Three Things Thursday

3things-thursdayHere are three things I read this week that moved me, challenged me, and encouraged me.  I hope they do the same for you.

 

1. Information Writing that is NOT the “Research Paper” by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell

From the authors of Writing with Mentors comes a powerful post on writing and research and our students.  Not only is this post challenging, but they also provide a wealth of resources to help!

Not only do we limit our students’ understanding of research when we limit students’ information-writing experiences to the extensive, academic writing assignment described above; we completely dumb down their understanding of the complex, multifaceted world of information writing.

2.  The Importance of Doing Laundry:  Maintenance Matters by Kate Roberts

Thank you, Amy Fouse, for sending me this post.  I love the new and the innovative, but Kate is absolutely right.  We must celebrate the maintenance because that is where most of the real work is happening.

I would argue we do not spend enough time talking about and celebrating the labor of teachers – all the maintenance it takes to get great and innovative ideas up off of the ground and into the world. And we do not spend enough time helping each other to find sustainable ways to practice that maintenance and keep it going.

3.  Open Conferring Notes (Or:  How a Case of Mild Hypochondria Helped My Teaching) by Katy Wischow

I’ve had the honor of being in Katy’s class twice — once at a Teacher’s College Institute and once at Homegrown.  Reading this blog post makes me feel like I’m right back there with her.  Katy’s reflective (and humorous) voice gets to the heart of why we need conferring notes and why we should share them with students.

But what if we started to think of conference notes not as teacher tools, but as teacher-and-student tools? What if we changed the purpose and intention and power of conferring and conferring notes? What if, in fact, we thought of them not as a tool at all? What if we thought of conference notes as a structure or a routine, like gathering on the rug or keeping a writing notebook, something that creates time and space for something we value?

 

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The Family Legacy

Thanksgiving week I received the following text from my cousin, Katie:

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My grandmother, Betty Wall, was an amazing woman. She lived a life of servitude. People often remark how my grandmother made them feel like they were the most important person when they were with her. That’s because, to my grandmother, they were. She knew little things matter.

So my cousin’s comment is true. All of Betty Wall’s children and grandchildren find that there are ways in which we are our grandmother. She lives on through her family, through the things we do.

23c049c900000578-2861606-the_finish_this_is_a_team_this_is_a_family_this_is_target_he_con-m-1_1417744063359Recently Omeleto posted this video of a manager who clearly understands motivation is important–especially right before your retail doors open on Black Friday. As I was showing this video to a group of teachers, this manager’s use of the word family stuck with me. While this clip is the only glimpse into his leadership style I have, I would guess he has instilled a sense of family with his workers, and his enthusiasm and sense of purpose–we are doing something important–lives on in the way his employees treat customers and each other.

fullsizeoutput_42caThis is our first week back to school since NCTE. In the three days I’ve been at work, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve referenced something from the conference—a quote from a presentation, an author who shared, a text that was mentioned, a challenge that issued, Kwame Alexander’s amazing library scarf… My extended NCTE family lives on through my work in my small part of the world because of how so many of them let me in their lives through their writings, presentations, tweets, videos and more.

And my small part of the world is where I can make a difference.

So I wonder: What of me is living on through my professional family? I say a lot of things are important (and I’m sure they are), but what do I do that will be passed on to others?

This is my first year as a system literacy coach and out of the classroom. I wonder what do the students who sat in my classroom do that if they thought about it would say, “That is Ms. Wall to the max.” Would it be something that makes me smile from pride? Would it be anything at all? What about my newly inherited family of teachers I work with now?

img_2842What am I passing on?

My grandmother didn’t get to leave a list of the things she would like for us to do so her legacy would live on, but I’m pretty sure she would be proud of my cousin, Katie, and the other things our family does that is grandmother to the max. I want the same to be true of my life and my educator legacy.

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When we fail. . .

2016-02-09 09.53.18I took a hiatus from my blog during January to work on my dissertation. My chair told me I needed to have a complete draft by the end of January to graduate in May. I didn’t make the deadline. (I am now shooting for completion by April to graduate in July.)

This is the season for college applications, which means the season of writing lots of recommendations and editing lots of admission essays. A question I see that keeps popping up for college applicants as well as job applicants—in some manner or another—is name a time you’ve failed and how you overcame.

In my English 10 classes, we are working on our Shakespeare themed units. I wanted to do something different with this unit, and I wanted to provide choice. I planned what I thought was a great structure to do that. I would be lying if I said this unit had been a success. There was something lacking in the unit.

Failure has been on my mind.

What do you do when you are a teacher and you feel like you didn’t succeed, or more 2016-02-09 10.58.18bluntly put, failed at a lesson or unit? Reflect, self-assess, make notes and adjustments, learn, and do better.

But also, be okay…no be more than okay, be proud that you took a risk, you tried something new, you learned, you grew as an educator (and probably as a person) and your students will benefit from this. Celebrate that!

We have a responsibility to our students, to our profession, and to our future to reflect on our practice. We have a responsibility to make sure that we are reading current research, engaging in proven professional development, and learning from a community of leaders in our field.  We have a responsibility to make sure that we are growing as educators and we are putting that into practice so that our students are growing as learners and citizens.  But if we are doing that, if we are measuring ourselves by the best education has to offer, if we are stepping out of our comfort zone to do what is right, then we also have a responsibility to let ourselves fail, reflect on our learning from the failure, and go back the next day ready to try (with tweaks) again.

I was quite bummed about my unit. I had been so excited about it, and I was frustrated that it didn’t come to fruition as I had envisioned. I was talking with a colleague about my frustrations with the unit. She asked me why I thought it didn’t go like I had envisioned. I responded with something like, “I don’t know. Something just isn’t right.”

The question haunted me. I needed to really reflect: What was it that specifically that went wrong? What was I not happy with? Why did it not go like I wanted? How could it have gone different? AND what did go right?

I realized timing was a bit of an issue with this unit. Since timing became an issue, I didn’t focus as much on reading and writing skills to make up for loss of time. Choice was another issue. Although I didn’t dictate how students wrote in this unit, I felt I forced them into the box of one particular lens for too long. I should have started with the teacher-directed lens and then let them explore others on their own.

Now that I named the failure, I know what to do differently, what to do better next unit.

But I also had to think about what went right. Students’ final tasks as well as their online discussion about the texts showed a real sense of understanding—way beyond the surface level. Students weren’t just reading a Shakespeare play because we always teach a Shakespeare play. They had purpose and direction. Students were able to discuss themes across texts—they talked about the impact of the theme of deception not only in the play they studied for this unit, but also in their independent novels, informational texts, and other Shak2016-02-10 11.14.40.jpgespearean plays.

[Side note: One thing I did make sure we did was have 10 minutes of class reading time for independent novels three to four and sometimes five days a week. After I commented on how I loved seeing a particular student with two books in hand, she said, “It’s because of you. You made us read, and now I can’t stop.” That’s a success.]

Mary Ehrenworth once said something to the effect of it is worse to keep teaching as we’ve always taught than to try to do right by students and not be perfect. I was far from perfect in this unit, but I know I tried to do right by my kids, and in doing so, the failure unit helped my kids grow more as readers and writers than by not doing anything different.

If you want to see some of the end results from this unit, look at these examples and this student created music video.  The final project (which accompanied a paper, a online Socratic discussion, and reading journals) was a creative piece on how a character they studied viewed deception presented from the character’s point of view.  This part of the unit was successful.  Many of them also discussed other themes in their interpretation.

Bonus Read:  Pernille Rip seems to continually challenge me with her thoughtful posts.  And she always seems to know what I’ve been discussing with my colleagues.  I love her openness to conversation about hot topics and her fearlessness in tackling them head-on.  If you have found yourself in a discussion on whole class novels, I suggest you read her post, “So You Teach a Whole Class Novel – A Small Idea to Help.


First Week Impressions and Priorities

The first week of school is so important, so I’ve been thinking about how to make the most out of it–from the very first moment.

First Impressions

In just four days, I will stand outside my door, greeting students before they enter my classroom for the first time. As soon as they pass the threshold, they will make first impression judgments based on the way my classroom looks. Classroom arrangement is an extension of our educational philosophy. What2015-07-28 16.38.13 does my classroom say about what I believe? I hope it says…

  1. Reading and writing are important, encouraged, and fun.
  2. Talk is necessary.
  3. We are going to laugh.
  4. This is the students’ classroom.
  5. We will be doing in this class.

We Must Read

One of the saddest things students tell me every year is that they used to love reading but not now. This stems from a variety of reasons, but whatever the reason, I want to change the culture of reading in my students.

  1. Students will create a “Books I Want to Read” sheet in their class notebooks (we keep our writer’s notebook and reader’s notebook in one binder).
  2. Start with a book talk:  I’ll start with Gregory Galloway’s As Simple As Snow. From the very first sentence many students are hooked on this ASASbook. One former student recently admitted via Facebook that he “took” a copy because he loved it so much. I’ll consider that a win. Galloway has visited students in our county twice; mailed students additional clues (which I’ve kept copies for students); and created a website with supplemental material.  (Side note: Book talks happen every week in my class. The media staff and I alternate weeks so the students are hearing from a variety of voices about a wide range of books. Other great ideas can be found here: 6 Simple Ideas to Get Kids to Read.)
  3. Speed date—with books: I will have 5-7 titles at each station. Students will visit each station for about 3 minutes, writing down titles of interest. Keep in mind that if I have 165 students, I need to think about the number of titles and copies of books I need so that 7th period has just as much and just as good of choices as my first period.
  4. After they visit all the books, they will check out a book. We will not discuss their Lexile score nor the Lexile scores of the books. This is about getting students hooked on reading, about giving them choice, about encouraging a love of reading.  For a powerful conversation about students who don’t read on grade level, check out My Child is Not a Struggling Reader.
  5. Students will keep their reading logs on Goodreads. This will be new to many of my students, so I will have them log on in class.
  6. Freedom to abandon books:  What makes me think that students who are not in the habit of reading are going to select a book they love the first time? Or why would I want to discourage readers from trying a new genre by forcing them to stick with something they may not know if they like? Students need to know that it is okay to abandon a book, but also the help to find a book they will like.
  7. Time to read–immediately: If students don’t have time in class to get hooked into their book, they are less likely to read it at home. If it is as important as I believe, then I have to make time in my class for it.

Bonus Read:  Donalyn Miller always challenges me as a reader and an educator.  Her post Patron of the Arts is no different.  There is so much in this post that you must read, but here is a little snip-it: “Our teaching goals would be better served if we read the text first, enjoyed it as readers, and then reread the text for instructional purposes.”

Up on Deck

Our first unit is a memoir unit. These are the professional resources I’ve been reading to help me think through this unit.