Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Explosion

Explosion in room 25
Combustible attitudes
Overworked teacher
Tired Students

An F bomb drops
Not acceptable
An "I'll do what I want"
Attitude

Confrontation
Going nowhere
Others waiting
To see where this train is headed

Headed
To an impasse
No winners
Only whiners

Today's Task
Rebuilding
Connections



Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Where I'm Headed

I first heard about flip classrooms last year. And, true to form, I began reading and learning all I could about them. I didn't jump right in. I sat back and watched and learned.  Here's what I believe and where  I am headed (and in many ways, I'm already there).

Flip class--giving students what they need when they need it. Not on my time. Their time. So I'm not flipping lectures. If I need to say something to the whole class, then I'll talk to the whole class (and record it for those who are absent. A bonus for those kids who want to go back and see it again.) And maybe that's blended learning.....

Flip class--expecting students to take charge of their learning. Yes. I know I have to help them along the way. Yes. I am the teacher. Yes. I need to give them a gentle nudge once in awhile.  But they need to take charge. What do they need to know to move forward in their learning?  I expect them to tell me and find some of the information themselves.

Google it. The most powerful words I know.

If I want to learn more about something, I first google it and get the basics. Then I find a book. Then I find people who know more than I do. Or sometimes, I flip this. I go to the people first. I move on to google. Then I find a book. It really depends on what I want to know more about.

And I don't limit myself to those things--I blog and love the comments. I use Twitter. I have asked my Facebook friends. I ask students.

Flipped Learning. That's where I'm going. I expect my students to take control of their lives and their learning.

Besides modeling what a lifelong reader and a lifelong writer look like, I want to show them what a lifelong learner looks like.

Because I am one.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What Do People Need to Learn to Write


Last week, Ruth Ayres wrote a thought provoking post over at Two Writing Teachers. At the same time, I have been struggling with where I want my Creative Writing classes and English 9 classes to go.  I can see in my head my ideal classroom, but the reality is ugly. We're not there. And I'm not sure of the road I'm taking. So, the questions Ruth asked got me thinking and questioning myself and exploring and writing. The results, my beliefs about writing, will be here, in a series of posts.


I learned to write by writing. Sounds simple, doesn't it.

But it's not that simple. I really believe there is much more to it.

People need time to learn to write. A dedicated time in their day where the focus will be putting pen to paper---or fingers to keys--and they write. And how do I know this? Because I haven't been making that time. I find all kinds of other little time suckers and I haven't been writing. Not like I used to. And in my classroom, I sometimes just need to step back and let my kids write.  Conferencing is good. Mini lessons are good. But sometimes, those are time suckers too. The other day I asked my students if they needed me. Did they need me to conference? Did we need to talk about ideas some more?  Or did they just need me to shut up and get out of the way. They just smiled and told me they were fine. They just needed the time to put fingers to keys and get those thoughts down.

People also need time to play and practice.  This semester I been more intentional about sharing mentor texts and sharing my own writing.  It seems to have freed up my students imaginations. Before starting their own pieces, we play around with the mentor texts.  We use them as templates. We write from prompts I have intentionally chosen (most of the time) for the type of writing we are doing. All before they actually choose what they are going to write.  By the time I finally turn them loose, most are begging to get started.

People need freedom.
Freedom of choice, most of all. The freedom to choose what they will write about. The freedom to choose how they will write. While I try to have all my students write the same type of text, such as informative pieces or fiction pieces, HOW they write it is up to them. Right now my students are writing fiction pieces. I've read drafts of children's stories, ABC books, short stories and stories in verse.

People need the freedom to choose NOT to write at a particular time, choosing instead to think, to stare off into space, to listen to music until something lands in their brain that begs to be written. I have students who sometimes just need to think. And, I understand that. I do too. The writing of this post is taking several days.  I need to process my thoughts. I need to figure out my words.  So do my students.

People need effort.
Their own effort. Writing is hard. Harder some days than others. Some days it is so easy to leave the writing behind and get caught up in those time sucking tasks. But in order to write something worthwhile, something relevant, something heartfelt, a writer has to give their best effort and they have to sustain that effort. I think sometimes that is the hardest thing for my students---sustaining effort (who am I kidding? It's the hardest thing for me too.). Beginning a piece of writing, working hard on it for 40 minutes and then leaving it, only to return the next day, makes it difficult to sometimes to sustain that effort. Momentum is lost. I constantly struggle with how to help them come back to a piece with the same intensity and effort that they left with. In the end, I think it has to come from inside the writer.

People have to be willing to fail spectacularly.
I know. That sounds odd coming from a teacher. We aren't supposed to let anyone fail. But, I don't mean to fail the class or the assignment. People need to try new things and write in new ways. And while they are writing in these new ways, they have to know that what they write may not be perfect. Their audience may not like it. The words may not come. They may fail.

And it's OK. Because a writer can go back and fix their failures.  A writer goes back and tries again. A writer goes back and tries a new way to say things. A writer goes back.....

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Smiley Faced Box


The Smiley Faced Box.
It sat on the kitchen table
All night
Waiting patiently.
But,
I knew what was inside
So I left it where it was
So it wouldn't distract me.

7:15am

I bring it to school 
for that is where it belongs.
I didn't open it.
At First.

I planned
to organize my room
and clean the smudge
off my desks.
I would write lesson plans
and run off papers
and be ready for next week.

But,
There it sat.
The Smiley Faced Box.
Looking at me.
Whispering
"Just take a little peek."

So I did
(even though I already knew
the magic it held).

And there inside the
Smiley Faced Box
were whining children
waiting to be eaten by
MONSTERS!

And there was Ralph
who thought he didn't have a
story to tell,
but told me one anyway.

And 
best of all
waiting patiently
at the bottom of the 
Smiley Faced Box
Cassia
and
Ky
and
Xander
Reached for me
Ready to share with me
How they made it to the end.

Who needs lesson plans anyway?







                             

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Absolutely True Slice of Life Post



This is another one of those "I don't write about books, but I gotta write about this book" post. And. I'm late to the party.

I've been meaning to read this book for awhile now. It's been out for years. I just never got around to it. Kept putting it off. But this school year, it kept creeping into my life.


I'm talking about Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Kelly Gallagher used The Unofficial and Unwritten (but you better follow them or you're going to get beaten twice as hard) Spokane Indian Rules of Fisticuffs as a mentor text in his book Write Like This. So I tried it with my students. They loved it and wrote great unwritten rules of their own

Then, Ruth sent me this quote:


Back on the rez, I was a decent player, I guess. A rebounder and a guy who could run up and down the floor without tripping. But something magical happened to me when I went to Reardan.Overnight, I became a good player. I suppose it had something to do with confidence. I mean, I’d always been the lowest Indian on the reservation totem pole --- I wasn’t expected to be good so I wasn’t. But in Reardan, my coach and the other players wanted me to be good. They needed me to be good. They expected me to be good. And so I became good.I wanted to live up to expectations.I guess that’s what it comes down to.The power of expectations.And as they expected more of me, I expected more of myself, and it just grew and grew…

I loved those last two lines--the power of expectations--it's one of those things I believe about kids--they will rise to your expectations. 

The voice of Junior is so true. So alive. His courage in choosing to leave the reservation to go to school is inspiring. He surrounds himself with people who make him better. People like Gordy...
And he certainly helped me through school. He not only tutored me and challenged me, but he made me realize that hard work--that act of finishing, of completing, of accomplishing a task--is joyous.

Junior's comics are a peek inside his soul. Through those comics, you can understand his struggle with the racism in his life, and the conflict between his two worlds. Junior grew in so many ways throughout this book, but most of all, I think, in the way he began to trust those around him. He realized that although his parents weren't perfect, they were pretty good. He understood his best friend/enemy Rowdy and found it inside himself to forgive him. He stood up for himself and, in the process, made a friend. And, in the midst of a trying time in his life, he made an important discovery, "If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing." And with that came the realization that he wasn't just a part of the Spokane Indian Tribe, but a part of a much bigger world.

I love this book so much, I'm considering it for a class novel (and you know how I hate class novels)--or at least a read aloud (although there are a few parts I wouldn't want to read aloud!). I do have several boys who chose it for their banned book project.  I can't wait to see what they think about it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Thankful For Parents

After reading Stacey's post about the month of thanks and reading several friends' Facebook posts, it came to me that one thing I am thankful for is caring parents. Those parents who take the time to come to conferences when I'm sure there are other things that need their attention. Conferences are different in high school. Although they can sign up online for a time and they don't have to see every teacher, not as many parents come to them. Some because their kids are doing well and they don't see the need and others, well, maybe they don't come because it's just to depressing.

I had a good crowd this week. Not swamped, but quite a few parents showed up. I am happy they all came, but here are a couple who stood out.

I am thankful for the parents who showed up at 7:00pm Thursday, apologizing for being early, but wondering if I could fit them in. I gladly did. The only problem, and one they didn't realize, their conference was actually supposed to be Tuesday night.

I'm thankful for New Boy and his mom and dad, who although late, made the time to come. I loved that they really moved here because their son had been campaigning for years to move to the area to be closer to family. They moved from a suburb of Chicago. His high school was almost as big as our whole town. We talked a long time about how New Boy was adjusting. They were thankful that on the very first day, students went out of their way to befriend him and make him feel welcome in our little school. New Boy is VERY happy with the move. And now we can move on to academics.

I'm thankful for the mom who introduced herself as if we were meeting for the first time, although this is the fourth child of her's that I have had in class.

I'm thankful for the parents who come that I don't know--their presence often explains a lot about their child.

I'm thankful for the parents who come right from their job because they know that being a parent is really their most important job.

And, because in my experience I've learned that some parents think teenagers are disposable, I am thankful for parents who care.