Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Empowering Students

     Onward in the reflective blogging challenge. Today's topic is how to "curate" student work. Confession here: I had to look up the meaning of curate. I knew it to mean a reference to the clergy but didn't know how it fit this definition. It means to organize, select, and look after items. Honestly, how do I empower kids to work on their own? To help them do it themselves?
     That is the nature of my school, so for me this isn't nearly as reflective as it would be for someone else. For most of the day students work independently with help from me in a one-on-one teaching scenario. I've reflected on this before so no more. Instead, I want to focus on empowering students.
     I had a terrific idea for a group actitivity that I was certain would captivate my students. I thought listening to the Serial Podcast and having them take notes on guilt or innocence would be a cool idea. There's more to this "winning" idea, but I won't bore you with the details. I spent most of yesterday boring my students so I don't need that trend to continue. I had my very own learning opportunity yesterday that, hopefully, will morph into a growth opportunity for us all today.
     Although not a total failure, the podcast held my students' attention for a while...like 10 minutes. After that I could tell I was losing them. We had animated discussion after nearly listening to all of the first podcast but it was more on social issues, racial profiling, etc. than the podcast itself. I knew when I walked out the door this idea was mired in the bog of terrible ideas. I decided to let this one sink to the bottom of that bog.
     Last night I joined our local edchat which was discussing genius hour (GH). And then I knew. I wasn't empowering kids enough and decided then to dump the podcast and give students the choice to generate their own idea for a project. This is dangerous for a few reasons. One, it's our last block and I know kids are going to be working hard to get done. Will I get buy in from them on this? How long will it take to generate ideas? With a finite time frame that is shorter than most teachers deal with, how will the project work in conjunction with them doing English for part of the class period?
     I talked to a friend of mine last night about a mutual project we developed with different implementation plans. As much as it pains me, my friend is taking the better approach. Which only reinforced my idea to dump the podcast and open this last block up. I may not be able to cover as many talking points or give as much time to work on it as Boy Wonder (my buddy), but I'm more confident with this new plan than I was about the podcast plan.
    So first thing this morning I plan on making my kids' days by admitting my failure and pitching the new idea. Empowering students to direct their own learning, even for part of the period can be powerful. It can make all the difference. I'm going to watch and learn.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Teacher Metaphor

     On this blustery day, I return to the reflective teacher challenge that was only supposed to take a month. I'll be lucky to finish these off before the end of school. At any rate, today's challenge is to come up with a metaphor (or a simile) for a teacher. I'm not sure I can arrive at just one, so here are my takes on what a teacher is metaphorically.
     A teacher is a coach. This overused statement is tired but true. Teachers give students strategies to learn, coach how to learn, and allow students to get into the game by helping them develop their skills. A good coach doesn't always see the limitations of players but rather creates a game plan that accentuates their skills to lead them to success. In the same way, a good teacher coaches kids to use the skills they have to win at learning. No one likes to always lose, yet some of our students do just that every day in school. They never experience the "thrill of victory" (mastering a skill) only the "agony of defeat." Good coaches know how to bring out the strengths of their players and know how to set their players up for victories. Teachers, who are strong in their craft, do the same for students.
     Another term that came to mind was a teacher is a juggler. Look in any classroom of good teachers and you'll see multiple things going on one after the other. Yes, there are planned lessons that teachers follow, but what about the days when real learning is taking place that's not in the lesson plan? A discussion develops that leads to a plan of action by students which they implement. Teachers have to be able to keep one thing in the air while knowing how to toss the rest of their day in such a way that reflects authentic learning. Jugglers were the court jesters in days gone by so they needed a strong sense of humor to keep everyone happy. Not much has changed today. Good teachers have the ability to laugh at themselves and keep their sense of humor even in the most tense situations.
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     The final thought that hit my mind is that a teacher is a tour guide. I was thinking guide but "tour" just slipped in front as I was formulating my thoughts. Why a tour guide? My thoughts drifted to my travels and interactions with tour guides. These knowledgeable people showed me the "map" through whatever I was seeing and filled me with information pertinent to the topic as well as ancillary thoughts, too. I always came away with more questions than when I began and couldn't wait to research on my own to learn more. In a way, that's a teacher. We should be knowledgeable about our content and so engaging in our delivery that students must research further to answer all the questions they ran out of time to ask. When thinking of the tour guide, they are always funny and do a great job of relaying information to the crowd in a non-academic way.
     So there are my three metaphors for the prompt "A teacher is..." Sports has always had a special place in my heart, so for me, I choose to be  a coach. A nice balance between instruction and encouragement while helping students to develop their game plan in life. Coaches probably had the biggest impact on my life, setting an example for how to be effective in this role. So find a metaphor for a teacher, think about it and write about it. Then be that metaphor for your students. You never know, it could make all the difference.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

It's All About WAR

     My life the last few months and especially the last few weeks has been all about WAR, a writing and reading conference for teens. The event has come and gone, but the reflection has just begun. This is the first conference of its kind in the region where I live. My fellow organizers and I had high hopes or reaching at least 100 participants. We did that and more.
      Do you know how gratifying it is to see young people engaged in learning more about writing and in displaying an eagerness to discuss their favorite books? Well, if you're an English nerd, it's quite appealing. Kids went to sessions about finding their voice, screenwriting, journalism, writing for video games and so much more and came out of those classes excited.
     One breakout focused on music and poetry. Lead by a Native American hip hop artist, these participants followed Mic Jordan's instruction and penned a rap about individuality and freedom from bullying. Powerful words that need to be taken to the next level.
     At the end of the day, teens gathered for a Slam, a debriefing of sorts where they shared conference highlights. We also saw Mic Jordan gather participants from his class and perform their rap. Amazing kids doing amazing work.
      The conference wouldn't have been possible without the generous support of organizations such as Altru Alliance, GF Foundation for Education, the Kiwanis and Optimist Clubs, Scheels, Thrivent Financial, Dakota Commercial, booster clubs and other donations. These were organizations who in blind faith gave us thousands of dollars because they believed in our vision. Incredible. We are deeply indebted to their support.
     On Sunday I thought about the previous day and the weeks leading up to it. Was all the work worth it? Would I do it again? It was and I would. Getting kids excited about words is important. In fact, I won't be surprised at the impact the experiences from this weekend will make on the kids. Investing my time for kids is worth the trouble. Indeed, it can make all the difference.