Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Personal Statement, Version 2.2

Still crafting my personal statement, I tried to focus more on the story component to build the analogy. My goal was to show how George, my student, could change his behavior completely if he felt he was part of an inclusive, supportive environment that encouraged intellectual freedom. I wanted to make that connection to Internet users, and felt that if I fleshed out George's character, the readers would understand why I felt so passionate about an abstract concept.

As you'll see in later edits, I go a little overboard with describing George in the following versions. This isn't supposed to be a story about my student, this is my personal statement. However, as with all of my writings, I finish while I still know where I want to go. The fragments at the end of the draft are statements that I thought would be important to consider including as the statement turned into the analogy; thankfully, some of them ended up driving the direction of the final statement.

The moral of the story: don't be afraid to sketch out tangential possibilities even after you've started going down a very specific path with your personal statement. If you're doing it right you'll be editing and revising it later. Those possibilities may end up being the finished product.


“Do you make these?” George asks, staring down at the packet. I nod, lift my finger to my lips—“Now we need to be quiet”—then point to my ears—“and listen”—and finally the projection screen displaying my prerecorded lecture—“and think about the lesson.”

George pushes his chair out loudly and jumps away from the desk. Although my structured worksheets normally circumvent his attention deficit disorder, today he seems determined that nothing will keep him in the present. I hand out honey wheat pretzels to the students diligently copying their guided notes. George isn’t interested. I tail him around the room, reminding him of how well he is doing in math and that now isn’t the time to stop learning. The class paraprofessional tries some tough verbal love; George sucks his teeth. By now it’s become a scene, where both sides have too much at stake to back down.

George spins away from me, and struts toward the front of the room. His one good eye travels from the windows facing the cloudy sky across to the hanging posters of student work I had blown up to larger-than-life size. The order of operations process chart flutters in the breeze, standing out from the others. A few weeks ago, I had taught George to use color-coding and break down the problems into manageable steps—parenthesis were purple, exponents were emerald, etc. George had transformed that handout into a functional, cleanly executed work of art.

George knows the answer, but asks anyway: “Is that mine?”

I nod, and something clicks. The celebration of his learning process, the display of his effort, his participation in a culture that valued those things, convince him that in that moment, that my/our/his math class is worth the time. George walks calmly to his seat and works for the rest of the hour I have with him, transforming the worksheet I created for him into his own.

That transformative property

Imagine if, instead of allowing George to use color on his worksheet and insist on pencil, I had insisted he used it in the way I originally intended for all students.

My class is not the only one using these worksheets, nor can I take full credit for their creation. Without my more experienced peers

Interactive, open source, and modular software allow this model of curriculum to function. With only a few short years of selected “crowd-sourcing,” the fair use policy among my mentors and co-workers has created a system of education that produces impressive and quantifiable improvement on comparable schools.

Allowing the end user to not only access—and in the modes they want—but participate by

These goals must be balanced with compensation for the “creator.”