Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Never Give Up

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and hosting a weekly Slice of Life link up. 
 Discover more at Two Writing Teachers
It's 7:37 pm and once again I am in the school parking lot. My son plays in the marching band and twice a week they practice until eight o'clock.  I take the gift of afternoon time and catch up on giving students feedback or updating the digital grade book. I take time organizing books or creating handouts, talking with team members or planning units. I enjoy the time and the work.

This afternoon four kids came in to do make up work during resource (tutoring)  time. They didn't need me, so I met with a new-to-our-school,-second year teacher to talk unit planning and instructional sequencing. He and I couldn't help but listen to the kids chat about their cultures. 

Songs were shared. We heard laughter and exclamations. Stories too. And there were some dance moves. It was adorable. I wished I taken a picture--captured their happy. One  moment kids were on their feet showing each other-- how to swivel a hip (Salsa) or straight arm the sprinkler move In that moment, I did not want to be anywhere else.

Kids share such joy even when they are procrastinating.

The group did not finish the make up work they had planned to finish. They got sidetracked  talking  to each other. They got sidetracked sharing stories. Song and dance sort of took over. But you know  what? Sometimes, that is exactly what kids need. Time to connect face to face. Time to share stories and laugh. Time to explore and make a friend. 

There is time enough to get the work of school done. 

Sometimes we monkey around. Doesn't everyone. From our syllabus, see it on Smore here

In my class kids get time. I value learning and I don't give up.

The lowest F grade is a 30%, not a zero (I have a gospel reading on 50%s and 30%s and zeroes but that is another story).

In my class, students are allowed to redo any assignment to demonstrate additional learning if they earn a C or below OR if they are not satisfied with their grade (and we discuss time/cost and grade benefit). I ask kids to redo work within a week of the feedback --more to help them manage time, tasks and keep up than to gate keep. Even if they miss the week-- which is the tenth grade team's deadline--there is always a way.

When I was in my first five years of teaching I called it, "Let's Make a Deal." I held make up sessions. I cajoled kids and talked with parents. I collected make up work in bulk stapled to a dot-matrix progress report print out. Now, I monitor more closely, so the bulk of the work doesn't feel like a windmill or an impossible weight.

I talk to kids over time and if what I'm doing in class is not working I enlist parents' as helpers. We all , teachers, parents, administrators, want the best for the kids in our care. Teenagers do not always trust that as truth. But it is. 

I live my belief in learners. I work it. I walk it. I pray it. I just do it: week by week, day by day, class period by class period. I work that belief on my feet in class as I confer with kids about what they wrote in their journals. I work it in bean bags after school during poetry club when we share what we've written. I walk it and pray it there too. And in the parking lot waiting for my band son or in the stadium watching my Bear sons play football or in the gymnasium watching my Bear players volley, dribble or wrestle. I pray that belief in learners during fourth quarters and final years when the seniors I've tutored to pass our state test white knuckle their way through to a diploma.

I never give up.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Readers Talk

While making my rounds talking to readers today about their reading journals a student shared this about Bill Konigsberg's Openly Straight:
 "Oh my God! So good! The ending! I just. Oh! I cried! I had to search up the author. Guess what? He has another book coming out. I PRE-ORDERED IT! Well, my Mom did, " grinned that reader.

Score! I was doing my happy dance (on the inside). 

We are in our fifth week of school. The readers in my room have made themselves known. They are the kids that had a book in hand week one and were already squeezing reading into spare (or stolen) moments. Many students come into my tenth grade class excited and engaged readers. It makes sense. We have a strong reading culture at my school.

Still, while I have some readers at year's start, I also have many kids who aren't convinced books have anything to offer. They sample first one book, then another, leaving both laying on desks or table tops. They say they do not have time to read or they that reading just isn't their thing. They say they would rather ___fill in the blank with any other form of entertainment__  than read. 

I work my hardest for my not yet readers. Instructional moves that ignite curiosity about books and fan the first flames of interest are moves that make a difference well beyond my room and this year.

Next week #engchat returns in its usual 7 - 8 pm Eastern Standard Time slot. I am hosting. Let's talk about readers and the reading routines we use to engage, grow and nurture them.

Here's a quick list of questions and the rough times I'll tweet them.

7:00 pm   Q1: Greetings & salutations. Share your name and teaching context.
7:05 pm   Q2: How do you ignite readers' curiosities?
7:15 pm   Q3: What classroom reading routines help readers choose books and get reading?
7:25 pm   Q4: How do you help readers make plans for their reading futures?
7:35 pm   Q5: What works when it comes to documenting/sharing readers' progress over time?
7:45 pm   Q6: How do you move readers forward when it comes to developing skill and stamina?
7:55 pm   Q7: How do you celebrate readers and books?

I can't wait to hear what you do for the readers in your rooms. See you next Monday!

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and hosting a weekly Slice of Life link up. 
 Discover more at Two Writing Teachers

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Danger of a Single Story

We make up stories about people and ourselves all of the time. We see people in the halls or in the cafeteria or on the street or at the store. And sometimes we think, I know that person--that type of person. You may think: I know her type; I know him.

This summer you, my students, have read stories about at least two different kinds of people. Everyone read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. all read Arnold Spirit’s story about growing up on a reservation. You read about Arnold’s fears and disappointments, about his passions and joy. You read about his struggle and the struggles of Native Americans living on reservations. Arnold’s story shifts when he decides to leave his community to attend a better school in Reardon; it is not an easy shift. Like Arnold, you learn about the people in Reardon-- perhaps some of the characters reminded you of people in our own school community.

This summer you  also read someone else’s story. You may have read a story about a girl: Lily Casey Smith, Michaela DePrince or Margarita Engle. You may have read a story about a boy: Ismael Beah, Carlos Eire, Shin Dong-hyuk, Michael Kraus or Jin Wang. Did you feel you knew them before you started the books? How did your understanding of their stories shift as their memories shaped themselves in your minds' eyes? I wonder.

In the real world, in the world of crowded hallways and busy classrooms, that kind of quick-glance knowing is judgment. We judge the kid walking down the hall with a sag in his pants. We judge the teacher who dresses a certain way. We make assumptions about the boys who wear jerseys or jeans or cheer leading uniforms. That kind of knowing kills people.

It kills students on campuses who feel victimized by bullies. It kills motivation. It kills empathy. It killed forty-nine people in Orlando just this summer.

This year, more than anything else, I want you to recognize the danger of a single story and change it. I want you to reach out to people you may not know and get them talking, get them sharing their stories. I want you to swim in the soup of inquiry--to open your minds to the stories of others and share in their experiences in ways that connect you to your humanity, to the best and brightest places in your hearts.

You may have heard things about each other. You may have heard things about your teachers. You may have even heard things about me. There is danger in what you accept as truth.  Know for yourself.

This year, learn for yourself. Get to know each other, your teachers, me and other people for yourself.

Listen to others’ stories. I want that for you and I want it for the adults in your lives too. I want it for your parents and for the teachers in our school and for the administrators on our campus.

So, help me out with this. Be on the lookout for narrative. Ask. Listen. Learn from peoples' stories so that you can truly get to know people for who they are and what they stand for.

We are all unique. We are all beautifully complex. We were all created for this world to do something or say something that only we can do. We each have a unique mission. All of us can face down  hate and judgement with knowledge and love.

United we are unstoppable.

United we are a team, a community learning acceptance together. This year in English will focus on developing your skills as readers, writers, thinkers and speakers--sure it will. But it will also be about people, about stories, about acceptance and love.

We are starting our third week, but I know, we are going to have a great year together. I love having you in my class.