Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Favorite Part of the School Day

    I'm returning to something I never finished last year, and it's something I actually DO want to complete. @teachthought has a series of 30 questions for teachers to reflect upon in one month. Well, I got up to Day 10 and got sidetracked. I'm determined to get through these? To write more about myself? No, to become a better teacher.
    Day 11: What is your favorite part of the school day and why? This isn't as easy as it sounds. I have multiple "favorite" times of the day. When the students arrive, when I'm working with kids and they "get" it, but mostly  I'd have to say the last half hour to hour of class. This is usually when I schedule time for projects. Entering into group conversations, dreaming up ideas, laughing and learning are all present. It's FUN! Just like school is supposed to be.
     So what's the current project we're working on? Glad you asked. My school rents space from a Seeing Impaired School who periodically houses students for a week at a time. To connect more with the demographic we have decided to write short books for them. Once we create the text, the Blind School staff will make Braille books out of our words. We'll be working with the art class who will be illustrating the books.
     Enough of the rabbit trail. I enjoy the end part of the school day as my kids are ready for a break and ready to discuss--life, school, politics, books--whatever. They've worked hard and their ready to relax a bit before the end of the class. I view this time as imperative in building and maintaining relationships with my students. They see a more relaxed me and vice versa.
     So that's my favorite time of the school day--the time I'm able to interact with my students, chill, and just have fun and laugh. Laughter is always a big part of relationships. Is it in your room? Think about it. Laughter and down time--they make all the difference.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Read Alouds? Read Alouds

   I confess, I enjoy being read to. And so do my students, even though they're in their teens. How do I know this? Because our school recently launched an all-school read with the teachers reading out loud to the students. The result? An engaged student-body who look forward to the next session.
    My principal embraced the idea of a read aloud even though he was a little wary of the book Flight by Sherman Alexie I had proposed. I described it as having a good deal of "language" that may offend some, but the message of this book, I knew, would resonate with our student body. After reading the book himself, my principal agreed.
    The result of this orchestrated mass reading has been unbelievable. Spontaneous discussions break out in my room after the reading time dealing with connected issues in the world that really aren't even part of the book itself. There's been more engagement on the students' part and more excitement to read (or be read to) than I've seen for a while.
     While to be sure the book has a lot to do with this engagement, I think the read aloud matters too. It's something the students return to in their discussion--how much different it is to be read to and how they "see" the story differently when they hear it and see it (every student follows along in his/her copy of the book) rather than just reading on their own.
     When successes like this come along, there's nothing to do but celebrate them. And replicate that success in other ways. Engaging students with read alouds. Who knew? It makes all the difference.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Students' Struggles? Re-evaluate Yourself

     My students struggle at times, and like most teachers, I'm aware of the assignments that cause the most angst. Does that mean I should do away with the assignment? Rethink my teaching strategies for this lesson? Or maybe I should ask student input as to what would help make it a better lesson? I'm continually re-evaluating what I teach and how I teach it. An innocent conversation with my husband the other night alerted me to perhaps some unrealistic expectations on my part of my students and their work.
     With the beginning of a new block at school, I welcomed new students to my classroom--both new to me and some who were new to the school. One of those new-to-the-school teens came in the second day of the block and plopped down in his seat. After greeting him, I asked how his first day at CHS was. His response? "Overwhelming." Curious, I probed. Reticent to be disparaging, he said English had been tough. He wasn't "getting" the concepts.
     This surprised me as I had spent considerable time with him the previous day explaining, modeling, teaching, and reteaching the concepts until I thought he had understanding. In a conversation that night with my husband, I chronicled and, I admit, complained about this student's lack of comprehension. I detailed the story to my spouse and asked him the same questions I asked my student. The results? The same befuddled look, grasping answers, and total bewilderment. Obviously there was a problem and the problem was with me.
      I thought this assignment challenging but doable; yet looking at the number of students who struggled with it and the toil my husband endured, I realized I needed to do something. I needed to change...a lot.
     This path to self-discovery, I think, is an important one for all teachers to embark on. Do the students really "get" what you're trying to teach or just going through the motions? To be a student-centered teacher, I needed to re-think what I wanted to achieve with that assignment, and others. Does that mean I lack rigor? No, I think it means I'm trying to lack frustrating my students so much that they want to just give up. Once they shut down, it's hard to re-start and re-engage them.
     Lesson learned--finally. Evaluate your own lessons. If there's something that students repeatedly and historically have struggled with, maybe it's time to redesign the lesson. Take a hard look at yourself and what and how you teach. It could make all the difference.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Down Time = Read Time

     During the last few weeks, I've had some undesired and unexpected down time. With mobility limited, I've found myself faced with a lot of time on my hands. A lot. In preparation of this, prior to my time away from school, I stocked up on books I had on my TBR list.The result of this luschious lull? I've been able to read and reread a large number of books. Here are some of the tops ones I read.
     In the YA genre, Butter  by Erin Jade Lange, is at the top of the books I read and enjoyed. Dealing with touchy subjects of bullying and teen suicide, this was a book that kept me engaged and empathetic to the main character.
     Another book I wish wouldn't end, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler,was a coming of age story of a young girl who feels like a misfit in her family. Her older siblings, both overachievers and legendary in the high school, set a high bar for fifteen-year-old Virginia Sheeves. But as she comes to terms with who she is and her place in life, she also sees the cracks in her "perfect" brother. The author includes a nice twist in the plot that the reader doesn't see coming.
     One of my favorites, The Beginning of Everything by Robin Schneider, deals with a high school senior who was involved in a crippling car accident that ended his tennis career and leaves him wondering where he fits in the high school hierarchy. It deals with accepting his new limitations, reestablishing friendships and entering into a relationship. Just when his life has fallen into a smooth rhythm, main character Ezra Faulkner confronts the past in a way that transforms his futures and shakes his present.
      Although I read more books, I can't mention them all. However, one NF that deserves mention is True Notebook: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall by Mark Salzman. This book chronicles Salzman's visits into juvenile hall where he is convinced by an erstwhile nun to offer a writing class to young offenders. Unsure of how the class would go, Salzman agrees to give it a try. What unfolds is a mixture of the angst of the teen offenders as they wait for their future to be revealed and a release of some of the teen's stress as they use writing to express their anxieties and fears.
      As someone who teaches at-risk teens, this book showed me how powerful words are and how the writing process can be therapeutic to teens. I knew this, but I never KNEW this. Maybe it was that the class members read their writing out loud that led to the profundity of the writing class and this book. For me, at least, this book revealed the power of writing and the power of paper and pencil to help young adults explore and express their feelings outside of the classroom. If this book did anything, it helped to reinforce my commitment to having students write...a lot.
      My seclusion has one more week before I'm allowed to reenter the classroom for half days. Honestly, it can't come soon enough for me. But as I wait patiently for that time to arrive, I guarantee you'll I'll be reading. Guaranteed.