Category Archives: Professional Development

NCTE 2019 Pregame- Gearing up our Action Plan!!!

Why am I so nervous?

The lights and the stage don’t scare me.  The topic of our presentation is something I’ve lived, day in and day out, for a few years now.  The faces in the crowd, the silence begging to be filled, the words I’ve rehearsed over and over…none of that scares me.

Is it because I want so badly for ears to hear our message? Is it because I’ve been afforded this massively important opportunity to share this message?

Late this afternoon, at the NCTE Conference, I will share the stage with some very important teachers.  These women, like me, believe that inclusivity is something that we must address intentionally.

I’ll spend every second of my allotted time sharing how I’m moving my classroom library from something that reflects traditional, mainstream texts to one that is more inclusive.  One that invites students to read books that give them a better opportunity to see themselves on the pages and a better opportunity to see themselves in this world.

Please join us this afternoon at 4:15 in 361 C.

NCTE 2018- shared slides

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Good books — and a teacher’s expertise in using them — can do it all

On Sunday, my friend and extraordinary literacy-leader, Billy Eastman, and I got to giveBookTweet away books. We presented at the Coalition of Reading and English Supervisors of Texas (CREST) fall conference, and Follett Learning gave us 30 books, six signed by the authors, to raffle off to our audience. It was kind of an Oprah moment: “You get a book, and you get a book.” Oh, the thrill of book giving.

But giving books is just part of the thrill. We know this. We ‘give’ books to readers and students we hope will become readers often. We model our reading lives. We read aloud. We line whiteboard rails with new titles. We do book tastings and speed dating with books. We celebrate our readers and exhaust our arsenal of book-loving ideas.

And some would-be readers still don’t read. What’s a teacher to do?

Here’s three ideas that have worked for me:

1. Never give up. When we set high expectations, when our students know we are serious about Book Love, when we practice keep-on-keeping-on with all the things I listed above– and we relentlessly share our joy, passion, and commitment to their reading lives– even if we never get a student, or a handful of them, to read a book, we have succeeded.

2. Believe in #1. Often we focus on the one student who just won’t budge. She chooses books, flips a few pages, fakes reading a chapter, bluffs her way through a conference, and we get discouraged. Keep trying — but do not let her be a black hole. So often we find ourselves gravitating to the one over and over again when we need the energy to keep encouraging, moving, and celebrating the many.

3. Make it okay to not read novels (yet). Anthologies are awesome. Sometimes

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“… this anthology empowers the nation’s youth to listen, learn, and build a better tomorrow.”

students who don’t like reading just need to enjoy a good piece of writing. Many will then want to read more by a particular author. One title many of my students dabbled in, and often read in its entirety, is Flying Lessons & Other Stories with authors Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Pena, and more. I’ve recently purchased Fresh Ink, which is similar and looks equally engaging. It’s got authors Nicola Yoon, Jason Reynolds, and more! And I just read about this one this morning:  We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices. It’s now in my shopping cart.


In our session at CREST, Billy and I discussed implementing the new ELAR standards for Texas (We both served on the teacher committee that wrote them), and we shared the transformative role investing in teacher expertise and authentic resources has made in his district (We wrote about some of it in this English Journal article.). Access to engaging books like the ones we gave away in our session is just part of it. Knowing how to use them to teach thinking, reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills is the other.

Good books — and a teacher’s expertise in using them — can do it all.

Billy Eastman at CREST

We know the real thrill isn’t in getting a new book but in the knowledge, the empathy, or the know-how that books gives to us. This is the thrill we want for our readers. It’s the reason we do what we do.

 

Amy Rasmussen is a mother, grandmother, reader, writer, and wannabe sleeper. She spends a lot of nights thinking about growing readers, encouraging writers, and talking to her writer’s block. She’s back to working on that book she started five years ago, so if you’ve got any extra luck hanging around, please send it her way. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass 

What Do Today’s Students Need?

This post very nearly slipped through the cracks, but I’m tickled to have found it. Mid-July Lisa and Two-Weeks-Into-School Lisa are of the same mind, if not the same sleep surplus, and now is the perfect time to resurrect my enthusiasm around knowing our students from as many angles as possible.


Greetings from McKinney, Texas where the RealFeel temperature is 108 degrees and this Wisconsin gal is melting her way through professional development with an awesome group of enthusiastic, inquisitive, and insightful secondary teachers.

It is always such a privilege to be asked to teach teachers. The energy that’s built around sincere investment in collaboratively improving practice is inspiring, even in those desperate weeks when “Back to School” advertisements burst onto every conceivable media outlet in that all-out assault to all things summer that makes me equal parts desperate, angry, and a little bit twitchy.

In our work in McKinney, we’ve had a goal to both educate teachers on the inner workings of workshop instruction and to encourage them to provide opportunities for students to have transactional experiences with texts. To begin, Amy shares a quick YouTube piece that gets us all thinking about how the students who sit before us are defined (and how they are not defined) based on the chaotic, frenetic, and often times depressing experiences the wider world has thrust into their lifetimes.

We then reflected in our notebooks on what this video suggests to us about the needs of our students.

Now, let’s be frank before your own list of student needs forms in your head. If the needs of our students are defined by the standards that require assessment, the chunks of curricular content that define the roadmap of our lesson planning, and or our preconceived ideas of their abilities, we’ve started in the wrong place.

We must always remember…we teach humans. Our work with specific content, abilities, skill levels and learning styles can be important factors in meeting our professional obligations and/or defining parts of what we do each day. However, it is the growth of students as readers, writers, and thinkers that must be at the center of our determination of their needs.

With this in mind, here was my sixty-second jot list:

  • They need role models
  • They need calm in a world of unending chaos
  • They need security
  • They need to learn to communicate effectively, both in person and through technology
  • They need to see themselves reflected in their education
  • They need to see the value in their voices and then have a place for that voice to be heard
  • They need to better understand one another in an effort to build empathy.

The large group shared out a list of ideas that was beautifully responsive to the wide variety of difficult realities our students face. These are the needs of a generation, as one PD participant suggested, who have been largely raised by “lawnmower parents,” in other words, those who pave the way for their children to avoid conflict, though the wider world is full of it. So in essence, our students need not only a respite from the chaos of the world but also a place that then challenges them to critically think through how they can maneuver their way through it and problem solve solutions to big issues.

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So, what to do with this information? Everything. We do everything with this information. It guides the choices we make from the start of the year to the end, from the first time we sit down to plan to our responsiveness in the face of differentiated preferences and needs, from the enthusiasm that bolsters the start of the year to the shadow that can fall on our practice when we’ve lost our way and enthusiasm and productivity can plummet in our classroom.

It’s no easy work, but as we know, so often that means that it is precisely the work that needs doing most.

What specific needs are your students exhibiting early this year? How are they impacting your daily work? Feel free to comment below!

Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum 

Takeaways from Tyrolia: Four Days with Kylene Beers, Penny Kittle, Bob Probst, and Linda Rief by @KarryDornak

Tyrolia Ranch
I still haven’t mentally returned from my time at Tyrolia, Kylene Beers’ ranch, in Waco, TX. My mind still thinks I am sitting at her dining room table, painting a watercolor picture while overlooking a pond banked with Cypress trees. Or nestled on one of her incredibly-comfortable couches talking about a podcast with a newfound friend. Or riding a Mule (the all-terrain vehicle, not the animal) with Penny Kittle and five other people who were just as giddy as I was. Or sitting around her living room chatting and laughing with Bob Probst and Linda Rief while the aroma of the evening’s dinner tempted our senses.

Scenic Tyrolia RanchIt’s amazing that a place of scenic tranquility and beauty could rouse such feelings of rebellion and determination.

But you can’t talk about rebellion without first talking about power, so let’s start with the power of literacy.

For the first time in history, power is no longer based solely on wealth. Power is a Tweet. A YouTube video. A social media post. Kylene gave a fascinating talk about the “ugly roots of literacy in America.” In Colonial America, “literacy” primarily meant one’s ability to sign a document or contract. Who held the power there? Those who could sign the document, or those who could write the document? During the Revolutionary and Civil War times, penmanship was valued as literacy. But who had the leisure to practice their penmanship? Those with wealth, privilege, and power. From the Civil War to World War I, literacy meant one’s ability to recite poems, monologues, and stories. But who had the leisure to practice memorization? Those with wealth, privilege, and power. Then we get to the Industrial Revolution, where the assembly line was born. And then our schools began modeling the assembly line design (can’t you just picture kids on a conveyor belt being carried from class to class?). From the 1950s to 1980s (and even in the present), literacy meant analyzing the meaning of what we are reading. But still, someone else held the power (it was the teacher — or CliffsNotes —  who determined if a student’s analysis was correct or not).

The point is, the definition of literacy shifts to reflect what is happening in the country and world. Presently, businesses see the value in synthesizing information and identifying potential problems rather than just solving existing problems. So what does this mean for our classrooms?

It means we abdicate the power we as teachers have held on to for decades and give it to our students. If we are only teaching them analytical literacy, we are preparing them for 1980. For this century, students need the same literacy skills they’ve always needed: to summarize, to retell, to articulate, to evaluate. But more importantly, they also need a willingness to see another perspective, the chance to take a risk, the ability to sustain their focus, an acceptance of ambiguity, and the self-confidence that allows them to identify as readers and writers. Because that’s power, right?

But the chances are, if you’re reading this, you already believe this. Chances are, if you’re visiting Three Teachers Talk, you are already subscribed to the belief that education has not caught up to the 21st century. And chances are, you sometimes feel alone in this belief. Or isolated. Like you are fighting a losing battle. Like you have found a great discovery, only to feel that no one else believes you.

That’s where Penny Kittle’s words ring true  — that courage is more important than caution. I understand not wanting to “rock the boat” or damage friendships with your colleagues, but at what cost? The risk of sending our students into the world illiterate by 21st century standards and powerless?

Kylene told us that to start [educational, metaphorical] fires, we must start with our best kindling. So find your tribe. Find your people. Those who value courage over caution. They may not be in your hallway. Perhaps they’re across campuses, across districts, across states, across international borders. That’s who I found at Tyrolia. I found my tribe.

And persist. Penny said that it is often the changemakers who take the lumps. And I don’t know about you, but I have definitely felt it. But our kids are worth it. Linda echoed this sentiment when she said that even if you just change one teacher, that is one group of kids who are benefitting. To add to the conversation, Bob suggested we focus on the 5%: the 5% of teachers who are ready and willing to make a change, or the 5% of our teaching that we are dedicated to improving. So ask: “What’s one thing we can change this year?”

For me, I am vowing to write more. Penny encouraged us to start the habit of writing for fifteen minutes a day. You know what I said to her? I’ve tried to keep notebooks and journals, but I always lose interest because I feel like what I’m writing doesn’t matter.

Dwell on that sentiment: My words don’t matter.

You know many of our students feel the same way. How can I show my kids that their words and voices matter when I don’t even feel that my own do?

But she told me that my words did matter. And then four days later, she retweeted this, and I can’t help but think it was for me:

PK notebook tweet

The truth is, words matter.  Everyone’s: mine, yours, our students’. The words we read shape our thoughts. So immerse yourself in the words of Kylene Beers, Penny Kittle, Bob Probst, and Linda Rief. Their words are life-changing.

Immerse your students in words of both the past and the present, so that they understand how we got to now, and how we can change the future. And the words we write matter. They help us reflect, learn, process, and discover.

I’m slowly wakening from the dream that was Tyrolia, but I hope that we all remain:

Determined to write.

Unafraid to rebel.

Revolutionaries for 21st century literacy.

On a mission to find our tribes.

The 5%.

As of today’s publication, Karry Dornak has continued to write, rebel, revolutionize, and seek out her fellow 5%. She is balancing life in Spring, TX, as an instructional specialist, teacher, wife, mom, and Pumpkin Spice Latte enthusiast. Follow Karry on Twitter @karrydornak

 

Books instead of Bullets

SF StrongIn my short time here as a regular contributor to Three Teachers Talk, this was the latest I’d waited before composing a post.  Though, that’s not really true.  I had a post mostly written last week where I reflected on this year we had and looked forward to a new start next year at a new school.  It would have been similar to this recent and amazing post by Sarah Morris.

Then Friday happened- 10 lives gone and countless others changed forever.

I struggled this weekend with how this post was going to go.  I’m not looking for sympathy here because obviously the 10 families who lost loved ones or the kids who watched their classmates be gunned down in front of them are truly the ones deserving of our hearts.

Like so many not directly affected by this tragedy, though, I struggled.

I struggled to stay composed when a student quietly sat down next to me at 7:55 am and said, “Coach, did you see this?” His phone showed a social media post about students being shot a high school not too far from us.

FullSizeRI struggled because I realized how comfortable I am using the term “active shooter” in a text message to my wife at 8:11 Friday Morning. This was the text message I sent her after I pulled up a local news website to see if it was true or anther false alarm.

I struggled because when my student council president told me she was scared walking down the hall at 1:00 that afternoon, the only response I could muster was, “I am too, and I think its going to feel like this for a while.”

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I struggled remembering that I wore my #msdstrong t-shirt to visit the Sequoias at spring break hoping to send a little bit of support to those in Parkland, Florida who lived through this earlier in the semester.

(Side note: I was at exactly this point in writing my post when my student council president called and asked if we can sell t-shirts to help support Santa Fe High School.)

I struggled because when my babies, a 2nd grader and a 5th grader, got off the bus at 3:30, I felt obligated to sit them down and tell them that a boy at a local high school decided he needed to kill his classmates. I couldn’t hold back the tears and my daughter, in her innocence, asked if my school had had to go into a “lock down.” She’s very familiar with what that means.

I struggled early Friday evening when, sitting in a colleague’s living room, myself and several other teachers celebrated the retirement of a woman who gave 44 years of her life to this profession.  I looked at the teachers sharing stories and laughs, at the sleepy dog on the floor, and the nine month old baby that kept stealing everyone’s attention. I wondered how I could balance feeling thankful to have spent the last 11 years working with this amazing person and at the same time think about how thankful I was to be alive.  I felt thankful that my school wasn’t the one to lose lives that morning, and that made me feel horrible.

I struggled when, an hour and a half later I was sitting in a quiet backyard celebrating the upcoming graduation of two of the most amazing people I’ve ever known. They are twins and I got to be the boy’s position coach in football for four years and the girl is my previously mentioned student council president.  Their parents are amazing too and as I sat there visiting with them, I couldn’t wrap my head around how our society can produce these kids and also produce a mass killer less than 13 miles away.  He took the lives of  innocent kids, like these, that morning.  Kids who who had so much to look forward to and didn’t do anything to deserve death.

I struggled because, once again, I had to think about whether or not I would be able to protect my students if bullets flew at my school.  I asked my self the questions: Am I doing the best I can to stop this from happening again? Is there really anything I can do?  Is there anything anyone can do?

I struggled because I knew we can’t take up all the guns and I’m not sure, if asked, that I would give up mine.  We can’t eradicate mental health issues.  We can’t hold schools inside of solid-steel sealed boxes.

I didn’t just struggle. I also hoped.

I hoped that instead of turning inward, we can turn outward.  That maybe we can intervene in these students’ lives in ways that goes beyond dress codes, GPAs and graduation rates. Perhaps we can instill a sense of urgency in our young people, our future, that causes a change in them where instead of acting out their demons on one another, they look to each other for acceptance, love, or even just help. Maybe we can be more like the players and coaches of the Clear Springs Baseball Team who dedicated their game Friday night to Santa Fe.

I hope that even though I’m not sponsoring student council at my next school, I can help build on what we did this year.  I was lucky enough to be chosen to present at our district’s upcoming Character Conference on June 6th. I’m sure there will be presenters at Clear Lake High School that day who can help make change. I won’t technically be presenting, just facilitating what I think might be the only student presenters at the conference.   The student council officers of Clear Springs High School will share their stories of reaching out to our elementary feeder schools in an effort to build leadership and pass on the lessons they’ve learned to the next generation.  Maybe more students like them can make connections that help prevent massacres.

I hope more teachers and administrators realize that our students can do amazing things when we give them the space and the resources they need.  When we keep them free of the burden the adults choose to carry.  But the adults can help too.  I can’t think this would have happened if shooter had more access to books and less access to guns.  I can’t help but wonder if we treat our students with more gravitas then they just might tell us when they think something like this is going to happen and maybe we can have the chance to stop it.

I hope the teachers at my new school get used to a man (who’s been mistaken for a grizzly bear) telling other peoples’ babies that he loves them.  I hope I’m not the last person to tell them that.

Charles Moore is a teacher in League City, TX.  He is enjoys welcoming his kids off the bus with a smile and a hug every afternoon and making sure the dishes, laundry and other household needs are met before his wife gets home from work. The student council he sponsors will, hopefully, be selling t-shirts these next two weeks to support the Santa Fe community. Please email him if you are interested in helping and follow his twitter @ctcoach for more information.

 

 

Do You Have A Date For Tonight?

You do now!

Join Three Teachers Talk tonight as #3TTweets with the incomparable Cornelius Minor. With his boundless enthusiasm, unparalleled generosity of spirit, and passionate drive in promoting equity across our nation’s schools, Mr. Minor will be tweeting with us tonight in an “Ask Me Anything” Twitter Chat!

If you missed our post with Mr. Minor, be sure to check it out!

Then, set a reminder for 8:00 P.M. Eastern tonight, jump on Twitter, search #3TTweets, and follow along, shout out, and/or ask your burning questions. We can’t wait to pick Corn’s beautiful brain and we hope you’ll join us.

3TT Corn Chat

We Cannot Act Alone – Equity For Every Classroom by Cornelius Minor and Lisa Dennis

3TT Corn Chat

Rattling around the dimly lit corners of the teachers’ lounge and shuttered mall locations of Successories nationwide, one can find the oft-quoted sentiment that teaching may well be the greatest act of optimism.

However, I would argue that today’s teacher is far more likely to embody optimism by learning.  

When we stretch, scrutinize, professionally and personally grow, challenge, inquire, and courageously push ourselves to learn for the sake of better understanding and connecting to our students, then we are better educators and better leaders and better agents of change in our classrooms.

Because we need far more than optimism. We need realism.

At the upcoming NCTE conference this November in Houston, Texas, a convention focused around raising student voice, the passionate crew from Three Teachers Talk will be honored to share with a you a talk entitled, “Accomplice”-ing Great Things: An Action Plan for Equity, Inclusivity, and Allied Partnerships in ELA Classrooms.

Additionally, in the realm of hardcore fangirling, I am pinching myself to report that the incredible, incomparable, inimitable Cornelius Minor has agreed to be our Chair for the session. As Lead Staff Developer for Columbia University’s Reading and Writing Project, Mr. Minor is a tour de force in the fight for equity in the classroom whose passion and persistence is blessedly catching to all those who yearn to do better and be better for our students.

The crew at Three Teachers Talk has been in love with Cornelius Minor for years. I had the pleasure of first hearing Mr. Minor speak at the 2016 NCTE conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I recall being so struck by his words that I uncharacteristically approached him after the session. My thanks for his message turned into some sort of incoherent blubbering, I’m sure, but Mr. Minor smiled that blazing smile he’s known for and gave me a hug saying, “We’ll talk soon, ok?”

Maybe my teacher universe didn’t really pitch wildly at that moment, forever altering the trajectory of my work with students, but really, it did.

Among countless brilliant insights Cornelius shared that morning in Atlanta, I was particularly struck by his statement that it’s our job as educators to teach children how to “maintain partnerships” in order to “define our culture.” I recalled this statement recently as Amy, Shana, and I brainstormed on ways to best share our ideas at the NCTE’s 2018 Convention – Raising Student Voice.

Thus, our work as accomplices to our students came to the forefront of our planning, and a few things became clear.

Chief among them; We cannot become who students need us to be if we act alone.

This work toward equity is deeply personal, beautifully nuanced, and to many of us, it is brilliantly new. We are in a constant state of knowing that for far too many children, there is a savage gulf between what education promises and what education is.

We know the research. Girls are underrepresented in science and technology. Children of color continue to be suspended at exponential rates compared to their white peers. Poor children are more likely to attend schools with fewer resources. These outcomes are sexist. They are racist. They are classist. School, as an institution, continues to perpetuate them. We can change this, and we are certain that the way forward is together.

In the spirit of moving forward together, we’ve invited Cornelius to join us for a very special Twitter chat.

So that we can share as much as possible, we’ll be using an “Ask Me Anything” chat format. AMAs, as they are commonly called, are a little different from traditional Twitter chats.

Cornelius will be moderating, but he won’t be posing the questions. You will!

For one hour, you will be able to ask Cornelius anything about literacy, education, equity, activism or Fortnite.

We’re looking forward to seeing where this goes! We’ll put a little bit about Cornelius below so you can get to know him before the chat. Feel free to comment below too with any questions that you hope he’ll answer as we Tweet the night away. 

Can’t wait to see you in the Twittersphere!
Thursday, May 10th at 8:00 p.m. (EST) / 7:00 p.m. (CST)!
#3TTweets 


Here’s a sampling of some of Mr. Minor’s recent (brilliant) thinking:

“We Can Do Better” from the March/April publication of ILA’s  Literacy Today. 

“Five Steps to Launching a Schoolwide Social Justice Movement” from Education Week Teacher

A two-part interview conducted with Laura Hancock at Literacy Junkie


What questions do you have for Cornelius Minor? Leave them in the comment section below as we look forward to watching Cornelius’s fingers fly over the keys on May 10th! Please join us and spread the word for this important discussion with one of today’s foremost educational leaders on equity. 

 

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