R J Comeau - Curriculum Design & Research
Know Thyself: A book of guided writing exercises for healing, metacognition, and self-directed learning for the student. For the teacher: a parallel curriculum for struggling students that helps to improve cultural competence, build positive relationships, and yield pedagogical insights for better instruction.
Know Thy Students: A teacher's guide to working with students in Know Thyself.
:Self-analytical writing can be a positive intervention for struggling students, opening space for change within the learners and their teacher. Narrative, expressive, and metacognitive writing exercises help build the skills for independent learning, though progress comes slowly in students with a history of course failure, and suffers regular regression. More immediately, the conversations that the writing begins help to build stronger relationships between teacher and students. With deeper knowledge of each student’s background, experience, strengths, trauma, conflict, affect, and cognition, teachers gain cultural competence, and clearer paths for academic remediation. Knowing where students are coming from can help a teacher match expectations with the right supports, so that struggling students gain traction in the curriculum, and make real progress toward passing. Writing interventions can help address the achievement gap, in which Black and Hispanic males tend to struggle more in school than their peers. Writing curriculum around race, gender, class and language can help students and teachers navigate the complex terrain of equity in education.
Context and History: I have been teaching senior English in the Boston Public Schools for 18 years, at a pilot school called Another Course to College. We serve students who want a rigorous college prep experience, but who failed to make it into one of Boston’s exam schools. Most of my students are Black or Hispanic, and more than 80% qualify for free or reduced lunch. I have been using Know Thyself with them for two years, and have been working on a version of this text for 10 years, since earning a masters from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2005. In 2012-13, I developed a version of my current text through a fellowship with the Calderwood Teachers as Writers initiative. My Know Thyself project won first prize, and since then I have presented this work at Harvard, the Boston Teacher’s Union, and UMass Boston. Colleagues have urged me to publish this text, and students, in an anonymous survey, praised the book for giving them outlets for expression and self-analysis that schools rarely give. I hope to share my work with wider audiences, to help connect students and teachers with writing for personal change.
This work fulfills a personal passion for equity around class, race, and education. As a working-class kid from a mill town north of Boston, I dropped out of high school during my senior year. I then served four years in the Marine Corps, after which I spent two years at a community college. As I sought a 4 year school for transfer, I was lucky to gain admission to Amherst College, where I graduated summa cum laude in English. I know what it means to struggle in school, and I know what it takes to succeed. As a White teacher of mostly Black and Hispanic students, I also know what it means to lack cultural competency, where my basic ignorance of my students’ lived experiences has led to misunderstandings, mis-education, and missed opportunities. Using Know Thyself has helped me grow as a teacher, and my students and I have dramatically increased the pass rate for my challenging course.
If you'd like to order editions of Know Thyself and the teacher's guide, Know Thy Students, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
and work to tell it better
and put them to work at school
and adapt them into your daily life
to reduce stress and feel better
and shape them to work for your goals
and enact your own solutions
to stop ones you don’t want, and start ones that you do
and free ourselves from mental slavery
Developed by R J Comeau
We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.
― Marcus Garvey
While no one liberates himself by his own efforts alone, neither is he liberated by others.
― Paolo Freire
No one is free who has not obtained the empire of himself. No man is free who cannot command himself.
The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.
― John Dewey
The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical processes to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory. Therefore it is imperative at the outset to compile such an inventory.
– Antonio Gramsci
Copyright 2013-2017 Robert J. Comeau