Practicing What I Preach

I just participated in an invigorating NCTE twitter chat http://www.ncte.org/community/nctechat about the Teacher as Writer. It was very thought provoking and I wanted to get my feelings down on paper while they were still fresh.

I believe in the power of the right mindset in achieving one’s goals. I encourage my students to take risks and I don’t penalize them for mistakes. I want them to practice in a fun, low-stakes environment in order to improve their reading and writing skills. I have designed the class so that they share their work with others often. I often tell them to “write what you know.” I remind them that they all have a story to share that others want to hear. Why, then, it is so difficult for me to internalize my own advice? Why do I find the act of writing for others so intimidating when I expect my students to do so on a daily basis?

I have had a varied and rewarding teaching career and have always shared what I have learned with others and learned from them in return. I took on leadership roles at school and have taught teacher candidates at Eastern Michigan University. I’ve enjoyed these experiences, but always had a desire to write a book on student motivation and engagement. However, I’ve never been able to follow through on this and put the ideas on paper. A large part of this is my own insecurity about sharing my ideas with a larger audience. I am very sensitive and am afraid I would respond badly to real or perceived negative criticism. I guarantee several of my students can relate and I have empathy for them.

I met several members of the Nerdy Book Club http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com at the Michigan Reading Association conference in March of this year. After experiencing their passion and enthusiasm for literacy, I was inspired to start blogging my own ideas about teaching and learning, but was still a bit terrified of taking the leap. But I knew I must be that role model for my students, so I started writing.

On the day my first blog post went live, I was petrified. I was opening up my heart and soul in addition to my ideas and I didn’t know how I would be received. I was writing what I knew and wanted to tell my story. I truly didn’t care if anyone read the posts, but I wanted them to be kind in their feedback if they did. I have now posted several entries and can’t believe that people have actually read them and even commented. The response has been more than I expected and very positive. Even though it is a little bit scary, it is a bit of a thrill to know that something I have written may be meaningful or helpful to a fellow educator. Plus, I truly enjoy the forced reflection of the entire process. This is the feeling I want for my students so I must keep this in mind as I conference with them about their writing.

Once again, I am reminded that teaching affords me immense power and I must use this power to uplift and not destroy. I am sure many of my students are also frightened of having an outsider (even if it is just the teacher and classmates) read their writing. They may not feel they have a valuable story to tell. They may be afraid that it is not worth writing if it is not perfect. I understand how that feels and can relate. My role as their instructor is to be their coach as well as their cheerleader. I need to be mindful of the words I choose when giving feedback. If I do it right, they may experience the same joy in writing as I do now.

I guess my next challenge is to actually write that book.

 

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Short Stories to use with Notice and Note Signposts: Part 3

Because I had many twitter friends ask for this, I am posting a portion of a transcript I sent to a friend about the short stories I used to practice finding the Signposts in Notice and Note as promised.

I teach at an all-girls school so many of the stories have a female protagonist. Because of this, I am giving you lists of short stories that I found on other websites as well. I used many of them when I taught at a co-ed public school.

I love stories by O’Henry, Saki, and Guy de Maupassant. I also enjoy using sci-fi short stories with middle schoolers.

Even though I only teach girls now, I could see the signposts being a huge benefit to teaching boys as well because they are so much more concrete. Also, any short story has signposts in it, so find the stories you like the best to use in class.

Here is how I organized the first several weeks of school:

  • I reviewed the literary elements of Setting, Plot, Characterization, Conflict, and Theme.
  • We applied these literary elements to our study of the summer reading novel, Surviving the Applewhites.
  • Then, I introduced the signposts one at a time using a story that we walked through together. I read it aloud and they identified signposts as I read then we discussed. I used Beers and Probt’s lesson for Thank You Ma’am as my guide. For your reference, I have listed this story as the first one underneath the signpost.
  • Then, I gave them a story in which to identify signposts independently. You will see that the same story is listed in a couple of different categories. In that case, it is because I had them identity both of those signposts in the story.
  • We also reviewed all of the literary elements in the short stories.
  • You will also see that there are less stories under each category as we progressed. This is because the girls were understanding the signposts so well that they said it felt redundant to do the identification twice so I bumped it down.
  • Finally, I showed the Pixar shorts and they found signposts, plus we focused on the literary elements I specified in each one. I did this for a parent visiting day lesson and it was a big hit.
  • Now, we are reading a novel and as they read they are identifying the signposts. I printed up bookmarks for them with the signposts on them that I found on Teachers Pay Teachers. They actually cheered when I handed them out and they say it really helps.

 

The stories I used:

(NOTE: we have copies of a book by Jamestown Publishers called Best Short Stories: Introductory Level that included many of these stories. I have put an asterisk next to those titles. Many of them are available online as well.)

Contrast and Contradictions:

Thank You Ma’am by Langston Hughes

* Catch the Moon by Judith Ortiz Cofer

All-American Slurp by Lensey Namioka

A-Ha Moment:

*The Richer, The Poorer by Dorothy West

All-American Slurp by Lensey Namioka

Charles by Shirley Jackson

The Landlady by Roald Dahl (we read later for Halloween, but they found signposts)

Tough Questions:

*President Cleveland, Where Are You? by Robert Cormier

Words From the Wiser:

*Tuesday of the Other June by Norma Fox Mazer

 Again and Again:

Charles by Shirley Jackson

Eleven by Sandra Cisneros

 

All Signposts and Literary Elements: (I used this as a assessment of the signposts. I might not do that again next year. I will probably make it a group activity because the story confused a few of them.)

*Lob’s Girl by Joan Aiken

Great Short Stories recommended by other websites:

http://www.weareteachers.com/community/blogs/weareteachersbookclub/book-club/2013/05/15/24-short-stories-for-middle-schoolers

http://www.pinterest.com/glanceatnance/teach-short-stories/

http://edhelper.com/short_stories/short_stories.htm

I would LOVE it if any of you would add your titles to this list in the comments. Thanks so much.

Inspired by the Nerdy Book Club—Again

Last night I returned from a very invigorating “un-conference” called Nerd Camp Michigan. My brain is full and I am, once again, inspired by the people I have met through the Nerdy Book Club.

At lunch on the second day of Nerd Camp, I asked Donalyn Miller and Laura Komos if I could sit in one of the empty seats by them. Donalyn said sure, but told me that there were also a couple of teachers who wanted to sit by her to ask her some questions so we needed to save seats. My first thought was, “How cool is this famous author to give up her free time to, essentially, work?” My second thought was, “Woo hoo—a free consultation with Donlayn that I can eavesdrop on.” I knew her advice would be valuable, so I sat down.

The teachers asked Donlayn their questions and she graciously helped them with their dilemmas and assured us all that we were doing the right things for students. We all agreed that, in the end, we must perform to the best of our abilities given our individual parameters. This is one thing I have definitely learned in my teaching career—all we can control is our own classroom.

Besides this great lunch conversation, I sat in several Nerd Camp sessions delivered by phenomenal educators (and even horned in a bit on facilitating a session given by my friend, Kevin English. Thank you, Kevin.). In these invigorating sessions, it was easy to set goals for future learning. For example, I had not realized the full capabilities of Padlet and Evernote. I resolved to learn more and practice with these tools. My only regret at Nerd Camp was that I chickened out and didn’t volunteer to lead my own session as I had planned (which, coincidentally, was the exact topic that Kevin had proposed which is why I asked him if I could help in his session). I kind of beat myself up over that. Regrets stink.

I have an extremely rewarding career and love every minute of what I do. I’ve taught for over 20 years at all grade levels from first grade to university pre-service teachers. I have been a teacher leader and delivered many presentations to groups of teachers, student-teachers, and administrators. I know that I’ve put in over 10,000 hours, yet there remains this nagging doubt that I am not yet an expert. I always feel there is something I don’t know and can’t ever believe it when people want to hear what I have to say. Perhaps this is because I haven’t yet developed the “Goldilocks” classroom I wrote about previously. I feel that an expert would have had this figured out by now. Also, I have never quite managed to finish writing the teaching book I’ve wanted to do for years so I don’t feel I have credibility. It is for these reasons that I was too insecure to volunteer to lead a Nerd Camp session. I know I have a lot of knowledge and experience, but I don’t know that I will ever feel that I am talented enough to be one of “those” teachers who naturally inspire others like Donalyn Miller and the rest of the Nerdy Book Club. But in the true spirit of an Ed Camp, I am inspired to keep a growth mindset. I want to share what I have learned with others, but, apart from adjunct professor work, I don’t yet know the forum for doing so and this blog is my first step. I don’t feel that I’m an expert—YET—but I will get there. I’ll figure it out. I will keep blogging and tweeting and working on that book. One thing’s for sure–I will definitely sign up to run a Nerd Camp session next year. Thank you for the inspiration Nerdy Book club. I’ll see you on July 6 & 7, 2015!

Thoughts on Avoiding Readicide of Whole Class Novels

At some point, I will formulate this into a coherent format, but these are thoughts running through my head for a future blog post.

How To Avoid Readicide When Teaching Whole-Class Novels

• My teaching changed when I read Readicide by Kelly Gallagher and The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.

• Book Whisperer: (127) “There needs to be a balance between picking a book apart to examine its insides and experiencing the totality of what a book offers.”

• Whole Novels for Whole Class: (20) “Structure a literature program in a way that protects the reader’s experience of the story.”

• Readicide: One of the four causes of Readicide is over teaching a book.

• Readicide: (109) “My students are always reading two books at a time: one that requires the teacher to be in the room, and one that is a high-interest, fun read.”

• Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis: Goal of reading is to construct meaning.

• Penny Kittle: (19) “The study of literature is half the job; leading students to satisfying and challenging reading lives is the other, and we haven’t paid enough attention to it.”

• Penny Kittle: (21) Curriculum is presented as either “a rigorous study of the classics” or “fun reading of what’s easy. . . I am suggesting that teaching English can’t be one or the other; it has to be both.”

• Cris Tovani: Whoever is doing the reading/writing/speaking is doing the learning.

• Me: I believe in teaching the READER, not the READING.

• Me: I use the reading of class novels as a community building and learning experience and not as a means to formally assess and grade students.

• Me: Use a balanced approach. Choice and whole class are important.
My Suggestions:

1. Do not teach a book a chapter at a time. We read the book in chunks and I give a reading calendar at the beginning.

2. Provide “framing” (context, supplemental materials, and topic floods) to eliminate a barrier to understanding.

3. Structure around a theme (meets CCSS: “two or more texts address similar themes).

4. Find a literacy focus and learning target for reading. Students can’t hit a bull’s-eye if they don’t know the target.
a. I use Notice and Note
b. Ariel Sacks: Literal, Inferential, Critical
c. Jeffrey Wilhelm: Fresh Takes on Literary Elements
d. Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts: Lens, Patterns, Understanding

5. Honor their thoughts. There is no one right answer.

6. Gradually release responsibility as the novel goes on and as the year goes on. I do, We do, You do, You do together, You do alone.

7. Give writing assignments and active experiences that tie to the book and complement the text. BIBITT and Creative. Use novel as mentor text to read like a writer.

8. Don’t choose a book that is too far above their reading level. Provide supports for students who struggle and options for students who fly.

9. Quit grading every little thing! However, do plenty of formative assessments along the way.
a. Mosaic of Thought
b. I Read It, but I Don’t Get It
c. So What Do They Really Know?
d. Making Thinking Visible
e. Notice and Note
f. Stephanie Harvey and Anne Gouvidis
g. Harvey Daniels and Stephanie Harvey
h. Dick Allington