least my English class, learning doesn't always have an end product that can be submitted for points. For some students that can feel like "Well we didn't do anything today" but there is more to learning than a worksheet or test. To be frank, I give very few tests throughout the year- maybe 4 or 5.

As we started our "Rationalist" (aka the Enlightenment, aka the Revolutionary Period) unit we had an unique opportunity to take our literature and study of life to a new level. We read Ben Franklin's Autobiography - particularly looking at the 13 virtues which was a systematic approach to reaching moral perfection. After reading Franklin's rationale, we embarked on "The Franklin  Challenge". So here is what we did:

1. We looked at a sample log of Franklin's day:

Looking at how Franklin logged his day we made  plans to ask ourselves every morning "What Good Will I Do Today?" and follow up every night with "What Good Have I Done Today?"

Next we took on the task of documenting the virtues in our own life:
Students were to take few minutes at the end of each day to mark the virtues in which they had mastered for the day, and those in which they had struggled. 

The end product wasn't to turn these documents in, although I did check them by walking around the room for accountability purposes, but to write a reflection. "What did you learn about yourself this week?"

I was really impressed with the reflections submitted by students. To take a week to be reflective about how you spend your time, be conscious of the actions you take, and be mindful of setting your focus each morning to do something good had an impact. Now I am not naive enough to think that every student took this seriously and and filled in out every night, but I can tell from the reflections that some did. In my directions for the assignment I told them:

In order to become better we have to willing to be reflective. We have to be willing to  praise ourselves for our successes and be honest about our shortcomings. To be self aware can be a hard and uncomfortable- but it is imperative to becoming what we want to be. 

I decided to take this challenge as well. So what did I learn? I learned I struggle tremendously with Tranquility- be not disturbed by trifles or accidents common or unavoidable. I can have an exceptional day. Feel productive in my planning and teaching, make meaningful connections in class, find myself blessed by so much. I will quickly sacrifice all of those positives for a moment I have no control over. Maybe unkind words, or a struggle in the classroom, or anxiety over situations that I can not change. Having that question at the end of the day to refocus my attention had an impact on me 
"What Good Did You Do Today?" 

While I could easily end my day going back over all of the ways in which I fell short, I made myself look at something I did well. What a change that makes! It's all about perspective. Now, I will have to repeatedly remind myself of these things daily, but it had a huge impact for me! Hopefully it had an impact on at least a few of my students as well :)

Homework with a purpose!