Sticks and Stones, Inspired by #BFC530

This morning, I participated in the #BFC530 chat from the treadmill, as I (try to) do every morning.  Today’s topic,

struck me as particularly blog-worthy because I had a very strong reaction to it.

The worst piece of advice I’ve ever gotten has been, “you’re not cut out for [teaching].”  It was given to me very early in my career, and I almost took it.  Thank God I didn’t.

I came into teaching through alternative certification with a background in television production.  Almost every job I had from the age of 12-21 involved working with children, and as I approached the end of my undergrad studies, I realized that I was very interested in teaching.  Of course, it would have been foolish to change my major when I had already completed nearly all of my coursework.  Thus, alternative certification programs became really appealing.

The golden opportunity came one day when I came across a flyer for a cohort through my university.  I was selected to join this group, and within a year, my dream of having my own classroom came true.

Understandably, the first few years were a steep learning curve.  Yet, time and again, I was told that teaching was not for me.  I wasn’t “cut out to be a teacher.”  I was, “still very young and [had my] whole life ahead of [me],” to find something that I “really love doing.”

Yes, I was young, but I was also stubborn.  I knew exactly what I loved, and it was building relationships and learning with the students in front of me.  Year after year, I was constantly bombarded with less-than-positive messages about how I needed to quit.

Then one day, it finally clicked.  I started to find my way around year four, when I received the support that I had needed.  Year five, I was able to use my background in technology, and everything changed.


This morning, I struggled while trying to answer the second part of the question.  My initial reaction was that the negative advice made me work harder to prove myself, but then I thought…did it?

Not really.

What it did was the opposite.  It gave me baggage and insecurity as a teacher, that took a long time to shake.  Truth be told, some of it still lingers.

Last night, I was listening to the Edu-Allstars Podcast with Principal El, who made a great point.  He was talking about how he would never again give up on a student, and also how we should never give up on struggling teachers.

By definition, a struggle implies some form of effort.  To paraphrase Principal El, if someone is giving an effort to help students, they should be celebrated, not vilified.

A member of my PLN nailed it:

We need to be very mindful in our profession how we treat one another.  As educators, we are often persecuted by media and society.  It’s not fair to do so to one another.  Just as we are supposed to be patient and supportive with our students, we need to do the same with others in our field, especially those with good intentions, who may just need help.  After all, we are all still learning ourselves.

To answer the second part of the question, something positive did come from that bad advice.  I now understand exactly how it feels to be on the receiving end, and can better advocate for the “struggling teachers.”  If you are doing what you truly love, don’t let anyone else tell you what’s in your heart.  Keep pushing forward, and be a sponge when it comes to best practices.  To those of us in a position to help, let’s do so from a place of love.  We are judged enough already!

P.S.: The story has a happy ending. Nearly ten years have passed, and I have seen many of the people mentioned above recently.  They have been very supportive! Let’s all continue to support each other, and work as a team for the good of our students 🙂

 

Got Questions?: A Quick Fix Inspired by my PLN

First, a huge shoutout to my #EduMatch family for helping me figure this one out.  Many thanks to you all for your amazing tips.

Update: One thing I forgot to add is that my class is taught in the computer lab, so this is more so a fix for classrooms that have access to technology (computer lab, 1:1, BYOD, etc.).  However, the steps focus heavily on Google Forms.  My friend in EduMatch (as stated below) had a great idea, that works well for schools with limited tech.

The Scenario:

I recently moved to teach at the high school level, and I must say, I am loving it!  The students are amazing, as are my coworkers, the administration, and the parents.  This is a wonderful experience.

Each of my six classes has its own culture.  The only constant is me, and even I try to adapt for each period.  Over these past four weeks, I’ve enjoyed learning about my students.  I have one particular period that is full of hard-working and sweet students, who tend to ask for a lot of help during independent time.

Questions are great!  I love them, but I would prefer that students help each other, because the best way to learn something is by teaching it.  Also, it often helps to learn from a peer.  Finally, there is only one of me, and about 30 of them, so sometimes it’s hard to keep straight who had a question, and in what order.  I know it must be frustrating to wait several minutes, and to be quite honest, my short-term memory isn’t the best, so people are occasionally skipped by mistake.

I posed this question in the #EduMatch Voxer group, and got some fantastic responses.  One of my fellow Edumatchers suggested that students put their names on the board, and that would solve my problem.  Someone else agreed, but said that some students may feel shy about doing so, and suggested QR codes going to a Google Form as a solution.  There was even an app proposed, similar to the system used at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  I downloaded it, but couldn’t figure out how to use it in the classroom, without creating paper tickets.

The Fix

Friday morning, I woke up inspired as it all came together.  All three of these suggestions had something to them, so I decided to synthesize them.  The result was a Google Form that I whipped up and beta tested in first period with upperclassmen.

Ms. Thomas, Help Me!

Here’s how I did it.

  1. Create a simple Google Form.
    1. If your school is GAFE, you can have it automatically collect the username of your students while they are signed into the domain.
    2. Make sure to put something along the lines of “ask 3 before you ask me,” or any variation of that in the description, as a gentle reminder that their classmates are also available to help.
  2. Add questions, such as “Your Name” (optional, if you already did 1.1), and “The Nature of Your Question.”  Feel free to add more if you wish.  I suggest the multiple choice format.  More on that later.
    1. I have three categories: about the assignment, need a pass, or other.
  3. Design it however you would like.  I didn’t do much with it, since it served a very basic purpose, and we were just trying it out.
  4. Copy the link and make it into a bit.ly with something easy to remember. (Mine is bit.ly/thomashelpme)
  5. Open the “View Responses” form.
  6. Apply conditional formatting to make every multiple choice option turn a different color.
    1. I picked multiple choice, because it is guaranteed to populate the responses exactly how you set it up, without being affected by punctuation, spacing, spelling, etc.
    2. Multiple choice is also great because students can add their own “Other” category, if it’s not listed as an option.  You can see at one glance what the student needs.
    3. Conditional formatting will allow you to take all the kids who don’t understand the assignment at once, and explain it to them.  This is a huge time-saver.
  7. Project the spreadsheet so that the students can all see it.  You may have to resize your window if you want to split your screen.  When students can see where they fall in the queue, they won’t get frustrated, because they will see that you are not ignoring them.

I’m so excited to try this out with the class in question.  I think it will go over well, as it has in my other classes.  The key will be to stick to protocol, but once we have it down, then it should work.  Please let me know if you have any tweaks or suggestions.

Fight Club Mentality for “Teechurs”

In my humble opinion, Fight Club is one of the best movies of all time.  If you haven’t seen it, and plan to, you may want to stop reading now, because some major spoilers lie ahead.  I’ll wait.

Photo credit: https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4094/4921687348_c328c75012_b.jpg

The first rule of Fight Club is that you do not talk about Fight Club.  I’m a rule-breaker by nature, so I’m about to blab it all.  If you’re still reading, that means that you agree not to get mad at me for basically giving away the plot of the movie.  Pinkie swear?

It’s been a little while since I’ve seen the movie, but here’s what I remember.  There’s this somewhat geeky office guy (I forgot his name), played by Edward Norton.  He meets Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler, who is a total hottie and bad-booty, and together, they come up with this thing called Fight Club, where guys get together and basically beat the mess out of each other.

I’m not a huge fan of blood and violence, so I didn’t see this movie until a few years ago.  What drew me in was that after I saw Inception, I went on a hunt for other psychological mind-freak movies, and saw that Fight Club was on many lists.  So, I decided to give it a shot.

Oh…my…gosh.

Beware, *spoilers* lie ahead: as you watch the movie, you see Tyler rubbing off on Edward Norton little by little, until at the end, they drop the bombshell on you.  It turns out that Tyler and Edward were the same person all along.  Whoa!!!

The Tyler in Us All

Yesterday, I was driving to band practice and listening to Voxer.  In one of the groups I was in, the conversation shifted to how powerful the mind can be, in allowing you to accomplish more than you thought possible.  I added my two cents, and got back to driving, then began rehearsing our new material.  I wasn’t satisfied with how I sounded, and realized that I’d have to get my confidence up before arriving at practice if I wanted to sing better.  So, I asked myself, “how would Sarahdateechur sing this song?”

Then, it all came together.

I’ve written about how I’ve survived (and even occasionally thrived) as a shy, introverted person in situations that have required me to be outgoing.  I’ve done so by channeling Sarahdateechur.  It probably sounds ridiculous, but I’d be willing to bet that many of us have alter-egos of our own creation.  Little kids may be onto something when they create their own superhero personalities and pretend.  I’m just saying.

What if we were to create these fictional, better version of ourselves, and just become really good at imitating them?  To the outside world, it would appear that we were that person.  Truth be told, we ARE that person, but sometimes it’s easier to pretend it’s someone else.

In the movie, people would see Edward Norton, but when he was “Tyler,” they would ascribe that behavior to him.  I vaguely recall a scene when he was in his boss’s office, and tearing the room up.  That was all Tyler, but the boss saw Edward.  To the boss, Edward is dangerous.  Edward is crazy.  But Edward didn’t see himself that way.

Take that scenario and flip it upside down.  Sometimes we think that we are less-than…not as good as we can be.  Why not pretend that our alter-ego is, then do our very best imitation of that person?  For example, I was super-hype over this Google Glass app called “Race Yourself.”  I don’t know if it ever came out, but I was intrigued by the concept.  How engaging would it be to run alongside a representation of yourself, trying to beat your best time?

Growth mindset, I’m not sure.  However, I will say that although I tend to be shy, it has helped me tremendously to “pretend” that I’m Sarahdateechur (not Sarah…there’s a difference) when I’m in a professional situation.  Even if I do a horrible imitation, it’s much better than I would do otherwise.

Educational Implications

Recently, I made the drastic move from K-8 to high school, within a new content area.  Truth be told, I was very nervous at first, never having dealt with this age group before.  However, after getting some great advice from my friends, family, and colleagues (and a prior video of myself, surprisingly enough), I decided to try it.

If I were to do this, I would have to be on my A-game.  Being someone who even has trouble looking people in the eye, it would be a struggle to project confidence.  So, I pulled off my best imitation of Sarahdateechur, the teacher who I would want to have if I were a student.  She is confident, kind, fun, inspiring, fair, and innovative.

Trust me, it feels ridiculous to type this…but that’s exactly what I did.  Sarahdateechur has taught my classes the first three weeks of school, while Sarah has done the work behind the scenes.  The co-teaching model is working well so far, and I hope to maintain this partnership 😉

The Rules of Fight Club

Ha…ok, these aren’t the original rules.  However, here are some tricks that have helped me, and will hopefully help others:

  1. Create your persona.  Trust me, it might seem weird or awkward…it still does to me…but whatever works, works.  Don’t let feeling silly stand in the way of results.  If it helps, you can feel free to apply the first rule from the movie: you DO NOT talk about your alter-ego.
  2. Dream big. This persona/alterego/educational superhero…he or she can be whatever you choose to make him/her.  What kind of teacher/principal/coach/superintendent/etc. would you want to have if you were a student?  Create this person in your mind.
  3. Don’t make excuses. Superheroes don’t have excuses.  If there’s something blocking their way, they go around it, above it, through it, whatever they have to do to save the world.  When you face a challenge, educate yourself on how to overcome it by talking to your PLN, reading up on the topic, whatever you have to do to find a solution.  Never stop trying.
  4. Be the change.  Each week in my classroom, I put a quote on the board, something I carried over from coaching basketball.  The quote might be for my students, it might be for me, or it might be for the world at large.  Gandhi once said, “be the change you want to see in the world.”  This was last week’s quote, and it resonated so much with me that it might reappear.  If you want a kinder, fairer world, you must be a kinder, fairer person.  Our alter-egos will probably know this, and should act accordingly.
  5. Seize the magical moments. What makes a superhero/alter-ego great?  Well, if we look back through comic book history, it usually boils down to one magical moment.  There was that very first time when the superhero had the choice to help someone with their superpowers, or go on with business as usual.  The same goes for us.  We are already awesome, as we are helping our students.  But remember, our alter-ego is constantly pushing us to go even further.  Sometimes we get great ideas that can change the world, or help someone else, but often we think that we’re not “good enough” to make them happen, and these good intentions fizzle out and die in our brains.  News flash: you are more than good enough, and YOU can bring that idea to life.  If you don’t believe me, ask your alter-ego.

No matter how small we may feel, we all have the potential in us to be great.  Many times when we feel inferior, or that we can’t do something, we can push through it and thrive.  Sometimes the trick is simply to visualize it, and to do our best imitation of the great person who will get it done.  Even though we may sometimes think otherwise, we ARE those people.  Activate your inner Tyler, and see what greatness you will achieve.

Week 1 Retrospective

Hello, friends!  I’ve been in high school (part two) for a full week now, and it’s better than I could ever have imagined.  Although it is a whole new ballgame, it takes elements from the two worlds that I’ve been living in for the past few years (middle school and professional learning), and splits them right down the middle.  I’ll keep this short and sweet, because I have to jet, but need to blog.  Here goes.

The Change

The opportunity to go to high school, after seven amazing years in my K-8 came along.  I realized that I had become good at what I did, but if I were to continue to grow, I’d need to try something new.  After making this creepily foreshadowing video nine days before I even knew about the opportunity:

I decided to go for it, with a little nudge from my PLN, as well as my family.

First Week with Staff

When I arrived at the first day back for staff, I was immediately struck by the happy realization that I left one familial environment, only to join another.  This was a huge relief, as I was going through major anxiety the night before, as evidenced by this blog post I wrote to process what was going on (lol…hey, we’re all human).

The entire staff was so welcoming, and I was happy to see many familiar faces: parents of former students, spouses of former co-workers, people who I’d been following on Twitter for years, and folks I had met through county workshops and conferences like ISTE.  I probably knew a good third of the folks there already, so this helped a lot.

My team was also on point.  I learned so much from them in the first few days, and am continuing to learn.  It was from our department chair that I got my first explanation of how 3D printers work, something I’ve wanted to learn forever and a day.  Everyone on the team brings the heat in his or her own way, and I’m so proud to be part of this.

The atmosphere was very high-energy and supportive, but it was still a major change for me.  At one point I started to doubt myself a little bit.  However, our final assembly of the week was all about how important we all are to students, and about moonshot thinking.  After watching an inspirational video and hearing the principal’s speech, I felt renewed and ready for Monday.

Time to Meet the Students

Sunday night, surprisingly I slept like a baby.  I woke up early to work out, which I incorporated into my daily routine before school (we have to be there at 9 a.m.).  I found that it helps me focus, and I’m in an overall better mood.

Monday was Freshman Orientation, and they stayed in each class for about 30 minutes to meet all of their teachers from both days (block scheduling).  In our class, we introduced ourselves, then played a game of Kahoot to go over expectations.  In it, there were questions specific to the course itself, the school culture, and random trivia about me to keep them on their toes.

The day went by fast.  Tuesday was the real first day, with the freshmen and upperclassmen at school.

Day One

Since we are on block scheduling, we have A Days and B Days.  So, this will be a culmination of both days.  I teach three different classes, but the first five days of each class is roughly the same.

Warm-Up

The students did a survey that I whipped up on Google Forms, which included info about their strengths, goals, and an anonymous gamer tag for our leaderboard.  When they were done, they signed up for EverFi Ignition, a free self-paced digital citizenship resource, and began completing the activities.

Class Time

After warm-up, I told students how important storytelling is, and how we each have a story and something to bring to the table.  I challenged them to prepare a presentation of no more than five minutes about themselves to introduce themselves to the class, and modeled what this could look like through an ignite(ish) speech of my own.

Afterwards, we played Kahoot again, because most students were not present on Monday.  Lastly, we went over class expectations.  On the last slide, there was a link to an activity, which we didn’t get to until Day Two.

Day Two

Warm-Up:

On the second day of class, students began the day with their EverFi warm-up, except for those who hadn’t yet completed the survey.  On Friday (B-Day #2), students were invited to vote for their favorite class more from the 3rd period A-Day class.  We have a new class showcased every day, and the public is invited to vote as well.

Class Overview:

I explained the routine to students, that we would reconvene after warm-ups to go over the leaderboard, as well as any relevant announcements.  By this time, I had updated the leaderboard with their pseudonyms and points earned on Day One, so then I told them about the items they could “purchase” with their points in the Swag Shop.

Next, we moved on to the Class Activity for the day, Balloon Cars!  (The site where the activity is described is hyperlinked on the last slide of Day One’s course overview.)  This was a great group work activity where the kids were able to get out of their seats and work together on the design process.

Some groups got it on the first try, and many more had to try and try again. Overall, it was a great learning experience.  I was really touched when groups who had success split off to help their classmates experience the same success.

In some classes, we were able to get started setting up reflective blogs via Blogger (thanks to the EduMatch crew for the sugestion).  In others, we jotted down notes for later blogging.

Homework

I’m not very big on homework, especially in a class pretty much rooted in PBL.  However, I am a huge proponent of flipping.  My school happens to have a 1:1 Chromebook initiative, so this will make flipping easy.  In addition, most students do have cell phones.  I took full advantage of this knowledge to craft my first 360 degree flipped video via my Ricoh Theta camera, to show students what is possible:

FYI, this video may not work properly in some browsers, but I had lots of success on my phone in the YouTube app, as well as on the YouTube site itself, where there is a directional control pad located in the top left of the window.

Reflections

I know I promised to be short and sweet, but I got carried away.  Here are a few take-aways that will drive me into next week:

  1. Find some comfortable shoes.  I’m not feeling heels.
  2. Stick to the model of one reading/writing day and one lab day.  This will help get students ready for the college model.
  3. Implement “Figure It Out” Fridays, where we all get together to…well…figure something out lol.
  4. Get the blogs up and running ASAP, so that students can reflect and comment on each other’s musings.

I’d love to hear what everyone else has going on the first week of school.  Please drop a comment below.  Thanks for reading!

Going to High School, The Sequel

Today is my second first day of high school, except this time I will be on the proverbial “other side of the desk.”  Actually, strike that.

First off, I never sit at my desk (literally or figuratively), as we are all learners in the room….I guess that makes me the “Lead Learner,” Google-style.  Hey, they should make a Gangnam Style remix to that.  Sorry…4 am.

Secondly, the students don’t arrive until next Tuesday, meaning this day of inservice is more like freshman orientation.  However, let’s not get too technical 🙂  For the purposes of this blog post, we will revisit how my first day of high school went, almost exactly 20 years ago, and see if maybe I can glean any wisdom from that day.  Hooray for diaries!  OMG, this feels like such an invasion of privacy, but I think 13-year-old me would forgive Now me, because she’d think this was awesome.

Here we go.  Original comments in italics.  (P.S. I will try to stay authentic and give all of the juicy details, but I’m leaving out names to protect the innocent.  Any typos were in the original.)

Day: Tuesday/Wednesday     Date: 9-5-95/9-6-95

I can’t sleep.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Today/Yesterday/the fifth was my first day of High School at W.P.  I woke up at 2 a.m.  I just walked around the house and read books to take my mind off things.

Thank God for WiFi.

I was nervous, but I didn’t realize it until now. I got dressed around 4:30 and woke Mom up at 6:15 like she had asked.  I was on my way at 6:23. There were two kids from my bus stop there all already and 3 from Deer Run going to some other school.  I started biting my nails that I had carefully grown since August.

What a waste.

What a waste.

Ha!  Spoiler!

The bus came at 6:35. I got on and sat in the front. Crazy thoughts were running through my head about what could possibly happen. I pictured being hung from the pullup bar by mean seniors, being shot, being beaten up, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Oh, the drama lol.  Some of my kids may feel like this Tuesday.  I should be ready for that.

We picked up the next stop.  Kelly sat in front of me.  We talked for a while and I felt better.

Kelly is still the voice of reason, by the way.  Shoutout to Kelly!  Woot!

That feeling, however, only lasted for a couple of minutes. The feeling of dread and lonliness returned after a while and worsened by the time we got nearer to the school.  We were at the stop light near my alma mater, Groveton Elementary.  I must have passed out or something, because next thing I knew, we were on Quander Road. 

So much drama!

I decided to go back to sleep, but before I could shut my eyes, people were getting off the bus. I hopped off and started walking to Geometry. Mr. S***** showed up after what felt like 2 decades and unlocked the door.  

Note to self: don’t be late on Tuesday.

We sat down. The bell tolled, then another about 5 minutes later. Well, actually it was more like an annoying tone. It gave me a headache. Mr. S****** has a loud voice, so my headache worsened and I thought I was going to puke.  I was glad when that class was over.  Not because I was bored, but because I was getting dizzy.  Oh yeah, the boys.

Seriously?  Note to self: this will probably also be on my students’ minds.  Also, don’t be loud, in case any of my students are prone to drama…or blogging.  Sorry, back to the good stuff.

When the first two walked in, one was butt and one was ok. I gave him suttle hints that I was interested. 

Like what?  Sarah, we need all the deets! *takes out notepad*

We made eye contact and he winked and smiled. I smiled back even though I felt crummy. I must have looked like a rabied dog about to attack, because when I fake a smile, especially to a boy, I show all of my teeth.

Totally #relatable, young Sarah.

It drives some of them wild (really?), and others it would if I were better looking (aww, don’t make me travel back in time and sing Christina Aguilera songs at us). I looked like a vampire today. 

Whatever that means.

Well, back to the boys in 1st block. When the first one walked in, I fell head over heels for him. (LOL!) He just had crooked teeth.  Major bummer for kissing, I would say. (Spoiler alert: Stop being so judgy, you’re going to wish you got those braces back then, yourself!)

I forgot about him when the last dude walked into the classroom.  He seemed cool and confident. I liked his attitude.  Plus, he was a sophomore.

I seriously do not remember dude #2.  I remember dude #1, though.  Thanks, Facebook!

I went to second block chorus.  There is not much to tell.  There are no guys (cute ones, that is) and the guy talks a lot.

Ha!  This ended up being one of my all-time favorite teachers.  I guess perceptions change.

Next class was Biology.  I was fashionably early for class.  My headache had cleared a tiny bit so that I could concentrate at least.  I paid attention to what the teacher said. (LOL notice what I gloss over, and what I write about in great detail.)  We got out of class and I went to lunch.

I sat with D***** and T******* and some other kids.  J**** came to sit with me.  After they all left, I went to sit with A********.  (Who are these people? Just kidding lol.)  J****** and D***** came too.  We all left when that annoying tone sounded and I went to gym.  It sucked.  

I hated gym.  I find this article to have mirrored my general experience.  Wish that I had physical education teachers like the ones in my PLN!

We left.  I found my bus and we went home.

Interesting!  We have a similar block schedule at my new school, too!

I talked to Kelly.  I got off the bus.  I walked home, did my homework, talked on the phone, watched T.V., helped dad, went to bed at 10, am still not asleep now at 12:45 pm, will have to wake up at 5:30, and tomorrow will probably suck too.  Joy to the world. I will write again today/Tomorrow/the 6th.  I’ll try to get some sleep.

So long!

Looking back, I don’t think it sucked as much as I thought.  It seems like a fairly normal day, with lots of self-imposed drama, excitement, friends, and of course, boys.

This was very informative!  It was like historical research in a way, haha.  Take-aways:

  1. Many of the students may be feeling nervous on Tuesday when they come back.  High school is new territory…major leagues to them.  Be ready to help them make this transition.
  2. My neighborhood friends, and people I met in middle school, helped me get through the day.  Some of my students won’t have this network, being at a magnet school.  Allow them some time to socialize and build alliances during class…but not in a forced, awkward way.  I don’t think I would have liked that much.  Instead, I think a DigCit Edcamp will be a good go-to, with the optional backchannel.
  3. Bring the heat!  That first day, I was very hard on my teachers.  I had a very bad academic experience the year before, so I was entering high school with a sour taste in my mouth.  It took a long time to shake this.  I realize that some kids may enter with their own baggage (far heavier than even that), so I will try to be ready to take some weight off their shoulders.  I need to establish from the get-go that we are on the same team, and will exert as much effort for them as they should exert for themselves.

I’m sure these aha moments will continue to slap me in the face as I think about it.  Maybe tonight, I’ll write an entry in the same diary, as I have done on occasion.  To my PLN, any tips for this freshman?  Please chime in on the comments 🙂  Thanks!

Final Assignment: The Giver

Things definitely happen for a reason.  It seems like all the stars are aligning at once…hopefully we can pull off this end-of-the-year project.

The Giver

Photo credit: Tara Siuk, Flickr
Photo credit: Tara Siuk, Flickr

I’ve been teaching middle school English for nearly four years now.  My first year in the position, I was fortunate enough to inherit a rather large classroom library.  One of the books caught my attention, since we had so many copies: “The Giver” by Lois Lowry.  I knew that I could never possibly read every book that we had in the library, so the idea passed.

As the years went by, we introduced initiatives such as 1:1 class sets of iPads, mobile labs, and BYOD.  I found myself relying less and less on our classroom library, and getting more and more techy.  Tools such as Actively Learn provided digital copies of many of the same books, as well as several others, so there was never a time when we ran out of copies.  Plus, organizing the classroom library was time-consuming, and generally a pain.  So, I didn’t put up much of a fuss about passing on our classroom library to a new teacher who inherited my room this year.

(Sidenote: I now recognize the value of a balance of media, both digital and print.)

Interestingly enough, “The Giver” resurfaced somehow in conversation a few months ago, most likely with other English teachers in my PLN.  As opposed to picking up a copy in the classroom across the hall, I decided to download it in the Kindle app on my iPhone.  It took me a long time to get to it, but I’m glad that I finally did.

I’m not going to ruin the book for you, but let me just say that if you haven’t read it, you probably won’t be disappointed.  I am a huge fan of The Hunger Games. This book addresses similar themes, but I do believe it came first.  I really enjoyed it, in that it has even more ethical considerations about dystopian societies.

Yesterday, I was pleased to see that it was made into a movie and available for rent from Redbox.  I literally just finished watching it…haven’t cried or thought so much from a movie in a long time.  Even though I know most of what would happen already, it was magical to see it unfold in front of my eyes.

My Students

The school year is winding down, and my students will soon leave for high school.  It is a bittersweet occasion…I really wanted to teach this particular group of eighth graders, because it felt like everything was coming full circle.  In our K-8 French immersion school, students began taking English class in second grade.  For many of them, I was their first English teacher when I came in 2008, so I really wanted to also be their last here.

In addition, over the years, I have worn many hats at the school.  I have taught this group of incredible young people in some capacity for at least five years, if not more.  As a result, we have formed an incredibly strong bond, that feels more like a family than anything else.  Truth be told, I am having a hard time letting them go, but that’s a blog post for another time.

Anyway, another thing that makes this group unique is their ability to dig deep and have rich discussions.  This year, we have addressed topics, with wisdom ranging well beyond their years: systematic injustice, abuses of power, media bias, medical ethics, euthanasia, and more. I have never witnessed such a level of maturity and passion.  They have taught me just as much as I have taught them.

I always tend to ramble when I talk about my kids…I will attempt to get back on track.

The Grand Finale

In these last days of school, we will not have a lot of class time together, as there are various end-of-the-year celebrations, trips, and other activities.  In our curriculum, we are wrapping up the unit on Drama (their final projects are due June 1), and beginning Author’s Study.  To be quite honest, in these past four years of teaching middle school English, I have rarely even skimmed the surface of the final unit, particularly because the students get carried away with Drama, and I let them (hee!).

This year will be different.

I already promised my students that their Drama project would be their last assessment grade.  However, I never said it would be their last project.  After watching “The Giver,” the skies opened up, the angels started singing, and my plan smacked me upside the head.

After the final SRI test on Tuesday and Wednesday, we are going to watch The Giver together, to kick off our author’s study of Lois Lowry.  As we do, the students will reflect by blogging about many of the themes in the movie (prompts TBD).  This viewing/blogging process will take approximately three class days (quite possibly our last three class days).

That right there could be the end…”have a nice summer, don’t forget to visit,” etc.  But for us, it will only be the beginning.

I really want to learn with my students, and read the other three books of the series.  Thanks to my PLN, I now know how effective a Voxer book study can be.  I’m very excited to use a this model with my students, especially now that group admins have more control.

Our book study will go on indefinitely, open to whomever in the class who would like to join.  Hopefully students will take me up on the offer, as I think it will achieve multiple goals.  This will allow them to remain in contact, even after they leave the school.  In addition, and most importantly, we will continue to learn together.  My hope is that when we finish the series, students will recommend other books that we can read.

Fingers crossed.

On Ferguson: Voices from our Future

I began a blog post this morning about Ferguson:

The grand jury reached a decision in the Michael Brown case. The police officer who killed him gets to walk free.

I had to pry myself off the Ferguson hashtag a few minutes ago because I was feeling sick. Not only did this injustice occur (again), someone got off scott-free (again).

Frustrated, I stopped my writing there.  I have blogged about this topic before, and felt like it was pointless to do so again.  There was nothing new that I could say that would fix anything.  It was an exercise in futility.  Dejected, I prepared for work.

On the daily commute, I vented a bit to one of my Voxer groups.  In talking to members of my PLN, the idea struck me to have my eighth-grade students blog about their thoughts collectively, for multiple reasons:

  • To allow my students space to process and vent on an important issue.
  • To raise awareness about current events.
  • To help them review their argumentative writing skills.
  • To empower them, and give them a voice.
  • To bring relevance to the class.

One of my edu-buddies suggested that I let them each claim a slide in a Google Presentation.  I decided to let students choose which they preferred, since so many of them were huge fans of blogging (as uncovered in our first quarter evaluation), but may prefer to do a slide.

We began the class with our usual Tuesday morning warm-up, and class opening routine.  Afterwards, I told them that we would take a detour from our scheduled poetry activity for today, if this was alright with them.  They were very curious, and agreed.

I began by asking students what national headlines they heard about this week.  In both classes, the first response was the verdict of the Michael Brown case.  Then, I asked students to share their initial reactions.  There were scattered responses at this time, because a few students were not up to speed.  We watched a video from CNN, detailing the current situation in Ferguson, post-verdict.  Afterwards, students again shared their reactions.

Finally, I relayed to my students what a teacher friend, living in Ferguson, had shared with me on Voxer that morning, regarding events in her city.  The students said that it sounded like a terrifying situation.  For full disclosure, I explicity stated my personal thoughts, but emphasized that they were just my opinion.  Students were entitled (and encouraged) to share their own, even if they differed from mine or anyone else’s.

After our discussion, we then went to work:

Here is what students had to say.  I have not included names, to protect the identities of my students.  Although no one had an objection to standing by their opinions, I am choosing to keep them anonymous because of their status as minors, and the controversial nature of this topic.

Note: I have taken excerpts from students’ reflections.  My only modifications were grammatical errors, etc.  The views reflected below are those of my students, and not necessarily my own.  

The Google Document/Blog
  • “I feel sad for the family and friends of Michael Brown and I give you my condolences. I hope things get better and r.i.p.  I also think that there was a need of more evidence being collected before the court made a final decision.”
  • “Honestly, I think that this situation is just irrelevant. This is just repeating what happened to Trayvon Martin and it shows that it’s never going to stop. I think that the police should go to jail for what they did and they should not be let off the hook for that. I also believe that they shouldn’t have set buildings on fire. They could have handled that better.”
  • “I think they are just trying to do that because of what happened to Travon Martin.”
  • “I think that it isn’t fair at all what they did. I feel like the Pledge of Alleigance has no meaning, ‘justice for all.’ Michael Brown and his family didn’t receive justice. I feel as if that rule only applies to Whites. This isn’t the first time this happened and it will happen more, I’m sure.”
  • “I think that the people have overreacted. Yes, I understand that this did not seem right and that you guys are mad but setting houses ablaze and breaking into stores was not the best.”
  • “I think…the court was setting him up so [Darren Wilson] won’t go to jail.”
  • “I think that this whole thing is crazy. It’s making people depressed, and miserable. People are tired of this happening over and over again so they decide to take matters in their own hands. But, what they fail to realize is that they’re going about it the wrong way.”
  • “Well, I think that a whole chunk-a-people…are still living in the past, the horrible past that we all had to suffer. I thought it would be over by now…I guess not. We are all equals. No one is better than another. At the end of the day, we all have bones. And blood. And hair…most of us. What I am trying to say…The jury was totally biased.”
The Google Presentation
Conclusion

Students had varied opinions, as we all do.  I was so proud of them for their hard work, and thoughtful insights, no matter what they believe.  As I told them in class, we may feel helpless as individuals, but as a group, we have power.  I hope they keep this in mind for the future.

#PostYourDrafts: Rant on Testing

This rant on testing is two years old.  To put it in context, I wrote this one morning when I was fed up, around the time when PARCC first hit many districts around the country.  I still feel the same way, and hope to see it become less of a time and energy suck.  The post may be a little stale, but unfortunately still relevant.  For your viewing pleasure, I #postmydraft.


Yesterday, in one of my Voxer groups, there was a heated discussion on standardized testing.  It was a discussion, not a debate, because nobody was advocating for the insane amount of testing currently going on in our schools.  Come to think of it, I’ve never met an educator who has said, “now now, guys, all this testing is really awesome!  Here’s why!”  *crickets*  Remember, we are the professionals, and often the adults who spend the most waking hours with children.  We teachers know what we are talking about; but I have yet to meet an educator who thinks all of this testing is reasonable.

Testing does have a place; this is not it.

Formative assessment on a classroom level is very helpful to see where students currently stand, and how to best meet their needs.  Even the occasional summative standardized test can serve a constructive purpose, to see how much students have grown over the course of a school year.  However, according to the New York Times, states such as Florida may devote 60 to 80 of the 180 school day calendar to testing.  This is an extreme, and thankfully most of us are not in this situation; however, I feel for the teachers and students of Florida.  Even losing a third of that time is a whole month of school.  Imagine what can be taught in one month…this could be an entire instructional unit.

If we must have standardized tests, can we at least get it right?  To me, the ideal standardized test would be short, sweet, formative, and low-risk for all stakeholders, as many factors can influence a student’s score.  For example, I’ve heard of students who traditionally scored high proficient fall to basic on an end-of-year test, perhaps because they were not feeling well that day.  This has a huge potential for negative implications, perhaps even relegating students to low tracks.  Even worse, I wonder how these scarlet letters of testing affect their self-image.  This kills me.

Why is there this war on our students?  I would say because of money, but that’s a whole different post.  Why aren’t the professionals being trusted to make the important decisions?  I hope to explore this topic more in a follow-up post.  I invite you to weigh in below.

Day 11 – Thank You :)

Whoops, I dropped the ball and forgot to post yesterday.  I’ll write two posts today.  This one will be really short, because I’m getting set up for class.

This post is dedicated to everyone who makes the world a better place.  I really want to thank all of my family, friends, students, PLN, school family, and just everybody for all of the birthday love.  It really made me smile, and I’m so fortunate to have all of you in my life.  You mean the world to me.  It gets me choked up sometimes to think of how lucky I am to be blessed with so much awesomeness around me.  Thank you for continually inspiring me.  Words aren’t nearly enough, but at least it’s something.  Have a fantastic day, everyone!