Creating Inclusive Classrooms

THE ART OF TEACHING WRITING

By Lissa Piercy

The summer before my junior year of high school, I was diagnosed with ADHD. My executive function struggles made certain classroom experiences particularly challenging. While I loved learning and was quick to have an answer for the teacher’s questions, I was constantly being told that I was “too talkative,” had too many “side conversations,” or didn’t leave enough room for other students to speak up. Discussions, especially in English class, were exhausting and frustrating because I was constantly trying to force myself to stay engaged without over-participating. The classes I enjoyed most were taught by teachers who used creative lesson planning. In English class during my senior year, teacher Matt Fitz Simmons taught using multiple discussion techniques. In history class, Chris Lorrain split us into groups and led interactive activities. In these classes, my learning differences didn’t stick out, which made it easier to learn.

College proved even more difficult than high school, but eventually I received my AA from Landmark College, a school for students who learn differently; and my BA in social work from Wheelock College, where I did had an internship working with youth with disabilities. I also discovered spoken-word poetry, completed teaching artist training with the Massachusetts Literary Education and Performance Collective (MassLEAP), and began teaching workshops with young people.

It wasn’t until I started teaching this past fall that I connected my experience as a student with ADHD with my lesson planning practices as a teaching artist. I was performing at a high school assembly. My repertoire of “youth-friendly” poetry was limited at the time, so I decided to perform a poem I had written for a fundraising event at Landmark College. The poem explores my ADHD, my roommate Amanda’s dyslexia, and our experiences at Landmark. Here’s an excerpt:

The neurons in my brain needed to be taught of executive function
needed to be told that I’d been living without them
still need to be reminded
At Landmark, Amanda’s Dyslexia became best friends with my ADHD… It took us 20 minutes to come up with a study plan, three hours to execute that, and lots of red bulls to survive finals, but we got there
Maybe only because we met one another
Where else could the first words out of my mouth be, “Hey, what’s your LD?”
I later learned that mine didn’t really fit into the category, but I still fit in
Into classrooms where science professors tossed toys to my distractible hands, where we climbed rock walls during class, learned seven different ways to memorize for tests
where note cards were smart cards and time management was part of the curriculum…

Excerpted from an article of Teachers & Writers Magazine

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