Category Archives: #3TTWorkshop

Q & A: How do I do this on my own without other colleagues teaching this way? #3TTWorkshop

Questions Answered (1)

Believe me when I say I understand. Completely. I think many other teachers who took off the old shoes of making all the choices in their English classes and tiptoed, stomped, or danced into workshop instruction understand, too. Sometimes we are the only one hearing the music.

This was me most of the time.

Of course, working with colleagues in highly functioning PLC’s is advantageous. If we’re lucky, we’ve been in a few grade level teams, or even full departments with colleagues who embrace the choice and challenge readers-writers workshop offers and collaborate well. Other times we have to stick with our knowledge of what works best for growing readers and writers and make our own instructional choices, based on what we know is best for the students relying us in our own classrooms. It’s always our own students who matter most.

So how do I do workshop on my own without other colleagues teaching this way?

Here’s the advice I got when I asked a similar question to someone with a whole lot more experience than me in all things authentic reading and writing instruction:   Nod your head a lot, and then close your door.

That’s pretty much what I did for the first eight years when I was figuring out how to manage a classroom library, give students choice in the books they read, hold them accountable in some way for their reading, get them writing more (and better), using mentor texts, conferring semi-regularly, and trying not to lose my mind when I’d go to team meetings and hear “I’m teaching ________ (insert title from the canon) and making students do study questions, along with these specific annotations. Do you want a copy of my test over the book?” Thanks by no thanks.

We teach readers, not books. And maybe it’s just me, but when I hear teachers say “I make my students do ____”, I kind of cringe. Study questions, annotations for all (done with a teacher’s specific rules for notes instead of the reader’s own rules), and tests over books:  Sandpaper on teeth.

When I shifted my instruction to include choice, student engagement soared. I was converted, and I hungered for more ways to fully move into workshop instruction. But at the time, I was the only convert on my campus. I was lonely there.

However, I had company outside my school. Everyone who determines to make this shift does. You may just have to find it.

First off, there’s this blog. I started it with two brilliant teachers, Heather and Molly, I met at a summer institute of the North Star of TX National Writing Project, a site of National Writing Project. We wanted a place to write about how we applied our learning from our institute with our students, and we wanted a space that helped us stay connected. I was teaching at a Title I high school in a district just north of Dallas; Molly had just moved to a high school with a focus on project-based learning in Longview; Heather taught middle school in a district east of Ft. Worth. (If you know north TX, you know we spanned a distance geographically.) I tell you this history for a few reasons:

The National Writing Project advocates for authentic writing instruction, and it is one of the best networks of educators, willing to collaborate and share, I know. If you can link to a site near you, you will never do this work alone.

Three Teachers Talk has grown as my learning about workshop instruction has. Heather and Molly moved in exciting career directions different than mine, and at times this blog has really been one teacher talking as I tried to figure things out. (Note: Writing helps us figure things out.) Then, when I attended the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institute and took a two week class taught by Penny Kittle, and learned with Shana, Erica, and Emily, a similar blog-writing collaboration happened.

We started writing regular posts here called Our Compass Shifts because we were all working to shift our thinking about instruction and apply the learning from Penny’s class with our own readers and writers. Our teaching souls clicked. The Modern PLC. Emily and Erica wrote with us for awhile, but like Heather and Molly they moved on to other good things. We remain friends, but Shana — Shana remains as Diana exclaims of Anne in Anne of Green Gables, my “bossom friend. A bosom friend—an intimate friend, you know—a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my innermost soul.”

To continue improving, growing, striving to do right by our students, I think we all need at least one bossom friend. I’ve got two in Shana and Lisa, two of the other admins on this blog. (Angela, you’re up-and-coming.)

I had to find them though. I couldn’t keep my classroom door shut and not step in to learning opportunities that helped me grow. Growing takes action.

So how do I do workshop on my own without other colleagues teaching this way?

Seek out connections with others who are making workshop work. All of the contributors on this blog have been where you are. Read their posts. Leave comments. Ask questions. Email me directly if you can’t find answers amy@threeteacherstalk.com. Like everyone else in the teaching world, I’m busy, but I will do my best to help. (And your questions may turn into blog posts. That’s how I met the amazing Lisa Dennis.)

Join a network of passionate educators on Twitter. There’s chats for you. #TeachWrite #DistruptTexts #buildyourstack #3TTworkshop #titletalk #NerdyBookClub #APLitchat #teachlivingpoets all come to mind. So many teachers moving the work of choice and challenge — and equity — forward. If you are new to Twitter and don’t know who to follow, follow us @3TeachersTalk; then, check out who we follow — educators like you.

Read books by those who’ve built a movement, and join in on discussions. Some of our favorite teacher-writers are active on Twitter, and they share brilliant ideas regularly. Thomas Newkirk, Tom Romano, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Linda Rief, Cornelius Minor to name a few.

Also, Shana put together a fabulous resource page here. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s a good start.

I know joining chats, reading books, and connecting online does not replace collaboration on a campus, but it does work to help us grow in our practice.

Just like my daughter has online friends who are in the #houseplantclub, and my sister has online friends who play Pokemon Go, teachers — eager to make workshop work for their students — can find the support they need to make this ever-important pedagogy of engaging students as they grow in their identity as readers and writers work.

Press on, my friends, we are here for you.

Amy Rasmussen calls herself a literacy evangelist –among other things. Wife to a lovely man, and blessed to be the mother of six and grandmother of seven (five of which are boys), she loves to read and teach and share ideas that just might make the world a little brighter — for everyone! Follow her @amyrass — and join the conversation around workshop instruction on the Three Teachers Talk Facebook page. Go here see other Q & A posts about Secondary Readers-Writers Workshop.

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How do you read enough to match students with books? #3TTWorkshop

Questions Answered (1)The verb is the key. How do we read enough in order to help students find books they want to read? We read. We have to read — a lot. And we have to know our students.

The reading part is fairly simple. Well, as simple as carving out the time for it, which I know can be a challenge. Maybe it’s a matter of belief. I have to believe my time reading books I may not normally choose for myself will be worth it. I have to believe that YA literature has substance. I have to believe that my students will read, and most likely read more, when I can recommend books because I have read them.

We find time for the things we value. Simple as that. If we value our readers, we must do the things that help them want to read, and reading books that appeal to adolescent readers is a major part of it.

Book Stack

My Current To Read Next Stack

Personally, I like books in print because I like to save favorite sentences and passages that I might be able to use for craft lessons as I read. But audiobooks are a time saver I trust. I usually have at least two books I’m reading at any one time, hardcopy and in Audible. (I started The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater yesterday; I’m halfway through listening to There There by Tommy Orange.)  And honestly, there are some books I just can’t finish, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t read enough to know if I might have a student who wants to give it a try. I can read enough to know if a book might engage one of my readers.

I have to know my readers. The best way I know to get to know them is by talking to students one on one.

Again, the time issue.

Short personal writing can be a real time saver, especially at the beginning of the year or a new semester. Lisa’s Author Bio idea is one of my favorites, ever. I also like to use Meg Kearney’s Creed poem and have students compose their own. Writing like this gives students permission to show themselves, and it gives me an invitation to see into their lives. This is what I need to help match students with books.

A follow up question to the How do you read enough . . .? is often:  How can I find books my students will want to read? or What are some great books for seniors? for 7th graders? for sports enthusiasts? for dog lovers? for a student born in Pakistan? for a group of kids into becoming Insta famous?

I don’t know.

Your school librarian will, most likely.

(Really, I may have some ideas for a few of those questions….but that’s not the point.)

Create a partnership with your school librarian. Hopefully, you still have one. This person loves books and advocates for books and readers. This book expert is a friend to self-selected independent reading, and this professional has access to book lists with descriptors and synopses. (And sometimes funds to add books to the school library.)

Of course, you can find all kinds of book lists online:  Pernille Ripp posts great lists on her blog. The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE (ALAN) shares picks. Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) has Best of the Best lists. Edith Campbell recently posted a list of 2019 middle grade and YA books, featuring and written or illustrated by Indigenous people and people of color. And, of course, this list I crafted before Christmas — all recommendations from the contributors on this blog.

To make self-selected independent reading work, which is a vital part of an authentic literacy focused pedagogy, we have to do the work. We have to read, and I wish I could remember where I heard it first:  Reading YA literature is a powerful form of professional development. Isn’t it?

Amy Rasmussen reads a ton of books on the porch, in the yard, by a pool, on her bed in North Texas. She will be spending a lot of her summer with teachers facilitating PD around readers-writers workshop in secondary English classes. Her favorite. She’s also going to be doing a lot of writing. And a little poetry study at the Poetry Foundation Summer Teachers Institute in Chicago. Follow her @amyrass

 

Q & A: How does workshop work to prepare students for college? (Or I love teaching these books) #3TTWorkshop

 

Questions Answered (1)I’ve been asked this question in several different ways:  How do we do this for college prep courses? How does workshop work in an AP English class? If I’m not teaching books from the canon, how am I preparing students for college? And we’ve written about it a lot on this blog. (See here and here and here and here and here and here for starters.)

Sometimes I think we have misplaced ideas about what is expected of students in college — especially if we were English majors, and our students may not be —  and perhaps some skewed ideas of what rigor looks like when it comes to high school English classes.

I first clued in when I read Readicide by Kelly Gallagher. No doubt, I killed the love of reading — and the love of the literature I loved — the way I “taught” the books I expected my students to read. (Most didn’t.) Since then, I’ve studied, practiced, implemented, revised, and stayed up late thinking about how I need to revise my instruction in order to best meet the needs of my students. All of my students — not just those in a college prep or AP English or those going to college — but every student in every English class in preparation for the rest of their lives. I want them to be fully confident in their literacy and all the gifts that will give them in whatever future they choose.

My students, not just those in advanced classes, or on a college-bound track, need to know how–

  • to think critically about their ideas and the ideas of others
  • to articulate their thoughts in writing (in multiple modes) and orally (with clarity and confidence)
  • to support their thinking with valid sources
  • to revisit their ideas and revise them when they encounter viewpoints that require them to extend, modify, or change their thinking
  • to verify sources, and identify and analyze bias

There’s power in these skills, opportunity and freedom — for our students and for ourselves. We do not need a list of “AP suggested novels” to teach them.

What we need is to build communities in our classrooms where students feel safe to engage in inquiry, share their thoughts, receive feedback, and give themselves to the learning process. Study guides, worksheets, TpT lesson plans, and the same ol’ same ol’ approach to teaching the same ol’ books will not cut it. Just because a book is considered of literary merit does not make the learning around it rigorous. Rigor is not in the text but in what students do with the text. (For more on this, see Jeff Wilhelm’s article “Teaching Texts to Somebody! A Case for Interpretive Complexity“)

What we need is to to know our state ELA standards or the AP English Course and Exam Description as provided by College Board. (I think the AP English Course descriptions scream “workshop.”) Then, begin thinking about and hunting for mentor texts, written in a variety of modes, that 1) prompt students to think in different ways about a different topics, 2) engage students in inquiry and class discussion, 3) spark ideas for research, and all along the way, invite students to write beside these mentors:  What do you think? What do you notice? What do you wonder?

At least this is the genesis of answering the question:  How does workshop work to prepare students for college? There’s so much more to it.

Resources that have helped me:  Write Beside Them and Book Love by Penny Kittle, Dr. Paul Thomas’ blog. Currently reading: Why They Can’t Write by John Warner, and the #1 on my summer reading list Handbook of Research on Teaching The English Language Arts 4th edition, edited by Diane Lapp and Douglas Fisher.

I once did a two day workshop, helping a district coordinator move her teachers into the readers-writers workshop model. In a reflection after our training, one teacher-participant wrote:  “I’ve been teaching for 24 years, and feel like I’ve been told I’ve been doing it wrong all along.” Nope.

But. . .

What if we could do instruction better?

 

Amy Rasmussen lives in North Texas where she thinks, ponders, and writes about how to motivate, engage, and teach today’s adolescent readers and writers. She will be spending a lot of her summer facilitating PD focused on readers-writers workshop in secondary English classes. Follow her @amyrass — and she’d love it if you follow this blog!

 

Enhancing Student Writing: Framing Editing as Choice

I am adding to the trend on the blog this week:  Editing!

I was inspired to re-read Everyday Editing and Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson after Charles wrote about inviting students to notice, note, and imitate last month and earlier this week.  His philosophy influenced what I wanted my students to take away from crafting their final narrative piece–choice.  Anderson argues that telling students what or how to edit isn’t always helpful as it may not be internalized–students may seek a check-list for what to edit versus considering choices and playing with language as a writer. Anderson explains, “We want students to make choices and decisions that create meaning. Not because they’re afraid of making an error. Not because of crapshoot-fifty-fifty chances, but because they are thinking.  We want them to have ways to reason through what’s in front of them, what they see, what it sounds like looks like, means. A thought process” (10). All writing starts with merely getting your ideas out, but revision and editing happen when a writer begins to examine the choices they are or are not making. Choice is ownership in writing and far more rigorous than editing from a checklist.

In American Literature, we restarted our school year with a focus on narrative–we dug back into choice reading and ran through numerous laps of narrative writing, studying the choices authors made in mentor texts and our choice novels. Based on the narratives we had been studying together, students came up with a running list of moves we referenced as we wrote, revised, and conferenced. These core components, which students deemed essential moves of storytelling, formed what their final narrative would be assessed on:

  • Interesting Structure of Scenes within a Larger Story
  • Dialogue or Internal Thinking to Reveal Character
  • Dynamic Shift or Growth that Illustrates a “So What?”
  • Writer’s Craft Language that Shows vs. Tells
  • Variety of Sentence Structure and Word Variety

For me, one of the most challenging practices to get my students in the habit of is revisiting and re-crafting their writing. We live in an instant society which I believe programs students to complete tasks versus sit and whittle away or tinker with their thinking. Hence, “Enhancement Rotations” were born (I didn’t want to call the rotations “edits,” but I have yet to come up with a better name, suggestions?). I asked students to bring in what they thought was their final draft–little did they know they would be producing a “new” final draft! My goal was for students to notice the impactful choices they had already made, but to stretch themselves to make more. To not edit grammar errors, but to re-craft with intention.

In summary, Enhancement Rotations consist of student drafts circulating the classroom and their peer experts suggesting ways to re-craft the outlined aspects of the writing assignment or genre (we used the list above), while also complimenting the elements present in the draft already. Students decide what component they want to be an expert on from our list, then spend the time suggesting and complimenting that element only. Once the draft has visited a group of expert Enhancers, the draft rotates to the next group. Eventually, all selections rotate to different experts and gain not only suggestions and perspective but a holistic, paper-based conference.

Here are my suggested steps in more detail:

  1. After students have worked the writing process, have them print at least two copies of their piece.  Having more drafts than students allows the Enhancers to move through the drafts at their own pace because no one is waiting on them to finish to have a piece to edit. I prefer students have hard copies of their piece without names.
  2. Divide your “look fors,” essential elements, rubric, etc. into sections or chunks where students can be the peer experts–invite students to select what aspect they feel confident in providing advice and suggestions about. Organize one element at one station of desks or tables.  I suggest color coding each element, as it helps Enhancers know what draft has already been to their station. Asking students to narrow their focus helps them move through more of their peers’ drafts, thus seeing even more samples of writing and voice, especially of peers they did not conference with or may not often select as a partner.
  3. Let the editing begin!  Similar student experts sit together and use the same color marker or pen to suggest directly on their peers’ drafts (I do ask that students write their name and focus at the bottom of the draft for Step 4). Before starting, we reviewed each key move of storytelling and recalled mentor texts.
  4. Towards the end of class, students retrieve their drafts and silently reviewed the suggestions and considerations for a few minutes.  The final 10 minutes are for conferencing with one another about the feedback, further questions, and of course, compliments.  I then charge students with creating yet another draft!

Paola’s draft when from a removed retelling to showing, including a fake iMessage text feature from the suggestion of a peer.

Abbey expanding on her feelings and emotions, moving her draft from a retelling a common experience to one that was more personal, adding depth to the experience and purpose.

Inviting writers to notice and note the choices their peers are making serve to strengthen their writing, too, as we know more exposure leads to more thinking and understanding. My writers are beginning to notice the craft and creativity writing offers. Additionally, sharing writing and conferences continues to build the community of writers, and revisers, we are striving to become.

Maggie Lopez teaches American Literature and AP Literature in Salt Lake City, UT. She started reading Educated on her snow day last week, the first in 30 years, alongside Everyday Editing. You can find her on Twitter @meg_lopez0.

A Day in the Life: Re-Starting with Narratives

The start of the second semester has been refreshing–maybe it was the two-week break that felt indulgent and a shuffling of students, or the fresh snow that sweeps over the Wasatch mountains weekly, perhaps the feeling that it is “August” in room 104 and we creating a rhythm with new workshop routines.

After attempting a balanced approach in a new school, giving students only glimpses and tastes of workshop, I have fully shifted gears for the second semester now that I know this school wants the creation of readers and writers, not compliance or approval seekers.  This semester, I plan to take laps around narrative, informational, and multigenre writing, and although each genre study will be faster than ideal, it is better than sticking to the old ways. 

Starting with narrative in a new year, several quick writes and write besides in our notebooks invited students to notice the rich source of their own lives.  As a “first lap,” as Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher term craft study in 180 Days, with narrative, I asked students to craft or select a picture that symbolizes their lives as second-semester juniors. I asked, “What is your life like now?  Who are you today, a junior in 2019?” Students are at a transitional time in their lives– they are looking ahead to the next step, making choices about what direction to go and who to be. I want them to show, tell, explain, and reflect.

My students needed a change.  My logic, like so many of you exploring and diving into workshop, was this:

Discussions as Readers x Discussions as Writers / Mentor Texts = Authentic Writing

  • We need to get back into our notebooks.  As we explore narratives, taking “laps” around mentor texts and reading like writers, students will write beside these texts. Rooting into what students know, themselves, will offer an access point to workshop writing.

Years of traditional English classroom expectations + My misguided start to the first-semester x The 3 by 5 Paragraph Essay = Is this what you wanted?

  • My students need to be challenged with choices and the decision-making process.  Majority of students see writing as an English-only endeavor and are hesitant to break from “Is this what you want?” to “I made this decision here because ___,” putting their choices and ideas at the center.

Required Curriculum + Low Classroom Investment = Disengaged Environment

  • Asking students to select a picture that reflects who they are in this moment, their fears, challenges, what makes them feel successful and unique, is another way to connect to students, as well as create space for student voice and individuality. The task mirrors notebook writing “beside” or “around” a picture, poem, or mentor text, which we spent time doing sporadically last semester and daily this semester and challenges students to be the creator and curator, making editorial decisions as an artist, then explaining as a writer.

As we have drafted, revised, and share I have learned more about my students and they are finding a cathartic release.

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Abraham reflected on the importance of animals to his culture:  I also love farm animals and horses. These are important not only to me but also to my parents because they grew up with farm animals and they helped nourished them and their families. All these animals have become a major part of our culture, specifically the horse used for work or transportations and rodeos. Then we have other farm animals that shape our traditional dishes.

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Ronata’s picture showed the importance of art in her life: I like to think that justice is an art. A piece so beautiful and unique, it is impossible to recreate. I’ve been taught about justice all my life, that it’s about people being treated equally. BSU has helped me realize how unjust the world’s ways are, and what ways I can help people understand that everyone needs to be treated with the same respect. Everyone has the same rights, yet society makes it seem as though people of color’s rights have no meaning at all.

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Katherine is seeking balance: The presence of my phone indicates a contrast between stereotypical adolescent behavior and my reality. As many teenagers utilize their iPhones and Macs to pursue recreational avenues such as social media or Netflix, I spend the majority of my time enveloped in the educational bubble. Rather than Snapchat or Instagram, my school email is open. Each unopened tab represents something I have to do.  This chaotic nature is indicative of my own thoughts, in which I endeavor to maintain a semblance of control.

(portions of pictures used with permission)

 

So my life now? A desk full of post-it notes with mentor texts, a dog-earred copy of 180 Days that is being read for the umpteenth time, a continuously revised calendar, a check list of students I have conferenced with, all next to a coffee cup.  We are off to a great “re-start” with workshop.

Maggie Lopez is enjoying ski weekends in Utah while pretending it is August in her classroom.  She just finished Killers of the Flower Moon and is currently reading Beautiful Boy to convince a student that it will not be “boring” compared to Tweak. You can follow her at @meg_lopez0.

The Role of Play: Discovering a Structure for Writing

Having grown up in the home of a preschool teacher who has always taught in a play-centered classroom, I’ve witnessed the importance of play in the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development of a young person. Mom and I speak frequently about our concern for the lack of play at all levels of education. Kenneth Ginsburg, in an article for Pediatrics, reinforces that highly-scheduled children (which so many of our students are!) have had less time for free, creative play and therefore have built fewer coping mechanisms for managing the effects of pressure and stress. Of course, I can not wholly mitigate this; but I can help students harness (thanks Amber!) their creative potential to not only foster cognitive growth but also social-emotional well-being. I can help them use play as a means for creation.

Compelled to prioritize play as a creative force, inspired by Angela Stockman’s Make Writing, driven to help students find intuitive ways to structure their argument research writing, I use this lesson to help students move beyond the perceived rigidity of the research paper.

Objectives:

  1. Understand the roles of tools and of play in the act of creating;
  2. Discover a possible structure for the argument research paper that serves both purpose and audience;
  3. Inspire confidence in students’ own decision-making skills as writers.

Lesson:

Step 1: For my AP Language and Composition students, many of whom are used to the highly analytical, “academic” environment (indeed, the one I–along with others–foster), I begin by positioning the learning opportunity. I show them pictures of my own children: in one, they play with cardboard boxes, making their own spaceships, dressed in costume for the occasion; in the other, swirling words and designs into shaving cream, using fingers and forks and Duplos. This is critical! These pictures evoke memories of their own childhood, priming my students’ imaginations. Then I share words from Kenneth Ginsburg: “play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges. …When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.”

Step 2: Purpose articulated, I give the a tour of the “Play Stations”:

    1. Imagineering: Disney Imagineers cut out a collection of images they find interesting and then they start to arrange them to see if they can blend ideas. At this station, students find old books and magazines, paper, scissors, and glue so they can imagine away.
    2. LEGOS and Duplos: At this station, students find these toys for building; considering the size, shape, and color of the LEGOS/Duplos, students experiment with the structure of their piece.
    3. Pipe Cleaners and Beads: At this station, students are encouraged to consider the size, shape, and color of the beads and to talk through their ideas as they string the beads. When they finish, they look for patterns.
    4. Comic Book Templates, Receipt Roll Paper, and Craft Paper: At this station, students use the comic book templates provided to craft the “story” of their argument. They may also choose some receipt roll paper to work with the “story” in more linear ways or craft roll paper to make “cave drawings” or other illustrations of their ideas.
    5. Painting:  At this station, students use watercolor paints or paint pens along with paper plates (this offers a different constraint) or paper to paint their arguments.
    6. Play dough: At this station, students use play dough (homemade is the best) to mold and shape their argument. Sometimes I encourage multiple buildings since the joy of play dough is how easy it is to build, destroy, re-build.

Step 3: Before freeing my students to play, I ask them to consider this question: “What can you build that will meet the needs of your audience and purpose?”. I also direct them to review their work plan, their issue, claim, and a list of topics they’ll address in their papers.

Step 4: Play. “Confer” (I ask students to tell me about what they are making. I offer observations about their creations. I exclaim over the cool things they invent.).

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Step 5: Reflect. On post-its, students describe what they made, what they discovered, and what they may do as a result.

Follow-Up:

Following this lesson, I share other ways to arrange or format an argument paper, including Persuasive, Rogerian, Pro Con, Problem Solution, Problem-Cause-Solution, Top 5, Monroe’s Motivated Sequence, and others. When my students ask if it’s okay if they use the structure they invented or if it’s okay to combine what they invented with one of these structures or even if they can combine these new structures, I see the value of play. I see my students combining, adapting, modifying, synthesizing, and harnessing their own potential to discover–for themselves!–how to shape their writing.  

Kristin Jeschke helps her students–in AP Language and Composition and College Prep English at Waukee High School–harness their intuition through play. She doesn’t even mind the chaos and inevitable mess that follows (as long as it leads to creation). She thanks her parents for free time to play in the dirt and the sand. Follow her on Twitter @kajeschke. 

#3TTalks Shop — It’s about Time

Quick Conversations on the Topics That Matter to You!

“To the true teacher, time’s hourglass should still run gold dust.” ~Douglas William Jerrold

“These are the times that try men’s [teachers’] souls.” ~Thomas Paine

Conversation Starter:  With all the demands on teachers beyond the classroom (extra duties, campus committees, new initiatives, etc) how do we capitalize on the time we have and keep our focus on our learners?

Amy:  I am lousy at self-care, yet I know that is an important part (maybe the most important part) of time management. It is hard to take care of ourselves, physically,

time

Photo by Aron on Unsplash

mentally, emotionally, and spiritually when all require at least a little of our time–usually alone time–and others put demands on us we have little control over. My trouble starts within the school day and bleeds over into home time: excessive meetings where little get accomplished or co-opted conference periods or new accountability systems or school initiatives that do little to promote academics, especially literacy, are the biggest time swamps to the workday. New things so often trump what actually needs to happen regularly in classrooms. Every good teacher I know takes work home, and this is the work that usually requires the most mental capacity and relates directly to student learning. I think administrators forget that all too often.

Lisa: I spent some time in a school improvement meeting today, during which I wrestled with this very notion. How do we continue to work eight, nine, twelve hours a day without burning out? How do we face the fact that “hour number twenty-five” is never going to come to the rescue of our ever-expanding task lists? How do we devote ourselves daily to the exhausting pursuit of teaching, and have anything left over for family, friends, or even the pet goldfish? (I marvel at Doc’s resilience as the often neglected Dennis Family goldfish)  

Most importantly, how do we make sure the precious few hours we have with our students in class, best reflect all the work we do outside of class on their behalf?

Amy: That’s where the routines of workshop keep me sane. No matter what anyone else demands of me, when I keep my focus on student engagement via reading, writing, listening, talking, and thinking together about issues they care about, utilizing our classroom library and writer’s notebooks, we accomplished something good that day. I

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Photo by Kunj Parekh on Unsplash

remind myself to step back, slow down, and focus on what really matters in growing confident and accomplished readers and writers:  choice, access, volume, time, and my expertise as literacy instructor and discussion facilitator.

Lisa: Yes! I find that when I’m spinning out of control with all the “other,” my solace lies on the shelves of books that guide my work with kids. My refined definition of what it means to be a good English teacher includes taking time to lose myself in books, with the express purpose of bringing the mirror, window, or door back to my students through book recommendations, excerpts for mentor texts, and even just the calmer, happier teacher that reading makes me and that they deserve.

Now, as for overcoming all of the additional demands the job places on us these days, I am slowly coming to terms with (very slowly, as my mental health is still a bit tenuous in this regard) the fact that only I can create the personal boundaries around how much work comes home with me both literally and figuratively, and I absolutely must make it a priority to limit the extent to which this job becomes my entire life. This happens when I let go of what I think I should be doing, and focus instead on what’s most important. 

Amy:  Personal boundaries! Yes, yes, yes. I am pretty lousy at those, too. I am working on it though. One thing that’s helping me set myself up for success (and cope with everything else) is a combination of two time management techniques. It works like this: 

  1. List 3 big (urgent, important, make-everything-else-easier-when-this-gets-done) tasks
  2. List 2 other important, but not so pressing, things
  3. Then, do #1 on the big list in sprints of the longest time chunk I can manage. Within the school day, this might be 15 minutes. Unplug, shut the door, and keenly focus.

Imagine the possibilities if we had the time to keenly focus on our students all the time?

Lisa: It’s so true. There’s always a ton to bring home. However, having a kindergartner at home has really put into perspective for me how much time I should be putting in at home when it now feels like it’s not only at the expense of my mental health but the well-being of my child. I limit the amount of work I do at night these days because spending time with my family and then trying to get a reasonable amount of rest before my alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m. may be the only thing between me and burnout right now.

I’ve taken the practice of one of our district administrators to heart this year and I’ve worked to keep my “school hours” to a twelve-hour window. I do not check my email before 6:00 a.m and I do not check it after 6:00 p.m. I am more than connected to colleagues and school happenings in other ways, so should there be an emergency or change of plans big enough to impact the following day, I’d still know about it. Beyond that, the homework “emergencies” of my students can be addressed the following day. I can follow up with a parent or colleague when I get into work. In this way, I can be more present at home when I’m there, and at least attempt to draw that line between my work and my life so that my time is better spent in both places. Now weekends…that’s another story. I’ve got some reevaluation of time management to do there, for sure, not to mention guilt around working AND not working. 

Amy:  Smart, Lisa! Your twelve-hour window is generous, and you are so right:  That kindergartener of yours–and Doc the goldfish–need you! Everything else can wait.

Do you have topic ideas you would like us to discuss? Please leave your requests here.

 

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