NCTE Reflections

First of all, if you have never been to NCTE, it is overwhelming. An abundance of choices, voices, options, all of which push you to decide where you will spend your time. My first few choices were teacher-led sessions.

Session 1 was Empowering Student Voice, which fits in with my 2017 One Word Resolution.  I love writing workshop-style classes, but I don’t love a focus on grammar and punctuation. I liked some of the ideas, however, and can see incorporating some of their ideas into my Introduction to Literature course that starts in a few days.

Session 2 was Folger’s Macbeth. After some language play, we broke up into acting companies and tried out 15 minute Macbeth.  I can definitely use this strategy with my sophomores this spring. It sounds like a great start to reading the play. I also heard about Forsooth, a member only group that supports teachers. Needless to say, I joined. I’m not sure it’s worth it, yet.

Session 3 was the Global Kindness Project. I loved it. I definitely want to sign my sophomores up for 2018, beginning on January 15 and ending on Feb. 15. It should fit right into our research project. The steps of the project are:

  1. Kindness
  2. Gratitude
  3. Empathy
  4. Action

Session 4 was supposed to be gamification, mixed with #breakoutedu. The ideas were sound, but sound like you’d need professional actors to pull it off.  My big takeaway? To gamify deeply, you must have a storyline, to provide purpose.

Next, we had our presentation: Using Digital Tools to Level Up the 21st Century Writer. I joined three other teachers to talk about digital tools and how we use them to improve student writing. I use Goobric to track data and Screencastify to provide individual explanations as to their Goobric score on rough drafts, rather than “grading” those first drafts. When students wrote their final reflections, my feedback videos were the number 1 thing students mentioned as most helpful to them.

The last session I attended was Kylene Beers, Robert Probst, and Penny Kittle. I loved the rainstorm metaphor Kylene shared to parallel Notice and Note: as readers, we first see the clouds, then we use prior knowledge to determine it will rain, and then we act on that information by getting an umbrella. Notice, note, and so what? Perfect! And Bob’s slide, that explains why we might get pushback from society by teaching students to defend their ideas with evidence, was perfectly timed. I also loved Penny Kittle’s question, “So how are you getting started today?” I think this was the first time I understood what writing conferences are supposed to look like.

The biggest takeaway I have from NCTE 17-the people. Connecting with educators, with authors, with folks excited about teaching, really made my week. Every day, I ate with different people, dug into the teaching profession with others, wandered the vendor hall with more, and networked. I came back refreshed and ready to take on the world.

I highly recommend attending NCTE. I hope I get the chance to go again!

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Generation Z Comes to KR

No, Generation Z does not mean Generation Zombie, although to the misinformed, watching students zone out with phones in hand might give that impression. But these students are not passively consuming media or mindlessly texting their friends. They are creators, innovators, entrepreneurs who see digital media as their way to share their thoughts with the world.

Recently, I attended a district provided professional development. The keynote speaker, Dr. Corey Seemiller, shared her research with what she sees as the latest generational shift. It seems that this generation, which she calls Generation Z, is just now entering colleges across the nation. According to Dr. Seemiller, this generation encompasses not only my own children, ages 8 and 11, but also the students that I am currently teaching in high school.

After hearing her talk, which confirmed many of my own beliefs about the young people with which I interact every day, I knew some general truths. Here are my revelations:

  1. Student agency is key. This generation craves the power to make their own choices, including how and when they learn.
  2. Be the guide, not the sage. Students still desire support from their instructors and enjoy meeting with them face to face. They want teachers to support their interests, not require them to be in lockstep with their peers.
  3. Connect learning to reality Learning should not be solely because “it prepares you for next year,” but have real world connections to adult life.

To implement these ideas, I am moving from a whole class approach, where everyone does everything at the same time and sits in an assigned desk chair, to flexible seating and flexible planning.

Flexible seating, lite

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How we like to ACT

I wish all of my seats allowed for student agency, but this corner is where I keep my flexible seating. Pillows, a carpet, some plastic chairs, and letting my students be the ones to choose: will they read or practice online for the ACT? In addition to 16 traditional desks, I have a standing desk (created by adding bed risers to a table), a round table, and a trapezoid table.

Digital Badges & Microcredentials

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LRNG is a nonprofit company that focuses on student engagement and learning. Learning is organized by playlists, which are made up of XPs, or experiences, that students must complete in order to earn badges. These badges, along with the evidence to which they are attached, are visible evidence of their learning.

In my classes, I have created several playlists in lieu of direct instruction. In this way, I hope to allow my students some flexibility in when and how they learn. In addition, I am adding some real world connections. For example, students are interviewing a professional in the field they wish to pursue, instead of interviewing a family member. LRNG has helped by connecting my students with mentors in the professional world.


As the year progresses, I hope to share more of my adventures in connecting with Generation Z.

“Gen Z” by  Abhijit Bhaduri is shared under CC by 2.0 license.

Makerspace as motivation

Just as my juniors are building relationships using a breakout game, my sophomores deserve more than the typical sit and get day one. Last year, I had them create origami boxes. This year, I’m leaning towards just the lids. They are the most challenging part of the box, and challenge, plus six word memoirs, should present them with an opportunity to practice grit and growth mindset.

Here’s a link to how to make the boxes, if you want to try it out yourself.

Instead of me standing up and explaining what to do, students will begin in one of four stations. The stations are:

  1. Origami box lid
  2. Six word memoir
  3. Six word memoir
  4. Origami box lid

Day one is only 28 minutes long, so I want them to have time to finish the lid and the memoir. Each station will have directions and models of what I want them to make. My goal is for them to create a box lid, glue in their memoir, and write their names on the back of the box lid. This way, I get to know them, but they do not have to overshare on day one. I plan to create the word YET on my wall, using the box lids.

If you’d like to try six word memoirs, below are some linked suggestions:

After an interlude of essay writing to show what they know from their summer reading assignment, Ready Player One from Ernest Cline on Day 2, we’ll move on to something I’m really excited about: personal motivation posters.

On Day 3, we’re back in makerspace.

After spending some time perusing examples of excellent motivational design, students will photograph each other and create their poster, using a quote that inspires them and their image. I’ll print these and mount them on black cardstock on my very white front wall, right under the word “community.” I can use this activity to get to know their names as well as allow them to get to know each other.

“A logo for MaKey Makey: Alphabet soup” by jayahimsa is shared under a CC by 2.0 license.

Better Together: Days 1-3

For the last two years, I have taught College Composition, and these last two years have been an unending digital stack of student writing. To provide a clear picture of what those years have been like, when other teachers are sitting down for Thanksgiving pie, I’m in the back bedroom, recording hours of revision feedback. And it is appreciated, as one of my students below emailed me to say:

Screenshot 2017-07-16 at 11.01.35 AM

But it’s time for a change: time to empower my students to be the experts. Time to employ the tenets of one of my summer readings: Peer Feedback in the Classroom by Starr Sackstein. Sackstein believes that teaching students to support each other with revision suggestions provides them with agency. Since empowering students to think and learn for themselves remains my why, I really have to try giving up some control when it comes to writing feedback.

The first move Sackstein suggests is to build strong relationships within the classroom. If students don’t trust each other, and if they don’t trust me, then peer feedback will fail. “Respect can’t be assumed; it must be taught explicityly and modeled continuously” (Sackstein 20). Luckily for me, I had half of my next year’s students as 10th graders, but I will still need to set the stage. In the first three days, as we wait for students to get their very own Chromebooks in a new 1 to 1 initiative, I plan to work on some relationship and respect building.

Day 1: My very own Breakout EDU game, complete with students wearing first name tags, so I can start to get to know who they are and how they think.

Day 2: Open forum backchannel discussion: about such topics as flexible seating, silent reading, technology vs old school paper notes, the use of cell phones, and whatever else I can think of. The theme of the course is community, so we’ll use this discussion to build our ground rules. After a brief intro to the three essential questions of nonfiction from Beers and Probst’s Reading Nonfiction,

  1. What surprised me?
  2. What does the author think I already know?
  3. What challenged, changed, or confirmed what I already know?

We’ll watch one of my favorite TED Talks:

Students will take notes for their first writing assignment, connecting the three Qs of nonfiction to the video. For homework, students will write a reflection. I use this reflection as their first venture into college writing, as part of my measurement of their student growth. I should be able to use it to learn more about who they are as students, too.

Day 3: A short entry ticket: what is a single story and why is it dangerous? After a quiet 5 min quick write, we’ll have a brief, 5 min norming session of what it looks like to pair up to share ideas. What does it look like? Sound like? How will they know it is over? After a pair and a share with the class, we’ll dive into telling our own stories. How will we do this? With a fun round of two truths and a lie. This game should be a fun way to end the week. I will, of course, go first. Want my two truths? I shaved my head in college, and I once caught crickets that we fried up and ate. Yep, I’m a wild child at heart.

How about you, fellow readers? How will you build relationships with your students in the first three days?

“Learning Community Wordle” by Balboa Park Cultural Partnership is shared under a CC by-SA 2.0 license.

Respectful Relationships with the 99%

Like many of my colleagues, I am struggling this year with building respectful relationships with my students. I have very few rules posted in my room, but I believe deeply in each one, and it drives crazy to have to do battle every time a rule gets broken. Is “Respect each other” so hard to do? And when I try to be patient and respectful to them, why do they snap back with attitude?

Case in point: I created a new seating chart, trying to separate my chattier boys from each other. On my chart, one boy in particular was placed without many neighbors. He threw a fit. Instead of just sitting down so we could start class, he turned to the rest of the class, threw up his arms, and declared there was no reason for him to have to sit down. He told me I couldn’t sit him in the front, and invited the class to join him in anger about my unfairness. Not only did he lack respect for me, but also to the rest of the class, who just wanted to get started with our day. He would not stop yelling until I told him to report to the office.

The entire team of sophomore teachers got together with the administration to discuss how we would handle the future. They plan to meet with the entire class and try to “set them straight.” We are advised to provide them with more teacher led instruction, which I hate, and to first warn students when they break a rule and then issue them a consequence. And when they grand stand, we are to send them out, which will subsequently double whatever consequence we give them.

And so, on this Thanksgiving day, I will try to focus on the 99% of my students who show respect and let the 1% go, till I see them on Monday. Hard to do, but worth it.