Thursday, November 27, 2014

Today I am thankful for...

I've been back from NCTE for four days now and I still cannot put into words what an amazing experience it was. Every year this event inspires me to be a better teacher and sustains me for the rest of the school year.

Last year in Boston was the first year I presented at NCTE, and this year I presented three times!

Rather than write a long, detailed explanation of all the wonderful things that happened this year, I took a cue from Katherine Sokolowski and created an Animoto video to tell the story of my NCTE experience.

If you want more #ncte14 nuggets, check out my #ncte14 Storify

So today I am thankful for a tribe of teachers who sustain me and keep me going. Teaching absolutely is a calling, but it's one that requires a village to stay the course. NCTE is my village.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Going to NCTE? Hope to see you there!

I leave for the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention on Wednesday night. I can't believe it's here already! I treat NCTE like a holiday... I actually like it better than Christmas (Free books AND meeting revered authors? Hello? What could be better?)

If you're going to be there, I hope you can attend one of my sessions:

Friday 2:30 - 3:45 PM
Heart and Mind: Stories and Ideas That Keep Us Teaching  
Along with students’ narrative writing, teachers must recount their work, to build public understanding and encourage colleagues, especially with education so stressed. After featured speaker Sonia Nieto, three teachers will share classroom stories. Then, in this interactive session, participants write and photograph placards about teaching, published afterward in web videos.

Saturday 8:00 - 9:15 AM
Students CAN Write: Changing the Narrative of a Deficit Model
We’ve heard it in the news and teachers’ lounges across America: 'These students just can’t write!' The presenters in this panel, who span grade levels and subject areas, seek to silence this false presumption and prove that student writing is worthy of recognition and celebration.

And I was added last minute to this Ignite session on Saturday 9:30-10: 45 AM due to a cancellation:
Common Standards, Uncommon Teaching
The standards may be common, but our students deserve uncommon learning. There are spaces in the standards for the additional skills, topics, and passions we want our students to have. Each presenter will give a fast-paced, five-minute Ignite presentation with ideas on where these spaces are and what we can do with them. There will also be time for audience interaction.

My Ignite session is going to be about using social media to transform your teaching.

If you're able to come to any of these sessions, I hope you'll come say hi. Or if you see me in the hallways or exhibit hall between sessions, come talk to me too. I love meeting new teachers and hearing their stories. NCTE is a great place to re-energize your teaching and I love seeing, hearing, and feeling the enthusiasm. It is most definitely contagious!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Celebrate This Week: On Discovering Your Own Writing Journey

Conferring with students this week about their NaNoWriMo stories, I am continually impressed with the progress they are making in their own writing journeys. One particular conference reinforced just how powerful having the time to figure things out is so crucial. Because of the extended nature of this project, the time has allowed this student to see how to move his story forward. He had a problem, and rather than coming to me and saying, "I don't know what to do!" he worked it out for himself. He didn't need hand-holding. He just needed time. I worry that we're dismissing too many young writers as incapable because we're not allowing them the benefit of time...

As Penny Kittle said at the MCTE conference a couple weeks ago:
We need to be looking at embracing all of our students as individuals and helping them on their own journeys instead of forcing everyone down the same pre-determined path.

So in that vein, I am celebrating all the ways my students are discovering their own learning journeys this week.  Here are some quotes from my students reflecting on their NaNoWriMo stories.

On discovering yourself as a writer:
"I have learned that I do best when I listen to music and try not to be a 'perfectionist.'" - Alex H.

"So far my story is going pretty well. Honestly, it feels good and strange saying that because I usually struggle with characterization. At the beginning I was contemplating my entire plot and storyline in a whole, but now I have most everything figured out. With that being said, since I just recently discovered my plot, I still have all of next week to write it, making the weeks following crucial and busy." - Erin R.

"I just write what comes to my mind and when the music speeds up, tension rises and when it slows down, tension falls." - Seth K. 

"I've learned that I actually have really good ideas in my mind that I didn't know I had." - Monse S.

On knowing your writing process:
"It can be lit ablaze with just a spark of imagination." - Jonah S. 

"I learned that my writing process is fairly simple. I just need time and concentration. Sometimes when I am stressed, ideas tend to come slower to me." - Hailey W.

On embracing excitement and uncertainty:
"My story idea in my head right now is what I've always wanted to write, my story blossomed before my eyes which I am pretty proud of myself for. I struggle with actually typing it though. I have everything in my head and then just spitting the words out can be pretty difficult. I get frustrated because I don't know how to word stuff or where to put what. I feel nervous going into next week, but I will make sure to make an improvement this weekend." - Alex H.

On realizing goals:
"10,000 words is not too many words as it may seem." - Jared M

On embracing independence:
"I don't really need help, plus I want to learn on my own sometimes." - Jacksen K.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Putting Birthdays in Perspective

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 35. I didn't want to make a big deal out of it, but at my new school, teachers' birthdays are announced over the PA in the morning so just about every teacher and every student wished me a Happy Birthday yesterday, in addition to being serenaded four times (even though I only have three classes).

Despite my somewhat curmudgeonly attitude, I am thankful for birthdays. Yes, as you get older they become less and less important and not the Big Deal they are when you're younger (I kinda forgot it was my birthday until my husband reminded me), but they also take on a new significance. We can wallow in self-pity that we are getting older, or we can celebrate that this beautiful thing called Life gave us the privilege of one more year. I choose to be thankful for one more year.
Thankful for the privilege of getting older

Slice of Life is brought to you by Two Writing Teachers

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Remember, Remember the 9th of November

Today is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. My husband and I have visited Berlin three times and it remains my favorite city in the entire world. To be present in a place where the energy is vibrant and almost palpable yet still shows the scars of its storied past on nearly every corner is a fascinating dichotomy. But what fascinates me the most about this city is that The Wall fell peacefully. The power of the people, not weapons, made The Wall come down. This is something I don't think we study enough in history. We anchor our units of study around wars, but what happens when conflict doesn't result in war? Isn't that more worthy of a careful examination? We say that those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it, but if all we study are the wars, what does that say about what we value?

I will remain fervent in my insistence that the Cold War is my favorite era of history to study for the simple fact that it ended peacefully. Not only that, but it shows We the People have the power to make change -- a message of inspiration those of us in education really need right now.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

NaNoWriMo: Seeing my students in a new light

I am so impressed with my students right now I can't even tell you. They have been so focused and motivated since we started NaNoWriMo. My 6th hour yesterday, which has been my most challenging class all semester, actually made me cry because they have been the most enthusiastic and hard-working of all my classes so far. I had a student come up to me at the end of class, a student who has barely said two words to me since the beginning of the school year and who has shown little enthusiasm in his work, proudly inform me how many words he has written so far. It took my entire being not to just openly weep in front of him. These are the things you cannot evaluate with a standardized test score.

Students CAN write. When you believe it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We just need to give them the right conditions to make it so.

While students were typing their own stories, I was inspired to write this poem:

A NaNoWriMo Poem
The room is silent
except for
the hypnotizing click of keyboards
as stories begin to emerge
from grey matter.

The classroom is rife
with possibilities.
The motivation is palpable
as students rise to the occasion
and bear their souls
to a blank screen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Do you NaNoWriMo?

 This is the first year I am doing NaNoWriMo with my students as a whole-class assignment. In the past I have done it as extra credit, but I decided to throw caution to the wind, face uncertainty and see how my students fare when we do this as a class. We've only had two days of in-class writing so far, but from what I've seen these past two days, I am so impressed with my students. Each one of them is taking their writing goals seriously in their own way. Because they are all in different places and have different abilities, I am celebrating what each of them is accomplishing for themselves, not just based on what I expect of them. Which proves to me that no matter what the politicians say, the push for standardization is really harming kids' learning.

Despite the fact that I am giving all of my students the goal of 10,000 words for NaNoWriMo, I have emphasized to them that making the goal is not what I will be grading them on. Their attitude, willingness to work, and ability to focus on the task at hand is how I will be evaluating them. If they come to class willing to work every day, the rest will take care of itself. I am already seeing that in spades and we've only been writing for two days. Will all of them make their goal of 10,000 words? No, but I can guarantee that they will learn something about themselves as writers and they will continue to build stamina along the way. I can't wait to see the other ways my students will surprise me this month.

Slice of Life is brought to you by Two Writing Teachers

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Celebrate Teaching and Learning with PLN Colleagues: #MCTE14

Yesterday I presented at the Michigan Council of Teachers of English conference with two colleagues and friends whom I greatly respect, Kevin English and Kirsten LeBlanc. We discussed the topic of student writing an the need for teachers to view it in positive terms rather than the typical deficit model thinking you so often hear in exasperated voices in teachers lounges across the country.

Not only was the presentation a wonderful experience, but I was able to hang out and learn from some well-respected teachers throughout the state of Michigan and throughout the country. And as per usual, whenever Penny Kittle speaks, tears tend to flow and her morning keynote was no different. If Penny Kittle is speaking at a conference, you MUST listen. She is so inspiring.

Here is the slideshare of our presentation:
Students CAN Write: Changing the Narrative of a Deficit Model

And here is a Storify of the tweets I wanted to save from the conference:
#MCTE14 Storify


Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayers