On Climate Change and Hard Days of Teaching…

Sometimes teaching is really hard.

But even when I feel like I’m in a rut as a teacher, or if I feel like my classes aren’t moving forward fast enough, or I worry that I don’t have enough time to do everything I want to do with my students, if I sit back for ten minutes and reflect on the first half of the school year, I have to conclude that things are going well.

Because yes, I feel all of those things as a teacher. Frustration about time constraints and that maybe all of my students aren’t reading all of the books I want them to read. Frustration that I haven’t motivated all of them to read their minimum two hours per week, and that some of them are reading books that might not be at grade level.

But when I start thinking about my students more as individuals, instead of the receivers of a prescribed curriculum, and remember that they are individual kids with fun personalities and individual learning styles, I’m encouraged rather than frustrated.

It’s because of the workshop model. It really is working. 

It just works slower on some days than others.

And that’s okay.

Developing the climate to be a culture of reading is hard and takes time, and I am giving myself permission to let it happen. To push it and encourage it. It’s not going to happen overnight.

And it’s not about me.

It’s about the students who are reading more than they did last year.

It’s about the students who didn’t think they liked to read, and are warming up to reading, slowly, in small bursts and then maybe having long lulls without a book they love. But they are making forward progress.

It’s about the girl who can’t wait to talk about the newest issue in The Kite Runner, and tells me that she can’t imagine that the book can get any more intense because “everything possible is happened already!” and she’s only 200 pages in. Continue reading “On Climate Change and Hard Days of Teaching…”

Advertisements

New Genre, New Learning

I have a student who is a reluctant conferrer. You’ve probably got one, too.

This student is a reader. A big reader. Like the kind of reader who reads 50+ books in a semester.

But up until this week, this student has been reluctant to talk about them, at least to me.

I think it’s my fault.

I’ve been expecting my student to meet me where I am.

One of the ways I thought I was a 21st century teacher was that I ask my students to respond to literature on Blogger instead of in a notebook.  But how can responding on Blogger be a better learning experience than in Google Docs or in regular reader’s notebooks? (I’ll think on that and try to up my game… more later. There must be an answer.) There’s more to being a 21st century teacher than using technology.

 

Let me get back to those 50+ books. I’ve never seen this student with an actual paper bound book in hand; it’s always the Kindle.

As a new-to-workshop teacher, I didn’t realize that the Kindle was one obstacle between me and a successful conference with a student. I guess it’s because it’s not intuitive to me — it’s easy to flip through pages in a book, but it feels intrusive to start swiping through someone’s device.

I’ll try to push through that now that I’m more aware of it. It might bring me closer to being a 21st century teacher.

Last week, I sat down next to this reluctant interactor and started asking some questions. Again.

This time, my student shared a little more than normal.

This student talked about litRPG.

What is that? I asked. Continue reading “New Genre, New Learning”

Using Conroy’s My Reading Life as Mentor Text

 

At the end of first semester, I asked students to write about how their reading lives had changed. We’d been doing workshop for a few months, I’d seen some growth and some good habits forming in many of them, and I really wanted them to recognize that they were better readers than they had been at the beginning of the school year.

I asked them to reflect on their reading lives, using an excerpt from Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life as mentor text. (I think this is one of the best mentor texts out there, so we have ordered enough copies for each teacher in our department as well as several for our classroom libraries. My colleagues are probably sick and tired of hearing about this book, but I feel strongly about it. It’s a great read and an amazing mentor text, all the way through.)

I gave the students this short excerpt from chapter one: Continue reading “Using Conroy’s My Reading Life as Mentor Text”

Don’t share your answers – share your thinking!

My thinking has changed since I started teaching using the workshop model.

I think my students’ thinking has changed, too.

I think that’s the point.

 

For the first seventeen years of my teaching, I was concerned about whether the students turned the assignments in on time, read the short stories and novels that were on the syllabus, and if they were generally compliant.

I assigned packets with study questions when we read The Great Gatsby together. (Big packets! Short answer questions with one right answer! Find it in the text!)

I asked my students to write letters that Huck and Jim might have exchanged after leaving the Phelps’ farm. (Bonus points for burning the edges of the paper or dipping the letters in tea to make them look old!)

I had students create their own real life versions of scarlet letters. (The ones that were made out of rice crispy treats and red M&Ms got an A for Awesome!)

Here are a few gems from past years.

For the first seventeen years of my teaching, I mostly asked all of my students to do the same thing at the same time. 

For the first seventeen years of my teaching, my students mostly gave me the same answers at the same time. 

At least, that was my hope (gah!) – I wanted them to get it! To come up with the same connections that I had! So they would “understand the canon!”

Maybe I’m too hard on myself. I know teaching and learning happened in my classroom before workshop, but I can’t help but think that things could have been better.

 

Things are different now. I don’t want the same answers from anyone any longer (or any more arts and crafts).

I’m not looking for answers, necessarily, either.

I realize now that I am looking for evidence of thinking.

I noticed this the other day in class. My students were learning about aphorisms (mentioned in an earlier post), and one of them asked if they could talk to each other to make sure they had the right answers.

I. Stopped. Everything. Continue reading “Don’t share your answers – share your thinking!”

Catch and Release with Online Notebooks using Hapara

The workshop model has absolutely changed the way I teach and think about students. I love the insights into their thinking that I now have, that somehow I never used to have with the traditional way of teaching literature.

But conferring is my constant challenge.

I talk to students all the time, yet I don’t talk to them enough.

The all the time is in the form of hallway conversations, the check-ins during lunch, and when I ensure that they have enough to read over the upcoming break or weekend.

It’s the mini-lesson, checking for understanding, making sure they “get it” conferences that I wish I could do more of, and I wish I could do better.

I did discover one strategy that works for me and my students, and I’ll share it here. Continue reading “Catch and Release with Online Notebooks using Hapara”

Book Talks When the Teacher is Out

An inevitable reality of teaching is that sometimes the teacher has to be absent. It’s part of life, so I refuse to feel guilty about it.

Mostly.

When I can plan ahead for my absences, I ensure that students are working on something which puts learning at the forefront, rather than having a “let’s take advantage of this poor substitute teacher” situation. That eases the guilt a bit.

Next month, I will attend the Adolescent Literacy Summit and I’m super-excited to learn from some amazing presenters. However, I’ll be missing three days of classes, and I want my students to be doing something worth-while and that helps them move forward with the development of their reading lives.

I’ve planned countless lessons over the years, so I’m not worried about the “lesson” part of the classes that I’ll be missing.

But this book talk habit is a new one.

It’s harder to plan for when I’m not there.

And book talks are an essential part of readers workshop. Kids need to get excited about new books every day!

That’s the situation I’m facing, and I’m exploring some solutions. Continue reading “Book Talks When the Teacher is Out”

Lessons Worth Repeating: Using “old” mentor texts for new learning

I love American Literature. Transcendentalism is essential to eleventh grade English curriculum.

When I was in the eleventh grade and I read Huck Finn say “All right then, I’ll go to hell,” my life was changed. It really was.

I am always moved by Atticus Finch when he tells Scout that the “one thing that doesn’t abide my majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

I have to ask my students, yes, every year, if they think John Proctor is a transcendentalist, and of course to support their assertions with analysis and evidence.

But this fall I had a major shift in my thinking and teaching.

Common core doesn’t mention transcendentalism.

It does require that students can read informational text. Phew.

I believe that Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous transcendentalist essay falls into the category of “seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.9).

Here’s how today went. I kind of liked it.

After the book talks and independent reading, we moved into the mini-lesson part of the schedule. I introduced the idea of transcendentalism in our last session, so today I put the word aphorism on the white board. I asked if anyone knew it or had seen it before. No one had.

I cheered at their silence, and they looked at me quizzically.

I reassured them that they were going to learn something new today! That’s worth cheering about! A new, amazing word, that they already love, they just didn’t know it yet! Yes, I told them they were going to love this word. Aphorism.

(This is when you have to quickly move around the room a lot and talk louder. Or conversely, sloooow down and talk quietly. Be different. Make them pay attention.) Continue reading “Lessons Worth Repeating: Using “old” mentor texts for new learning”