Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: Blackout Poetry Respite

Looking to connect with a positive, supportive online community?  Consider sharing a slice of your life with Two Writing Teachers. All writers are welcome! 

Tuesday Slice of Life: 
Blackout Poetry Respite

Today began the first of three days of standardized testing for ninth and tenth grade students across our district. Our students test for the first two hours of each day and then follow a shortened class schedule for the remainder of the school day. It is an exhausting day for the students who take the exam and equally exhausting for teachers to proctor it.

By mid-day, I realized that most of my students were absolutely spent. So instead of our normal targeted literacy instruction, I decided to provide students with a break. Following our daily independent reading/conferring we headed to our school's maker space and created blackout poetry. You can see an example of a former blackout poem I created last month here

I emphasized to my students that the purpose for this activity was to play with words and create some sort of coherent message. It could be something serious, silly, or playful. Using old New York Times newspapers, I modeled how I create blackout poems, showed some student models (and our amazing librarian's model), and made a few blackout poems with them. 
Above is one of the blackout poems I created:

"The World's Juggernaut"
Today under construction,
reeling from disaster.
Spurred by power.
It will grow again. 

We needed something playful and fun after testing today. Creating Blackout poems was a perfect respite. I am thankful that each student successfully created a blackout poem, even my students who are typically the most reluctant to read and write. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: How Can I Change My Instruction?

Looking to connect with a positive, supportive online community?  Consider sharing a slice of your life with Two Writing Teachers. All writers are welcome! 

Tuesday Slice of Life: 
How Can I Change My Instruction?  

I had the pleasure of listening to Pernille Ripp last week at the Wisconsin Title 1 Conference. (If you have never had the opportunity to learn from Pernille, check out her out her blog or one of her books! She is smart, insightful, genuine, and kind. She will leave you longing to serve all of your students better.) Following her keynote session and two breakout sessions and my teaching heart full, I had so many ideas for what I wanted to adjust in my teaching to effectively reach more students. 

Monday I returned to teaching my high school students. 

Good morning, reality

Ten minutes following the first morning attendance bell, at least one student sauntered in late, clutching Starbucks and donuts. Several of my students didn't show up for class that day.

In first hour, I helped students write a current essay through conferring with individual students and with small groups. At one point I paused, scanned the room and noticed these behaviors: 

  • a few of my students were on Snapchat and watching You Tube videos
  • one student was working on math homework
  • one student was sneaking a game on his Chromebook
  • two students were talking about the best places to schedule up-dos for prom


Based on conversations that I have had with students throughout the school year, rereading a few of my personal written reflections, and thinking about the quality of student work, I know that many of my students are engaged; yet I have a handful of students in every class who are disengaged in their learning. Sometimes daily.

Like many teachers, I struggle with the levels of student engagement in my classroom. I could blame this on the fact that I teach seniors and it is April. I could blame the disengagement on how many of my students have not found success with traditional school yet (and not just in my classes). I could blame this on the task and how I do not have choice in what the curriculum requires. I could blame this on the lack of parent involvement with some students. I could blame this on students who have a challenging time learning. I could blame this on cell phones or technology. I could blame the lack of student engagement of a lot of things. But blame would not change a thing. There are many so factors that I do have not control over. 

In an early part of Pernille's keynote, she shared a story of when she was struggling with teaching and sharing this with her husband. Her husband responded with this gem, "you cannot change the students, but you can change the way you teach." I kept hearing Pernille's words echo in my mind yesterday. 

Pernille reminded me that our biggest job is to see our students. To listen to them. To make decisions based on how they act, what they know, and how they respond. Based on the behaviors I saw yesterday in first hour, what can I do differently in my instruction to serve these students better? 

Last night before I fell asleep, I spent some time reflecting about my day, intentionally writing about what was successful what was not about my instruction. 

How can I change my instruction so that I can reach more of my students each day? 

Today I still had students who arrived late and a handful who didn't show up. In addition, I noticed a few students were still distracted by technology and personal conversations. However, during my first class hour this morning, I was more intentional in checking in with each student. I softy asked this question to many of my students, "What do you need?" I gently listened to each response and was able to provide better targeted feedback today. 

My instructional approach was more student-centered today. It made a positive difference for several of my students.

My experience Monday and Tuesday echoed what Pernille shared: observe, listen, and see your students; reflect about your instruction and student responses; and make small, but meaningful changes in your instruction.   

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Spring Check-In: #Mustreadin2019

Spring Check-In: #Mustreadin2019

For the first time, I am participating in Carrie Gelson's #Mustreadin2019. So far, I have read of three out of sixteen books I selected to read for this challenge. 

Below are the three titles I have read so far and a few thoughts about each: 

BrenĂ© Brown's Dare to Lead
A thought-provoking book about leadership, including what it means to rumble with vulnerability, living into our values, braving trust, and learning to rise. I will return to this resource often. 

Sebasian Beckwith and Caroline Paul's 
Who knew there was so much to know about tea? Learn in an accessible way about things such as the tea plant, the different types of tea, history of the tea, how to select tea, etc. I will never think about tea in the same way again! 

Jamey Bradbury's The Wild Inside
Since I was born in Alaska and haven't been back there since I was small, I am always fascinated with stories that take place in Alaska. However, this Gothic fiction title wasn't what I thought it would be. It's a dark story of love, family secrets, and a bit of a psychological thriller. 

I am currently reading Meg Wiviott's Paper Hearts
So far I have found this to be a powerful, heart-breaking novel in verse about a friendship during the Holocaust. Many of my students are captivated with reading books written in verse this year. This will make an excellent addition to my classroom library. 

To see the list I set at the beginning of the year, read my blog post from January hereI have many more books that I still would like to read from my list. I cannot wait to get time to read a few more titles.  

Thank you to Carrie for setting up this challenge. Part of the fun is seeing what others are reading as well! 

April Check-In #letswrite2019

April Check In: #letswrite2019

Back in January, I committed to some writing goals when I wrote and published this post. I am grateful to Leigh Anne Eck for her thoughtful work in  organizing #letswrite2019 

Below are the goals I outlined back in January: 
  • Continue to blog regularly. For me, this means writing and publishing at least three posts a month.
  • Continue daily writing in my writer's notebook - at least three pages each day.
  • Participate in March Slice of Life 
  • Participate in December Haiku-A-Day
  • Write and submit at least one professional piece of writing
  • Submit at least one poem locally or nationally
  • Apply for at least two professional opportunities - one in the form of a grant for classroom needs and the other in terms of professional growth 

So far, here is my writing progress for #letswrite2019:
  • I have continued to blog regularly. Although I haven't written at least three pages for the month of April yet, this is my second post this month. 
  • With the exception of one day when I was sick, I have written at least three pages a day in my writer's notebook.
  • I successfully participated in Slice of Life this March.
  • In February I applied for a professional growth opportunity and was recently selected to participate in fellowship this coming June. 
I am confident that I can continue to blog regularly each month, write daily in my notebook, and participate in the December Haiku-A-Day. However, I do need some direction and advice concerning two of my goals. Can anyone help me out? 
  1. Where is a good place to submit some professional educational writing? (How do I even get started with this?) 
  2. Where is a good place to submit a poem? (This does not need to be about education.)

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Tuesday Slice of Life: Not Worth My Time

Looking to connect with a positive, supportive online community?  Consider sharing a slice of your life with Two Writing Teachers. All writers are welcome! 

Tuesday Slice of Life: Not Worth My Time 

"I don't try in this class. It's not worth my time," *Jesse announced to his entire class. My class.


Did Jesse realize just how much time I spent planning for his class? What about all of the books I've read and conferences I have attended so that I could better meet my students' needs, including his? What about all the money I spent buying books that kids would have good experiences in reading? 

I had to restrain myself not to loudly sigh. I took in several deep breaths. 

All I wanted to do was shut down Jesse's conversation, but instead I asked him some gentle coaching questions, "Tell me more, Jesse. Can you explain more about that comment?" 

"I want to be a welder. I want to build something. I don't need read and writing to do that. I just need to be able to use my hands."

"Oh, I see. How do you think that a welder uses reading or writing?"

Sixteen-year-old Jesse looked at me, his face void of expression.

"I have never welded before. So you might need to tell me if I am completely off. As a welder, don't you need to read blueprints? Interpret them? Don't you need to be able to follow directions so you don't mess up your welds?" I gently inquired.

He nodded. 

"Maybe you can help me understand better how else a welder uses reading and writing. Maybe we can come up with different kind of work for you in reading and writing that incorporates what you want to do with welding." He nodded again.

For the rest of class Jesse was quiet. 

This conversation occurred several weeks ago, but Jesse's comment of "it's not worth my time" keeps spooling in my mind. I have a group of ninth and tenth grade students who need more opportunities to succeed in literacy, but like Jesse, many of them do not want to be in my class. Most of my students have not found the value of literacy yet or the drive to want to do better. Although I have a lot of experience with reading instruction and love working with this age group, it has been a difficult class to teach. I doubt myself all the time. 

Jesse's comment is the kind that keeps me awake at night. I want to give Jesse a learning experience that he cares about and feels is worth his time. I have not returned to this conversation with Jesse yet, but I know that I need to. I would like to figure out a way to help Jesse realize that he will need strong literacy skills in work beyond high school. 


Slice of Life Challenge #21 Day 31: Easter Preparations

For the month of March, each day I am writing and posting  a slice of my life , hosted by Two Writing Teachers.  Slice of Life Challenge #21...