Advertisements

Category Archives: Technology

#WhyIWrite is Why I Teach

As I sat down with my notebook bright and early this National Day on Writing (well, to be honest, it was so early it wasn’t bright out at all, because it was dark), I sketched out a large “WHY I WRITE” across a two-page spread.

download.png

As I jotted down reasons, I began to notice that my responses were synonymous with another WHY in my life: why I teach.

Why do I teach? To change the world. To make people smile. To spread the joy of reading and writing. To cultivate empathy. To get to feel good at something. To create a world that wasn’t possible before the act.

I write for all those reasons, too. Every morning at five (have you checked out #5amwritersclub?), and every time I meet with my students, and every time I feel compelled to say something to myself and no one else.

But I feel compelled, so strongly, to share a writing reason far beyond the confines of my notebook. It’s a reason I received from one of my students, in a random email just bursting with joy and passion for teaching.

Elizabeth sent me this email at 11:19 last night, gushing with lengthy detail about a series of lessons she’d just taught. She’d been experimenting with writing beside her students, leading them into writing poetry about a topic of their choice, in a poetic mode of their choice. They’d worked through a series of lessons as individuals, in pairs, in groups, and as a whole group to craft their writing, evaluate what was important about it, and teach one another whatever they felt most confident about. Elizabeth called it “the height of [her] pedagogy to this date.”

But it was the final lines of her email that propelled me out of bed, eager to grab my notebook and write. Her words made me thrilled to get to see her in class today. They made me want to bring her books of poetry to share with her students and new pens and a big hug and every other manner of teacher/writer joy I could think of.

Here’s what she wrote:

By the end, they asked excitedly to share their poems, and I knew that they had created something they were proud of. What greater measurement can there be of student investment than pride in their work? What greater hook to the essence of why we write?

It was a lesson that made me remember that they are worth this world tilting, burnt out, drudgery of exhaustion. They are worth it.

Elizabeth got to the heart of why we write, and why we teach:

It is worth it. Our students and our work are worth it. Every day.

Do not forget, when you feel like your world is tilting and you are burnt out beyond belief, that we do change lives, that we do show students the essences of why we read and write, and that we do teach children to have pride in themselves, their work, and their words. It is powerful, important work, and is the core of what we do. It is worth it. You are worth it, my friends.

Shana Karnes is so lucky to work with amazing preservice and practicing teachers at West Virginia University. She is three weeks away from welcoming her second daughter into the world, two weeks away from teaching her last class of the semester, and about a week away from no longer fitting into ANY of her maternity clothes. Find Shana on Twitter at @litreader or on the WVCTE Best Practices blog.

Advertisements

Shifting Control to Invite More Learning

569059I admit to liking control. I won’t go far as to say I’m a control freak, but I am freakishly close. As I age I realize I like more and more things in neat little rows, even my To-Do lists must be lined up perfectly, so I can make tiny check marks with my Precision pen.

I am ridiculous.

The hardest part of teaching for me is letting go. It’s also been the best thing for my teaching.

To be an effective workshop teacher, we step aside so our students can step in. They want to know their opinions, ideas, and choices matter. They’re hungry for it. We’ve written a lot about choice reading on this blog, and I know many of us advocate for self-selected independent reading, protecting sacred reading time like an O line protecting our quarterbacks.

I wonder what other choices we offer our students. How else do we invite them to own their learning?

Recently, I read this post “The Inspiration in Front of Your Eyes” by George Couros. He begins:

Often when working with educators, I try to give relevant examples of ideas that can be implemented into learning but get very specific to either a class or grade level.  My focus is not adding something to the plate of an educator but replacing something they currently do with something new and better than what they may have been doing before.  For example, instead of a teacher spending hours searching a video to explain a concept in math, or even creating it themselves, why not have the students find the concept and say why it is powerful, or having the students create some form of multimedia to explain the concept themselves? The flip is putting the learning into the student’s hands, which can lessen the work for the educator.

Deeper learning for the student, less work for the teacher.  Sounds good to me!

Couros goes on to explain the importance of being observant and connecting ideas we find in the world, and reshaping them to facilitate deeper learning for our students. Of course, this resonated. This is how we find mentor texts like author bios and user manuals. But Mr. Couros got me thinking about shifting the finding to my students.

Then before school a week ago Monday, I saw Kristen Ziemke‘s Padlet, Take a Knee. And I got another spark to shift my instruction.

I’d never used Padlet before, so while my students shuffled in to first period, I quickly made an account and created a board. I put one thing on it:  Kwame Alexander’s poem, Take a Knee, which I knew was the perfect quickwrite for the day after so many NFL players knelt in protest.

After we wrote and shared and talked in small groups and as a class about the issue. One student said, “I just don’t know enough about it to know what I believe.”

The perfect intro!

I suggested we make a text set that could help us understand the why’s and who’s and what’s of this hotbed of a topic, and I issued the challenge:  As a class of individuals with a wide variety of beliefs and backgrounds, we’d search for articles that would address all sides. We’d use Padlet as our storage space. Then we’d use the text set we build together for our learning in class.

With their phones and iPads, students went to work, and in the 10 minutes I gave them in class, they talked. Students talked about where to find information that “wasn’t biased,” “would tell them the truth,” “will help me want to know more.”

I leaned in to these conversations, teaching terms, suggesting sites, encouraging objectivity — and why it is important for our understanding of human needs and desires.

Our Padlet What’s the Argument is not complete. We haven’t had a chance to return to it yet, but we will. Maybe we’ll use it as we learn to ask better questions in preparation for whole class discussions. Maybe we’ll use it as we learn to synthesize information from a variety of sources. Maybe we’ll use it to spark ideas for the arguments we’ll post on our blogs. It doesn’t matter.

When we return to our Padlet, or even create another one that coincides with whatever peace-cannot-be-kept-by-force-it-can-only-be-achieved-by-understandinghotbed topic fires up the nation (sadly, there are so many), my students will know I value their input. They’ll know that helping them make sense of our world is as important to me as helping them love books and become good writers.

And maybe they’ll remember to look at all sides of the issues, to see into the hearts and minds of those we may disagree with so we can find a space for conversations.

If my giving up control makes space for that, I’ll take it every chance I get.

What ideas to do have to flip the learning into students’ hands, let go of control, and invite deeper learning? Please share in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen is a neat freak in her classroom but not her bedroom closet. She loves sharing books with student readers and reading students’ writing. She is the mother of six, grandmother to five, and wife to one very patient man. She teaches senior English and AP English Language at a huge and lovely senior high school in North Texas. Follow her on Twitter @amyrass

#TwitterTeacher

I’m late to the party. This I know. But my enthusiasm for this soirée is genuine, and it fueled some of my first day success.

In an effort to build community as quickly as possible this school year, and to get to know our students a bit over the summer, my colleague Sarah Sterbin and I decided to add some technological play to our AP Language summer homework. Using the hashtag #fhslanglife, students were asked to share their reading life twitter4throughout the summer.

They could snap photos of their trips to the bookstore, their feet in the sand and a book in their hands, and their smiling faces reading the summer away.

They could quip about quotes from required and choice reading, make suggestions to peers on what to read next, comment on the insights of others, follow my reading adventures, and the list goes on.

As often happens with open ended assignments, we got a wide variety of participation. Tweets ebbed and flowed throughout the summer, but each time a student posted, I made it a priority to comment, retweet, like, and/or tag an author to promote connections across the world of reading. When Ishmael Beah, Allen Eskens, and Matthew Desmond interact with your students over the summer, I call that a solid win for starting to build readers and a community with enthusiasm around reading.

twitter5

On the very first day of school, and in the few days that followed, as we quickly collected summer work, set down to work with a quick writes, set up writers’ notebooks, organized editorial speeches for our first speaking opportunity, and took in the surroundings of our room, I asked students to use our hashtag to share their excitement about the work ahead. I love what they chose to share.

twitter3twitter1twitter 2twitter6

Tweeting is a quick and easy way to build community. I sometimes display current tweets our daily PowerPoint/Syllabus to keep the movement afoot, and I love to hear students’ reactions as they come in the room to see their humor, insights, and recommendations on the big screen.

Twitter

How do you use social media to promote reading and writing lives? Please leave your brilliant ideas in the comments below!


Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. Her latest tweet suggests that she thinks about reading 24/7. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum 

Guest Post: A Different Take on News That Is Fake (It’s Not…It’s Manufactured Via a Profit-Making Monopoly)

A few days ago, my husband posted the following on his Facebook page. His message ties to my post yesterday, and it sparked even more of my thinking about the importance of critical thinking. You may find it does so, too.


“You can see the skies. They look like they’re upset about what mankind has been doing, and they’re threatening the Earth with storms. The clock says it’s daytime, but dark night is strangling the sun.”  No Fear Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 2, scene 4.

All this fuss and vicious finger pointing about fake news. Sheesh. Let me suggest, my friends, without being too obnoxious, it isn’t fake at all, rather, it is manufactured.

Well, yes, manufactured.

It starts with a “mined” or “harvested” raw resource (supposedly the facts or the “truth” [air quotes]), then it goes through various refinement processes until finally there’s a “bombshell of the day” or “breaking news” or “blockbuster movie or TV series” product at the end of the value chain designed to get and hold our attention across multiple channels and media. But, when the news and/or entertainment finally hits the airwaves (the shelves of our eyes and ears) there are two things to try to keep in mind:

  1. The owners of the bulk of news and entertainment makers and distributors devolve into a VERY small group of companies–a monopoly of sorts–that are controlled by 20 to 30 so Billionaires, that make ALL the decisions on what/who gets reported and not reported, filmed and not filmed, bullied and not bullied, even elected and not elected, etc. (Please see the list of companies below.)

  2. The content of news and movie/TV entertainment is extremely curated and molded. Why? Because the goal no longer is to keep news and entertainment separated. It is unnecessary since there is no external moral code to dictate what is right and wrong, good and bad, virtuous or vice. Today, those considerations are dictated by who is in charge of controlling the minute by minute, hour by hour, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly newsfeed, entertainment and educational narrative in order to make . . . MONEY!

Manufactured news must be carefully designed to inform and entertain in order to fuel the “attention to profit” revenue engine.

Buying this?

If so, may I suggest to never forget the money trail IS the only thing that matters at the end of the month/quarter. It seems, today, that there are NO altruistic incentives in news or entertainment. Either the media outlet makes a profit or they’re gone. And, the political, moral views of those who control the content are intricately tied into the “profitable” audience that pays for a certain point of view or worldview to win or triumph.

And the battle lines are drawn very profitably by these news and entertainment media manufacturing monopolists.

The funny thing is that unless we are willing to see behind the curtains (there are multiple layers of curtains) there is a assembly line or “value chain” that narrows down ideas, slants perspectives, and cherry-picks management teams to promote, or hold to, a certain bias, then we are most unwittingly duped no matter what political or moral side we’re on. We’ll argue until we’re toxically bloated that we’re right, but there’s ALWAYS another story behind the story behind the story that may undo our “I’m right and you’re wrong” arguments.

Consider this:  All those thousands of TV channels we thought represented diversity and fairness, uh, no. . .

What I’m going to share is quite eye-opening (at least I think so). All we hear about is how horrible Rupert Murdoch and Fox News are, but let’s look at the top companies (unranked) that own 90% of the media (including News Corporation aka Rupert). It seems fair to me that any and all could read through this and be able to conclude that there’s more to the “facts” than we’re being told when it comes to who/what controls what we see, hear, and read every day in news and entertainment. And, all of which, today, in my opinion, are manufactured one and the same:

  1. Comcast ($55 billion…ish) owns or has it’s hands in . . .ready?

NBCUniversal; twenty-four television stations and the NBC television network; Telemundo; USA Network; SyFy; CNBC; MSNBC; Bravo; Oxygen; Chiller; CNBC World; E!; the Golf Channel; Sleuth; mun2; Universal HD; VERSUS; Style; G4; Comcast SportsNet (Philadelphia), Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic (Baltimore/Washington, D.C.), Cable Sports Southeast, Comcast SportsNet Chicago, MountainWest Sports Network, Comcast SportsNet California (Sacramento), Comcast SportsNet New England (Boston), Comcast SportsNet Northwest (Portland, Ore.), Comcast Sports Southwest (Houston), Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (San Francisco), New England Cable News (Boston), Comcast Network Philadelphia, Comcast Network Mid-Atlantic (Baltimore/Washington, D.C.); the Weather Channel (25 percent stake); A&E (16 percent stake); the History Channel (16 percent stake); the Biography Channel (16 percent stake); Lifetime (16 percent stake); the Crime and Investigation Channel (16 percent stake); Pittsburgh Cable News Channel (30 percent stake); FEARnet (31 percent stake); PBS KIDS Sprout (40 percent stake); TV One (34 percent stake); Houston Regional Sports Network (23 percent stake); SportsNet New York (8 percent stake).

They also own: Comcast Interactive Media; Plaxo; Universal Studios Hollywood; Wet ‘n Wild theme park; Universal Studios Florida; Universal Islands of Adventure; Philadelphia 76ers; Philadelphia Flyers; Wells Fargo Center; iN DEMAND; Music Choice (12 percent stake); SpectrumCo (64 percent stake)

(Note: Some of these companies/titles have or will change hands, but no new hands have shown up during the past 20 years. It is still the same group of Billionaires and companies incestuously fleshing it out for profit.)

  1. Time Warner ($29 billion…ish)

One of the largest media holding company with the Warner Brothers Television Group; Warner Brothers Television; Warner Horizon Television; CW Network (50 percent stake); TBS; TNT; Cartoon Network; truTV; Turner Classic Movies; Boomerang; CNN; HLN; CNN International; HBO; Cinemax; Space; Infinito; I-Sat; Fashion TV; HTV; Much Music; Pogo; Mondo TV; Tabi; CNN Español the Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Turner Classic Movies, CNN and Headline News and CW.

TW also owns: Warner Brothers (which owns DC Comics); Warner Brothers Pictures; New Line Cinema; Castle Rock; WB Studio Enterprises, Inc.; Telepictures Productions, Inc.; Warner Brothers Animation, Inc.; Warner Home Video; Warner Premiere; Warner Specialty Films, Inc.; Warner Brothers International Cinemas

  1. News Corporation (Rupert Murdoch) the largest market cap at $40 billion…ish

Owns Fox Broadcasting Company; television and cable networks such as Fox, Fox Business Channel, National Geographic and FX; print publications including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and TV Guide; the magazines Barron’s and SmartMoney; book publisher HarperCollins; film production companies 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Blue Sky Studios; numerous websites including MarketWatch.com; and non-media holdings including the National Rugby League. FX; SPEED; FUEL TV; Fox College Sports; Fox Movie Channel; Fox Soccer Channel; Fox Soccer Plus; Fox Pan American Sports; Fox Deportes; Big Ten Network; National Geographic U.S.; Nat Geo Adventure; Nat Geo Music; Nat Geo Wild; Fox International Channels; Utilisima; Fox Crime; NEXT; FOX History & Entertainment; the Voyage Channel; STAR World; STAR Movies; NGC Network International; NGC Network Latin America; LAPTV; Movie City; City Mix; City Family; City Stars; City Vibe; the Film Zone; Cinecanal; Elite Sports Limited; BabyTV; STAR India; STAR Taiwan; ESPN STAR Sports; Shine Limited. Hulu.com (32 percent minority share). HarperCollins Publishers; the New York Post; the Daily News; News International (the Times; the Sunday Times; the Sun); News Limited (146 newspapers in Australia); Dow Jones (Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, SmartMoney, Factiva, Dow Jones Newswires, Dow Jones Local Media, Dow Jones VentureSource). Fox Filmed Entertainment; Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment; Twentieth Century Fox Television; Twentieth Television; Fox Television Studios

  1. General Electric media holdings keep changing, but it sorta includes television networks NBC, MSNBC, NBC Sports, Telemundo, 27 television stations in the United States and many cable TV networks, including the History Channel, and Sci Fi Channel. It also owns the popular web-based TV website Hulu. (Sorta means they co-own a lot of things with other media behemoths)
  2. Disney ($55 Billion)

Owns the ABC television network; cable networks including ESPN, the Disney Channel, SOAPnet, A&E and Lifetime; 277 radio stations, music- and book-publishing companies; film-production companies Touchstone, Miramax and Walt Disney Pictures; Pixar Animation Studios; the cellular service Disney Mobile; and theme parks around the world. And, don’t forget they own Marvel Studios now!

They also own dozens of cable networks, and with the Disney channel they control millions of kids’ eyeballs — and moms’ pocket books.

  1. Viacom owns 160 cable channels including MTV, VH1, CMT, Logo, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, TV Land, Spike TV, Tr3s, BET and CENTRIC

They also own numerous studio brands including Paramount Pictures, Insurge Pictures, MTV Films and Nickelodeon Movies.

  1. Bertelsmann ($20 billion…ish)

Owns Random House (with over 200 imprints in 15 countries, including the Ballantine Publishing Group, the Bantam Dell Publishing Group, Broadway, the Crown Publishing Group, the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group, Pantheon, Random House U.K., Transworld, Sudamericana, C. Bertelsmann, Karl Blessing Verlag, Goldmann, Siedler Verlag, Wolf Jobst Siedler Verlag, Plaza & Janes (50 percent), Grijalbo Mondadori (50 percent), the Knopf Publishing Group, the RH Adult Trade Publishing Group, RH Audio, RH Children’s Books, RH Direct, Inc., the RH Information Group, RH International, RH Large Print, RH Value Publishing, and Waterbrook Press; Gruner + Jahr (285 print titles in 20 countries)

  1. We mustn’t forget Social Media:  Facebook with over 1.5 billion people who primarily get their news and entertainment from the Facebook feed they unwittingly created for themselves, warmly cocoons them within a pleasant “me, me, me” echo chamber.

(Source: Freepress)

Getting the picture (pun intended)?

I’m a Cinephile, lover of movies, and I’m going to share some stats on movie gross earnings vs product costs that provide some perspective on how what we see/hear is manufactured to keep our attention in order to make a profit.

This daily, highly-touted, data-set got underway in the mid ’70’s when the first summer Blockbuster hit the big screen. It went like this:

Da…dum

Daaaaa…dum

Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum (faster and faster)

It was Spielberg’s, Jaws, and it grossed $470 million on a production budget of $7 million; 67 times the initial investment.

Another more recent example:

Beauty and the Beast, the 2017 metaphor of love, sacrifice and atonement, grossed $900 million, but cost $300 million to make; a 300% return.

It used to be that we’d only hear about the “box office” earnings at certain times of the year, but now we hear about how big, or bad, the “weekend box office” will be, or was, year around. (WARNING: They’re just marketing to us, but now it’s designed to cocoon us in a world of news and entertainment that gets us hooked.)

Don’t believe me? Well, here is a stat to chew on:

Only 2 to 3% of us go to movies in theaters, but 90% of us watch them or TV series (we’ve heard about) in our own homes on DVD, network TV, or streamed TV.

Ready for some more hype that hooks us into the “manufactured media” consumption loop?

Manchester By The Sea grossed $72.6 million, but cost $8.5 million. (BTW, what in the heck was that Oscar-winning movie supposed to achieve???)

La La Land, an absolutely delightful look at the quest for fame and love, grossed $442 million worldwide on a production budget of $30 million.

Historical Hype? (no ranking order)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (and who didn’t like this laugh fest?) is the highest gross earnings to cost movie: $369 million against $6 million.

Star Wars grossed $775 million against a $40 million budget.

Mrs. Doubtfire grossed $441 million against a $38 million budget.

Slumdog Millionaire grossed $378 million against a budget of $15 million.

There’s Something About Mary grossed $370 million against a $31 million budget

The Hangover grossed $467 million against a budget $36 million.

The Passion of Christ grossed $612 million against a budget of $35 million

The reality is that these movies, based on these numbers, are portrayed as making a profit at the Box Office.

They didn’t.

Movies, in MOST cases, only become profitable after they hit DVD and TV.

NOW, go back to that list of news and entertainment companies and note how many of them own the advertising networks, the movie studios, the news stations, and the TV networks and subscriber channels. And remember that without the TV outlets 2/3’s of their profits disappear.

See the cross-channel, total-immersion system?

Manufactured — end to end — news and entertainment designed to monopolize our eyes, ears, minds, hearts–and pocket books.

And the vast majority of it has NOTHING to do with facts or truth. Well, okay, the weather and sports seem to be based in truth most of the time (unless you think there’s a conspiracy in the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, etc. haha)

And on that sports analogy…from the Witches in Macbeth:

“Fair is foul and foul is fair.”

Sources: SLATE, Hollywood’s Profits Demystified; Freepress, Who Owns the Media?; CNBC, Entertainment, Most Profitable Movies of All Time

Curtis Rasmussen is a lover of great movies, great marketing, and people who don’t fit in. He practices reaching across the aisle to befriend people of the opposite persuasion, politics, or affiliations. Curtis is a marketing strategist and writer who lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Amy, his dog Jag, and his youngest child of seven, Zach. 

Learning from One Another – Professional Development is Everywhere

As high school cliques go, I was never a part of the “cool kids” group. I loitered around the exterior, occasionally granted access to view what went on behind the curtain, but knowing people who know people didn’t really make much of a difference in terms of obtaining a season pass to all things elite.

I was a somewhat lovable dork, voted most compassionate of my high school class (please read this amazing post about being nice vs. being kind, because I was far too nice in high school), content to spend time laughing with my band geek friends and the ever flexible crowd made up of people who really tried not to care what went on at the “totally awesome” parties thrown by people too important to acknowledge the existence of 92% of their graduating class.

Now, in retrospect, I was saved from many things:  painful experiences that would have blown my sheltered innocence far before I could handle it, drama related to pecking order and perceived slights over social class, Gatsby-esque flaps fueled by alcohol and beautiful shirts.

These days, in the professional world, having a collaborative group that functions supportively, creatively, cohesively, also has many benefits reminiscent of those true friends from years past who helped get me through, helped raise me up, helped make me better. The teachers in my department are simply amazing, and I am lucky to have a season pass to be a part of their cool.

Across the profession, some of us meet weekly (or more often) in PLC meetings. Some of us meet in spare moments after school, chance encounters in the hallway, and Google hangout planning sessions. Some of us befriend the teacher next door and talk shop at all hours. It’s about growing as professionals, even when it’s sometimes just about what we’re all “doing tomorrow.”

pd1

However, growing as a professional, these days, can also mean connections that are far from the traditional and learning that comes from very surprising places. In these trying professional times, to be a teacher requires hits of rejuvenation whenever and wherever we can get them.

Take, for example, Shana’s post from last week on her professional development enthusiasm and the message she shared with 3TT. I listened to her message and hurriedly wrote down two ideas I wanted to try right away.

That is the magic of connecting with other professionals: learning (or reviewing) what can bring back (or sustain) the spark that every classroom teacher needs in order to weather the slings and arrows of our craft.

Those sessions where you fill up page after page of quotes, insights, lesson ideas, tips, and tricks. Where you are the cool kid, not because you’ve adjusted who you are in any way, but because you have built up who you are and what you do.

Over the course of this year, I have come to see professional development as something that is happening every surprising moment, from all possible angles. pd2

Below, some reminders (that I myself needed this year) of how empowering learning is. If we forget about, resist, or otherwise close ourselves off to new ideas, review of what works, or even the very basics of our craft (Let me hear you : teachers must be readers and writers or we are in the business of false advertising) what unfortunate hypocrisy we make of what we purport to do each and every day.

Embracing PD Opportunities Based on Your Needs

Whether it’s to pursue an advanced degree, get continuing education credits, fulfill a district initiative, or to explore a topic of interest, professional development can be hugely invigorating to daily practice (It can also be a flop and/or downright insulting, but that’s for another post).

For example, I am typing this blog post today, because I was in need. I needed support to help make the move to workshop and to lead my department through that move. I Google searched “readers and writers workshop,” started reading the 3TT blog, emailed Amy to ask her a million questions, and then insisted to my district that 3TT needed to come for professional development in Franklin. It was some of the most authentic PD I’ve received in fourteen years of teaching.

photo2

Sometimes, it can feel like professional development gets overwhelming. We have professional development opportunities at staff meetings, during mandatory extra hours outside of the school day, and in order to fulfill countless professional expectations of record keeping, curriculum development, and reflection.

However, through professional development organized by and for teachers, we learn from those who know best and know now because they are in the trenches. Seek out professional development for yourself that speaks to the needs you feel need to be met in your classroom.

Creating a PLC with Students 

Sheridan lingered after class yesterday. She’s actually the inspiration for this entire post.

Shyly, she asked if it would be alright to share an article with me. “I ran across this article yesterday while I was looking for something else and it intrigued me so much that I read it.”

With a smile on my face I said, “What were you looking for?”

She laughed, “I don’t even know. I never found it! But I think you’ll like this, so I’ll send it to you.”

What arrived was a link to a Washington Post article from a few years back. Alexis Wiggins, the daughter of Grant Wiggins (of Understanding By Design fame), is also an educator and had shadowed a student for several days. Her takeaways in this article about what students experience every day hit home with me in a big way.
Not because her insights were new or because they would change everything I do on a daily basis, but for two reasons.

The ideas were a reminder of a perspective that often falls away in the face of daily routine and that reminder was shared with me by a student of my own.

Sheridan in no way was looking to make me feel bad, but she did exactly what I tell my kids that reading, sharing, and reflecting should do : remind us of what we need to make a priority each day.

Wiggins research on students needing to feel valued, engaged, and physically and mentally present isn’t new to me, but the article was the best kind of professional development: Kid centered, kid inspired, immediately applicable to my classroom.

Look for, solicit, or otherwise beg students to share with you what is making them think. Direct them to places like Austin Kleon’s newsletter or Arts and Letters Daily, so they can study new and unique ideas, talk about those insights in class, connect them to current learning, and expand your repertoire of resources, insights, and enthusiasm.

 

Hanging with the Cool Kids

Expanding our definitions of professional develop can also be hugely beneficial.

You’re doing it already, you know. Reading this blog. Reading other blogs, following educational news, getting active in political topics that weigh on our schools, our kids, and our jobs.

Go even further:

  • Follow the English rockstars on social media– Kittle, Gallagher, Newkirk, Morrell, Miller, Anderson, just to name a few.
  • Like the Facebook pages of authors your students love – I’ve had Angie Thomas and Matthew Quick like posts my students and I wrote just in the past few weeks.
  • Tag big names in your posts – Opening your insights or questions up to a wider pd3audience.
  • Jump on Twitter chats –  You don’t ever even need to comment, if you don’t want to. You can just read, click on links to other great articles/insights/lessons, and remain anonymous. You can watch a chat as it’s happening, or follow a hashtag back to a conversation that’s already happened and read through what was said. Here is a link to scheduled Twitter chats that educators might find value in.

Keep learning intentionally.

Not only will you open yourself to an even wider world of resources, insights, opinions, and discussion, but sometimes, you’ll hear personally from these teaching megastars, and let this fangirl tell you, that discipleship can take you all the way back to that thrilling peek behind the curtain of the cool kids.

What professional development opportunities have you found most beneficial to your career? Whether it be attendance at a national conference or stalking a Twitter chat, we’d love to have you join the conversation in the comments below! 


Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. Her favorite pens for note taking during professional development are Paper Mate Flair pens in a variety of colors. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum 

10 Things Worth Sharing Right Now

I love the little ripple of a thrill that runs through to my fingertips when I find something that I want to share with my students. That borderline codependent excitement that comes with wanting to share a book, an article, a statistic…immediately.

“They NEED to see this,” I think, fumbling around on my phone to figure out how and where to save it.

“They NEED to read this,” I say to my husband, as I make him pause his own life to listen to yet another passage of my latest read.

“They NEED to know about this,” I mutter, linking wildly to our syllabus (just another in a long line of moments where I’m grateful that life happens and we share it in class).

So today, I’m taking a page from one of my newest obsessions, the newsletter put together weekly by the brilliant, inspiring, and wildly creative, Austin Kleon. Each week, delivered to your inbox, arrives a list of “10 things [he thinks are] worth sharing.” Simple. Intriguing. Very, very useful in the classroom.

I’m honestly not sure how I stumbled on this one, but in the month since subscribing, I’ve used three of his images to inspire quick writes, and book talked (loosely) the newsletter itself, suggesting to students that they should subscribe in order to broaden their horizons to current happenings, inspiring visuals, and commentary on books, shows, and cultural phenomenon. In other words, link up to something that delivers items to keep you reading texts other than social media updates (“Made a sandwich guys…bet you’re all jelly. Get it? Jealous, but jelly instead.? God, I am such a genius”).

  1. Austin Kleon’s Weekly Newsletter
    Kleon reflects on a central image each week, along with linking to intriguing articles, a poem of the week, ear candy audio, eye candy visuals, and other noteworthy insights from across the vast expanse of the internet. If someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, did you see…?” chances are Kleon will have it linked on his list for the week.
  2. The Power of Exemplars
    A few weeks back, I was bemoaning to my fellow Three Teachers Ladies, how disappointed I was in a recent project my sophomores had completed. My vision for a poster that brilliantly illustrated their insights on their latest reading, was met with large sheets of paper with haphazard cutouts of text, crudely taped across the page, accompanied by printed book covers in black and white, and the occasional hurried pencil addition to the project (last minute insight for forgotten components). Needless to say, I was frustrated AND without any way to hold students accountable for the quality of the visual they submitted (not the central point, for sure, but a consideration certainly). Take pride in your product, and all that, had fallen short. In my irritation, I searched in vain for something in the Common Core that might suggest students consider carefully how they convey their ideas.

    Then, I took a deep breath. I realized I had what I needed, I just hadn’t used it. See below the power of exemplars. My AP students were completing their community visuals (which I wrote about last year in a reflection on the use of essential questions), and I had no rubric for this work either. However, the power of suggestion, in showing them some of the brilliant work from the year before, was more than enough. They knew the expectation, saw what I thought was praiseworthy when it comes to presenting their insights, and we enjoyed some brilliant symbolism in the presentation of these visuals. Amen.
    img_1163

  3. Musical Genius
    One of my groups took a creative leap for their community unit visual and put together a musical. Franklin’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat opened this past weekend. Several members of the cast in my first period class asked if they could complete the project in a slightly different way. Their project would still include analysis, present their ideas to the class, and involve audience feedback after the presentation, but…there would be singing.

    img_1092

    Francesca, Joe, and Parker

    Since I always joke with my kids about presenting their ideas through interpretative dance, this musical idea intrigued me. Their mini musical included several skits that detailed life within the community of a musical cast/crew. Watching students sing their way through a summative, I was reminded that my vision for a project is rarely as broad and brilliant as what students can come up with on their own. My exemplar pool had just expanded in verse.
    img_1095

  4. Bag o’ Books
    Remember to beg for books. Want to build that classroom library? Get down on your knees and remind your students of how good it feels to give back…to you.Maija recommend the book Dangerous Minds a few weeks back. When a fellow student was at the bookshelf looking for it the other day, I asked Maija if she’d be willing to bring it so, AJ could borrow it. I even turned on a sweet smile and said, “If you don’t need it anymore, I’d be happy to take it off your hands.”

    The book was outside my door the next day, in a bag with a sweet note and several other books. Score.

  5. Amy Poehler on Writing
    I’m training for a half marathon. Without audiobooks, I might not make it. Seriously. I need to get lost in a story to pound out the miles. So, when I started 10 miles on Sunday and realized my Overdrive audiobook had expired, I had to quick download something new. Ugh.Enter, Amy Poehler’s Yes, PleaseI smiled for nine miles (it takes awhile to download when you’re actively running down the street). Poehler’s voice is sincere, relatable, and funny as all get out. Easy to book talk.

    Here’s the golden ticket: The Preface. I heard it and knew I needed to play it for my students. Poehler writes with undeniable voice about writing. She says of her text and the writing process that she “had no business agreeing to write this book” and wrote it “ugly and in pieces,” because “everyone lies about writing…they lie about how easy it is or how hard it was.” She says, and students really related to the idea, that “writing is hard and boring and occasionally great, but usually not.” In reflection afterward, students also noted her use of stream of consciousness, aside, and self deprecating banter to tell her story, not just inform her audience about what the book would be about. Classes agreed that they could really get behind her idea that, “Great people do things before they are ready.” Amen, Ms. Poehler. Let’s all put pen to paper.

  6. langchat#17
    I recently started following the brilliant Elizabeth Matheny on Twitter. Her AP insights and resources have helped fuel my work recently and her AP Language slow chat last week was a great opportunity to have my kids practicing analysis with students across the country. I’m thinking of several things to extend this activity:
    – Have students organize a slow chat for peers
    – Get students to live tweet peer feedback during speeches or discussion
    – See #7 below
  7. Tweeting Authors
    I tweeted Angie Thomas to tell her that her book The Hate You Give is stunning and I’d be getting into the hands of as many students as possible.She liked my tweet.Fangirl moment.img_1024
    Have your students reach out to authors. They often reach back.
  8. Creativity Visual
    I love what this suggests to students about the power they possess.
    img_1157
  9. Get it to the Big (or small) Screen
    My students often buy into the idea that great books are made into (sometimes great) movies. The Underground Railroad is being made into a series with the director from Moonlight. Having just finished this intriguing read myself, I book talked the text this week and shared the movie plans.
  10. Quick Write – Psychopath
    This came across my Facebook feed the other day, and I tossed it on my PowerPoint. As is the way in educator, my students surprised in noticing it, and we ended up doing a quick, quick write about changing social norms. AP Language test prep comes in many , many forms.
    img_1122
    What would make your list of 10 things we need to see and share this week? Add your ideas in the comments below! 

Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of English educating gods and goddesses at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. She loves lists, especially lists with links to beautiful thoughts and ideas. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum 

disclosure

 

Will You Share Your AP Scores? Here We Go Again

I am not mean very often, but last week I was mean. Okay, not mean exactly, but certainly snarky.

I friend asked me about my AP scores. Innocent question. Struck a nerve.

I’ve written about AP English and AP test scores in the past, and I imagine as long as I teach AP English Language and Composition, I will continue to do so. I really do not mean to be snarky, but the more I talk with kids about their reading lives, the more I keep hoping more and more teachers Aim Higher — not just in AP classes, but in all English classes.

In the signature line of my school email, I include this quote by Emerson:  “We aim above the mark to hit the mark.”

I like that it helps me focus on what matters in my practice:  Teaching beyond a test. Always teaching beyond a test.

So what does this look like in my practice? Mostly, it looks like helping readers find their way back to a love of reading. After all, the best readers are usually the best writers, and the best readers and writers are usually the best test takers.

When Jessica asked me about my test scores last week, I know she was just working on building a case for choice books on her campus, a case for a workshop pedagogy. And while my scores did improve 50% the first year I moved to readers-writers workshop, no testing data captures the learning that happens in my classroom. No data shows an accurate picture of my students’ growth as readers and writers.

See for yourself:

For our midterm last week, my students wrote self-evaluations of their reading lives. Their words are much more valuable than mine when it comes to adding weight to the debate for time to read and choice of books in all English classes.

Leslie is a talker. She speaks with a beautiful Spanish accent and loves to use the new

LeslieandGiselle

Giselle and Leslie, Nicola Yoon fans, dying for the movie!

vocabulary words she’s studying. I often have to hush her table because these girls like to talk about what they are reading during reading time. The fuss over Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon is on-going. They LOVE that book! Leslie writes:

“My reading goal for next nine weeks is seven books, I want to reach my reading goal and I will make it happen by reading more and do it because I enjoy it not just because I have to do it. I can gladly say that I love reading now, back then I used to be allergic to books and never touch them to read the beautiful stories that they have inside their covers.  After I become the perfect reader I intend to become the perfect writer.”

Giselle’s list of books she’s read so far this year reads like a spine poem. When she writes about whole class novels, she means our book club titles. I use book clubs to push many students into reading more complex books.

Lissbeth has been in the U.S. for three years. She titled her post “No Excuses for Not Reading.” My favorite line: “One of the things that I have learn thanks to my English teachers, is that reading is not just something you do for entertainment, it can also become a lifestyle.” Of course!

image2

Audrey’s Currently Reading list

Already a reader when she entered my class, Audrey explains her reading experience since last August:

I have learned some about myself as a reader. I’ve learned that I like to stay in my reading comfort zone, but with a little nudge I’m able to read other genres and enjoy it. I’ve learned that I’m always growing as a reader. My reading rate can always improve. My vocabulary can always improve. As a reader I know that with due time, and with a lot of reading and determination, I can read ANYTHING!” [Note: If you read Audrey’s full post, when she mentions me giving the class a list, she’s referring to our book club choices. I do not have a list of all the books in my classroom library.]

 

Some students are in my block class, so I’ve only had them since mid January.

Cheyenne, who has read 14 books since the beginning of the semester, feels pretty strongly

blogger2bpt2b5

Cheyenne’s book stack

about the whole class novel. She writes: “I definitely have a deep dislike for class novels. This has more to do with the fact that I hate being forced to read certain books by certain deadlines, for me, it defeats the thrill, if you will, of reading the book in the first place.”

This year was the first time since middle school that I have been excited to read in class, and that was because we weren’t assigned a class book to read and we got to choose a book we wanted to read,” Rachel writes.

If you don’t believe some students lose a love of reading because of school, ask them. Ask them questions about what happened. Every kid I know was once an excited reader. Few are when they get to me in 11th grade.

Reghan confirms this in her post. She writes:

From elementary school through middle school, I read every kind of book, big or small. From nonfiction books about the unsinkable, sunken ship: the Titanic, to fantasy books about alternate universes and dystopian societies, I was a reader.

“Until my freshman year of high school.

“Ninth grade wasn’t easy for me. A lot went on that year with my family and personal life, causing me to be unfocused on school, my grades, and reading…and my transcript made that very obvious. I don’t think I read even one book in that entire year, summer included. This carried into my sophomore year, as well as part of my Junior year too. Zero books read, many to go.

“Being in AP English this semester and having to work hard to stay afloat has helped me tremendously and it wouldn’t be possible without my teachers . . . I’ve read four books this nine weeks including: Paper Towns by John Green, Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foerand Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn and I’m on my fifth: Columbine by Dave Cullen. That’s more than I’ve read in the last three years, combined. I’ve been introduced to books that I’ve never heard of and books that I never would’ve picked on my own. In fact, thanks to our assigned book clubs, I now have a new favorite book which is the aforementioned, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

” I credit Mrs. Rasmussen with my progress because of her belief that we as students are more likely to read if we’re choosing books that we want, not that our chosen for us. In my experience, any book that has been chosen for me by a teacher, has been uninteresting and/or hard to finish. Being able to choose has only helped me and there’s proof in the numbers. Not only has this freedom improved my desire to read, but it has showed me who I am and what I like as a reader.”

And then there’s Ciara, who wrote “The Oprah Winfrey (with a little twist) Show.” Here’s a reader I am still working on, but oh, her writing voice. And her taste in TV shows! (We’ve bonded lately over quite a few.)


So in a post with AP test scores in the title, I give you a post about what students have to say about their reading lives.

That’s gonna be my answer every single time.

I happen to be assigned to teach AP English Language and Comp, but what I teach is how to love reading to students who miss it. Most of them miss it.

What are you doing about it?

 

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 to the Fighting Farmers at Lewisville High School. She also facilitates professional development for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy. She adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus Christ: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all love more than we think we can. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

%d bloggers like this: