Thursday, August 7, 2014

Flipping Your English Class to Reach All Learners

Judi Holst is one of my former Douglas County colleagues, and she has provided me with many inspirational ideas over the last several years.  She recently reviewed a book called Flipping Your English Class to Reach All Learners.  Here is the link to her review:

Knowing Judi as I do, and based on her review of this book, I immediately ordered it for myself.  It is challenging enough to meet the needs of 30-35 sixth graders in less than an hour.  Then I consider the fact that I have five classes for a total of 150+ students.  I also think about the wide range of interests, abilities, and motivation levels, and I know that I am definitely ready to try something new.  I want to make the most of every moment I have with my students - especially since I only see them four out of every five days.

I like the fact that this book is geared toward the secondary English Language Arts classroom.  Like Judi, I have attended several sessions and read lots of books about flipping my classroom, but none of that information was directly applicable to my situation.  This book sounds like a perfect fit!  I was also pleased to see that the author included sample lesson plans and tips for creating the videos.  I know they need to be dynamic and engaging if I expect my students to watch them.

My book should be arriving in the next few days, and I am eager to check it out.  I will definitely keep you posted about my new flipping adventure!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Cris Tovani's I Read It But I Don't Get It - My own experiences

Earlier this year, I read I Read It, But I Don’t Get It by Cris Tovani. Although I read this book several months ago, there are parts that keep resonating with me throughout the school year.

Cris Tovani talks in her book about the epiphany she had in her own book club.  She writes:

“It finally dawned on me; these readers had not come to book club knowing all the answers.  They were depending on one another to construct meaning.  That night we each shared what was happening inside our head.  Ellin explained that when she talked with others her comprehension got better.  Joetta said she liked to revisit and rethink sections of the book after she heard other people’s interpretations.  Asking questions helped Steph.  Julie visualized when she read.  By the end of the night, we had all become better readers of Beloved.”

I have seen this synergy in action in both our Q2 and Q3 Book Clubs.  The kids clearly explained to me that one of the reasons they like Lit Circles so much is because it helps them understand their novels at a deeper level.  They explained that by bringing their questions, predictions, and thoughts about their books to their groups each week, they help each other see and understand things that they might not have seen and understood when reading on their own.  That made perfect sense to me, and that is exactly what Cris Tovani experienced in her own Beloved Book Club discussion.

As readers, we need that social time to talk about what we read.  Recently, one of my sixth grade students brought this to a whole new level.  Emma explained to me on the first day of school that she hated reading.  For the first few weeks during SQUIRT (Super Quiet Un-Interrupted Reading Time), she used some highly perfected avoidance strategies.  She had to go to the bathroom, get a drink, see the counselor, ask a question, get a band-aid, etc.  Slowly, as the year progressed, these behaviors became less and less frequent.

A few weeks ago, Emma approached me and asked if I remembered how much she hated reading at the beginning of the year.  I laughed and told her I definitely remembered that.  She explained that she really liked reading now, and in fact, she wanted to start a Book Club at Powell.  She was hoping I would be her sponsor.  I was stunned.  Not only does Emma like to read, but she wanted to start a weekly Book Club and meet after school to read and talk about books???!!!  I was in!!!

We have only had 2 meetings so far, but the turnout has been great, and the kids are enthusiastic.  I was also surprised to see how many struggling readers joined Book Buzz.  I had thought it would be mostly comprised of my highest performing students, but that was definitely not the case.  The students selected 3 books:  Rules, Fever 1793, and Incident at Hawk’s Hill.  

Last week, Emma began the meeting by having Book Buzz members share their favorite place to read.  That was fascinating.  There were the usual responses: my bedroom, the living room, my backyard, etc.  However, we have one girl who likes to read in her toy box and two who like to read in trees.  Interesting!!!  We then spent about 15 minutes reading before breaking into groups for our discussions.  The groups were all highly engaged, and as a Language Arts teacher, it made me so proud to see these kids choosing to come to Book Buzz - even after a long day at school.  At the end, several students brought books that they wanted to share in Emma’s Show & Tell Book Talk component.  They even argued about who would be allowed to bring treats next time!

We will be meeting through the end of April, and I look forward to seeing them continue to develop their love of reading and talking about their books.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

So energized after our Inspired Writing class this morning!!!

I am so energized after our Inspired Writing class this morning.  Yes, it was a cold and snowy Saturday morning, and it was hard to get out of bed.  However, once I got to class, I found myself so happy to be there.

Every time we meet, I come away with so many new tools and ideas that I can immediately implement in my classroom.  I appreciate how we have time in class to learn something new, experiment with it ourselves, and collaborate with our peers about the best way to implement it.  I especially enjoyed today's sharing time, because that synergy when we gather together and share ideas helps rejuvenate all of us.  I took five pages of notes this morning, and they are filled with stars, circles, and notes to myself, "Do this on Monday!!!"  What an incredibly valuable way to spend our time!

I love the fact that each time we meet, I am learning something completely new.  For example, I have never used Jing before, but after hearing about it this morning, I can't wait to begin exploring all of the possibilities it has to offer.  I also find that even when I have used a tool like Cover It Live or a strategy like Highlighting, this sharing time inevitably provides me with additional ideas for implementation that I would never have thought of on my own.  It motivates me to brainstorm additional ways we can use these tools to help kids learn.

Finally, I appreciate the way Dana and Amy have structured the class.  I find myself taking notes on the little things as well - from the warm-ups we use to the songs on Dana's playlist.  I catch myself thinking, "My kids would LOVE this!" or "I have to try this with my sixth graders next week."

I know we will still have two more personal blogs to write in April and May, but since today was our last official class, I wanted to reflect on this while it was fresh in my mind and say thank you for creating such a motivating and applicable class.  I appreciate the care you took in designing it, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of it!

(Now that I am wrapping up this blog, I'm thinking about the highlighting strategy Dana demonstrated this morning.  I realize that most of my sentences start with the word "I."  However, I'm hoping that since this is a personal blog, that will be acceptable!)  :)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Two Writing Teachers: Writing About Reading Blog Series

Two Writing Teachers:  Writing About Reading Blog Series

Our Instructional Coach just sent me this link this morning, and I liked it so much I wanted to share it immediately!  Although today is just the first day in the series, I plan to follow this blog throughout the week to glean as many great ideas as possible.

I have never used the "Lifting a Line" strategy, but I love it!  I see huge potential for using that with my students during their current Sci Fi / Fantasy unit.  My kids are reading five different books right now:  Savvy, Among the Hidden, Uglies, Fablehaven, and The Maze Runner.  Prior to using these books, I have reread and annotated my own copies, marking vocabulary words and signposts, and underlining key points in the story.  I have also written my own thoughts in the margins of the novels, which would make it very easy for me to pick out a key sentence or two for this strategy.  It would be a great prelude to their Lit Circle discussions or Blogs as well.

The Character Webs made me a little bit dizzy.  (That must be my left-brained, concrete-sequential side objecting to that!)  However, I do want to try the Visual Note-taking strategy.  My friend Judi (whose blog I wrote about in my previous post), has also blogged about that strategy, and it seems to be highly effective with students of all abilities and learning styles.

I look forward to seeing what else these Two Writing Teachers have to share later this week!

Sharing a new favorite blog: TBD Teacher

(Note:  This was originally supposed to be my November Blog.  My apologies!)

In reconnecting with former colleagues via Facebook, I discovered that an eighth grade LA teacher that I really admire has a public blog:  TBD Teacher.  Judi is an INCREDIBLE teacher - beloved by students and parents alike.  Over Winter Break, I read her post about her resolutions to be more organized.  I can ALWAYS use more strategies for organization - particularly when I feel like I am constantly multi-tasking.  Although I no longer pile papers (at least as much as I used to), I feel like I am "piling" things digitally.  I need a plan!

Based on Judi's recommendation in her blog, I immediately bought The Together Teacher by Maia Heyck-Merlin.  Of course, by the time it arrived, we were back at school, and I have yet to open it.  However, based on Judi's post, I was already able to incorporate some of the author's ideas.  I now have my own Trapper Keeper - just like my students - that contains most of what I use on a daily basis.  I have tabs for schedules, calendars, grades for each class, school information, etc.  Yes, this is all online.  However, I am just old-fashioned enough that sometimes it is faster for me to open the binder than it is for me to log-in and access that information.  Besides, I don't always have my computer with me, and the iPhone screen seems incredibly small when I am looking up grades!

I love that my friend Judi updates her blog consistently, and she is always willing to share her best ideas with the world.  She is a true inspiration!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reflections on "The Balance of Screen Time"

Edutopia's post, "The Balance of Screen Time," (September 23, 2013) raised some excellent points about students' use of technology.  I believe there are two big questions:  What do kids need to learn?  What is the most effective way to facilitate this learning?

Too many times, parents and teachers (myself included) fall into the trap of using the latest and greatest technology because we can.  Unfortunately in some cases, the engaging technology comes first, and the educational component can occasionally be an afterthought.  That is one thing that I really appreciate about LPS.  The focus here is truly on what the kids need to know and be able to do.  The technology is just one tool to help us achieve that goal.

In my sixth grade LA classroom, the students just finished their Book Club unit.  Throughout this unit, students participated in weekly Lit Circles to give them a chance to dig deeper into their novels.  It was fascinating to watch these discussions get deeper and more advanced each week.  During the last Lit Circle of the unit, I had the kids experiment with Cover It Live.  The 8 person group in the middle held their weekly discussion as usual.  The rest of the class observed and participated via computer.  The kids who read the book were able to carry on a parallel discussion while the kids who hadn't read the book commented on the engagement of the participants and the high quality of their thinking.   It took the Lit Circle experience to a whole new level!

Although I will always want the kids to have that face-to-face discussion time, I see the value in drawing in the rest of the class as well - both as observers and participants.  Perhaps the most interesting part was when we debriefed at the end.  The groups who had been observing shared what they noticed and admired about the discussion they had just seen.  Then, they took that learning back to their own discussions and emulated those higher level skills.  What a great day in LA!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Reflections on "Empathy: The Most Important Back-to-School Supply"

This article talks about the importance of developing empathy - both in ourselves and in our students.  I have always recognized how developing a safe environment that encourages risk-taking is critical to students' success in learning.  However, what I didn't know is that there is scientific research that identifies a "very strong relationship between social-emotional learning and cognitive development and performance."  This makes complete sense to me, although I never really thought about it that way before.

I think this article struck me tonight because today in class, my students participated in their first Lit Circle discussions of the year.  At the end of the 20-30 minute discussion, each group filled out a self-evaluation form in which they rated the group members on items like using their book in the discussion, listening to others, asking/responding to questions, etc.  Prior to the group self-evaluations, we discussed the purpose of this reflection:  it is a concrete way to give specific feedback to each group member about what they did well and what they could do differently the next time.  It was absolutely fascinating to watch how carefully and gently my students gave feedback to each other.  Although I had modeled both appropriate and inappropriate comments, and we discussed being open to the possibility that sometimes we see ourselves differently than others see us, I was incredibly impressed at the empathy my students showed as they completed this part of the activity.  Even the special education teacher who co-teaches one of the classes with me commented on how she loved watching them reflect in this manner.  I believe this is one example of pro-social behavior that was referenced in the article.

Moving forward, here are some questions I'm thinking about....  How do I help my students take this sensitivity and thoughtfulness beyond the walls of my classroom?  Can I help them transfer these skills to the hallways, lunchroom, locker room, bus, etc?  They were so impressive today, so I know they can do it.  What can I do to facilitate this in other areas of their school experience?