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Category Archives: Revision

Finding Teaching Inspiration in the Dark of Winter

I love to spend big chunks of my summer planning ways to revise and improve my practice.  The season is always so full of hope, with opportunities to reframe my thinking and help my students be more successful.

But when the school year actually begins, it can be overwhelming to attempt anything from a major overhaul of your teaching to a few key shifts in practice.  Every year, I read books, take classes, and obsessively jot ideas that never see the light of day when I’m faced with the reality of a fall full of fresh faces, administrative initiatives, and new courses to teach.

And now, in the dead of winter, I’m exhausted. It feels like I have no ideas. I’m looking for inspiration in my teaching, my reading, and my writing–inspiration I never seem to be able to come up with on my own. So I’m going back into my notebook and re-reading my summer entries, where I was full of ideas and energy.

This summer, I worked with a group of amazing teachers in Pipestem, WV during a National Writing Project summer institute.  As we read and wrote and thought and planned about argument writing, I jotted down two things in my notebook I could do that would withstand the crush of the reality of our profession and inspire me all year long.

Embrace the Wobble

Ounnamed_origne of our central texts for the institute was Pose, Wobble, Flow by Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen.  This text makes lots of wonderful arguments for teachers to inhabit “poses” as more thoughtful, authentic practitioners through the metaphor of yoga.  The idea is that when we try new things as teachers, we are trying to get into a pose.  We inevitably wobble as we try to master this new stance, but eventually attain the flow characterized by doing this pose without thinking.

GODA (as one of our teachers refers to Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen)’s key argument is that the wobble part of this process is not only a necessary part of becoming a better teacher, but a desirable one–we must live in the gray area, a zone of proximal development, disequilibrium, or whatever else we might call it.  “The P/W/F model is not about an endpoint,” GODA vehemently asserts; “it is a framework to help acknowledge how one’s practice changes over time and requires constant adaptation” (4).  It’s only by being uncomfortable, by trying new things day or week or year in and out, that we can improve as teachers.

What this looked like in terms of our theme of teaching argument writing was revising the way we think about the writing process to start from an inquiry-based place of research, then claim development, then argument articulation.  This new mindset required all of us to “wobble” as we tried to conceive of it, and we wobbled in even our understandings of its many moving parts–what revision is, or what an argument can look like, or how we can use argument as a genre for developing our opinionated writing voices.  As we were flooded with unconventional ideas, mentor texts, thought processes, and assessment measures, we all wobbled with the confidence we’d eventually reach flow.

This semester, as I wrestle with finding energy and inspiration in the wake of having two small children, the new pose I’m trying out is going gradeless. It’s reshaping the way my students and I dialogue about their work, but it’s still an uphill battle to wrestle them away from the temptation to wonder what their grade is…or my own inclination to compulsively give my opinion on their work in the form of a letter or number. I’m definitely in the midst of the wobble, but I’m hopeful that by the end of the semester, I’ll get closer and closer to the state of flow.

But whenever things do start to (finally) go smoothly, I’ll need to yank myself out of my newly-found comfort zone and get into a new pose, embracing the wobble of new learning once more.

This constant revision of our teaching is a simple way we can always strive to be better teachers–just embrace the wobble of continuous improvement.

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Become a Writer

Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen strongly advocate for the many student-centered benefits of writing beside our learners, but there are so many benefits beyond the classroom that become possible when we simply write.

Outside the classroom, GODA suggest that teachers might become more engaged in improvement by:

  • Sharing articles with colleagues
  • Commenting on education blogs
  • Participating in Twitter chats about educational issues
  • Joining organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English
  • Participating in local workshops

Taking one or more of these eminently doable steps can help teachers “enact agency and make an impact on the profession” (27).  These simple activities will not only expose you to ideas to keep you in the “wobble,” but they’ll let you meet and engage with like-minded colleagues as interested in improvement as you.

Within your classroom, becoming a writer is equally valuable.  If you read nothing else of Pose Wobble Flow, I encourage you to read the chapter on “Embracing Your Inner Writer:  What It Means to Teach as a Writer.”  These pages are chock full of suggestions for not only reasons to write, but ways to do it.  From a survey designed to help you find your identity as a writer, to practical methods for joining writing communities on Twitter, Facebook, and even NaNoWriMo, to the ways the act of writing beside our students changes our teaching, this chapter is awesome:

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Because “the changes that come about within our classrooms and with our students start with ourselves,” (80), writing is a necessary first step to becoming a better teacher.  It is a fight, with two kids under two plus a job and a household to keep up with, to find time to write, to read, to engage. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve missed a Twitter chat or skipped notebook time to tend to a crying child, fold some laundry, or cook a meal. But I find that whenever I can eke out 10 minutes of writing time, meaningful Twitter conversation, or professional reading, I feel better. I feel inspired.

I hope, like me, you’ll make an effort to keep a writer’s notebook, blog regularly, and write beside your students every time you see them in class.  Beginning to inhabit the pose of a writer–although I experience wobble within this identity almost daily–is doubtless the most helpful thing I’ve done to improve my practice as a teacher.

As you find yourself wondering, in the dark of winter, how to get excited and inspired once again, try these two things: wobble and write. Here’s hoping for a speedy end to winter and all the joy and optimism the spring always brings…as we work to become better teachers every day.

Shana Karnes teaches in the College of Education at West Virginia University, writes in her notebook whenever she can squeeze in the time, mothers two daughters under the age of two, and reads voraciously at the oddest moments–at the gym, during middle-of-the-night feedings, and at stoplights. Find Shana on Twitter at @litreader, or read more of her writing at the WVCTE Best Practices Blog, where a version of this post originally appeared.

 

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3 Ways to Utilize Audio and Visual Recording with our Readers and Writers

There is much debate regarding the use of digital technology in the classroom. For teachers, cell phones and other technology are both frustrating helpful when it comes to student use. They have the potential to be distracting and disruptive, as we all know, but tech is useful when it comes to some classroom activities, such as keeping a next reads list, or looking up word gaps. I love the idea of using them for the powers of good, so recently, I tried asking my students to use their mobile phones just for the purpose of recording, and to try to ignore the notifications that might come across as they used them.

I’m always looking for new strategies to help the readers and writers in my classroom, and in the past few weeks I’ve tried a couple of different applications. Using cell phones and iPads is simple, and it meets one of the simple rules I am trying to follow when it comes to working with students: meet them where they are.

Recently, while my grade nine students were in the thick of drafting informational essays, I asked them to read their essays aloud, and listen to the flow, the choppiness, the parts that sound great, and the parts that “just don’t sound right.” While I’ve asked students to read their own work aloud before, this time I asked them to record themselves, and then after, to listen to their voices while reading, keeping a pencil in their hands, pausing the audio and editing and revising as they go.

My students were reluctant at first, but once they got over the initial awkwardness of listening to their own voices, they indicated that it was a simple and useful strategy for revision. It’s one that can be used in other classes, and doesn’t require any other tools or even other people for help.

Another strategy we employed using recording technology was focused on the use of video recording. Before my students had started writing informational essays, we studied informational texts, using the Nonfiction Notice and Note signposts, along with the Book Head Heart strategy found in the works of Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.

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When students learn reading strategies and skills, it’s important to be able to see just where they are in the learning process, but it takes time to thoroughly check in with each and every one of them. So with this unit, our ninth grade English teacher team decided that it would be great if students could demonstrate their learning through a think-aloud. Doing this in class would take a lot of one-on-one time, so we asked students to demonstrate their thinking and reading skills on their own, and to use the video recording capabilities on their iPads and cell phones.

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A screen shot from a video-think-aloud

Because we, as teachers, had modeled the think-aloud strategy in our classes many times, students knew exactly what we meant, and were able to demonstrate their understanding of the strategies and skills necessary when reading magazine articles. They annotated, exposed their initial confusion, shared their process of finding understanding, and demonstrated a multi-draft reading of the articles they had chosen. It was a successful method of assessment, and I plan to utilize it again. Students had a chance to showcase their thinking and understanding, and it wasn’t a one-off opportunity. They had the chance to try multiple takes with their recordings, so the pressure was off and they could easily share their thinking.

Our most current rationale for the utilization of video in class is with our new short novel unit, in which we formed book clubs. We are squeezing in a shared text at the beginning of second semester with Of Mice and Men. While all of my students are reading the same text, they are split up into groups of three and four so they can form their book clubs. One of the summative assessments with this unit is a small group discussion that they will record. They will need to demonstrate some academic, sustained, literary discussion in their videos, and are practicing in class, leading up to the recorded discussion. I’ll be able to have five small-group discussions going on at the same time in my class, which means precious class time isn’t frittered away with transition times between discussions, for example. Students will be thinking, reading, and discussing, and I’ll be able to watch the video later, when the pressure is off, and I can truly assess the conversation. I’ll try to remove the guess-work because I can slow down the speaking and listening assessment portion of it all.

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One student has heavily annotated in preparation for the recorded small group discussion.

These are just a few ways to allow students to use the simple technology that is available to them. Kids know how to make movies and to splice audio, so there is little need to instruct regarding the technical details. They can use the audio and video to showcase their skills.

It’s also a timesaver as far as the classroom goes, and it takes some of the stress off of students who have test anxiety or who struggle when it comes to on-demand assessments.

While it’s not a student-recording, I will share one last recent use of video in class. I played the video in this NPR article about a murmuration of starlings as an inspiration for a quick write this week. I played it without sound, and hit replay several times. My students were fascinated and wrote some fun responses. One was even moved to write music: img_5972.jpg

I love how my students are constantly surprising and impressing me. They are unexpected and wonderful.

I’d love to hear more about how teachers and students are using laptops and cell phones for the power of good in the comments below!

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the agua to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Follow her blog https://adventuresinhighschoolworkshop.wordpress.com/

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