In Eighth Grade English, one of the books that I have the honor of introducing my students to is The Freedom Writers Diary (FWD) by the Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell. As a Freedom Writer Teacher since 2009, this book enlightens my students by helping to broaden their “humanistic and cultural perspective though literary response, while also forging a natural link between reading and writing.”
This activity is called “Dear Freedom Writer, Advice Column. “ This asks students to get into the head of a Freedom Writer and analyze the problem he or she faces. The students select an entry from the FWD and write two letters from two different points of view: the first seeking help for the problem described in the entry, the second offering advice about the problem. As students work together brainstorming possible solutions, they bond over their shared concern for another teenager’s problems which ultimately leads to voicing their personal connections to each story. Sometimes it is tearful, but the impact of what they are able to say helps them to speak things in our classroom that they may have never voiced before.
I believe this and other kinds of activities we do throughout the year help the students to practice different kinds of writing and public speaking, and become critical thinkers as they explore their own opinions, reasoning and reactions within a “real world” context.
I thank not only the Freedom Writers that I have come to know over the years, but most importantly Erin Gruwell, my mentor, colleague and friend, for allowing me to bring my students along this incredible journey!
Michael J. Stambaugh | Lead Humanities Teacher, Grades 7 and 8