LEARN Marginal Syllabus (January)—Revising Resistance: A Step Toward Student-Centered Activism

January 06, 2020
By Educator Innovator

Our January reading for the 2019-20 Literacy, Equity + Remarkable Notes = LEARN Marginal Syllabus recounts how Alex Corbitt, the author and former middle school educator, employed “radically student-centered” pedagogy as part of a teen activism course. In his Voices from the Middle article, Corbitt describes how he reimagined an elective course in order to situate and support students as activists. Assigned to teach a documentary film class, he proposed to his students that they focus on teen activism, and invited them to co-design the class with him as the year unfolded. This inspirational article describes the ways in which Corbitt helped students design their own learning, study issues of critical importance like racism, and engage in activism.

This is the third month of LEARN 2019-20, a Marginal Syllabus co-developed with the National Writing Project (NWP) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Each month of the 2019-2020 academic year, we’ll collaboratively read and discuss an article, published in four different NCTE journals, that investigates the intersection of literacy and equity. Refer to the the 2019-20 syllabus for information on all the annotatable readings, which will go “live” on the first Monday of each month, along with related events hosted by the National Writing Project.

January topic: Radically student-centered teaching and teen activism

Instead of beginning the teen activism course with a curriculum, I began the course with a series of procedures. I didn’t know where the class was headed, so I needed to ensure that the students would be able to co-facilitate the course in a structured way. The procedures I created all followed the same three steps: 1) brainstorm, 2) curate, and 3) vote.

Revising Resistance: A Step Toward Student-Centered Activism

As part of our close study of this text, Alex Corbitt joined the Marginal Syllabus team to talk about the article.

In January, we read about Alex Corbitt’s “pedagogical justice” journey as he transitioned from traditional instructional planning toward engaging students as co-designers of their teen activism course. Corbitt’s article is a powerful example of reflective practice.It begins with an epiphany Corbitt had while on a school field trip to a police station: “I had failed my students.” This experience spurred him to involve students in the redesign of an elective course which was originally intended to study documentary film. In addition to sharing some of the processes by which he and his students co-developed their activism course, he names lessons learned about student interest, and the ways students preferred to study and write about issues like racism, mental health, and bullying.As a white teacher working with Black and Latinx students, Corbitt identified the need to listen deeply in order to determine what students wanted to learn about, and to navigate vulnerabilities they experienced while exploring challenging course content. Each unit in the activism course started with a three-step process of brainstorming, curating and voting that, ultimately, resulted in the collaborative creation of a range of written products aimed at raising awareness in the school. Corbitt’s article points to the rich potential of a pedagogy that cedes control to students in the name of student engagement and deeper learning for the whole classroom community.

Join the Annotated Conversation

We invite you to read “Revising Resistance: A Step Toward Student-Centered Activism,” and annotate the text with your own thoughts, reactions, and questions. Annotations may be added using the web annotation tool Hypothesis. To add your own annotations, as well as to respond to others, sign up for your free account.

Share your annotations as you read or any time throughout the month of January. We also encourage you to use this reading and the opportunity to annotate however the Marginal Syllabus best suits your interests—organize a study group among colleagues, bring a class you are teaching to participate in this online discussion either publicly or privately, engage as an individual, or connect this text and conversation to other interest-driven activities.