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Category Archives: Amy Rasmussen

May I have your intention please?

I am borrowing my word for 2018 from my friend Whitney who in her wisdom spoke right to my heart:  “My word for 2018 is “intentional,” and I see that manifesting as spending quality time with quality people engaging in quality pursuits…being conscious about what I choose to do. I’m tired of being spread too thin and being so stressed out and/or exhausted that I can’t enjoy the moment I’m in.”

Ever had that moment when someone says your words for you? Thanks, Whit!

My father instilled in me the habit of setting goals. He taught me how to write them down and then see them to fruition. I am pretty good at it (most of the time.) But lately, (like the past three years) I, too, have spread myself too thin, and it’s taken a long while for my inner voice to shout loud enough for me to hear it. Poor hoarse thing.

This idea of intention resonates like an echo from the canyon of my soul. This voice is serious and a little scary. See, I’ve operated intensely in the extremes for decades. How can I do this and this and this? How can I be more, do more?

But I have not always practiced intention. More is not always better. Duh.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with my friends and colleagues Amber and Mary. I had the privilege of mentoring them as pre-service teachers several years ago. They told me the best word to describe me then was intense. Of all the words in the world. . .

I get it. And these friends will agree: I have come a long way. But I’ve got miles to go.

So I am going to be a little more honest with myself. A lot more patient. A lot more sincere. I am going to set myself free. Free to explore and relax and play.

Intentionhonestly

To be able to do this more effectively, I am also going to take some advice I got from Adam and not just take a break from social media but detach from it — a lot. Maybe I will read a lot more of the books Adam recommends and make a bigger dent in my books-to-read-next pile.

I found this article 6 Simple Questions to Set 2017 Intentions, and I’ve played around with my own questions and answers in my notebook. I am a year late to the party, but I’ve got the pointy hat on now.

I also found a list of beautiful poems at the Center for Mindfulness, a place I should probably rent a room. I’ve printed them out and will paste these poems in my notebook and write around them. (I remember Penny Kittle saying one time that she does this:  pastes poems in her notebook that she can write beside while whiling away in faculty meetings.)

Poem I Said to the Wanting Creature Inside of Me

Will this intention transfer into my teaching? into my relationships with students? No question. Here’s how I rewrote those questions above to fit with my quest to be more intentional at school:

  • What are 1-3 experiences I want to have with students this spring?
  • Who are 3-6 students I want to deepen my relationships with this semester?
  • What are 1-3 things I want to try in my classroom that I’ve put off trying?
  • What are 3 way I will take care of myself more effectively during the school day?
  • Who on my campus can I get to know more meaningfully?
  • What one word do I want students to describe me?

We all know the benefit of boundaries. I don’t know why it is so hard for some of us to set boundaries for our own well being. As teachers, we take on a lot, don’t we?

My hope for myself — and for all of you — is that we can stop a spell, consider the moment, think about what matters in the long run, then, and only then, take a step toward whatever it is we want to accomplish.

There we will have a solid place for our feet. I like that.

What are your intentions for the new year? I’d love to know.

Amy Rasmussen is the mother of six grown children and two naughty Sheltie puppies. She’s married to her best friend of 32 years and teaches at an awesome senior high school in North Texas. She hopes this is the year she can stop everything else long enough to write that book. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk 

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What do fingernails have to do with data?

We all feel it, don’t we? That time of the year when teaching gets tough:  skies get darker, holidays come looming, and students look out windows more than they look to learn. I have 2.5 days until the break, and, like you, I am ready.

This is the time of year I start to question myself. Have I taught the way my students need me to teach? Have I made them feel special, valued, a part of our learning community? Have they learned anything?

These were my musings last week when I got a special gift in my inbox:  three photos of a former student’s fingernails.

With this message:

This is totally random, but I thought you might like to know that aside from all of the English, reading and writing skills that you taught me. . .our end of the year project (the How-To), has actually helped me in real life! If you remember, I did my project over biting nails because I desperately wanted to stop. After that project, it was so easy to, and I haven’t bitten them since the end of the year in your class 6 months ago! I’ve attached some pictures… Like I said, this is super random & weird, but if you’ve ever wanted proof of that project actually working, here is my successful end product.

Does this count as hard data?

Yesterday I answered questions about student data in a phone interview. One question went something like this:  If a cynic questions your methods, what do you do to win her over?

The exchange left me unsettled. I said I would show the cynic student work and let her read students’ self-reflections on their learning. I spoke about how the data I care about is the qualitative type that comes from my observations, conferences, and interactions with students. I value process over product.

I think my response fell flat with my interviewer. Maybe she wanted numbers. What would she think of Micaela’s nails as proof of my instructional methods?

Later in the day I twittered upon these tweets:

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The whole thread rings true.  And I’ll add this:  Numbers mean nothing if we do not add value to a child’s life and help her learn to thrive, achieve, and find herself within it.

I’ll be honest:  I thought Micaela chose an easy topic last spring as her final writing piece:  a multi-genre project that was more than a how-to but a comprehensive argument for or against an issue; I didn’t think she could write enough about breaking her habit. But I got out of her way, and she composed a multi-layered piece about the shame and the struggle and her desperate desire to leave her nails alone.

I’ll go on break this Thursday. But when I get back to work in 2018, I’ll remember Micaela. What do my students need beyond my ELA curriculum? What motivates their thinking? What will my students choose to do this spring if I remember to get out of their way?

Amy Rasmussen shares a classroom with juniors and seniors at Lewisville High School in North TX where she learns as much from them as they ever do from her. She was once a nail-biter herself. Writing a paper about her habit at 16 might have helped her kick it a lot sooner. She was 21. Amy wishes you a joyful holiday and a Happy New Year, and sincerely thanks you for following and sharing Three Teachers Talk.

A Little Learning with Big Outcomes

Last week was tough. If you teach in TX, you probably know what I mean.

December means STAAR/EOC testing, and while I teach readers and writers in 11th and 12th grade English classes at a large senior high school, many of my students carry the label of “re-tester.” (It’s an ugly label; isn’t it?)

All week students who have yet to successfully pass all five exams required to graduate filed into testing rooms to try again. This meant many disruptions for students not testing.

All week the English hall, along with other rooms, became the testing center. Classes displaced. Students out of comfort zones. Just a bit of chaos.

We know how well this works for learning.

In an effort to get my students settled in, back in our classroom and back in our routine

Julian shares his haiku

Julian sharing his haiku

of workshop, we played with words.

Testing disrupted our writing project, a series of letters in a variety of forms with a variety of tones, all related to a self-selected thematic link. We needed a revision workshop, but my seniors were not having it. With just 10.5 days until winter break, plus 8.5 until the end of term, many are already playing XBox and watching Netflix in their heads. (Me, too, but at least I’m fighting it.)

Since we read our choice books at the beginning of every class period, and I work daily to hold students who have not read a book on their own throughout high school accountable, I am constantly trying something new.  Today the new turned pretty cool.

We wrote book reviews in the form of haiku.

The tremendous thinking about word choice — well, it was kind of magical. (If only students would always think about word choice with such care.) Here’s a sampling of our book review poetry:

A book can contain

many life lessons that we

can use in our lives.

~Cesar Perez

The Playbook by Kwame Alexander

Are her thoughts her own

or does the tightening coil

control her whole being?

~Maria Cruz

Turtles all the Way Down by John Green

my life was stolen

but after 18 years I

got to hug my mom

~Grace Foust

A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

being arrested

for helping his ex-girlfriend

Being black is hard.

~Di’Myrius Owens

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

her eyes captured me

I lost myself in her heart

Owned me from the start

~Axel Ibarra

The Oxygen Thief by Anonymous

Looking for a path

Twisted and in need of help

How do I escape?

~Jesse Borjas

Dark Dude  by Oscar Hijuelos

Running for freedom

Garret escapes boot camp

Fear, risk run with him

~Cris Velasquez

Boot Camp by Todd Strasser

Black lives do matter.

Police brutality sucks.

assume all black steal

~Alondra Rosales

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely

The first hand account

No excuses for mistakes

Kill Osama Bin

~McKenzie Bowie

No Easy Day by Mark Owen

This simple activity led to a complex discussion about the power of words and why we need to revise our writing in order to craft with purpose. We discussed adding figurative language, creating imagery, using complex sentences. I taught how to write appositive phrases, a grammar move my students did not know.

And as students moved into their writing groups, they talked about their plans for revision. Teaching writers does not get much better than that.

When our students take on the identify of writers, they talk like writers, and they write with purpose — choosing words and phrases and making moves like real writers do.

Side note:  Some of my students produces haikus that revealed needs in their reading lives. For example, one student wrote that Fahrenheit 451 was set in WWII, and another showed confusion in the change of point of view in All American Boys. Their book review haikus gave me an action plan for reading conferences. Bonus!

Amy Rasmussen teaches senior English and AP English Lang & Comp in North TX. She loves to get her students talking about the things that matter to them. She also loves to get them talking about the things that matter to us all:  books and words and poetry and writing and serving people everywhere. Follow her @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk.

“Did you know Gucci has a book?” I do now.

“Hey, Miss, did you know Gucci has a book? I want to read it.”

“Really? You are telling me you actually want to read book?”

“Yeah, but only that one.”

I go to my computer, click on Amazon, and look for a new book by Gucci. I find:

Screen Shot 2017-12-04 at 4.28.59 PM

These cannot be the books Daniel is talking about. I know this kid. He was in my junior English class last year — part of the class with the tissue issue, and now I had him as a senior.

“How do you know Gucci has a book?” I asked.

“I saw it on his Instagram,” Daniel said, showing me his phone.

Dear Reader, you are ahead of me on this, aren’t you?

I admit to being on the edge of old. I had no idea before this conversation with this student that his Gucci was not handbags and luxury leather goods. Because Daniel tends to mumble, it took me a while to figure out he was referring to Gucci Mane.

Daniel’s favorite rapper had a new book.

So I bought it.

When I first met Daniel, we had trouble. He sat in the back of the room, fake reading, sleeping, tossing pencils, goofing off so others laughed. I moved him to the front, and he slid low in his chair and sulked. Every day. And every day when I conferred with readers, I leaned over Daniel’s shoulder and asked what I could do to help him want to be a part of my class.

Eventually, he responded. He told me he’d read Gary Soto’s books in 10th grade. I wasn’t sure I could believe him, fake-reading tough guy and all, but I passed him the two Soto books I have in my library. He read them both.

Then, he started reading Matt de la Pena’s books. Ball Don’t Lie took Daniel a long time to get through, but he finished it and started Mexican Whiteboy. I’m pretty sure he read four books that semester — more than he’d ever read in his 16 years.

In conferences I asked Daniel about his life outside of school. He told me he wanted to work on cars like his brother and that he took the bus to the career center after my class every day, so he could take courses in auto mechanics. Based on our conversations, I do not think another general ed teacher had ever talked to this young man about what mattered to him:  cars.

hattie-teacher-student-relationships

Source: Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses On Achievement. Routledge.

In education, we hear about the importance of building relationships a lot, and my experience with Daniel is a testament to the power of taking the time to get to know a student. Because he knew I cared, Daniel started to care about his English class. He began asking for help and coming to tutorials. He started showing up in spirit and not just as a warm body slumped in a chair. He felt like he belonged.

Did Daniel excel? Not exactly. But he passed, which was something a bit surprising to both of us after his I’m-too-cool-for-school-to-do-anything rocky start.

Flash forward to this year. I moved to senior English, and Daniel got his original schedule changed so he could be in my class. He walked in my room the first day with the same too-cool attitude. (Appearances are everything, and I know this game.) Again, I gently started conversations.

When Daniel scored an A on his first essay, he pretty much called me a liar. On his

Reading Boot Camp by Todd Strasser

Reading Boot Camp by Todd Strasser

next essay, he told me he stayed up all night so his brother could help him, so he wouldn’t show up to class empty handed. When we did a project on careers, and he presented to the class, Daniel spoke with confidence and detail about the field of auto mechanics. He’s read at least two books this fall and a lot of articles in The Wall Street Journal. This past Friday he came to tutorials for an hour, so I could review what he needed to do to pass his last state exam so he can graduate this spring. I don’t know if he will, but I sure hope so.

 

There are thousands of young men like Daniel in our schools. I wonder if teachers have the time, resources, and energy to give them the attention they need. There are 28 students in Daniel’s class this year. There were 32 in his class last fall.

There is one of me.

I cannot help but think of the famous starfish story. You know the one that ends with “I made a difference to that one.” I know I’ve made a difference to Daniel. I still call him a punk. He still mumbles when he talks to me. But he knows I like him. I really like him. And he even let me interview him, so you can like him, too. (The smile at the end is the best part.)

Choice matters! If you are reading this post, you probably already believe that as much as I do. I hope you do. Daniel’s story is not unique. We make a difference to many young people just like him when we open spaces for talk, engage in real conversations about what matters to them, and allow for self-selected reading in our instruction.

I would love to hear the stories of your Daniels. Please share in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen teaches English IV and AP English Language at a large senior high school in North Texas. She spends a ton of money on books with the hope of helping every child develop as a reader. And while she does not listen to rap, she does learn a lot from those who do. Follow her @amyrass 

#NCTE17 — So Much to Remember, So Much to Do

Confession:  I do not have the energy to write this post.

NCTEStLouisI had an amazing learning experience at NCTE in St. Louis. I met Twitter friends for the first time face-to-face. I got to present with my amazing and faithful blogging buddies — and Tom Newkirk! I loaded my shoulder bag with loads of new books for my classroom library complements of the book vendors in the exhibit hall. I talked with some fascinating educators and attended fantastic sessions — all tattooed my heart with meaningful messages. I saw Linda Rief talk about her heart books and Nancie Atwell, Kelly Gallagher, and Penny Kittle advocate for choice reading and more talk and more diverse books and more time to read and write with students. I attended CEL and presented with my newfound friend, Sarah Zerwin, who is writing a book on going gradeless, my newest quest. I did not sleep much. Does anyone sleep much at NCTE?

You’d think that after a week-long break I’d have caught up. Not so. Remember how I wrote about my family coming for Thanksgiving? They did. We laughed and ate and camped and ate.

And. It. Was. Awesome.

JennaRyanKellyDevin

My newly weds. Two daughters and two new son-in-laws.

HyrumMeZach2017

Hyrum, my soldier, and his twin, Zach

campingThanksgiving2017

On the 3rd day of camping, we are a motley crew but somehow still smiling.

But I am tired.

Yesterday I returned to school like I assume most every teacher in America did. The stack of papers needing grading shouted at me as I flipped on the lights. 111 emails flash danced in my inbox. One plant gave up its withered ghost, and four of my bookcases must have wrestled with the devil. Before the first bell, I sat at a table and breathed. Amazing what a few deep breaths will do.

So, yes, I have a lot to remember about NCTE. My notebook begs to be revisited, and when I get a minute or two, I will write a post that showcases the best of my learning at this inspiring convention.  In the meantime, since I did not preview my part of our presentation at NCTE like my writing partners did, I include it here. Most of my notes are in the slides, so maybe my message will make a little sense without my commentary. At least I hope so. Personally, I think our 3TT presentation was awesome! I learned so much from our journey into doing more with narrative. If you were not there, I wish you could’ve been!

Happy almost December, my friends. May your days be merry and bright right on up to the December holidays. Maybe then we will get some sleep.

 

Amy Rasmussen teaches senior English and AP Language at a large and spirit-filled high school just north of Dallas. She is the mother of six adult children and grandmother to five. She loves to read and write and share her love of reading and writing with anyone who will listen. She also loves to sleep and believes that good pillows make the best of friends. Follow Amy @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk.

Ready or Not, #NCTE17, Here We Come

Sometimes November is too much fun.

I keep telling myself that as I plan for my six children, two new son-in-laws, and five little grandkiddos to come home for Thanksgiving — not two or three days after I get a good night’s sleep and recover from the extraordinary time I expect to have at NCTE this week — but one, less than 24 hours!

Oh, I am excited. No question about that. There is nothing like family for the holidays, especially my big and boisterous one. But the getting ready? Just a little crazy.

I already know my refrigerator is not big enough, and I don’t have enough beds. (How can I put my daughters’ new husbands on the floor? Would their mothers put my daughters on the floor?) I’ve been on a mad hunt, shopping on Facebook Marketplace, for enough beds. Thank God I live in a huge metroplex with lots of people selling lots of stuff.

I won’t even mention how my sweet husband decided we needed new carpet, which if you’ve ever done that deal in a small home packed with 32 years of “Oh, I might need that” you know what an exhausting move-and-shove-and-throw-that-out time that is.

So, all that to say this:  Who is ready for NCTE?

My heart is, but my head is not. Neither are my presentations. (Did you notice that s? I did it to myself: I’ve got THREE. NCTE with this 3TT writing team, a 5 minute Ignite spiel, and my first ever CEL.) Shana’s promised to remind me how I feel right now when proposals come due for 2018. Frantic does not quite cover it. Can I take another day off? I just took off Friday. Instead of putting slides together, I bought a trundle bed.

If you will be in St. Louis, I hope you will find me. Flag me down. Wave across the room. Introduce yourself. Come to one of my sessions and say, “Hi!” Shake my hand or give me a hug. I could use a hug or two or twelve.

Reclaiming Narrative and Amplifying Our Voices_ Using Story to Invite Fearless Inquiry and Intellectual Challenge for Our Students and Ourselves

NCTE is my favorite conference. It fuels me for the whole year. I cannot wait to get there.

I remember the first session I attended at NCTE last year — a Thursday workshop tribute to Thomas Newkirk. So many of the teacher leaders I admire spoke on how Tom’s work has influenced and strengthened their’s: Tom Romano, Jeff Wilhelm, Penny Kittle and so many others.

Tom’s been a blessing to my work, too. I am a better teacher and a better person because I know Tom Newkirk. Penny Kittle told me once, “Tom is the smartest person I know.” I have to agree. He is so wise. He is kind, too.

Tom Newkirk is our session chair!

Writing that out still gives me a thrill. (I refuse to call it pressure. Tom Newkirk will be listening to us talk about narrative. HE IS AN EXPERT ON NARRATIVE! He wrote a book about narrative! Okay, maybe a little pressure.)

So, all this to say:  Who is ready for NCTE?

I will be.

 

Are you ready? What are you most excited about at NCTE? Please share in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen is not usually a procrastinator. She keeps lists so she can mark things off lists. Someday soon she will get her act together — certainly before 12:30 on Friday. Amy teaches AP Lang and English IV at a large senior high in north TX. Follow her @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk.

Please, Add Your Questions about Narrative– #3TTchat tonight 8ET/7CT

Last week I asked my students the same question I often ask teachers when I facilitate professional development workshops:  What do students today need?

My students talked in their table groups and then shared their ideas. Most said in one way or another:  We need to feel validated and to share our voices.

I don’t know of a better way to accomplish both then by infusing narrative into every aspect of my teaching.

Tonight is our inaugural #3TTchat with our guest Tom Newkirk, author of Minds Made for Stories and the new book Embarrassment: And the Emotional Underlife of Learning (among others).

Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 6.02.59 AM

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ve certainly noticed we’ve focused on narrative, specifically Newkirk’s books, lately. I wrote about how teaching itself embraces the drama of story and later shared some of the quotes that resonated enough to change the way I talk about writing with my students — and the way I teach it. Lisa shared her beautiful argument Narrative Writing: Giving Voice to the Stories that Matter Most.

We are shoulders deep into planning our session for NCTE:  Reclaiming Narrative and Amplifying our Voices:  Using Story to Invite Fearless Inquiry and Intellectual Challenge for Our Students and Ourselves. (We present Friday at 12:30. We hope you will come!)

If you haven’t had a chance to read Tom’s books, we hope you will still join us as we chat with him on Twitter. And if you have some time between now and then, or any time really, perhaps you’ll find value in this Heinemann podcast with Tom about Embarrassment and how it is the “true enemy of learning,” or a sample chapter of Minds Made for Stories. You’ll see why we at Three Teachers Talk have made such a fuss.

In preparation for our chat tonight — and for our presentation at NCTE, we’d love for you to ask some questions about infusing narrative into our teaching practices, or just share with us some of your favorite ideas or best experiences with students and narrative reading or writing. We’d love to include you in the conversation tonight and in St. Louis at #NCTE17.

While you’re thinking:  This is the quick write my students and I will write today: What’s your story?

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