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Category Archives: Shana

Thank You, Thoughtful Teachers

I’ve been really delighted this summer to see a great deal of teacher engagement in a variety of places.  From the participants in my National Writing Project summer institute, to the enthusiastic readers in the Book Love Summer Book Club, to the still-hashtagging tweeters on various ed chats, I love seeing so many teachers interested in refining their practice outside the school year.

I’m especially thankful for you, our thoughtful readers, for continuing to read and comment and engage with us in the summertime.  I love that you’re on this journey with us as teacher-writers, constantly reflecting on our practice, striving to improve it.

You deserve a thank-you gift!  How about some free books?

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Yes, those are Eric Carle pajamas…

Ruthie and I are excited to give away another big box (or two or three!) of books to add to your classroom library.  You all helped me reduce my shelf load last year with a big book giveaway, but there’s still some more #booklove to dole out.

To enter to win, please help us engage more thoughtful teachers by spreading the word about the community we’re working to build here at Three Teachers Talk.  First, make sure you’ve subscribed to receive emails from us by signing up on the home page:

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Just click on the “Give Me More Posts Like This” button to get signed up.

Next, make sure you’ve liked our Facebook page, which you can do directly through Facebook or on the TTT home page as well:

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Next, follow us on Twitter at our official TTT account, @3teacherstalk, and consider finding us on our individual accounts, too:

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If you’ve already subscribed, liked, and followed, please invite others to do the same.  You can do this through a tweet, a Facebook post, or however you want.  Just help us grow this amazing community of thoughtful, engaged teachers!

Once you’ve done so, please leave a comment on this post that tells why you’re thankful for teachers, plus one way for me to contact you to get your mailing address if you win!

Best of luck winning books, and happy sharing!

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The books I’ll give away, with Ruthie for scale, of course

Happy Summer,

Shana

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Summer Reads to Stay Up Late With

Teachers, we are SO close.

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The end of the school year is nigh.  Perhaps it’s this week, maybe it’s next, but either way, it’s nearly time to treat yo’self with what all teachers love to do in the summertime:

Take 84 naps, and then start binge reading.

This is what I did when my school year ended a few weeks ago, and after several days of excessive sleep, I started staying up late to finish books guilt-free.

Please forgive me for what I’m about to do to your Amazon carts while I gush over the titles that’ve kept me up until the wee hours, and their friends on my TBR list:

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The Circle by Dave Eggers – This book was so plausible that it creeped me out.  It’s the tale of an ambitious college grad who lands a job at one of the tech industry’s premier companies, The Circle, who so slowly ingratiate their surveillance, social sharing, and health-tracking apps into her life (and others’) that it seems like no big deal at all–until it is a big deal.  This one kept me in suspense until 2 am, when I breathlessly finished it.  Similar titles on my TBR include The Handmaid’s Tale, Dark Matter, and The Dinner.  Creeptastic!

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A Twist in Time by Julie McElwain – I’ve been anxiously awaiting this title since I read the first book in the series, A Murder in Time.  Now that it’s here, I’ve already devoured half of its 600-page bulk, most of that on my wedding anniversary, no less.  Kendra Donovan is a modern day FBI agent, a genetically-engineered genius who’s an outcast even amongst her fellow elite criminal profilers…or so she thinks, until she’s transported through time to the 1800s and really feels like an outcast.  Now, she’s stuck there solving murders without the help of forensic equipment and techniques readily available to her in the 21st century…or any hope of getting home.

I think McElwain’s writing is a great blend of period-accurate details and modern, funny asides, and the story only further serves to suck me in.  If you, too, find yourself craving a tale of time-traveling modern women, check out Outlander or the National Book Award finalist News of the World.

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Textbook by Amy Krouse Rosenthal – I’ve been wanting to read this book since I read Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, but then got even more desperate to do so when I read Rosenthal’s heartbreaking essay in the New York Times, and then about her subsequent death.  It’s impossible not to read this book through those lenses, and while it’s amazing on its own, it’s even more powerful as a magnum opus.  I also want to check out similar memoirs like The Rules Do Not Apply, Hallelujah Anyway, and Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things

 

 

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Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentzler – I read this one in two days over Memorial Day weekend, largely ignoring our company to finish it that Sunday.  I was sucked in on page one by the beautiful writing and the premise–a teen dealing with the fact that he sent a text message that led to the deaths of all three of his best friends–and I asked my friends if they’d read it.  “I did,” Amy volunteered.  “It ripped my guts.”  And boy, did it.  This was one of the first YA reads I’ve picked up lately that I really just couldn’t put down.  I’d love to see how The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, A List of Cages, and The First Time She Drowned can measure up to this book.

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Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers & Bob Probst – Lisa has been so effusive about this book that I just had to go ahead and start reading it, even though I’ve been trying to wait until everyone else in the Book Love Summer Book Club dives in.  But it’s so darn readable, and such a great refresher of a lot of the research I’ve read and loved.  I always enjoy Beers and Probst for helping synthesize their wide reading into a crucible of new ideas.  Other fabulous pedagogical reads on my TBR list this summer are Joy Write, No More Telling as Teaching, and Write What Matters.

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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – This book hit home for me, and at quite a short length, I read it in one day–about half of it while on a treadmill!  It’s the memoir of a neurosurgical resident who, near the end of his grueling training, finds out he has advanced stage cancer.  My husband is entering his fourth year of orthopedic residency, so I read this book with a blend of horror at its possibilities and admiration for its author’s poise and eloquence.  My gushing over it led to lots of our resident friends reading it with similar amounts of waterfall-like tears.  After reading it in an afternoon, my hubby asked for some more books like it, so I ordered him Being Mortal, The House of God, and The Buddha and the Borderline.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – I listened to this now-famous (in teacher circles, anyway) book on audio, and found myself driving or walking in circles so I could hear more faster.  What impressed me most about this book wasn’t its nuanced treatment of the topic of police shootings, or its awesome one-liners, or its many layers of issues faced by its narrator, Starr.  No, what impressed me most was how authentic to Angie’s life and personal history it seemed.  After reading Between the World and Me, I learned a great deal about the roots of African-American empowerment and efforts for equality.  Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, James Baldwin, and more had been strangers to me before that book, but I saw them come up again and again in The Hate U Give.  

This terrific book definitely broadened my worldview, and to help it grow more, I’d also like to read American Street, All-American Boys, and Allegedly.

What’s kept you up late reading lately?  What’s next on your TBR?  Please share in the comments…so we can all go broke buying books!!

Shana Karnes teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University.  She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life…and in the new knowledge that she has ANOTHER baby girl on the way!!  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

5 Lessons from Public Teaching

51A2WRYQAZL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis week I tackled a title that’s long been on my to-read list:  Public Teaching: One Kid at a Time by Penny Kittle.  Published in 2003, it’s Penny’s first book, and has a foreword by Don Graves and an afterword by Don Murray.

(Yeesh…no pressure for when the rest of us thinking about writing our first books, right?!)

I loved this book, a collection of short essays plus an interview with Penny at the end.  It was readable, honest, and spectacularly well-written, as everything by Penny is.  I smiled as I read every page–except for the pages where I was crying.  Even in those essays I found myself impressed by the cleverness of Penny’s craft, both in her teaching and writing.

I bookmarked lots of pages and quotes to share with my preservice teachers this fall, but here are five lessons I took away from the reading that I believe are relevant to teachers of all content areas.

 

No one is perfect.

Penny begins her book with several amusing essays on mishaps from murderous crickets to accidentally-transparent skirts.  She eases us into the notion that even she, the great Penny Kittle, has had some missteps in her career, then launches into a few gut-wrenching essays on what she reflects on as her more weighty teaching failures:  a student we never say the right thing to, one we lose patience with, one we never teach to love learning or reading or writing.

We all have memories of those students, and Penny honors this with her writing.  I loved these vulnerable, humble essays that remind me we all ride a rollercoaster of success when it comes to our teaching.

Classroom management is a myth.

Penny tells the story of a novice teacher, struggling to manage her classroom, making wrong turn after wrong turn as a battle with her students escalates.  She has this to offer:

“Classroom management is really about the management of the heart and soul of your students.  The only ‘technique’ that works is a full-hearted human response to their lives, and to the conditions of school.  In some schools students sit in rows and listen, then rush to their next class, to sit and listen even more.  Try to understand the conditions in your particular school and view the entire day through their eyes. … You aren’t bad.  Your students are children, preoccupied with myriad distractions.  It is a natural state.  School is often the unnatural one.”

This advice was so much better, for me, than the age-old wisdom I got from mentors when I first began teaching and a lesson would crash and burn:  “don’t take it personally.”  I did take it personally, and still do, when I lose a class’s attention or a lesson falls flat.  When I learned the lesson Penny teaches here–“You must teach the students, not the content.  I want every student in my class to know that he or she is more important than what I am teaching”–I had far fewer of those flat moments and many more roundly satisfying ones.

Novice teachers need mentors, not critics.

We’ve all heard the statistics that half our teachers will leave the profession within three years.  As Penny says, “teaching, like marriage, is best when you make it past the courtship.”  The first few years are hard, and what makes them easier is exactly what improves my marriage:  talk.  As a young teacher simultaneously full of ambition and anxiety, I became more even-keeled when I found mentors.  I talked with them, they empathized, they advised.  I felt more prepared for my work, but I also felt less alone when I found a group of peers to encourage and support me.  “We have to mentor new teachers, listen to them, and I guess, hold hands once in a while,” Penny remarks.

Less is more.

“Somehow we decided that four short stories is better than one rewritten four times, and it’s a huge mistake.”

Penny’s assertion about the way many teachers conceive of writing is so true to my own learning experience, and as a result, my own early teaching experience.  I’ve been interested in the idea of simplifying my instruction for a while, and of course, Penny helped me see more clearly how to do it–with revision.

“I needed to have them linger longer over less,” she says, then backs it up with stories about an entire day’s work spent on fragments, the slow process of discovery learning, the work and power of weeks of revision on one genre of writing.  We have to jettison some things if we really want students learning, to keep it simple, to remember that less is more.

Teachers need to write.

By joining a writer’s group of teachers at her school, writing an essay for the local paper with her students, and carving out the time from motherhood to write, Penny learned to be a much better teacher by writing.  Her peer and student readers, as well as her editors, taught her to “be positive.  Encouragement works; criticism hurts.  Be careful with words.”

It’s hard to learn this lesson if you’re not a writer yourself, and Penny shows us her journey to becoming one throughout her essays.  She describes the early days of her writing group this way:

“Their criticism stung.  I didn’t like it.  You have to be careful when you’re correcting someone’s work.  I don’t think I was careful enough with my students all those years before.  It was so easy to just tell them what wasn’t working and think that was helping.  In writers’ group I learned quickly that compliments showed me what I could do and gave me confidence, criticism confirmed my fears and left me frustrated.  When I confidently approached a piece to revise it, I was playful.  When I went back to one in frustration, I usually made it worse.”

We become better teachers when we do what we’re asking our students to do–it’s only then that we can really know what we’re asking of them.  I highly recommend reading Public Teaching, doing some writing (how about with us?), and reflecting on your teaching by doing both.

43ccacd3aa51c2341980e1e34e34cba6.jpgAs we near the end of the school year, I hope you can find truth in one of Penny’s final statements:  “In my experience, it isn’t the stress that’s left the greatest mark, it is the joy.”

Shana Karnes teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University.  She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

3 Ways to Offer Choice and Challenge in Reading

Yesterday I got the opportunity to write for our state NCTE affiliate, the West Virginia Council of Teachers of English!  Their best practices blog is full of great stuff–definitely check it out, and follow @WVCTE on Twitter for more ideas and resources.

Here’s my offering for their blog–and I’d love to know how you offer your students choice and challenge in their independent reading.  Please share in the comments!


I can be a bit of a lazy reader.

I get impatient while reading, waiting for the plot to pick up, and abandon books with gusto.  I leap from mystery to mystery, romance novel to short fiction, and toss in the stray nonfiction book when I’m feeling curious.

When I first began making choice reading a priority in my classroom, many of my students were lazy readers, too.  They gobbled up YA fiction in droves, but balked when I booktalked a classic, or an award-winning piece of fiction, or any nonfiction.  Some of them refused to move beyond their genre of choice for a whole year.

I knew, when I committed to choice reading, that it went far beyond just YA.  I knew that all kids were capable of reading sophisticated texts, making complex choices about when and how and what to read, and that all readers have a hunger for a challenging, engaging read.  But I wasn’t seeing my students living out those expectations, so I built in some structures to help them get there.

Reading Challenges — I began scaffolding students up to more difficult reading choices with reading challenges.  I read about these in Book Love by Penny Kittle, but wanted to put my own spin on them as far as making very specific challenges went.  So, the first reading challenge involved picking a book outside your comfort zone (which required a fun day of work identifying our own reading zones); the second challenge involved reading a nonfiction book, the third involved reading an award winner, and so on.

By working as a whole class to try new books out simultaneously–me reading along with my students–everyone felt comfortable getting uncomfortable.  We were all struggling along together, trying to decipher the vocabulary in a new book, or the structure of a new genre, or the style of a new kind of writer.  I built in mini-lessons on these things, but I think it was most helpful that we talked about these issues in the light of being real readers–not “struggling” readers.

Authentic Writing about Reading — When I first joined GoodReads many years ago, I realized how much my reading life was improved by just quickly taking the time to rate what I’d thought of a book.  Before that, I’d start and finish books and never really think about them again.  Soon, I began writing short book reviews, and then long ones, first just for myself, and then for the benefit of other readers.  I began reading more book reviews to get a sense of what I might talk about other than writing and characters.

I wanted my students doing something similar, so we began studying book reviews–popular, funny ones on Goodreads and Tumblr; professional ones in the New York Times and the New Yorker; even famed reviewers like Roger Ebert, whose writing moves about film we applied to books.  Students began tweeting at authors, writing reviews informally in their notebooks and formally for our school paper and giving their own booktalks to one another.

Nurturing a Real Reading Life —  No longer were kids feeling confined to books I handed them.  They began to choose books more independently, armed with information about their tastes, their peers’, and what was popular in general.  I began to see more students reading books that didn’t come from my classroom library, more students talking to one another about books, and a bigger variety of books being read in general.

In my own reading life, I modeled these challenges.  I read The Great Gatsby, Walden, and a few other classics for the first time in years, and truly appreciated them more during these second reads.  I wrote book reviews on Goodreads, the Nerdy Book Club, and Three Teachers Talk.  I tracked my reading in my notebook, on GoodReads, and on Twitter, setting goals and trying to take a moment to jot down, in quick review form, WHY I liked or didn’t like a book.

These practices not only helped me become a better reader; thePicturey helped my students grow as readers, too.  Anna’s favorite book of all time became the award-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, while Connor was blown away by Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.  These books and more were chosen, read, and evaluated independently, without the confines of assignments or the too-broad sea of “your choice” to hold them back.

Shana Karnes teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University.  She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

6 Takeaways from Student Self-Assessments

51W731EdIWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_After completing self-assessments in Tom Romano‘s classes in college, and finding them invaluable, I’ve always made them a large part of my teaching arsenal.  At the end of every year, we spend a few days on SAs, or they’re part of the final exam, or they’re what we share as a last-day-of-class celebration.

This semester, my students wrote three self-assessments, with the last one counting as the final exam.  In this particular SA, I asked students to do five things:

  • Evaluate our course materials and routines
  • Discuss your growth as a teacher, thinker, writer, reader
  • Write your teaching credo
  • Give me some advice about what to keep/change next year
  • Make a list of strategies, frames of mind, and ideas you’ll use in teaching

As finals week drew to a close and I was crushed by grading, I looked forward to reading these self-assessments.  Students didn’t hold back on the advice or evaluation portions, used their signature writing voices with abandon as they discussed their growth and beliefs, and made me fill my notebook with pages of ideas and strategies as I read their lists.

In addition to just being fun to read, I also learned a great deal from their honest words.  While I took a whole book full of ideas away from these amazing and inspiring future teachers, I’ll spare you and just share six lessons I learned from reading their self-assessments for this semester.

What we read matters.

Without exception, every student extolled the virtues of our central text, Paul Gorski’s Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap.  I highly recommend this excellent text as reading for any teacher, especially Gorski’s vehement statement that all students, no matter their background, need appropriate challenges when learning.

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Lily cements my belief that a strong central text really helped anchor our course.

By studying a text I was so passionate about, my students could feel my enthusiasm, and I believe it was contagious.  A strong central text anchored our lively class discussions and students’ weekly one-pagers.

Trust your pedagogical instincts.

Our students are champions when it comes to complaining–their stamina is literally unending.  “But I don’t want to write this.”  “ANOTHER paper?!”  “MORE writing?”  “Why are we doing this again?”

All of these gripes can really wear a teacher down.  But, teachers usually know what is best for our students–we know that a high volume of writing will help our students become better writers.  We know that writing about our reading will help our students become better readers.  We know that constant practice with critical thinking will help our students become more literate and conscientious citizens (and teachers, in my case).

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Aaron grudgingly admits that despite the onslaught of papers and projects, he grew in his thinking and learning.

So, despite the eye-rolls or sighs, I kept at it with what my gut was telling me.  I knew that, no matter how much of all of our time it took, students needed to do a lot of reading, writing, and talking about their thinking, with a lot of feedback from their peers and from me, all while remaining appropriately challenged and engaged in learning.  I kept at it and resisted the frequent temptation to revise my syllabus, and students appreciated it–and grew.

Frequent, low-stakes writing often provides the most space for growth.

While the big assignments of the semester may be what most teachers consider the bread and butter of teaching writing, I believe the opposite.  Those long essays or projects, in my experience, are more likely to stress out all parties involved.  For me, the short stuff is where the growth happens, and exponential growth is what leads to student success in writing long and complex pieces.

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Anetta extols the value of informal weekly writings.

My students wrote six major papers this semester–none of which were shorter than six pages, and some that were up to twenty–but where they really displayed the biggest leaps in learning were in their one-pagers, submitted weekly.  Every single student except for one told me that I should keep one-pagers and that, despite how much they sucked/were annoying/ruined their Sunday nights, they were the most valuable part of the class for their growth.

All students crave challenge.

As Gorski reinforced for my students this semester, all learners crave a challenge.  Nobody wants to be bored, and by engaging students in complex tasks of reading and writing, nobody in my classes will be.  With small- and large-scale assignments scattered throughout the course, frequent opportunities for revision, and detailed feedback, all students felt that they could succeed, and had ample opportunities to practice and prove that they could.

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Ryan vows to replicate the challenge of high expectations in his own classroom.

Feedback is invaluable.

It is a lot of work.  A LOT.  I know.  But every student valued, appreciated, and grew because of thorough feedback protocols on any formal paper.

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Erin was appreciative of the attention her writing received.

Students did a lot of writing I never graded–in notebooks, in drafts, in groups.  But what they turned in, I spent a great deal of time commenting on, and while it was definitely arduous, I know I’ll keep it a condition of my classes in the future…fueled by lots of coffee.

Creating conditions for safe student growth is paramount.

Kevin became something of a celebrity in our class with his frequent questions, hilarious asides, and opinionated comments.  He never held back, and because he was welcomed into dialogue with open arms by myself and other students, he really flourished as a learner for one of the first times in his academic career.

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Kevin, with his signature writing voice, reminds me that a safe learning environment is the most important thing we can give students.

By creating a community of trust and engagement and low-stakes learning, Kevin felt safe to take risks and grow.  It’s what I want all students to be able to achieve, and is one of the most powerful reminders about teaching and learning I can think of.

What have your students taught you about your teaching?  Will you utilize self-assessments this year?  Please share in the comments!

Shana Karnes lives in West Virginia and teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University.  She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

3 Ways Paper Built a Classroom Community

This year, I’ve gotten away from a focus on online reading, writing, and grading, and returned to paper.

I’ve always kept certain things hard-copy–the writer’s notebook, one-pagers, and book talks–but when I started working with college students, Google Drive became my best friend.  I used Slides to keep myself organized in class, Sheets to keep track of my grades, and Docs to collaborate with my students as we worked on their writing.

However, after a semester of forgotten deadlines, regrettably disconnected class sessions, and lackluster writing voices, I wanted to switch things up.

So, beginning in January, my students printed a one-pager about the week’s writing and brought it to class.  When they gave presentations or shared their thinking, I asked them to bring a tangible artifact to represent their work.  Any time we shared or offered up our thinking, we wrote notes to one another and signed them with our names.

These three practices, along with an emphasis on slowing down our thinking and being more deliberate in our work, language, reading, and interactions, made this semester one of my favorites in a ten-year career of teaching.

Sharing Hard-Copy Writing — I tried to build in class time weekly for us to pass one-pagers around and leave feedback.  While this didn’t happen every week, it allowed for students to hear each other’s writing voices, discover new modes for representing their thinking, and come to a more dialogic understanding of the week’s readings rather than a “right or wrong” frame of mind.  In her self-assessment for the course, Erin writes about the benefits of reading one another’s work:

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Paper as an Artifact of Thinking — “I began writing this by going back and re- reading my writing from the beginning of this course. I still believe in some of the statements I made in my first one pager related to the beauty in the simplicity of a child’s world,” img_8673Hanna began her self-assessment.  Her ability to look back at her earliest writings as an artifact of who she was as a thinker 16 weeks ago allowed to her to launch into a detailed reflection on her growth over the course.

In keeping with that theme, I asked my students to bring in an old-fashioned poster or trifold to share the thinking of their final projects.  While they’d be turning in a more formal paper or Prezi during finals week, I wanted everyone to get to share their process tangibly.  We engaged in a gallery walk during our last class period together, and the students enjoyed showing off their own thinking and comparing it to their fellow teachers’.

As they read, they jotted ideas in their own notebooks for how they might modify their own thinking before submitting it in final form.  This type of physical engagement with one another’s work yielded far more interaction in terms of thinking and feedback than last semester’s format, in which I requested students send me three Google Slides about their work that we’d all share.

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Keepsake Feedback — Keeping with the hard-copy theme, I devised a few new feedback protocols for students to give one another comments they could hang on to.  While sharing the fruits of our semester-long inquiries, I asked students to engage in a “push and pull” with the writer.  On one side of a piece of paper, they “pushed” the writer on some things they might take a little further or explain in more detail.  On the other side, they told the writer what they had “pulled” from their work to enhance their own thinking.

In this way, students received feedback on these informal “drafts” of their thinking from their peers and from me, three weeks before they needed to finalize their assignment.  When they turned in their notebooks at the end of the semester, I saw that many students had taped in their peers’ feedback to hang onto as both advice and encouragement.

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By making our thinking visible this semester in the form of hard-copy papers that represent our thinking, posters or 3D representations of our ideas, and written feedback we can hang onto, I noticed a marked growth in my students’ progress.  Their writing evolved throughout the semester to not only take on different forms, but also in its sophistication of content.  My students all got to know one another well, even those in my class of 30.  They learned about a diversity of perspectives and ideas beyond mine or their own that helped banish the idea of a “right or wrong” binary.

I really enjoyed my teaching, grading, and students this semester…and it was all thanks to paper.

How have you balanced integrating technology and keeping it old-school to help your students see one another’s thinking? Please share in the comments! I’d love some more ideas for next year.

Shana Karnes lives in West Virginia and teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University.  She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

Learning from Other Teachers

5054c4145eaf8a4c41c3bbd1d1954cdd.jpgI have so much hope for our profession, our students, and our society.

In a pretty pessimistic world, want to know why I’m so optimistic?

Because I believe in our future teachers.  After an entire school year of working with preservice educators, I have seen so much energy, excitement, and engagement from every single one of my students.  Every challenge that comes their way–whether in the form of an assignment, a tough reading, or grappling with a seemingly unsolvable education issue–only reaffirms their desire to help their students.  They just careso much.

A fantastic conference I attended last week was a wonderful reminder of all of that hope I have for teachers and teaching and learners and learning.  We’re here because of love–love for who and what and how we teach.  Yesterday, I shared my learning from the morning sessions of that conference, and today I’d like to share the ideas, quotes, and joy I heard in my afternoon sessions.

Session Three:  On Teaching Writing & Knowing Our Students

This amazing session was led by three preservice teachers who interned in high school ELA classrooms in our community.  Each of them spoke about their struggles and successes with so much passion that I was left feeling proud to be a teacher by the end of their talks.

Idea:  Audio Recording Peer Feedback–I absolutely loved Katie N.’s idea of having students record their feedback to peers.  After a semester of struggling to get her students to view themselves and one another of being capable and worthy of giving authentic, valuable feedback, she hit upon the idea of having students read one another’s papers ahead of time, prepare some comments, and then record a few minutes of thoughts, responses, suggestions, and connections.  I can’t wait to have my students try this idea!

Quote:  “When I conferenced with my students, so many of them really surprised me!!”  Danielle focused on looking for patterns in her students’ extracurricular involvement and how it might connect to their engagement, motivation, and success in schools.  She had lots of preconceived notions about how her athletes, club members, or student body leaders might act in the classroom, and many of them were wrong.  She loved the experience of being surprised by her students when she took the time to confer with each of them multiple times.

Just Joy:  Katie P. was interested in taking a whole class novel study far beyond the book.  While reading A Separate Peace with her students, she encouraged her students to read the novel through a critical literacy lens, identify social issues they could connect to their own school community, and then take action to improve the state of those issues.  As a result of her teaching, the students in her class created a club focused on improving mental health by participating in mindfulness activities like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing.

As she spoke about this new awareness of mental health issues in a school that had been plagued by student suicides, Katie teared up–as did many of us in the room listening to her speak.  I was so impressed and inspired by the power this young teacher realized she had to change a school community.

Session Four: On Evaluating Ourselves

In this session, led by a mix of teachers and school leaders, speakers presented on ways in which they looked at their own teaching, their whole classroom, or their entire school community; identified a problem; and then attempted to fix their issue.  Many of their inquiries resulted in some amazingly ambitious goals–one principal wanted to find a way to improve her students’ poor attendance, which was often caused by factors stemming from a community plagued by poverty; a group of teachers formed a committee to implement more responsive, sensitive discipline into their elementary school; and an academic coach shared ways she’d aggressively procured free technology into her school for teachers and students to use to improve learning.

I loved all these school leaders’ ideas, but I found one presenter’s approach to strengthening pedagogy incredibly effective and easy to implement.  Josh Karr, a high school math teacher, simply emailed his colleagues and invited them to form an informal PLC to evaluate themselves.

Idea:  Record Your Teaching–Josh invited his whole faculty, via email, to video record one of their lessons, watch it alone, and then bring a small clip to share with a partner in their mini-PLC after school.  Thirteen teachers agreed to participate, and showed up, quite nervously, with their recordings.  They paired up, regardless of content area or grade level, and worked together to analyze their videos, give and get feedback, and talk through some questions they had.  I loved this super easy, low-stakes idea to self- and peer-evaluate our teaching in such a welcoming way.

Quote:  “We laughed at how many teachers didn’t even have students in their videos.”  Josh told a funny story about how several of the teachers’ video cameras had only been pointed at the teachers themselves, and how they didn’t realize this narrow-minded view until they started talking with colleagues.  It was a real revelation for many of these teachers to realize that, wow, their worldview wasn’t very student-centered.  I was so uplifted by hearing Josh speak about how this simple activity prompted these teachers to stop looking at themselves for evidence of good teaching, and to begin looking at their students instead.

Just Joy:  Josh talked about what an inspiring thing it was to be part of this tiny community of teachers within his school, which included teachers from all content areas, and even the band director.  He gave me such hope when he shared how the teachers’ video recordings had evolved over the weeks to include more students, more difficult class periods, and more and more vulnerable learning.

I loved hearing how teachers of all levels of experience and expertise were willing to open themselves up to their colleagues for the sake of improving their students’ learning opportunities.  It’s a hard thing, in this profession, to invite criticism of our teaching when our  work can sometimes be thankless.  I can’t wait to try this idea with my students and colleagues alike.


Check out Part I of this post from yesterday, and then please leave us a comment:  what strategies, ideas, or frames of mind might you try out in your classroom?  Will you share some fantastic lessons you’ve gleaned from good conferences in the comments?

Shana Karnes lives in West Virginia and teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University.  She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

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