Tuesday, December 6, 2016

In the Name of Love: Delight in Speaking

The room was packed. Educators sat shoulder to shoulder. Notebooks perched on laps. Bags bulged with books. Conference-swag bags squatted under chairs or along the walls. Teachers lined the far wall, some even sat on the floor. I crossed one leg over another, perched colored pencils on my shin, unclipped my Uniball pen and readied my sketchbook. Harvey Daniels, Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle rocked a full room for the session titled "Advocating for Speaking and Listening in a Digital Age."

I use a few codes in my notes: green arrow with red L signals connecting language. I note how speakers move
from topic to topic. Question marks framed in brown denote, literally, framing questions the speaker uses.

 There was much to love and think about in this session. Today's slice shares my thinking and my notes.

In the weeks after NCTE I often go back to notes to write and reflect, collecting ideas or noticing for class on the left page next to the notes I took during the session. Today I went back to my notes to gather ideas for a speaking mini-lesson. I loved that Harvey Daniels used Jerome Stern's Micro Fiction. I had Stern while at Florida State University and I remember well the short, short story contests. Our tenth grade team uses stories from this collection-- they are the perfect length when we want a quick assessment or dip into text, so Daniels use of them during session sure validated that practice.

  Penny Kittle's line from Donald Graves called to me this morning, "Receive the piece before you try to work the piece." Kids need to be taught how to receive each others' pieces-- how to sink in to the story and just listen. Listen first. Then reflect back to the speaker what was heard. They need help setting a purpose for listening too. I gathered some of the questions Penny shared during her session for just that purpose-- to teach students how to help each other listen in focused, purposeful ways.

While I wondered during the session if Gallagher and Kittle often wound their way with students from conversation to digital projects (podcasts or videos for everyone), it was interesting to connect what they were saying to a conversation I'd had at breakfast.  I too often land in the digital project zone with and sometimes I question where I am in terms of authentic, choice-driven tech integration. If I examine my practice in terms of the TIMs matrix, I'm not always working at the infusion or transformation levels. Sometimes we are, but we also spend time in the adoption and adaptation zones, especially when kids (or teachers) are learning together.

Digital spaces give students the ability to speak and be advocates in a space they do not have to inhabit. That is a real plus for students who do not have transportation. Digital spaces can minimize or even eliminate the need for transportation or a car pool--with a WiFi signal from school and supported work time--kids can get into the world with their voices.

Advocating in digital spaces is one reason why I love Project for Awesome. Set to launch this Friday, Project for Awesome has YouTube creators from around the globe creating content that features the amazing work done by charity organizations in an effort to raise awareness and money. To read more about the project started by Hank and John Green, dial the blog back to 2014.

Students have been writing, speaking and talking about their projects for a few days now. They have filmed and practiced. Today they put the pieces together to get the first draft recorded and on screen.
Tomorrow we will share with a sister class and students will give each other feedback.  Students practiced speaking from  their scripts today. We did "dramatic readings"  using Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger 's  P.I.P.E.S. ideas (projection, inflection, pacing, expression and stance) today.

One group was working in iMovie to create a trailer advocating for Southeastern Guide Dogs. Ana and Stephanie called me over to their table to show me their progress.  I'd read their script and overheard some of their practice and conversation, so I was tickled to see how they planned to use the template for a trailer in iMovie. I saw a customized credits screen and a series of shots they'd planned. Ana spotlighted the actions the dogs would take when they filmed them after school. She wiggled. She squirmed in her seat. She smiled wide and brought her shoulders up with the corners of her moth saying, "I'm SO excited!" I can't wait to see what they create.

It's time to cue the music. When kids engage in learning we don't need a "Galvanic bracelet" to measure the moisture on their skin or the micronic width of their pores. When kids engage in learning, in speaking and in listening to each other and for others, we can hear in their voices. We can see it in how they can hardly contain themselves. The work of Daniels, Gallagher and Kittle remind us that  we have to be relentless in our classrooms. We must remember that when one [teacher], one man, one woman comes into the classroom in the name of love, worlds change.

References from the session notes:

Adiche, Chimamanda Ngozi, "The Danger of a Single Story." TED, July 2009.

Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes. Unsung Heroes Project, 2016.

Palmer, Erik. Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2010.

Strauss, Valerie. "$1.1 million-plus Gates grants: ‘Galvanic’ bracelets that measure student engagement." The Washington Post, 11 June 2012.

Turkle, Sherry. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. NY, NY: Penguin, 2015.

Wodtke, Christina. "The Shape of Story." ElegantHack, 6 June 2015.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for creating community and valuing voice. Join us at Two Writing TeachersSlide by the Slice of Life buffet for seconds or link up to serve your own slice of life.

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.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

TBT: Happy St. Patrick's Day

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and valuing teachers' writings. This is post 17 of 31 for 
the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Join us at Two Writing Teachers

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Today is a two-fer. A St. Patrick's day picture of my dad taken this afternoon when he and Mom picked up our dog, Daisy, to take her to their house for spring break and a throw back post about Dad and St. Patrick's Day from a few years ago.
Gotta love the shoes and socks! 

This post first appeared on Pink Stone Days in 2012.

This post is #18 of 31 for the Slice of Life Story Challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

I forgot yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. It slipped my mind in the sweetness of Saturday morning. I can't believe I forgot. In my forty plus years, I've never forgotten St. Patrick's Day. 

I've never forgotten because for me, St. Patrick's Day isn't about wearing green and drinking beer. It's about my Dad. 

Mom & Dad on Park Ave. for the Art Festival today.
Eventually, I remembered. I remembered the minute I saw I'd missed a call from my Dad.  At 1:20 in the afternoon on our way home from a conference, Collin and I called him back. I was kicking my mom-self. I hadn't shared any stories of Ireland with Collin that morning. We didn't pull out the old photo album and look at pictures from Donegal. We didn't read an Irish story much less say the Irish blessing or laugh over the curseHow did I forget?

Usually, it's a first-thing in the morning sort of celebration, sometimes green pancakes or waffles have even been involved. I wanted to kick myself, but I was driving. 

My Dad's first language was Gaelic. He spoke Gaelic at home with his mother. He was the first of his family born in the United States. Dad forgot Gaelic once he went to school. He doesn't speak with a brogue either, but he puts one on for St. Patrick's Day.Ever since I was a child, Dad would perk us up with a lilt and a laugh in his voice, laying the accent on thick the more my brother and I giggled. It is one of many things about my father that delights me, no matter what he and I may have been fighting about when I was a teen and young adult, he was always joyful when he spoke with a Brogue on St. Patrick's Day. 

I think it is his joy and the sharing of it that still gets me. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Six Impossible Things

Some weeks feel like a gauntlet teaching high school. There are demands on teachers' time, our energy, our minds, our moods, our health, our strengths, our minds, and our hearts. We run the race with the best of intentions, but it easy for me to get caught up in the what did not work moments of my week. Instead of doing that, this evening's slice is a quick draft of six of my favorite impossibilities from everyday life. I live among miracles.  Sometimes I need to slow down and remember just that.

Early morning trip to the well to check the problem. Loved how the tree lit up.


We expect it. We take it for granted. We believe it is pure, clear, clean and safe to drink. We fill our tubs with it and soak in it. We don't walk for it or haul it. One morning, recently, I woke up. Stumbled into the kitchen. Put a glass under the faucet for some water. Turned the white ceramic handle and nothing. The pump on our well had gone bad. Even then, the contractor did a same-day fix while I was at work. We didn't even have to be here to witness the miracle. Water was restored by the time we got home from school and track practice.

Second Day Air

Shipping is mysterious. I understand the concept and some of the distribution or transportation channels involved, but really it's amorphous. The idea that a package or an envelope can travel across the country or across the world in two days by plane is one I can image but not quite practically explain. We recently received a second day air mailing label so that we could send our passports in to get visas to travel. Of course it worked. The passports got where they needed to be. Then they flew fleetly back to us and we are sticker ready for four a.m. Friday travel. 


Photocopiers continue to fascinate me. I need to invest in this wondering, but I love thinking about it, so I don't read too deeply into opposites attracking, photo-electric charges or the elementals involved in printing the image from the rotating semi-conductor-coated drum. I love photocopiers. I love thinking about how they work. Perhaps the fascination stems from my early days teaching. I started during the in-between age. Between the photocopier and the end of the  Purple-Ink Age, the age when making copies meant cranking a handle. Both were available to me in the mail room at Winter Park High School. Somedays standing at the copier, I can imagine the wuft, wuft of the copy machine while smelling the ink from the drum and seeing Rosalie Gwinn standing at the counter, turning the handle.

Portable Document Format

PDF documents: oh so crisp, so clean, so sharp. I remember saving documents in PDF format from Adobe PageMaker. I loved the early read-only format. Documents on a screen, rendered at high resolutions are nearly as old world charming as Adobe Garamond. Now there are all sorts of ways to capture and alter PDFs. Readable, shareable, downloadable, change-able. beautiful, the PDF sure is gorgeous at a resolution of 300 dpi.

Image credit: http://tinyurl.com/electric-image
Domestic Electrification

Sure, we have had domestic electrification several relative life times, but it has enable many of my favorite every day appliances: the programmable coffee machine, the washer and dryer, the refrigerator and who would I be to forget the electric light. The lighting cords currently charging personal devices on the kitchen counter and the USB AC/DC plug adapter. I do not even have the vocabulary to describe such technological marvels. All though, seem to have been parented by domesticated electricity (Thank you, Edison and Tesla). 


Love wins. Love endures. Love conquers. Love strengthens and supports. Love shows me everyday what is possible even in the face of seeming impossibilities. So many of these marvels are the result of love and a passion to invest love in learning, in doing, in creating, in helping, in solving and in making the world the place of wonders we know it is.

Six impossible things, that don't quite tell a slice of life story as I've written them, but that I'm happily thinking about as the last day before spring break approaches. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Reflecting on DQ 4

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and valuing teachers' writings. This is post 15 of 31 for 
the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Join us at Two Writing Teachers

This post may get a little messy. I want to spend some writing time reflecting on the first day of our Macbeth on Trial activity. Writing helps me work out my thinking--but it's in progress stuff, so bear with me.

This year my principal pushed the entire faculty to do a Design Question 4 activity with our students. The principal earmarked extended class periods on days at the end of our first semester for us to try an activity that engaged kids in cognitively complex tasks. We did that with a heart transplant decision making activity. My kids loved it and asked to do something like it again, so I planned a collaborative decision making activity to wrap up our study of complex characters. Students have been studying the characters in Shakespeare's Macbeth and as you may know from my post last week, we are putting Macbeth on trial.

Last week I wrote about grouping students and their levels of engagement. Today was day one of the trial and I want to reflect on several things:

  • Based on what I observed during their preparation and the first half of the trail, where are my students in terms of meeting the goal(s) I set for the work?
  • Are the tasks students must complete in order to put  Macbeth on trial cognitively complex (is it really a DQ4 activity)?

I am going to focus on the later in this post.

There are all sorts of mock trial activities educators and curriculum writers have posted online. I adapted one I found on Ms Beattie's Study Mcbeth Wiki here to suit elements in  Design Question 4. I wanted students to apply their knowledge of argument and analysis to their new and growing knowledge about complex characters.

Engaging students in a mock trial requires that make decisions as a group as to how to create and support and argument about Macbeth's character: his guilt or innocence. It does deepen their knowledge of character (a Design Question 3 practice), but it also also allows them to question and making meaning of their learning about character, Shakespeare, and argument.
Lucy taking an aggressive stance to question a witness. 

 This learning extension over concepts, the study of characters in the play and the focus on decision making via the mock trial experience fall in Design Question 4. Students are "taking their new knowledge" about character and argument and "applying it in a different way to generate new understandings" both of the the characters in Macbeth and of how to structure effective arguments and support claims with evidence (Edwards).

Students' roles in the trial vary. Obviously we have a Macbeth and a Lady Macbeth, other students are witnesses, some serve the prosecution or defense, others serve as jurors and judges. Some jurors and judges researched the time period the play was written in order to craft their trial personas. Others researched the time period the play was set to do that. Each student who served as a judge or jury member crafted a persona; they also discussed how they would note the evidence presented and make their decisions.
Such enthusiastic speaking today. Javier reviewing evidence collected by law enforcement.

Students who served on prosecution or defense teams had to create the case for or against Macbeth. They reviewed evidence with "law enforcement" and then crafted an opening statement and planned to question witnesses. Here is one defense group's work in progress.

 I reviewed the sequence and tasks and rubric with all of the students before sending them off to research, plan and create.

Macbeth on Trial: Roles and Sequence

Macbeth on Trial Group Writing Tasks

Ms Corlies Macbeth on Trial Rubric

Students who played law enforcement officers investigated how to write up evidence and a narrative report of a crime using resources I posted for them on Edmodo as a spring board. Many of these groups did their own research and found better ways of writing up the homicide.

Crime Scene Search Study Guide - informational jumping off point for the law enforcement group's inquiry

Example Police Report form- to guide creation of crime scene narrative for law enforcement group

I realized this morning that students needed more support with formal diction (court language) so I created a language bank for them: Formal Language Cheat Sheet for Court. I used it  to redirect kids on the spot during first period to refocus their language so that it was appropriate to the decision making task of the mock trial. Then for the rest of the day I used it to as a mini-lesson to review the sequence for the trial and frame the expectations about character and argument.

It was an interesting day. Beyond how engaged kids were, I was interested in seeing which kids started to evaluate the arguments presented by the prosecution and defense. There were clear errors in reasoning when it came to some of the questions each side asked their witnesses. A few students realized the errors and those came out in reflective conversations at the end of each court session.

Tomorrow the defense will question their last witnesses and each side will deliver closing arguments. Then while the jury deliberates I will ask everyone to explain what decision should be made about Macbeth and why. We'll hear the verdict and the sentencing (which many judges pulled from history during the preparation phase). Then we'll wrap up by reflecting on the process. I'm looking forward to hearing what students think about how they did and where there is room to improve the process, should I try it again.

An instructional coach and I were talking about DQ 4 activities after school to clarify our thinking around and about them and she asked me a great question: what would an administrator have to see in order to automatically think DQ4? An assistant principal stopped by room after school too and he echoed that question as we discussed the trial (kids had eagerly told him about it during lunch and asked him to come see them speak). I think the reflective pieces (which will come tomorrow) would be important as would review all the supporting documents. If administrators walked into a classroom having review the teacher's lesson plans and supporting documents--if they had not, then surely, a conversation after the fact or walk and read over kids' shoulders should make the learning of a cognitively complex task visible to the observer(s). I'm still thinking about this though--especially as it applies across content areas.

I think it's important for teachers to consider how to reveal the depth of their practice to administrators, peers, instructional coaches and/or other stakeholders who may visit their rooms in order to observe learning in action. Writing about our practice is one way to do that as is having reflective conversations. Knowledge, after all, is powerful.


Beattie. "Process of Trial." Study Macbeth Wikispaces.

Corlies, "trial_details2.doc (trial rubric)." Ms. Corlies 11th Grade Wikispace.

Edwards, John. (2013). "Design Question 4." Learning Sciences: Marzano Center.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Destination Digital

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and valuing teachers' writing. This is post 14 of 31 for 
the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Join us at Two Writing Teachers

We are going digital next year. This means that students and teachers at my school will each have their own district-issued device. We are going 1 to 1! I am on the team to support the shift, so I've been participating in monthly sessions to prepare for next year. As you can imagine, I am eager for the coming changes.

My classroom has been a bring your own device, blended and shared learning environment for several years. The move to 1 to 1 will streamline routines I have been practicing and it has also prompted me to revise and refine ways I engage kids in digital environments (more on that later).

This afternoon the team met to start making decisions. We talked Edmodo and Google Drive and committing to calendars and web-based tools. We decided on a naming convention for digital common boards (agendas),  lesson plans or unit files. Then we dug into the summer itinerary.

The group, led by our district vision, is planning to visit five fabulous ports of call during the Destination Digital Summer "Cruise." We are offering two, most expenses paid*, cruise dates: seven days in June and seven days in July. We will host parents and students the first week of August for device distribution and education sessions too.

There was a lot of energy around the table this afternoon as we committed to summer dates and cruise offerings. With good weather and wind, we will surely reach our year one destination of adoption as described on the TIMs matrix.

I'm hoping we plan a bon voyage, dance party on deck before we set sail!

*Teachers will be paid for the work they do during the seven day summer cruises. They can opt for one or even two cruise sessions as school.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Macbeth on Trial

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and valuing teachers' writing. This is post 11 of 31 for 
the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Join us at Two Writing Teachers

"Keep reading it!" Eric laughed. "Oh my God. Is he dead too?  (More laughter.) Ooohhh, I understand now."

Kids are working in groups today to prepare to put Macbeth on Trial. For this culminating activity, I let them choose  groups. They have been sitting in groups I purposefully arranged and rearrange since school started and it always interesting to see what happens when I then allow them to choose. At least half of the eight groups chose to continue together which tells me they've formed (or strengthened) bonds. I love to see that growth in our community.

I also love to see kids so engaged in rehearsing events from a Shakespearean play. The room was full of chatter and chuckle. Comprehension came to life in many of the conversations I listened in on.

"No, remember, Malcolm left. He left with Donlablain! I love Danalblain! But I don't think we can blame him--he wasn't there. " Oh the delight of engagment and exuberance. 

"Ms. Spillane, Mrs. Spillane, we got it!" Sam said. Good to hear such confidence. I have the students in eight groups. Each group will prepare and write pieces to use during next week's trial. The idea of kids putting a character on trial is not a new one; there are several such sites online. When writing curriculum for Plugged-in to Reading, I created crime reports for students to use to pratice writing sequences and description. That was years ago,  but my high school kids still like the role play involved in writing witness and crime reports--though we don't use an organizer or worksheet to write them. Now, kids in the law enforcement group look at several examples and determine what needs to be included. Different groups are working on different parts of the trial, but everyone is researching, writing, speaking or doing something to get ready for next week.

Macbeth on Trial Group Writing Tasks

"Tell her, Abigail!" Abigail had worked out an alternative murderer and her group was eager to share. Kids read Thurber's "The Macbeth Murder Mystery" before jumping into trial preparation. The story is included in our Florida Collections textbook (thank to Kylene BeersCarol JagoBill McBride and Erik Palmer, who all worked on that writing team). The story primed students' imaginations and gave them a way to re-see the tragedy.  

"Her hands, her hands, do this," one encourages as she wrings hands for one of the witness groups.

"All right prosecutions. We've got your evidence!" said another student from the law enforcement group as she swaggered over to a table of young lawyers laptop open in her hands.

I love the approximations as kids try on new-to-them language. I love the energy in the room. And oh how I love the laughter. Sometimes engagement is quiet, creeping on cats feet across pages of print. Other times engagement rumbles and roars, shouts and acts just a little silly. So fun, this teaching life.

Happy weekend all!

PS: To see what my students slicing, step over to our class blog, 31 Students. They'd love to see you there.  

Thursday, March 10, 2016


I woke up wondering: wondering about today's weather: wondering about my lesson plans, wondering about going 1 to 1 digital next year, wondering about assessing students, wondering about our Thursday Socratic discussion routine, wondering about my PLC group,  wondering about students' understandings of Macbeth, and wondering about comments on the blog.

I wonder why some comments are posting more than once. I wonder why commenting on Blogger blogs is so challenging when I'm using my phone or the iPad mini. I wonder if the settings for comments are creating double and triple postings?

I woke up wondering about grades. The end of the quarter nears and I know my students, high-achievers and gifted among them, worry--sometimes incessantly--about grade percentages. I woke up wondering about weighting grades and teacher grades and make up policies and motivation. I wondered about drive and outliers and traits of children tagged gifted. I woke up wondering about the pollen count and the coughs per class period and the sneeze to tissue ratio. 

Lots of mid-week wonderings today. Do you wake up in wonder? I do. It's one of the things I love about teaching: all the wondering.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and valuing teachers' writing. This is post 10 of 31 for 
the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Join us at Two Writing Teachers

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

On Teaching

I had to make a doctor's appointment for this afternoon. I needed a quick check of something that has been bothering me and the appointment nurse fit me in after school and my son's track practice. After I checked in and paid my co-payment, I picked up the newspaper to read while I waited to be called to an examining room.

One of the English teachers in my department was on the front of the Family & Life section for speaking out at the school board last night. The article ran as "Orange Teachers Complain about Ratings." There is likely an entire lesson in word choice I could teach just with the headline and the less than two-minute video clip.

Lisa Marie Lewis speaks out at the school board meeting. 
The article was a surprise to me in that doctor's waiting room. I knew she'd spoken out because a colleague mentioned it during our afternoon PLC meeting, but I didn't read the paper this morning, so I hadn't seen the article.

Discovering it was a mix of emotions. There was a time, years and a couple schools ago, where teachers would pass such things around via email or word of mouth while sharing a table in the teachers' lounge. We are not so connected now.

So much divides us.

We are in our fifth year of a "new" teacher evaluation system in Florida. When I work in other places teachers ask is yours a "Danielson state" or a "Marzano state"--shorthand speak for the two most popular teacher evaluation models in our current Race to the Top system. Florida is a Marzano state. Up for debate at the moment are the number of teachers who received "highly effective" ratings. My county went from over 80% rated highly effective to less than 3%. We had a "no harm" year with a new standardized test, but that may not account for such a drastic drop in "teacher quality."

It is frustrating to work your passion in such a system. It can be worrisome too, to entrust your child's education to such a culture, such a system.

It is easy for educators to get beaten down by the rhetoric that labels them as "complainers." It is easy to get discouraged by the shifting target on standardized tests or the changing language from legislature to school room. It is easy, too easy, to listen to the voices that would distract us from doing important work for and with the children in our classrooms. Work that in my classroom world involves reading and writing and speaking every day.

I did not hear what my colleague had to say. I know she advocates for teachers. I have long admired how she not only attends but actively participates in our local school board meetings. The article reported that she discourages students from going into teaching. That line brought me back to one of my own: Quina.

Quina is one of the most talented young women I've ever taught: amazing writer, passionate speaker (she's since recorded and released her own spoken word album), voracious reader and killer volleyball player. She wrote me on Linked In at the end of her senior year at USF asking about becoming a teacher as she neared graduation. I wish I had connected her with Joan Kaywell. I wished I'd followed up. I wish, I wish... we need passionate learners and teachers.

I didn't want to discourage her. But, I might have.

Teaching is hard work. Teaching is also the most satisfying work I've ever done. If I didn't love it, I wouldn't still be working at my craft. I wouldn't still be learning how to be a better teacher. But, I am. Still learning that is. And still loving purposeful acts of instruction: teaching.

I'm proud of my colleague for speaking her piece. I'm glad that there are teachers who take the time to attend board meetings and share their thinking during such public moments. I'm also proud of my colleagues that do the hard work of everyday in the classroom, meeting learners where they are and bringing them to places they never imagined they could go.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

In the Details

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and valuing teachers' writing. This is post 8 of 31 for 
the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Join us at Two Writing Teachers

My students are taking turns writing on our class blog this month. Yesterday I got an email from a student who's post would not publish. 

Her email came through on my phone, but I was out to dinner with family and could not make out the Wordpress Dashboard on my small screen in the dim restaurant. It was late when I got home and realized I'd left my laptop at school, so the solution waited until this morning. 

We connected just before first period. I found the problem quickly. I'd mis-assigned rights to the blog and made her (and a few others) contributors instead of authors. So, I changed the setting on the Wordpress dashboard and published the posts that had accumulated in the "pending" outbox. 

Whew! Problem solved. 

At the end of a class period, there are always loose ends: pressing questions, grading concerns, learning issues, storing concerns (packing away laptops). Each I need to address as I make my way from the room to the hallway. Sometimes the phone even rings during that first minute of our six-minute passing time. 

I know I left adding users to the blog to the end of a class period one day and in the rush to do what needs doing, I missed the type of users I added. I need to adjust how I add users to the class blog next year. I am going to remember to slow down. Less is more as Ted Sizer said and reminds me. No need to rush. I will remember there is time enough for everything if I take my time to work each moment mindfully. Luckily we got the blog users and posts straightened out in less than five minutes. 

I love an easy fix. 

If you'd like to see what my students have been writing about, click the image above to visit our class blog.