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5 New Ideas from a Stack of Books

Books 1I keep telling myself I won’t buy any more books.  Every time I resolve that enough is enough, and I can wait for grant money, it seems like another sale pops up.

Enter Scholastic Warehouse Sale.

I fell victim to the Arlington Warehouse Sale yesterday after school.  By victim, I mean I wheeling through the aisles at breakneck speed with a giant smile on my face.  I left with a stack of about 27 books for $61, and a slew of fresh lesson ideas.

5 New Ideas from a Stack of Books

  1. This I Believe Essays:  I have seen so many teachers use This I Believe from NPR as a jumping-off point for writing and larger projects.  I snagged a book full of these essays for mentor texts.  How great for seniors to think about how their beliefs have changed throughout high school?  I would love to do more of this next year.
  2. For the Love of…: This basketball picture book is going to make for a great mentor text for expanding upon a list.  This would also make a great starter mentor text for writing about favorites for ESL students. Books 2
  3. Same/Different/Crazy: I got this from the top two titles on my stack.  Quickwrite prompt–What has been the same this year in high school?  What has been different?  What has been CRAZY?
  4. Pieces of Me: From the title, Piecing Me Together, we might do a visual representation of the pieces of each student.  Part self-portrait, part personal reflection.
  5. Linger: What do you hope will disappear when you leave this building, and what do you hope will linger?  What is the legacy that you have left on this place?

These are only the ideas I’ve gleaned from the titles of these books.  I can’t wait until I actually crack the covers!

Does a new stack of books reignite your creativity?  What does your stack look like?  We would love to see some pictures in the comments or shared on FB!


Jessica Paxson is an English IV and Creative Writing teacher in Arlington, TX.  She usually takes on major life events all at once rather than bit by bit, such as starting graduate school, buying a house, going to Europe, and preparing for two new classes next year.  If you enjoy watching her make a fool of herself by being unbearably vulnerable, you can catch more of that over at www.jessicajordana.com. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @jessjordana.

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Have you asked students what they need? It is not too late

I am great at taking notes. I am lousy at looking back at them (a lot like my students).

But my student teacher is done with his semester, and am back reading and writing with my students each day. We’ve done a little AP exam crunch — our exam is today — and we are all ready for that test to be over. I’ve got 14.5 days before the summer bell rings, and my students leave me. Fifteen days to solidify my students’ identities as readers and writers, not just students reading and writing for an English class.

It’s been a hard row with this group. This group, especially my brightest students who let grades motivate their every move. There’s a disconnect the size of the Mississippi when it comes to showing evidence of learning and whining about grades.

Maybe I notice it more because I haven’t been with them every class period for the past six weeks. But something’s got to give.

So I opened up my notebooks and read notes from the class Penny Kittle taught at the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institute in 2014. Don Murray leaped from the page:

“If you understand your own process, you stop fighting against it.”

“We have to respect the student, not for his product, but for the search for truth in which he is engaged.”

“If you don’t leave a conference wanting to write more, there’s a problem with the feedback.”

“We work with language in action. We share with our students the continual excitement of choosing one word instead of another, in choosing a true word.”

“Mule-like stubbornness is essential for every writer.”

“One teacher in one year can change a child’s view on reading.”

All reminders of what I love about teaching writers and what I hope for all my students. And I’ve got 14.5 days before the summer bell rings, and my students leave me.

Recently, I read a great post by Tricia Ebaria titled “One Important Thing I Can Learn from Students.” This part resonates:

Rather than join the chorus of end-of-the-year countdowns, instead of giving in to fatigue (or cynicism), what if we reframed our thinking and asked ourselves: What’s the one important thing I can still do with my students? After all, it’s never too late to do work that is meaningful and important to our students and to the world.

Or how about this question: What’s the one important thing I can still learn about my students? studentswriting

So today I asked two questions to help me focus on students’ needs, and to help students focus on our need to keep learning:

1. Have your grown as a reader and a writer this year? And we talked about if the answer is no then we’ve both failed.

2. What’s one thing you still want, or need, to learn regarding reading and writing before your senior year and beyond? And students wrote their responses at their tables.

Some responses gave me pause. Others made me crazy. Many gave me hope that we still have time so every student can answer question one with a resounding YES.

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“Because we’ve really done nothing in class this year” is my first thought, right? But I have to wonder: Why does this students still feel this way?

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I’m celebrating the word PLAY.

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Hmmm. 

We have to be willing to be vulnerable. We have to be willing to ask our students what they need from us as their teachers. If we don’t, we may miss the point of teaching them all together.

I learned valuable things about my students and how they feel about their growth. This lesson is enlightening and humbling. And frightening.

I am almost out of time.

So we started in our writer’s notebooks. Updating our currently reading lists and talking about the books we’ve read, we’ve started, abandoned, and we’ve finished. We updated our challenge cards and checked our progress.

I book talked Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, my new favorite (I wrote about it here), and American Street by Ibi Zoboi, and let students know I had a fourth copy of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. All books I’d read when Joseph was teaching and was dying to share with kids. Students eagerly reached for them, even tussling over Zentner’s book. (TBH I shudder just a bit when I think about not getting these new books back with it being so close to the end of the year.)

Next, I showed them an idea for their end-of-year writing — a pretty monumental task for teens already dreaming of days out of the classroom. But I think I sold them on how it can answer my question #2.

Multi-genre. Thank you, Tom Romano, and Shana for showing me how a marvelous multi-genre project can light a fire within my writers and let them showcase their interest, their talents, and the learning they’ve acquired this year.

We looked at samples. We talked about topics and research and genres. We talked about how the topics we choose can potentially help us learn the things we still need and want to learn.

We got excited about writing. I think some even got excited about learning.

So with 14.5 days left in the school year, we committed to a pretty intensive end-of-year plan.

I have a mule-like stubbornness when it comes to teaching readers and writers. Certainly some of that will wear off on my students, and maybe someday they’ll look back on their notes and their writing from their junior year in high school and recognize they’ve learned and grown in their “search for truth” as a writer.

How are you utilizing your end-of-year time? Please share in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 at Lewisville High School. She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies. Facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy delights her. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

 

When rubrics are unintentional ruBRICKS – Guest Post by Julie Swinehart

My fourteen-year-old son surprises me with some of the things that come out of his mouth. I won’t repeat them all here (you’re welcome), because sometimes I’m astounded in a way that makes me laugh, but doesn’t necessarily make me think.

But the other day, he did make me think.

We were at the kitchen table. I was reading my students’ online readers notebooks while he was working on homework. Responsibly, he checked the rubric that accompanied the assignment he was working on, but by doing so, he seemed to get more frustrated instead of finding clarity.

I looked over at him, eyebrows raised in silent question. His response was, “This rubric is more of a brick than a help!” and he went on to explain that it felt like he was weighed down by the rubric rather than feeling like it provided guidance.

I immediately understood his comparison. Rubrics as bricks, hobbling students,

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“This rubric is more of a brick than a help!”

confining them to strict definitions and requirements, weighing them down instead of allowing them to soar.

Rubrics as brick walls on paper, wordy, unclear, sometimes too demanding, confining creativity instead of providing a place from which to let creativity flow.

I then turned my thoughts to my own teaching and to my own students. Have I unintentionally weighed down my students with a brick of a rubric?

Have the rubrics I’ve attached to my class assignments served as brick walls, stifling creativity, rather than as foundations that my students could use as guides for demonstrating what they know and what they can do?

Have the rubrics I’ve provided my students allowed them to show that they can exceed and see things in a way that I, as the teacher, never imagined?

During this school year my thinking and teaching style has evolved dramatically. I’ve moved away from a more traditional method, in which my students read the same texts, responded to the same writing prompts, learned the same skills, and turned in the same assignments, all at the same time. I used rubrics for most of their assessments, and while my students demonstrated their learning, I inadvertently didn’t really allow for a ton of creativity.

This year, my students are reading different texts, sometimes have individualize due dates that they have chosen, and are turning in very different assignments from each other.

This year, I’ve also still used some rubrics, and I think there are some good ones out there. But in response to the advice of one my colleagues, I started the slow move to a more holistic approach to scoring guides.

I still include the standards and learning targets for students on the task sheet, and I describe what an exemplary, middle, and poor quality product will look like, include, or omit. But I find that the more holistic scoring guide approach allows for the student choice and creativity that is essential in the workshop model.

It’s not as prescriptive as a rubric can be, and instead of being a document made of bricks that build walls around and confine creativity, it serves more as foundation of sorts, something students can build from, and also demonstrate their learning through their own creative ideas.

A holistic scoring guide does not provide all of the answers that a rubric holds. There aren’t as many words on the paper, which means that students have to think about what they are going to do, rather than simply tick some boxes of requirements in order to get the grade.

I’m enjoying the holistic scoring guide approach, and my students are still doing well with the change. They demonstrate creativity, they show their learning, and they allow their personalities to shine through in their work.

Workshop is about student choice, and I think some rubrics unintentionally stifle the choice that we are so eager and willing to provide.

I’m going to be careful from now one, doing my best to ensure that the assignments I give allow for student agency, and doing my best to ensure that my students aren’t weighed down or walled in by unnecessary bricks.


Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for eighteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last three in Amman, Jordan. A recent convert to the workshop model, she likes to blog about and share her learning and experience with others.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

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


iconCare to join the conversation? We’d love to add your voice! Please email guest post ideas to Lisadennibaum@gmail.com.

Refresh the Recommended Reading List

Hey book people: sometimes I feel we could learn a thing or two from the fashion world. (Or, at the very least, the fashion world as I see it from television.)

 

In the fashion world, trends are always changing, and once we’ve heard about something we know it isn’t hot anymore.  We’re quick to pass judgement on each other’s work and open in expressing opinions like that’s so old and I’ve seen that so many times before.

So if we as teachers are still recommending the same old, same old to our students (and yes, I count The Hunger Games and Twilight as same old) IT IS TIME TO UPDATE OUR RECOMMENDED LISTS.

 

I update and provide students with a (mostly) fresh list of recommendations about 3-4 times a year.  At minimum, I provide a beginning of school year recommended reading list for parents at Back to School Night and a summer recommended reading list to help students plan ahead for the long break.  Part of that planning is purely practical: I teach seventh graders, and the students’ reading tastes are going to change dramatically over the course of the school year, so I want  to be prepared.

And sure, part of it is my own boredom with reading, recommending, and thinking about the same books over and over again.  Hence I create new lists for students.

 

If you don’t currently create lists for your students, the easiest ways to make one are:

 

  1. Ask students for recommendations – what books they enjoyed reading and what books they plan to read in the future.
  2. Read books
  3. Steal other readers’ recommended reading lists.  My three favorite lists to steal from are the ALSC recommended titles YALSA’s book recommendations and the suggestions from the students in Nancie Atwell’s school.

 

Below is the recommended reading list I recently generated for my students.  Note that I broke the list into several themed sections (Classmates Recommend, Read With a Friend, and Challenge Books.)

 

You are more than welcome to steal this list in whole or in parts.  The descriptions of books are my own.

 

Classmates Recommend…

 

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

 

This unusually formatted book will have you turning pages as you’ll get to know Maddie and her next door neighbor Olly through drawings, gchats, and short chapters.  Read it before the movie comes out! This book makes readers think more about disobeying authority (adults), falling in love, illness, and family

 

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans (part of a series)

 

High school student Michael Vey has a special hidden power.  He and some friends realize that there’s a conspiracy of adults trying to keep these powers under control. This book makes readers think more about  power, keeping secrets, and difficult decisions.

 

Masterminds (series) by Gordon Korman

 

Eli and friends live in Serenity, a perfect town without any crime or unemployment.  There’s only one issue: Eli and his friends can’t leave the town, and they begin to discover that there’s a reason why.This book makes readers think more about right/wrong, fighting back against adults, and friendship.

 

Once by Morris Gleitzman

 

It’s right before WWII, and Felix’s parents hid him in a Catholic orphanage so that he wouldn’t be suspected of being a Jewish boy.  Felix, concerned about his parents, escapes the safety of the orphanage and takes off on a dangerous journey to try to find his parents.This book makes readers think more about  risk-taking, growing up, good and evil, and friendship.

 

Gutless by Carl Deuker

 

Brock’s a soccer player, not a football player, but the football’s quarterback wants Brock to try out for the team.  Brock isn’t sure this is the best idea.  This book makes readers think more about bullying, friendship, and the risks of playing sports.

 

Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart

 

When all the adults on a prison island die in a strange accident, the teens have to decide what to do next.  This books makes readers think more about risk-taking, heroism, good/evil,  and leadership.

Read with a friend!  Books I have multiple copies of

 

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

 

Three female friends and the two boys and one photo that could possibly destroy their friendship.  This book makes readers think more about…. Relationships (romantic and non-romantic), cell phone use, growing up, and apologies.

 

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall

 

Arthur Owens threw a brick at an old man’s head and was sentenced to juvie for it.  Now that he’s out, the old man forgives him and asks Arthur to help him complete a strange task.  This book makes readers think more about forgiveness, family, and connections.

 

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

 

Lizzie wants to know why her family’s servant has disappeared.  In order to find him, she has to untangle a web of secrets surrounding the city of San Francisco.  This book makes readers think more about medicine, sexism, racism, and fighting against adult power.

 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

 

Junior wants to go to a school off of his reservation; his neighbors and friends give him a hard time for acting “white.”  This book makes readers think more about racism, school issues, family, and friendship (especially difficult friendships.)

 

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

 

Jade is a black girl in Portland, Oregon who wants to travel the world.  Jade’s guidance counselor signs her up for a mentoring program instead.  This book makes readers think more about racism, healthy and unhealthy relationships, school communities, and how art can help bring people together.

 

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

 

Ghost can run fast, but this tough kid doesn’t know how to be part of a team yet.  This book makes readers think more about healthy and unhealthy relationships, communities and teamwork, and forgiveness.

 

A Matter of Heart by Amy Fellner Dominy

 

Abby’s a competitive swimmer about to try out for the Olympics when she is told by a doctor that swimming too quickly could kill her.  This book makes readers think more about healthy and unhealthy relationships, good and bad risks, and figuring out who you are.

 

The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman

 

Jackson Opus has a strange power — he can hypnotize people to do whatever they want.  Now the brilliant Elias Mako wants to work with Jackson to develop his skill.  This book makes readers think more about power, good/evil, and fighting back.

 

Challenge Books

Longer, tougher, more complex ideas…

 

The Sun is also a Star by Nicola Yoon

 

Daniel and Natasha “bump” into each other and it’s love at first sight.  Was their meeting chance, or was it the universe pushing them together?  This book is by the same author as Everything, Everything, but readers are advised that this book is not a sequel or a companion to E,E.   This book makes readers think more about destiny/fate, love, and immigration.

 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

 

Starr’s childhood friend Khalil is killed in an unfortunate accident when the police were looking for another suspect.  Khalil’s name is all over the news, and Starr’s private school friends don’t know that she was a witness to the murder.  This book makes readers think more about race, wealth/poverty, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

 

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

 

Two teens are training to become scythes, carrying out their society’s sacred role of determining who lives and who does not.  Scythe training is demanding, rigorous, and there are rebels within the order of Scythes who are looking to change the way death works … forever.  This book makes readers think more about power, death, and right/wrong.

 

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

 

In jail for a crime he didn’t commit, Steve creates a script for a movie that tells the story of his life and his run-in with the criminal justice system.  This book makes readers think more about power, race, art as healing, and the prison system.

 

All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

 

Quinn and Rashad go to the same school but aren’t friends, until a case of violence makes Quinn realize that there’s no such thing as being a neutral bystander.  This book makes readers think more about violence, race, and friendship.

 

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

 

A teen classic — Melinda is considered an outcast at her high school because she called the cops on a party.  This book makes readers think more about rebellion, fighting for what’s right, and the costs of popularity.

 

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

 

About 100 years ago, Russia had a royal family that was kicked out and eventually killed.  Learn about the factors that led to the uprising against the Romanov family.  This book makes readers think more about wealth/poverty and war.

 

Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in New York and a 2016 recipient of the NCTE Gallo Grant.  Follow her on twitter at @HMX_MsE

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.

When Context is a Novelty

Senioritis is real, people–I think I have it.  Teacheritis?  I don’t know.  Either way, the type of this condition my students have seems to be an airborne contagion, because I’ve caught it.

However, along with the feeling of I-just-want-to-sit-on-a-beach-and-read-Matthew-Quick-novels, I’m having all the other feelings, too.

We are nearing the end of the school year, which will bring to close my SECOND–count ’em, one, two–year of teacher the lovely half-child, half-almost-adults, half confused and terrified individuals we call seniors.

The other feelings I’m beginning to feel are difficult to wrestle.

I’m excited for a clean slate.

I’m lamenting over all the Should Have Done’s and Wish I Did’s.

I’m paralyzed with fear that someone will steal books from my classroom over the summer, jeopardizing the integrity of the inventory I have yet to take.

I’m overwhelmed at coming up with a better system of organization than my piles of sticky notes.

I’m also mourning the fact that these amazing human beings whose lives I’ve been a part of for 180 days will now go off into the world and I may never see them or hear from them again.

One of these incredible humans is Zoe.

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Aside from the fact that we look like sisters, Zoe has been a student who’s been on my mind a lot this year.  The first day when we set reading goals, I was taken aback that her goal was heftier than mine.  She wanted to read 50 books this school year.  Even more, she labored over a plan to actual complete that goal, as she wanted it to be realistic!

At the Principal’s Breakfast, I described Zoe as having her head in the clouds with one foot on the ground.  She has this uncanny ability to dream big, but to make sure she understands the logistics of everything.

Zoe is a student who always asks why.  She doesn’t ask it in a way to throw off the teacher, she just truly wants to know how everything connects and why it matters.  This has made me better.

When we had our class discussion on engagement, Zoe explained that this was the first English class in which she felt everything had context.  Surprised at her remark, I asked her to explain further.

She said, “We don’t do random worksheets for grammar or learn random words that don’t have any sort of genesis or connection with what we are actually reading or talking about.”

She tweeted a few things that made my heart sing:

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Aside from the fact that I’m glad this connection is happening in my classroom, I’m confused as to why context in the classroom is such a novelty.

I’ve been seeing many Twitter friends commenting on the new book from Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, Disrupting Thinking.

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Excerpt from Disrupting Thinking via @msethna23 on Twitter

 

Like it says, we know the research.  We know things should not be taught in isolation.  We know kids need hooks and pegs on which to hang their knowledge.  So why are our classrooms still reflecting a plot-and-prescribed-theme teaching, vocabulary word memorizing, grammar terms on Fridays environment rather than an environment of connected and contextual literacy?

With a couple of sentences in a classroom discussion, Zoe sparked my mind to not only consider my own teaching practice, but to artfully consider why things are the way they are in education in general.

My new research question: If one knows something, how do they benefit from feigning ignorance?  What would it take to change a whole system in which so many are comfortable with comfort?

As for those that are reading this post, I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir.  Even still, how can we band together to show how much better it is this way?

Zoe is the type of student who sticks with you, but I’m running into increasingly more of those these days.  I’ve attempted this year to change my teaching from This is What You Need to Know to What is your story and how can I help it along, make it wider and deeper, and revel in the light of a lifelong learner taking a step into the real world. 

How do you create context and connectivity in your classroom?


Jessica Paxson is an English IV and Creative Writing teacher in Arlington, TX.  She usually takes on major life events all at once rather than bit by bit, such as starting graduate school, buying a house, going to Europe, and preparing for two new classes next year.  If you enjoy watching her make a fool of herself by being unbearably vulnerable, you can catch more of that over at www.jessicajordana.com. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @jessjordana.

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.”

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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.

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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 

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