Sunday, October 7, 2012

Insanity and the Flipped Classroom

Albert Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I kind of feel this way about my intentions for blogging and writing. I intend to blog and read and write for myself, but it is always what falls by the wayside. I want to do set aside time, but never seem to be able to do it.

It seems like this year is even crazier than the last. We are now half way through the first marking quarter and I am so incredibly behind in my correcting that I don't think I can possibly get caught up in one weekend. It's Columbus Day weekend, when I usually get caught up for mid-quarter. However, I am spending this weekend recovering from a nasty cold (thank you, students, for sharing) and trying to revamp my classes, especially my 11th grade US History class. I am not at all happy with the way that class is going.

All of my classes (9th grade English Comp & Lit, 10th grade English, 11th grade English, 9th &10th grade World History, 11th US History, SAT Prep) have felt like a big flop. Let's just take a minute to look at that work load. Yes, I am teaching 5 core classes and a SAT Prep class, as well as monitoring study hall 3 afternoons a week, and supervising an advisory group 4 days a week. I am writing the curriculum for all of my classes. I don't have textbooks for either of my history classes, and we have limited technology available.

I spent this past summer doing some ground work, but as we've gotten into the school year, it has become increasingly clear to me that I did not do nearly enough planning. I am at this point, all around dissatisfied with my classes. It's not the kids and it's not the subject matter. I love my students, I love English and the literature I've selected, and I love history. I am just not being a good, effective teacher. I'm not implementing into my classes the aspects of reading & writing that I want; things like read aloud, independent reading, and quick writes. I am convinced that this is because I have too much on my plate. Unfortunately, that is not going to change. The school has no money for personnel or resources.

Last week, after a month of school and being frustrated with how my history classes are going, I was again presented, through Twitter, with the idea of flipping my class. When I first heard about flipping class last year, I didn't take the time to learn about it. It seemed like it involved using technology in a way for which I did not have the time or resources. Last week I decided it was time for me to learn more.

Monday night I spent some time on Twitter, participating in #flipclass chat and connecting with other teachers who are flipping their classes. I asked lots of questions and begged for resources. I got many links to blogs and websites. I started reading. Tuesday I tried explaining what I had read to my colleagues and didn't do a very good job. It became obvious to me that I still didn't understand enough myself (another lesson in of itself!). So I spent more time reading and Tweeting.

I realized that I needed to do a better job of identifying what I want the students to learn, how I want them to learn it, and how I want them to demonstrate that learning. Really it is the same principles behind Understanding by Design (Grant Wiggins). I like how Kate Baker explains it on her blog, which is actually from Cheryl Morris' Blog:

Flipping English is about two things:
1) helping students take responsibility for their own learning by understanding them and their unique skills, abilities, and needs, and
2) leveraging technology to build a student-centered environment that meaningfully engages the cultural context in which our students live.

The flip is the process of how the students learn, not what they learn from.

This makes so much sense to me. And it relieves the pressure of technology. Because it's not really about the technology.  I think many people make the mistake of thinking that flipping your class is about using technology.

Is was only a few days after this that I landed upon the Civilization Project idea for my World History class. I was thinking on a small scale based on a project that I'd done in the past with Paul Fleishman's book Weslandia. My middle school Social Studies students had read the book and created their own civilization similar to Wesley's in the story. I was planning to do that again with my high school students. I was searching the internet for ideas for the project when I stumbled upon the Teacher Quality Collaborative website. There was the idea project! I've done some editing and will continue to morph the project into my own. The energy in the room when I presented the project to my 9th & 10th graders was amazing! Without realizing they were doing it, the kids were implementing information that I had already given them on foundational characteristics and factors of civilization! It was so much fun to listen to them!

I'm feeling really good about my World History class now, but still have much work to do for US History and my English classes. I've spent much of this weekend so far wrestling with the question of what to focus on with US History. I think I'm narrowing down my focus for US History. The Big Question (thank you Jim Burke) that I want to use is "What does it mean to be American?" The question is broad enough that I can use it for basically each era that I want to study from Colonial to 19th Century. I still need to figure out what exactly our class will look like. I love the idea of Problem Based Learning and I've got the problem. I need to decide how to engage my students in discovering the answer. What project/task do they do to explore the idea of American Identity and how do they demonstrate what they are learning?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Do Hard Things

One of the books I assigned to my 10th & 11th graders for summer reading is Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris. The book challenges teenagers to go against the low expectations that our culture has for teens. As I was reading this morning, I was thinking about how I, as a teacher and mature Christian, can support and encourage my students to be involved in ministry and to be active members of the the body of Christ. Later, when I checked my Facebook, I saw a post about the Portland Walk to Defeat ALS from the mom of one of my students. See this student's dad was diagnosed with ALS a few years ago. This family amazes me. They freely share their struggles, yet they are such an example of walking out your faith through difficult times.

When I saw this mom's post, God laid it on my heart to not only participate in the walk myself, but to try to get 100% participation from our high school in the walk. What a perfect opportunity for my students to minister to one of their own! I have signed up to walk and I am raising money. My goal is $210. I'm hoping that my students will not only walk, but will try to raise money as well.

I've been trying to get more disciplined in my exercise. The walk is 3.5 miles, and I want to be in shape for it! I have two months to get ready! Every time I don't feel like going for a walk I'm going to remember that  those who have ALS loose that simple freedom of taking a walk, and I'm going to make myself do the thing that I don't want to do. I want to be ready on September 8!
If you are interested in participating or supporting, just click on the link:
Walk to Defeat ALS®: Portland Walk

Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday Five

1. I wrote 2,496 words on my story today! I'm pretty excited about this because I've been really struggling with writing for a very long time. I'm not sure if I want to put any of my story up on my blog, though. However, I did post a snippet at Gae Polsner's Feedback Friday on her blog and got some positive feedback and constructive criticism. This is all part of the Teacher's Write virtual writing camp that Kate Messner is hosting this summer.

2. Tomorrow is our 5th anniversary. We were going to go camping up on Deer Isle, but decided not to. Which is a good thing. Instead, we had a nice day at home today. Beloved Husband worked in his woodshop on a rocking chair that he's been trying to figure out all year. I, as mentioned above, wrote. Tomorrow we plan to spend the day exploring the Bath/Brunswick area. There is a barn sale in New Gloucester that he wants to check out, and we'll hopefully hit and Indie bookstore in Bath and go out for dinner. Should be a fun day.

3. Beloved Husband's grandmother died tonight. She was a delightful woman- 101 years old. She was a librarian, an avid reader, a mom, a grandmother, a great grandmother, and a great-great grandmother. She will be missed.

4. In addition to trying to keep up with #bookaday, I've been participating in #summerthrowdown, a reading challenge between teachers and librarians on Twitter. I do pretty good with reading during the week, but it's been harder on the weekends. I count Friday as the weekend now that I'm on vacation. BH has Fridays off, so that is part of the weekend for him. Last weekend we went to Massachusetts to visit his family on Saturday- no reading that day, but a wonderful visit, including one with his grandmother who passed away tonight. Today was a writing day for me. I'm not sure how much reading I'll get in tomorrow. I'll have to make up for it in the days to come. Go #teamteacher!

5. Next week BH has the 4th & 5th off from work, and we plan to head north to the lake where my family has a camp. My brother and his family is planing to be there, which means there will be no room for us in the camp (the camp has two bedrooms and very thin walls. My brother has 4 kids, including a one week-old). BH and I, as well as my mom, plan to stay across the cove with friends who have an extra camp. My mom has stayed with them before, but this will be new for me- being at the lake, but not staying at our place. I do look forward to it, though.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Nubble Light, Cape Neddick, York,  Maine     Photo-me

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Genuine Learning

My freshmen and sophomores took their English final yesterday. It consisted of two main parts: the objective test for the novel we just finished (To Kill a Mockingbird for freshmen and Macbeth for sophomores) and a synthesis essay. For the essay I gave them a Big Question and asked them to draw from the books they read this year in writing their answer. They were free to reference books they were assigned, books they read on their own, and books that I read to them. They were also encouraged to draw from their lives in general and their other classes. What they wrote gave me chills.

As an English teacher, of course I was looking for evidence of proper writing technique and use of grammar mechanics. I was not disappointed. My students applied the thesis generator concept that I taught them (thank you Mr. Jim Burke!) and showed over all improvement in their writing structure and voice. The essays also gave me good feedback on areas I need to focus on next year. I'm excited to start my planning with this in mind. We have a lot of work to do on GUM!

What thrilled me the most was the thinking and synthesis expressed in their writing. These kids made some incredible points and conclusions. They weren't worried about whether or not they were going to have the correct answer; they thoughtfully wrote their ideas about real life topics and made connections beyond what I had hoped.

This year my freshmen, in addition to their own free choice books, read Of Mice and Men, Romeo and Juliet, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Sarah Dessen's books and Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak spent more time circulating then on my shelves. The final unit of study in their Bible class was reading and discussing the book Stomping Out the Darkness by Neil T. Anderson. The Big Question I asked the freshmen to write about was "What is Identity? What forms our identity?" Here are just a few selections that moved me:

"This year, we read several books. Many of them included the theme of identity. The two that stood out to me the most were Stomping Out the Darkness and Speak. These both addressed different ways of looking at identity. After reading them, I came to a conclusion of my own. Identity is not what others see in you. Identity is all the pieces of your being that make you who you are and who you're meant to be." - HB

"In today's social world it is important to know who you are because if you don't, the world will try to make you  into what they want you to be like in the story of TKaM. Like everyone else Tom Robinson had an identity except for the fact that he was black and the town of Maycomb had their own ideas of who he was and because of that it cost him his life.

Another instance from this year where people didn't understand what identity really is was in the book Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Turner didn't have his own identity because he was the Preacher's boy and he was watched like a bug under a microscope. The town took his identity or what little of it he had and squeezed it and stretched it until it would no more sort of like Playdoh. I see people's identity like Playdoh, its squishy therefore people can mold it into what they want it to be and add things to it." -PE

"Sometimes people do mean things to us, that can sometimes scar us for life if we let it. Most of the time, it isn't as extreme as rape, but still it can leave deep wounds in ourselves. People all around the two main characters of [Speak and Just Listen] blamed them and called them mean names, but that wasn't who they were either. They finally came to recognize this as well. Although words hurt, they don't have to control us.

Our identity is shaped by our experiences, but God can help us break through them. We can learn from them, and that helps make us who were are. For we aren't what others have said or done to us, and we don't have to live in the shadow of what we have done." - EG

"The possibilities of outside influences cover a span from family to culture and society. The first example of this is found within Romeo Montague in Romeo and Juliet. Being a Montague, he is supposed to despise all Capulets. This family influence causes him to fight with his identity as he falls in love with Juliet Capulet. He has been born into a family that expects him to be one way, but he used all of his strength to fight agains that ultimately leading him to his death..."- LP

My sophomores read The Odyssey, Lord of the Flies, and Macbeth. Their Big Questions was, "How can and individual change the world? How does the world influence an individual?" Again, I got some pretty insightful answers!

"This world is always changing. Countries, cultures, society and people are always changing. One small or large decision can change our futures and our history. So how do individuals change the world and the world change them? It all happens when an individual makes choices that not only affects others but themselves and who they allow to influence them. Individuals change the world because of the way they were brought up, who they allow to influence them and the choices they make." -TB

[following is a concluding paragraph after referencing Lord of the Flies, Unwind, and Macbeth]

"Individuals that have been impacted by the world can change the world, whether it be by being the sole believer in hope, becoming a leader to unite and protect the people, or simply chasing after their own desires. Each individual plays a small role in the alteration of "rules of the world", but they have some support from people around them that in the end enables them to reshape the world's way of thinking. In such a large world, individual merely sets the ball rolling, while the success of his/her idea rests in the other individuals who support their ideas."-RS

"In prisons there are many prisoners that might don't want do those illegal thins. But under many factors they might have to. For example, money, power, pressure, or ambition are some main factors that cause them to start the wrong things. And sometimes when you jump down to it you can't get out. In Shakespeare's act Macbeth, that is a good example of individual changing the whole country. Because of Macbeth's own ambition of power, he killed king Duncan. A king can represent as a kingdom, so when a king got killed it also means the kingdom get overthrown. Macbeth killed his king and tried to make himself king. But definitely evil power never greater than justice...

...An individual can change a person and definitely a world can change individual, but you better don't let the world change you because it also means you would be changed under different environments. If today you're under a tough environment doesn't that mean you will become tough as well? So don't let the world to shape you. Let yourself to shape the world." -ML (an ESL student)

This, to me, is a reflection of genuine learning.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Guess You Had To Be There

This morning one of my colleagues asked me if I could cover the last 15 minutes of his last period class. He's been taking flight lessons and the recent stormy weather has postponed his air time. He had a chance to get some time in today but would need to leave early. I gladly agreed to cover for him because he so often cheerfully takes lunch break duty, even when he doesn't have to.

When the time came, he gave me half a chocolate bar and said, "You'll need to fortify yourself for these guys!" Then he hurried off. I collected the test's the freshmen had just taken and slipped into the quiet room. Freshmen Bible. They were all sitting at their desks with books open before them, reading. Quite impressive for last period Wednesday, a week and a half before finals.

I sat at the teacher's desk correcting, they sat at their student desks reading. Pedro asked to use the bathroom and left quietly. All was well. By this time you might begin to wonder what was up. Freshmen working so diligently on a sunny May afternoon? But hey, they're wonderful kids and we have trained them well (right).

Pedro returned from the bathroom and sat down. Suddenly I heard giggling. I looked up to see that Isabel had slid almost completely out of her desk. Apparently Pedro wasn't too keen on Isabel putting her feet on the bookrack under his chair and scootched his desk forward. Isabel was determined to have a foot rest and scootched her desk after him. It didn't take long for them to make it all the way to the front of the classroom (before you're overly impressed, keep in mind this is a small room). Pedro was quickly running out of room. At a classmate's urging, he turned left. Wasn't much help. He now found himself with a cabinet to his right, a wall in front of him, and Rain (& her desk) to his left. And of course Isabel still behind him. He was trapped. Alejandro got in on the action, scooting up behind Isabel so that he could put his feet on her bookrack. This kids do like their foot rests!

Being the firm, no-nonsense teacher that I am, I immediately put a stop to this silliness and set the wayward desk scooters straight.

Actually, I pulled out my iPhone and recorded a video of the whole thing. In my defense, it was the end of the last period on a Wednesday afternoon in May.

My favorite quote of the day came from Rain, as Pedro, Isabel, and Alejandro were moving their desks around the room. "Guys, she's going to blog about us!"

So here you go Rain. I blogged about you!

*Oh and incase you think I am teaching a class full of Hippies and Hispanics, names have been changed to protect the not so innocent. They all have Spanish names (you remember that from high school Spanish, don't you) and they let me use them for this story.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Slice of Life

I am trying to do more writing and to use mentor texts and models with my students. Today I showed the freshmen some of my first draft writing. They were pretty funny when I asked them to identity things that made it first draft. They were rather critical. "There were cross outs and punctuation missing." "It was hard to follow." "It was hard to read because it was in cursive." "It was really long." "There were a lot of thoughts in it and the thesis wasn't really clear."

They acted like it should have been perfect because I wrote it, even though I told them it was first draft writing and explained some of my writing process. I hope that at least a few of them got the idea of first draft writing. The idea of multiple drafts and revision is so foreign to them. They want to write it once and be done with it.

On the positive side of things, today the freshmen turned in their short original historical fiction pieces. Some pretty amazing pieces came in! Three of them were willing to read their writing to the class. Two really great short stories and one poem with rhyming that worked! I'm looking forward to reading the rest of them.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Trust the Students

*Some not altogether polished thoughts on high school students, books, and writing*

 A couple of my students stopped by my classroom after school. We had a delightful chat about, among other things, books. In the course of the conversation, I asked for their opinion on the controversy surrounding YA books that deal with difficult issues like self-harm, eating disorders, and suicide. I wanted to know if they thought such books were dangerous for kids to read; if they would be "triggers" for someone struggling with such issues or cause someone to try such behaviors.

"I can read those books, know that the feelings are real, and know better how to help someone who is going though something like that." One of the girls told me.

Her classmate was thoughtful while she waited to speak. "I think it depends on the person. For some people it wouldn't be a good idea. They're not in a good place, and reading about it won't help. Other people it's fine. It can help them."

Their responses did not surprise me. It seems that often in our effort to spare kids pain and to keep them safe from what we deem to be hurtful, we forget that kids are capable of making good and healthy choices. So many times I have seen a student choose not to read a book because they know that it's just not for them. There is always going to be someone who doesn't make good choices. But many kids need to read books to help them heal from their own experiences, to understand what someone they care about is going through, or to understand the dangers involved in risky behavior.

Adults are scared-something that is quite understandable when you look at the headlines these days. Students do make cries for help in their writing, but they also use their writing to try to make sense of their world. When I was in high school I wrote a story about a brother & sister who were physically abused by their father. I had read a similar story and was intrigued. My teacher knew my family and knew that this was not a situation with which I had first hand experience. She didn't freak out; she made some comments about the sensitivity and seriousness of the issue, and left the door open if there was anything that I needed to talk about.

I was saddened when a student told me she had stopped writing because her parents had found some of her writing and flipped out because of what she had written. "Parents want you to go to them with things, but when they flip out on you and start distrusting you, it makes you not want to share your thoughts with them. I understand why they're upset. I know that they love me and want to help me, but their reaction makes me not want to share anything." A pretty preceptive kid!

I'm left with a sense of the weight of responsibility I carry as a teacher. I can't just hand any book to any student. I need to know my students. I need to be sensitive to and respect each family's values. I can't just quickly read through their writing without a thought to where it is coming from. I need to create an environment where they feel safe exploring ideas and issues, and feel confident that when help is needed, help will be given.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Blowing off the Dust (again)

It's been three months since I last visited my little blog. It is lonely and dusty. Another day slips by and so much is still undone. Each week I set a goal of reading and writing for me, and each week the goal goes unmet. I am working hard to write curriculum, and be an effective teacher, yet I feel so ineffective because I'm not writing as I should. I grab a moment here or there and write and it feels so good to put pen to paper again. I realize how important it is for me to be writing with my students, yet time slips by again and my writing and reading falls by the way side. But I keep pushing forward and keep trying again.

After talking with my sophomores this morning, I was inspired to dust off my blog. They are working on book reviews for Biology class and one of the girls asked me if I wrote book reviews. I told her I had written a few on my blog, which led us to talking about blogging. Admittedly, I was rather embarrassed to admit that I hadn't blogged in months and that I had very few followers. You need to be interesting and have something worthwhile to say in order to attract regular readers and I'm afraid I've not been very interesting with my inconsistent posts.

Better late than never, I suppose. As I am getting my students to keep Reader's-Writer's Notebooks (modeled after Linda Rief) and getting back into the habit with me own R-WN, I hope to be more consistent with my blogging. I am trying to develop my own habits of thinking and writing and foster that in my students. There was a time that I did so much writing: notebooks upon notebooks of thoughts, reflections, stories. But I've lost that in recent years and I don't know why. I want to get that back. I want to rediscover my writing self, my reflective self, my creative self. I want to again know that feeling of creativity flowing from my pen, almost of it's own will.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Review: Under the Never Sky

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
Source: ARC from NetGalley

Summary (from Goodreads):
Since she’d been on the outside, she’d survived an Aether storm, she’d had a knife held to her throat, and she’d seen men murdered. This was worse.

Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland—known as The Death Shop—are slim. If the cannibals don’t get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She’s been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He’s wild—a savage—and her only hope of staying alive.

A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile—everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria’s help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must accept each other to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky. 

Flash Review:
This was one of the very first titles that I received from NetGalley. I’ve been a big fan of dystopian fiction for a while now; I’ve been a sci-fi fan for as long as I can remember. I really enjoyed Under the Never Sky. It took me a few pages to get into the story and become comfortable with the world that Veronica Rossi had created. This is true of most any dystopian novel. Once I got a handle on the world, I was hooked. I particularly enjoyed how each chapter was from a different point of view. Rossi did a wonderful job of developing the characters of Aria and Perry, and developing their narrative voice. Aria’s character in particular is incredibly dynamic. I’m looking forward to the second book and seeing how Aria and Perry continue to develop, as well as where Rossi takes the story. This is a book that I will gladly recommend to my students who enjoyed The Hunger Games.