March 01, 2012

D2 Center Literacy & Life Skills Course: Reading, Writing, and Respect

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This month, the D2 Center is offering an elective credit course in Literacy & Life Skills, taught by certified teachers Clem Bell and Dianne Kielniarz. The class focuses on the importance of reading and writing with an emphasis on an atmosphere of shared respect. The class environment is based on what Ms. Bell and Ms. Kielniarz call the Life Skills Agreement:

  1. Listen: Focus with eyes and body language
  2. Participate: Share oral and written work
  3. Respect: Use tender words in communication

Class projects in writing include a two-page “three-word essay” describing an event in the student’s life – where every sentence is only three words long – an autobiography, and a daily journal. The students are reading and discussing The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. The class will also visit the library, and each student will pick out a book and design their own related project around the book. “We have a wonderful group of writers,” says Ms. Kielniarz.

Ms. Bell and Ms. Kielniarz also infuse ideas from the Sixteen Habits of the Mind into the curriculum, from the book Developing Habits of Mind in Secondary Schools. These habits of mind are “thoughtful behaviors…that allow us to cope with a complex and rapidly changing world. They are powerful tools we can use to intelligently navigate the moral, ethical, and spiritual challenges we encounter…” (Boyes, 1).

Ms. Kielniarz and Ms. Bell shared a story that illustrates the positive atmosphere encouraged by the teachers and enhanced by the students. In one of the Life Skills challenges, an exercise in the “Thinking Flexibly” habit, each student was given this scenario: You have a car with only two seats. A terrible storm is on the way and you pass three people waiting for the bus, about to get drenched. One of the people is an elderly woman. One is an old friend of yours you haven’t connected with in a while. The other is your possible soul mate. You can only pick up one person – who will it be?

The students, Ms. Bell and Ms. Kielniarz say, actively resisted the idea of choosing one passenger, rationalizing all sorts of ways to avoid leaving anyone behind in the storm. One student said he would have a pickup truck; another would have a convertible everyone would pile into, another would have a 5-seater, and yet another theorized if the elderly woman were the size of her own grandmother, who is tiny, she could fit in the trunk without issue and the others could squeeze in.

“These activities bring out the best in the kids,” Ms. Bell says. This is apparent upon every class visit, and we are pleased that Ms. Kielniarz and Ms. Bell have brought their unique, inclusive and positive teaching style to the D2 Center.

Ms. Kielniarz and Ms. Bell

If you or someone you know is in need of an elective high school credit, please contact the D2 Center staff at 402-502-8534 for more information. We also offer courses in math skills, reading, and family health. Our classes are usually three weeks long for three or four hours a day. Class sizes are small with certified teachers, and scheduling is flexible to meet busy students’ needs. Please call with any questions.

— Boyes, Karen, and Graham Watts. Developing Habits of Mind in Secondary Schools ASCD, 2009. http://ascd.org/publications/books/109108.aspx

Posted in: D2 Center Courses, General

About Carolyn

Carolyn Miller is one of the directors of the D2 Center. She is a graduate of Omaha Northwest High School and the University of Iowa. Carolyn has been with the D2 Center since 2010.

View all posts by Carolyn