Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The List: Specific Goals for the 2009-2010 School Year

  • Writing Workshop
  • Reading Workshop
  • Popsicle Sticks: Kids design their own (why didn't I think of this before - I always spend all this time writing all of their names. I mean, it helps me get to know their names, but I like the idea of them writing on it.)
  • Personal History of a Writer / of a Reader
  • Decide together as a group: how will we respond when someone shares their writing aloud
  • Minilessons on what kind of notebook to use
  • Minilessons on how to keep a notebook
  • Handing out a seating chart the first Friday - know all the names - kids fill in
  • Minilesson: What ways have you published in the past? What is publishing?
  • Silencing the Inner Critic
  • More one-on-one partnering. Set the expectations at the beginning: no more "it's only one activity" no more sympathizing / teach that you need to learn to get along  
  • Start with the quote on my wall, otherwise take it down. Or...maybe take it down and do a minilesson about it and then put it up...
  • Provide more writing supplies without the accompanying guilt
  • More generative starters: write off of a quote, off of a line
  • Writing Circles
  • Document camera in my room

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Catching Up

I've been coming up to school in the morning to do a little work. I got some of my classroom set up: teacher desk, classroom library. My goal is to not stress about the beginning of the school year; it's not worth it - everything works out in the end.

I'm primarily working on my presentation for Job-Alike. I have the basic gist mapped out, but now I'm playing with options, handouts, extentsions, etc. Up until now, I thought that I would go sans technology because it can be a hassel (we have to bring our own and set it up ourselves) but it's hard for me to teach without technology. So now I'm playing with bringing it and doing a PP presentation. I have a week to figure it out, so I feel good. I just want to be careful to not stray to far from the main point: accessing memories and writing about them.

I need to get out my notebook from the summer and look at my list of things I really want to do. I find so much power in making a list and then checking off the things I wanted to accomplish in my classroom. Last year my list was really short, but they were rather large items:
  1. Using film clips to teach literary techniques
  2. Service Learning Project
  3. Turning Points

I accomplished 1 and 2, but 3 never happened. In hindsight, I don't even really care about 3 because I see less and less of a need for something like that in my classroom; it doesn't fit my curriculum. So I think this year the list will be longer, but the items are smaller. My goal this year is stress less and simplicity. I make things so difficult all the time and there's no need.

I'm rereading Notebook Know How (Buckner) and Study Driven (Ray) to get ready for the first semester.

Julie and I were talking yesterday about planning and general school stuff. We talked about giving the kids choice and we were thinking about how often we do so (a lot), but I've been thinking about these opportunities, and I'm wondering if some of these were false choices. Like they seem like choices, but there's still a lot of constriction.

I'll also be updating my TeacherWeb with one of the new templates, so I'll be saying goodbye to my beloved "Ilike" icons I took from MS Word six years ago.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Frank McCourt as Teaching Inspiration

In a New York Times article by Eric Konigsberg about the passing of the great Frank McCourt, one of his former students said this:

“Frank had us sing salacious folk songs, he had us write courtroom defenses of inanimate objects and recite recipes as poetry,” said Susan Jane Gilman, a former student who has published two memoirs. “Stuyvesant was largely for math-science types, it was learning by rote. Frank’s class was an intellectual freefall. I looked forward to it every day.”

I love that idea that a class taught in school could be an "intellectual freefall." I mean isn't that what we talk about when we speak about building a writing life? Writing for the sake of writing whether you know where it will take you or not? I love the idea that you could build this into your classroom and take your students along for the ride.

And Let the Teaching Dreams Begin!

I've already had a few dreams where I was teaching, but seeing as how they were a few days ago I don't remember them anymore. 

I had another night. The kids were taking the writing benchmark and were split up between my room and the neighboring room. Except it wasn't one class divided in half, it was like two full classes that I was responsible for. In the neighboring room they were quiet and writing away, but in my room they were all talking and socializing.  And it was the strangest assortment of kids. Kids I taught this year (Namgyu) and kids from past years (Carly) and then people closer to my age that I never taught (Mark Murphy) and people I went to elementary school with in New York (Karen Craddock).  

Once I got the kids somewhat settled I had a conference with Karen (I know - would never happen during the real writing benchmark). She was feeling unsure about the piece she was writing, which is interesting because I think I had this dream because I am feeling unsure about conferring next year with my students. She told me about her piece and in the end (no - I did not follow the general conference outline: Research, Decide, Teach) I said, "So what's your question?" and Karen replied, "How do I know if this is good or not?" I gave her a long answer about if she thinks its good, it is because she's the only assessor that matters. Then she asked, "So do I get an automatic 5?" I laughed good-heartedly and patted her shoulder. "No," I said, "Unfortunately  someone else is still going to score this." She looked crest-fallen and that's how I felt as I stood up and walked away from her. 

How do  we teach the concept of the audience of one and make it meaningful? What does it mean that we tell the students that their assessment is the only one that matters when for some, clearly the one they receive from an outside source is very important too? And can subsequently shape their future feelings about writing.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Weird Place

Since the writing institute ended, I've been pretty sad. I miss getting up and going to class. Yet at the same time, I've written very little in the past couple weeks. What's wrong with me? Did I forget everything I learned. I should be writing every day!

On another distantly related note, I cannot bring myself to read the final pieces my students wrote for their final exam. I can't pinpoint the exact reason why. Partly because Julie told me when she read hers that she felt the kids were sucking up; telling her she was the BEST teacher they ever had. I feel so stupid - I didn't even consider this as a possibility when we wrote the prompts. I keep telling myself that I'll read them when it's time to go back to school, but what if I don't?

I feel like I need a break from school so I haven't been reading or writing or thinking about it much. My job alike presentation is looming over me; I thought by now I would know what I wanted to do, but I don't. I feel like my fall-back is the Life Graph, but I don't know. One of the requirements is that the presentation be hands-on and anything I really want to talk about (Writer's Notebooks, Minilessons, etc.) I can't picture in anything but a lecture form. When I talked to Sandra during the institute about my concern, she suggested I bring in my student's writer's notebooks and let them look through them. It sounded good then, but now I'm like, and do what with them? I think some teachers would look at them and think - great; these look good. So I'd like to get my act together because the sooner I do, the more settled I'll feel. Plus, I know Sunny & Heidi must want something from me soon.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

At Last!

After years (at least five) of filling out the paperwork to host a student teacher in my classroom, I'm getting one! I'm so embarrassed to write that I cannot stop crying when I think about working with a student teacher. I have wanted a student teacher for as long as I have been teaching.  Each year that  I would fill out the forms and nothing would happen, I grew a little more distressed. I almost didn't fill one out this year thinking, what's the point? I know when they place student teachers that a lot of planning is involved that has nothing to do with me. But a part of me couldn't help but think, maybe someone in administration is making a conscious decision to not place a student teacher with me because of who I am as a teacher. 

Oh well, it doesn't matter now because I have one and I cannot wait to meet her!

It's silly but I feel like Charlotte in Sex in the City after she has filled out tons of adoption paper work and waited and then she finally finds out she has a daughter.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Building a Writing Life

One of the goals of the summer institute it build your own capacities as a writer so you will then be a greater resource for your students and their writing. I couldn't agree with that idea more, but that doesn't mean it's easy. I love writing, but it's difficult to make myself write in my notebook everyday.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Heart of Texas Writing Project-Day 1

Today was my first day in the summer institute. It exceeded my expectations. We wrote, read and talked - it was great!

Tomorrow we're supposed to bring a special usual I don't know what to bring. It's so hard to choose just one thing. Clint said I should bring some knitting needles; I guess I should - it is my latest obsession.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Random Notes from Random Post-it Notes

TAG Multi-Genre Research

The following were notes I took while I read and assessed the students note cards. This was after the initial research phase but before they began writing their papers.
  • Research is looking decent, but sometimes it is too basic to support a strong thesis.
  • Next time, I should require the citation on the source cards, most kids did it without being directed to.
  • Next time I would like to switch to a PP note method (Chris K.) but how to prevent copying/pasting/plagairism?!?!?
  • It would have been helpful while reading note cards to have their proposal (duh).
  • Should we have written the thesis statement before the research (hindsight = yes = duh!).

Reading Logs: where do I stand this year?

Since I started teaching seven years ago, I have gone back and forth on my opinion of reading logs. In the past, I have created logs and then set page amounts and due dates. I have also tried setting tiered goals and having kids choose the level they want to try to attain. Some years, I haven't done reading logs at all. Most recently we have let the kids choose their own goals (we set a minimum each six weeks). I would say of all of the ways I have tried, I'm pleased with this way, but I'm still not satisfied.

When we first introduced the log this year and the idea of selecting goals, we discussed different types of goals that were available, including (but not limited to): page numbers, minutes, award-winners, genres, author studies, etc. I had one girl who was a stand out at picking interesting, original goals. Some of her goals were:
  • books with one-word titles
  • books with food on the cover
  • books with covers that seemed mysterious and to not fit the book before reading
  • books she bought at the book fair
  • Lone Star Award winners

There was one other girl who surprised me by choosing: books where characters have lost a home and then found one in the end. I don't know if she picked this goal initially or if she went back at the end and noticed the commonality and felt obligated to write it, but either way - I don't think it matters. I'm proud of her for noticing that.

But sadly, no one else came close to her at choosing original goals. Is it a developmental thing? Do they just not have ideas for "original" goals? I found when we introduce the minimum expectations each six weeks, the majority of students pick that, which I guess should be a lesson in setting expectations.

Interestingly, for this last six weeks, I did not set a minimum and I was fascinated to see the high goals the kids continued with, despite the lack of expectation. Lots of them had joked that they would write a goal of one chapter or two pages (haha), but nobody actually did.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Random Thoughts from a Random Memo Pad

I suffer from Too-many-notebooks Syndrome. I have a house notebook (all my dreams of remodeling / decorating for our house), a Lost notebook (all of my theories and questions about one of the greatest TV shows ever), a Writer's Notebook (duh), a Staff Development notebook (duh), and countless other little note pads where I jot things down.

Here are some ramblings I found and wanted to record before I lost them:

Teaching with The Outsiders
  • If we're going to call the unit, Friend, Foe, or Frenemy, then we need to focus on friendship and bullying. Maybe we can (1)start with a survey about bullying {we already kind of do = our anticipation guide} (2)share the bullying matrix and identify examples in the book as well as in our own lives and (3) incorporate a PSA about bullying
  • Maybe throughout the reading, we can have warm ups with sentences from the book and others that have similar themes, like (1) The Revealers (2) Romeo & Juliet (3) The Chocolate War (4) Scorpions (5) Schooled (6) Star Girl.
  • I'm not satisfied with how we do vocab with The Outsiders. I would like to try an ongoing word wall that kids add to throughout. I think the words become more meaningful when the kids select them. And I don't want to assess the vocab like we have in the past.
  • How much can we really continue to read in class? I think of all the activities we could be doing in class, but we're always reading. We also need to talk to 6th and 8th grade and see how we're handling this topic at each level. I would like to attempt a read in and out of class model, more like Reading Workshop.
  • Let's let the kids count The Outsiders on their Reading Log.
  • And like we've said for years, we need some non-fiction articles on bullying.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reflections: TAG & Multi-Genre Research

My TAG students have completed a 5 week Multi-Genre Research project. I'm really proud of them; I feel like some of the expectations I set for them are comparable to work I did in high school.

The idea to complete a multi-genre research project came from our neighboring school. They complete one every year with their TAG kids with much success and lots of accolades. I will definitely do this again next year with minor adjustments.

From reviewing their final products these are areas of weakness I noticed:
  • Some kids continue to struggle connecting their thesis to the rest of their paper. More often than not, they had an awesome thesis, but then the paper was just a list of information about the topic. I think this had to do with the order I taught the process. I should have had them write their thesis statements way earlier.
  • Alphabetizing Works Cited (small but important)
  • Internal documentation. This is no surprise to me; I didn't teach it, I "covered it".
  • Fuzzy graphics. I need to teach the kids how to preserve the quality of a graphic when they copy it. Also need to reinforce citing sources for pictures as well as text.
I was thinking maybe next year of having the TAG class complete a multi-genre project at the beginning of the year as an introductory activity. They could choose any interest they have and research it. IDK, I'll think about it again in the fall.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Possible Workshop Idea: Life Graphs

When I saw that one of the expectations for Summer Job-Alike was "hands-on", it changed what I was thinking of sharing. One of the most hands-on activities we do all year is our Life Graphs. I've also brought it to protocols and received "warm" comments on it from other teachers.

So if I present this, here are my ideas so far:
  • Title - Life Graphs: Life is Lived in Moments (thank you Clark for that title)
  • Run through the lesson (in an abbreviated fashion) just like I would in my classroom
  • Pick 10 good things and 7 bad things. Solicit ideas for other types of graphs besides line (together we can only make this lesson better). Graph, add pictures, write about two events, share.
  • Have a PP with pics of the kids' work
  • List TEKS involved, Multiple Intelligences
  • Why should you teach this
  • Mention vertical articulation - each LA grade has a similar beginning of the year activity: 6th=Where Do I Fit In, 8th=Mandala

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Possible Workshop Topic: Analyzing Your Learning Style to Improve Your Teaching

Bare bones ideas:

  • Invitational learning
  • Setting expectations (and sticking with them: )
  • Respect and classroom management = "The rights of every person are diminished when the rights of one are threatened." John F. Kennedy
  • Answering questions
  • Learning something new...what works for you...knitting...Wendy's knitting book - Custom Knits

More Thoughts on Reflection

As I narrow down the topics I want to focus on this summer, I keep returning to reflecting. I continue to lament the lack of time for my own, but I'm equally concerned about the lack of time I give my students.

I went ahead and asked my kids today if I could borrow some of their reflections from throughout the year. I also solicited their whole Writer's Notebooks. (Side note - I would also be interested in studying ISNs/Writer's Notebooks as a topic as well.) A lot of kids were ready to hand me their notebooks on the spot, but I told them to hang on to them because they would need them during the next two weeks.

Brandon approached me in 8th period and tried to hand me his despite my instructions. He persisted and explained that he didn't need anything in it at all. It got me thinking, why doesn't he need it? Julie and I attempt to do activities that we hope the kids will find important and worthwhile, but I guess they're not for everyone. Which leads me to think about, how can we make their writer's notebooks more valuable to them? I think the answer could be explored in depth, but the simple answer is, we need to use them more often and engage in activities that will inspire ownership.

Possible title = Reflection: Taking Time to Think Back

What I've Learned So Far: Band Aids Heal (Almost) All Wounds

Have you ever noticed, that sometimes all it takes to make a student feel better is a Band Aid? I used to try and conserve my Band Aids because I buy them myself. I would try to hold on to them for serious injuries. But when I realized how much better they make students feel, so I stopped pinching pennies.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Poem in Your Pocket Day

Last week we celebrated Poem in Your Pocket Day. The national day was in April to celebrate poetry month, but we were busy with TAKS and other things, so waited to celebrate. Some of the kids seemed a little dubious when I announced the special day, but when we discussed that song lyrics "counted" as poetry, quite a few more bought into the idea. George asked if he could bring his favorite Journey song, which I already knew was "Don't Stop Believin'" because he sings it constantly. I said of course and began looking forward to George's rendition on the classic.

The big day came and I had the kids sign up with seasonal partners so they could share in a comfortable setting. They had three different partners and George sang his song each time - the whole song!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Importance of Mentor Texts in the Writing Process

The longer I teach, the more I realize how heavily I depended on mentor texts as a student. As early as first grade, I remember reading something (or sometimes seeing) and then writing my own version of it. I went through phases of feeling guilty for "copying" and then not, but now as an adult I look back in amazement at how successfully I used this strategy on my own without the direction of teachers or parents.

I wrote and rewrote many versions of Alice in Wonderland in lower elementary grades. This rewriting was based on the movie; it wasn't until middle school that I actually read the Lewis Carroll classic. Sometimes I was the "Alice" and sometimes my friends were. I considered it a gift to them if I wrote them in as the protagonist.

In middle school, I was obsessed with short scary stories. I read as many as I could get my hands on even though it meant nightmares and being scared to go upstairs alone in our house. At the time, our family had its first computer and I enjoyed typing/copying the stories onto the computer, printing them and then illustrating them. I would also record myself reading the stories so I could play back the tapes at night after I was supposed to be asleep. Sometimes I would paraphrase the stories and submit in Language Arts class for a grade. I felt like I put enough of my own spin on them to make my own. But when I would get them back from the teacher with 100s on them, a part of me wondered if she knew they weren't original.

Sometime during 7th grade I read A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary. This was the first memoir I vividly remember reading. I had read some Ramona books in elementary school and I was intrigued to see how Cleary's real life experiences were reflected in her fiction. I was also fascinated by the fact that someone could entertain a reader with an account of their life. I set about writing my own autobiography right away! I worked on it the most at home and in Study Hall. I attempted to record EVERY memory I ever had. Even for a twelve-year-old, it was quite a task. I finished my Plano, Texas years (birth-5) and made it well into my Long Island years (5-10) before I felt too overwhelmed to go on. I still have it, of course. Maybe someday I'll type it up.

One last influential text was Whisper of Death by Christopher Pike. Within the story were other short stories about characters in the book. These short stories were written by another character with the intent to harm them. Apparently, her words were magical and could make things happen (man - I can't believe the crap I used to enjoy reading). In her short stories, she would never use a character's real name, instead she would name them another name that started with the same letter. I immediately began writing my own stories about the people at school that I felt hurt by. I knew my words didn't hold the same kind of power the fictional character's did, but it gave me a sense of power over people who were being mean to me.

As I look back, I wonder why I wasn't influenced by the texts I was seeing in class. I'm sure my teachers were providing meaningful examples, but nothing really sticks in my mind. I wonder if it was the fact that I located my mentor texts myself and so they therefore had meaning to me.

The Lost Art of Reflection

As we celebrated Poem in Your Pocket Day today (which was actually supposed to be last month, but we are celebrating late because of TAKS and other date conflicts) I lamented about the lack of time for reflection.

I shared my poem with the students ("The Lake Isle of Innisfree" by W.B. Yeats) and then had them share with four different partners. I attempted to have them sign up "seasonal partner" style and despite having done this in the past, it went terribly awry today. Students not following directions was mainly to blame. I think as soon as the word partner leaves my lips, the listening stops. As soon as were done we moved on to book group work, but I was wishing we had stopped to reflect on the poems and the day in general.

Although I value reflection, it doesn't show enough in my teaching practice. I think I need to slow down and take a step back and give the students more time to reflect. I see how beneficial it is to me and my teaching, so why can't I make it a priority for my students?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Redeeming Value

I have a student this year who is challenging, humorous, loud, and out-of-control most of the time. The other day we were in book groups and he is reading Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. One of the activities he chose to work on was to make get-well-soon cards for kids in a hospital. At the end of the unit, I will gather up the cards and mail them to a local children's hospital.

For some reason on this day, my student was extremely focused on his task. He usually has trouble with being easily distracted. He was making his card on the computer and he called me over to look at it. It looked okay and I told him he could print it. Once it was printed, he asked if we were really going to send it. When I said that we would, he asked if he could have the rest of the class sign it. I was shocked! I actually had to look the other way as I said yes because I thought I might start crying! It just goes to show you, underneath these rough exteriors, there's a good hearts inside.

I'm so glad this happened because as I started typing about this experience, I realized that this could be our service learning to go along with our health unit. After the success with the Linus Blankets I've been thinking a lot about how to incorporate more meaningful service learning into our curriculum. I remember reading awhile back on another teacher's blog about her class making hope chests for kids in hospitals after reading Drums. I don't know why I didn't connect the dots before, but we could do this too. Even if we just started with cards and built up, I think this could be the start of something!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Workshop Highlights: Katherine Bomer's "Jewels Waiting to Be Set: Naming Beauty and Brilliance in ALL Student Writing"

How to learn to notice and name jewels in student writing:
  1. Read widely
  2. Write
  3. Look at art (all kinds) / Art feeds art
  4. Copy from blurbs on backs of books
What I got out of this workshop:
  • Stop using the rubric as the only source of feedback to students. Give honest, encouraging feedback on good aspects of the writing.
  • There should be no correcting in a writer's notebook; it should be a safe place to practice writing.
  • Look for the good in writing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Final Reflections on Several Things

Post-Reading Workshop
  • Having the carts with pre-selected books had its pros and cons. Kids didn't have any excuses to forget their book = pro. Certain books were in high demand and we had no more = bad. Kids rarely switched books = good.
  • Our original intent of the workshop was to mainly read non-fiction, but as we began selecting books we got nervous that we didn't have enough titles so we threw in some fiction. I would say in the end, the fiction outnumbered the non-fiction. Additionally the majority of kids were more attracted to the fiction we provided. I believe this is mainly due to the fact that the scant non-fiction we offered were older and had unappealing titles. In hindsight, I wonder if we should have limited the choices to biographies and autobiographies...
  • Conferring never improved. There were several things Julie did that I wished I had tried. Things that I felt would be no-nos, she had great success with. For instance, I was taught that when you confer, it should happen where the student is working, not where the teacher works. So I faithfully made my way around the classroom and squatted or knelt for each conference. Only later did I find out that Julie was inviting kids to her desk. Her kids felt safe and were eager to share, unlike the majority of mine who appeared apprehensive and timid.
  • Some of the same issues that have plagued my reading workshops in the past persisted in this one as well. The "smart" kids don't feel like they improve or learn anything new and my lowest kids aren't successful for an array of reasons (sleeping, switching books a lot, etc.)


Next year I will:

  • set up a strict timeline and have daily checkpoints.
  • ask kids ahead of time to rate their artistic ability and then evenly distribute them amongst the groups.
  • go back to including the pre-writing page (before the draw a rough draft).
  • have the kids write more during the process.
  • connect the process to the design cycle more.

Post-Saving the Planets PP Slides

  • Overall I think this project went GREAT! I loved it and we improved on what we did last year. I was also thrilled to notice all the other great skills we were covering unintentionally, like main idea and supporting details, research, paraphrasing and tech skills like using the notes section of PP and the shadow function on text to make it stand out more against the background.
  • Saving as jpgs and then having a student compile all the slides into one presentation went beautifully. Kids loved seeing their slides on the scroll.
  • Items to add to rubric and instruction: uncluttered slide (text, graphics, rule of 8, spacing, size and placement); choice of graphic makes sense; helpful fact (not just stating the obvious, correct grammar, spelling and punctuation); one sentence only (review compound and complex sentences); one graphic only; research is paraphrased in their own words.
  • Things I'd like to incorporate more for next year: command (sentences), The Story of Stuff, clip from King Corn and other eco-movies, persuasive techniques (esp. logos, ethos, pathos in TAG), Joni Mitchell song
  • Four days was the perfect amount of time to complete.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Workshop Highlights- Jeff Anderson & Everday Editing: The Power of Process

I was very excited to hear Jeff Anderson speak in person. I haven't read all of Mechanically Inclined cover-to-cover, but I definitely liked what I skimmed. So when I heard he was giving a Saturday morning workshop, I signed up right away.

Don't flood kids with wrongness.
  • Anderson spoke against the use of DOLs or having students correct pieces of writing with mistakes. His excellent line of reasoning included, you wouldn't show math students problems solved incorrectly and then have them correct it. We should show students good models of writing because that is what they will remember.

Invitational Learning

  • Anderson suggests showing students a good piece of text (he used the first sentence of Flush by Carl Hiaasen) and then asking them, "What do you notice?". After some response, ask them, "What else?" because there is so much to talk about. This method allows for students to notice more than just conventions, but also such great things as word choice, author's purpose and so much more.
  • When students do notice punctuation, Anderson suggests asking, "What's that ____ doing?". This question forces students to pay attention to function. He furthers this inquiry by asking, "What's that ____ doing when I read it aloud or when I read it with my eyes?".

I'm really excited to try this today in my classroom. It reminds me so much of Don Killgallon's Sentence Composing, which I have tried on and off during the last couple of years. I'll post about how it goes!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Learning from Conferences with Students

For the summer writing workshop I will attend, I need to identify some areas of inquiry. An on-going one for me is conferring with students during workshop. I typically feel pretty confident during writing workshop (although I still have a lot of room for growth), but during reading workshop, I feel like my conferences are failures.

During our most recent workshop, I've been trying to pinpoint reasons why they're not going well. I've noticed that the kids aren't all that willing to share with me and I blame myself. I feel like if I had been more consistent about conferring at the beginning of the school year, that by this time the conferences would be flowing more easily.

I've been thinking a lot today about perfecting my conference form where I record notes from each student's conference. Right now I use a blank page and post-it notes. It has it's ups and downs. The post-its allow me to be mobile, but I wish I had some kind of checklist to take with me.

I did have an aha moment when talking to Varun today. When I asked him how his Reading Log goals were going, he mentioned that he had exceeded his goal by a huge amount. I recommended that for the last six weeks he try a genre goal, which he quickly responded that he already had in the fall. Then I just felt really stupid, but it made me realize that I can't just go into the conferences without their record or goal sheet. It would be ideal if their goals and record sheet I use for conferences were combined into one form.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Teacher Guilt

During the workshop I attended today on incorporating more non-fiction, I had a huge aha! Usually ahas are positive revelations, but today’s was definitely on the negative side.

During our last unit (Do you believe?) we assigned the students a persuasive essay on whether or not they believed in alien life or not. This was an unusual assignment for us because most writing pieces we assign are open-ended. We thought it would be a good idea though because when we taught this unit last year we asked the students the same question in a warm up and it sparked so much discussion that we told ourselves we would make it a full-blown assignment for this year.

After writing the assignment and creating the rubric, we realized we had no class time to devote to the writing of the assignment. Rather than trash the whole thing, we decided to make it a take-home essay. Before we assigned it, I thought, maybe I can work in a couple of tips a day, you know, persuasive techniques. I wish I had gone with this gut instinct and maybe I wouldn’t feel so guilty now. I briefly looked for some techniques and when I couldn’t find some quickly on the internet, I gave up.

I still haven’t graded them because of the usual foreboding feeling the precedes grading one hundred essays, but also because I just feel like a lousy teacher. I’m still going to grade them; I would feel even worse if I had the kids do all that work and then I just handed it back to them with no feedback. At least there is a light at the end of the tunnel because of what I learned at the workshop today (see other post).

Workshop Highlights: Beyond Fiction - Using Nonfiction in Language Arts

Today I attended Sunny and Heidi’s workshop called “Beyond Fiction: Using Nonfiction in Language Arts”. It was full of aha moments, stimulating conversation and great materials. Here are some of the best parts:

- Valuing and giving time for student (academic) conversation
o Turn and Talk (rec’ed every 15 minutes)
o Observing and being aware of when students need and want to discuss
o Accepting that sometimes students will get off topic – it’s okay! They’re human too.

- Realize that for every student that prefers fiction, there is one that prefers nonfiction.
o Just because I LOVE literature doesn’t make it okay to teach it more than nonfiction. There needs to be an equal balance.

- Teach a skill with non-print media first and then transfer it to text.
o Sunny and Heidi referenced Golden’s Reading in the Reel World and Campbell’s Less is More. This was a good reinforcement for me because one of our goals this year was to incorporate more film/media into the classroom. I think we made a valiant effort, but I definitely lacked on the last step: transfer it to text. And seeing it applied to nonfiction was eye-opening.

The First

Welcome to my teaching blog and to my first post. I have kept a personal blog for a few years and after deep consideration, have decided to start a blog about my life as a teacher.

My goals for this blog, so far, include:
- bettering my teaching practice through writing and inquiry
- coming clean about some of my less admirable teaching practices (in the hopes that I can improve)
- avoiding ranting posts whenever possible