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Monday, February 29, 2016

Where is poetry hidden in your life?

This weekend, I had the honor of being able to attend the Rose F. Spicola Forum in Reading at Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas (the perks of being enrolled in a cohort program). The two keynote speakers were Georgia Heard and Naomi Shihab Nye. 

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I have no shame in admitting that I am not a big poetry fan. Sure, I filled journals with teen angst-filled poems about boys and friends and loneliness when I was younger, but I have never considered myself a poet. Sure, I get a kick out of Shel Silverstein and "Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout", but I do not consider myself a strong poetry teacher. But listening to Heard and Shihab Nye inspired me to find my poetic side. 

In Heard's speech, she discussed finding hidden poetry in our lives. She began by asking the audience to make a list of places where we might find hidden poetry:
  • my workouts
  • my classroom
  • my students
  • my pets
Heard then asked us to take one of our ideas and make a poem out of it. The assignment was not about writing at the level of a professional poet but of expressing ourselves through poetry. If I cannot write my own and be comfortable with whatever I can produce, how can I expect my students to do so? 

Both Heard and Shihab Nye suggested carrying around a small notebook in which to track observations about the world. After leaving the forum, I headed straight to Walmart to buy myself a little notebook and some cute new pens (may as well indulge). 

Being in a poetry mindset, I found myself aware and taking notice of the world around me - at Walmart. And there is so much to observe and write about at Walmart!

From this list, I heeded Shihab Nye's advice. I chose some of the items on my list and created a new poem. 

From here, I am already planning ahead in my brain, determining how to use this in my class this year and next year (I am always thinking ahead). I am not worried about my talent - or lack thereof. I want to be able to go through the process in order to be a better teacher. Maybe I can ignite a passion in a student and end up watching them become the keynote speaker at a future conference. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Explain what makes you angry and why

When working with writing prompts, I work hard to come up with those that I know my students will be able to write about without any whining involved. Ok, there is still whining, but maybe a bit less. One of today's writing choices is to write about something that makes you angry, and I am sharing some of their statements for no other reason than entertainment. Keep in mind that I teach eighth graders at an incredibly diverse school. These are directly from my kids:

    Image result for donald trump
  • Donald Trump and his supporters make me angry but I mean who doesn't dislike him
  • Anger describes me. [This was written by one of the quietest and sweetest students I have in class.]
  • In my house with teen or preteen girls, there are many moodswings..., especially for my older sister. 
  • Another thing that makes me angry is when people say the movie was better than the book...but they haven't read the book. 
  • One thing that makes angry is when people don't close their mouths when they eat and when they smack the food in their mouths. 
  • Another thing that makes me angry is when your class mates ask to borrow your pencil, and you give them one of your best ones and they don't give it back at the end of the class. Then the next day you ask for it politely and they say they lost it. [I gave him a handful of pencils because it's my class that this happens in regularly.
  • Ms. Foti makes me mad because she watches me too much. I can not get away with anything when I am around her, like for example right now...

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Adventures in Technology: TodaysMeet in the Classroom

During our English PLC, Susan Anderson from our Instructional Technology Department came by to share some online sites to help us with formative assessments. Although I was familiar with some of the tools, Susan provided some alternate uses that I had not previously considered with those both known and unknown to me. 

My students recently worked on a collaborative story writing assignment in Google Docs.  In order to discuss their work without speaking while some students were finishing a district exam, I allowed them to use the chat box within the document to communicate with their partners about what they were writing. As I walked around glancing at their work, I was pleasantly surprised that no one was talking about anything more inappropriate than wanting to see the Deadpool movie. 

In order to communicate with me without blurting out and calling my name, I set up a Today's Meet forum. This is a site that Susan showed my department. I have used TdoaysMeet in meetings containing over one hundred people, but I never even thought about using it in class. Susan talked to us about using it as a backchannel for conversations while other things are taking place in class, and this was the perfect opportunity for me to try it out. Well, let me just say, best made plans... 

My first Pre-AP class is definitely a gifted group. So gifted in fact, that when asked to type a name to identify themselves to others, they started using my name as well as the names of their classmates. No one knew who anyone was. Fake versions of me were threatening to write referrals, and a very strange rap battle took place (I think one version of me may have won). 

In my academic classes, I can guarantee that Student E. finds some way to work my nerves on a daily basis, and for some reason, I still love him. I figured that without being able to speak out loud, it would be a peaceful day in Student E. land. Wrong! He did not understand my response to his request to go to the restroom, despite four other students typing for him to go. He did not believe them, as he thought I was correcting his grammar - which I had done initially. 

My last class of the day actually used the site as I had intended: by asking questions about their assignment. Do we need paragraphs? Can I add the title to the slide? How do we get our work back if it was lost? This group is often quite unfocused as they come to me after lunch, but using TodaysMeet actually seemed to help them. 

Out of my five classes, only one pushed the boundaries. This class is always on warning with technology, but I want them to have the exposure and always give them a "second" chance. They used TodaysMeet to say hello to one another, to tell jokes, to ask to go to the bathroom, to ask to go to the bathroom, and to ask to go to the bathroom. They were, however, working on their assignment, so I did not go to hard on them. Because we had not had a formal conversation about how to use the site, I took responsibility for the situation and know that in the future, I will need to set firmer ground rules. 

Although this was a trial run, I can see myself using the site again in the future. I want to put some more thought into how I can use it effectively in a blended lesson. Stay tuned. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

And just like that, we were in a blended learning environment!

I use technology as often as possible in my classroom. I am fortunate to have a 2:1 situation - one Chromebook and one iPad per student. I have to admit, though, that the work we do online is not terribly original. We tend to stick to basics. I do try, however, and I am slowly branching into new territories with my kids that I have not thought they would be able to handle previously. Right now, my focus is on how I can get students working collaboratively in a digital environment. 

In my graduate reading class this week, we were discussing the following passage from Kylene Beers' When Kids Can't Read.  I want you to try to figure out what the passage is about before moving on. The struggle, if you have one, is part of the process. 



Are you ready? Did you figure it out? Then keep on readin'. 

In my class of adults, there was a great deal of discussion about the information in the passage. I own the Beers book and have used this particular passage in a number of workshops, so I did not have any original thoughts to contribute. I sat back and listened to what my peers had to say. One classmate got hung up on the numbers from the beginning, thinking it was a math problem. Most everyone got past that stage and pieced together a general idea of what is happening, but we were all making up completely different stories about who the people are - a married couple, a first date, friends, a brother and sister. 

Back in my eighth grade classroom, I knew I had some time to fill. We recently finished a unit, and I had a couple of days open prior to a district test. Why not see what the kids think of this passage?

I started by giving my students the passage and asking what it was about and how they figured it out. Quite a few thought it was a math problem and could not get past that idea. I actually had to have kids act out the scene in one class to try to get the kids to see it as a mini story. Once we walked through the passage, like my college peers, my students immediately began making up stories about who the people were and what the situation was. So I ran with it. 

Image result for harry potterFor the first time ever (insert drumroll here), I have students working collaboratively in a Google Doc. They are writing the full-length story of the initial few sentences. My students are sitting face-to-face in order to discuss what they want to write, then they are writing together in a single document. I walked them through setting up the document step-by-step, and you would have thought I had performed a spell straight out of Harry Potter. They oohed and aahed like I was the greatest wizard to ever live. 

Since I have not done this type of assignment before, I was concerned that the kids would be off-task, but I can honestly say that not one single student was discussing anything but the story. Two of my girls are writing the world's greatest love story, and when class ended the other day, one told me that she could not leave her characters hanging all weekend; she needed to know what was going to happen with them. Two of my boys are writing a fantasy version. Two others have turned the passage into a story about my date with John Cena (currently my imaginary boyfriend who doesn't know we are involved). Many students could not believe that I was having them stop because class was ending. They were completely engaged in what they were doing. 

In addition to all of these wonderful moments, the best thing I realized about this impromptu lesson is that I have blended learning taking place. Blended learning is an important component of the new Texas teacher evaluation system that will be put in place next year, and I feel like I am working through some practice rounds to prepare for that. My students are working together both face-to-face and online. They have control over the content of their story. They are determining the structure of their collaboration, and each partnership is quite different. 

This might not be a giant step for mankind, but it is a step for my classroom and for my own thinking. Sometimes I do not think I give my students enough credit for all that they are capable of, but I am determined to continue pushing myself to break out of my safe zones in order to challenge them, even if it's only one baby step at a time.