Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Internet and Iraq

In my previous post, I mused on the use of the Internet to authentically explore cultures. As I was driving home from work today, I heard this NPR story.

Here's a link (that you can get to through the story) that I found particularly interesting.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Poetic Inspiration

It's been awhile since I've posted last...but the topic of this post has been calling to me for a few weeks now....

I say the poet Naomi Shihab Nye at the recent Colorado Language Arts Society Spring Conference. She was an inspiration - a humble one, which made her even more inspiring. Her poems were intriguing, heartbreaking, and amusing. And, while they were an important part of her presentation, I was more struck with her commentary on human beings. We are at the point in our lives where many cultures are being "forced" to get to know each other. However, we often get acquainted via news reports or word of mouth stereotypes. Poetry is one way, Nye suggested, that we get to really know our fellow humans. Many poems she read were about issues that were universal, even though they were based on people in the Middle East. With each poem, she inspired me to continue to promote beauty and creativity in the classroom. It is what we do as teachers, no matter the content area or age that we teach. Beauty and creativity are universal languages. She urged us, through her poems, to let our students know this.

It got me thinking as I left the reading, and much since then, about what I can do in my classroom. Technology has gifted us with a miraculous tool - the Internet. Nye mentioned how high schools in Australia are requiring their seniors to read and reflect on a blog from an Iraqi in order to graduate. I hear the debate about graduation requirements often, some of which include the requirement to perform some amount of volunteer work. But this idea has consumed me since I heard Nye speak three weeks ago. What a wonderful way to bring technology into the classroom, but to also spark some thought within the generation that we are educating. Knowledge is power - a cliche, I know, but a true one. Giving the gift of cultural knowledge is a powerful thing.

I'd like to hear about suggestions on blogs or other ideas so that I may begin to incorporate this into my own classroom.

Saturday, March 10, 2007 answer on how to teach grammar in context

For some reason, the idea of teaching grammar in context was a complete enigma. I heard much about it, and I knew I needed to do it. BUT, I just didn't get it. This relates quite well to my students who are studying grammar: they've heard about it (over and over and over again) and they knew they needed to do it. BUT, they just didn't get it.

This morning at the CLAS conference Jeff Anderson was the keynote speaker. He gave an enlightening and humorous speech on how to look at teaching grammar in a new light. These wonderful ideas are in his book Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer's Workshop.

There were a few key parts of his speech that spoke to me and my needs in the classroom.
  • Examine what the students reveal with their errors. The great its/it's struggle is one example. I need to ask myself a few questions: Why do students misunderstand this concept? How can I help them erase their misconceptions? By knowing why they think a certain way is correct (when it is actually wrong) can lead to authentic discussions on those pesky rules.
  • Use correct sentences to teach instead of incorrect sentences. I abandoned the DOL idea a few years ago when I realized that it was only a way to get students working right off the bat (I've since discovered more useful strategies for this). I have never seen a replacement that works for me. Here's what Jeff suggested...Put up a "great" sentence from a published author and use inquiry to discover patterns. Students can notice why things are capitalized in the middle of the sentence, or why there are commas where they are. The beauty of this is that I can look at style as well. Students can emulate the sentence using the correct grammar, but also the style they were shown. The key to this is questioning and letting students figure out patterns and rules. Then...I love this part...students can go into their literature (independent reading or whole class assignments) and find "great" sentences of their own. As a class we can explore them together. So....this fits into reader's and writer's workshop, and it is a quick way to bring in grammar and style instruction more often.

I'd love to hear more grammar in context ideas.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Colorado Language Arts Society (CLAS) Conference

I'm at one of my favorite events - the CLAS regional spring conference and once again I am reminded of how proud I am to be a part of an organization and profession that continually works for improvement. When I was first exposed to this conference five years ago, I was a second year teacher and was uncertain about how a weekend could impact me. Now, five years later, this is an event I look forward to months ahead.

What this conference means to me:

  • Chance to reconnect with colleagues - I have had the honor of visiting with a teacher who I knew at my first teaching job. It was wonderful to discuss what has happened in the few years that I have been gone. I love hearing that the principal who gave me a chance as a first year teacher was still thriving in her position. I also liked hearing that some teachers who I was inspired by were still teaching strong. Many of them probably do not realize their impact on me as a first and second year teacher. However, my standard of what a teacher who is also a coach should be was set high by teachers who cared deeply about both and never sacrificed teaching for coaching.
  • Chance to learn from others - I have been to a few sessions today that have provided tools that I can use in my classroom within days or weeks. I learned how to refine my literature circles, how to inspire students with archetypes and the hero's quest, and how to help students revise their argumentative research thesis. This is my true inspiration. I love seeing how other teachers think and love being able to take their inspiration from their classroom to my own.
  • Chance to learn from professional authors - Richard Peck and Nikki Grimes were two speakers that I heard today. Both inspired me to be a better teacher and a better writer. I love hearing their enthusiasm for telling stories through poetry and prose.
  • Chance to spoil myself - As participants at this conference we get special rates at one of the most amazing hotels, The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. This is a chance for teachers to spoil themselves by staying in a place that many would not normally be able to afford. I'm looking around my room in amazement now because it is so much nicer than my condominium. I guess one thing that could define the room the best is the fact that I have a plasma TV in the bathroom. As I sit in the extra deep bathtub, I can watch channels that I don't subscribe to at home. I feel completely spoiled.

Most importantly....I feel a rush when I realize that each person who attends this conference will positively affect the lives of a hundred or more students. There is immense power in being a part of that energy.

Tomorrow I will experience more sessions and reflect more with newly met colleagues and old friends. I truly wish all English teachers from my state would be here to revive themselves and learn more ways to inspire their students. I will be posting some of my more specific learnings in the next few days.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Recharge Needed

I seem to fall into a little rut at this time of the year, and I notice that other teachers in my building feel this too. I have always made it through - though sometimes with more stress than I should experience. So, as I sit here in my favorite coffee shop I'm thinking about what I need to do to avoid getting too caught up in feeling burnt out. Here are some of my promises to myself. I'd also love to here what others do to keep their chins up at this time of the year.

  • Promise 1 - Prioritize! Teaching is a passion of mine, but not my only passion. I need to think about and enjoy my other loves and spend time doing activities that refresh me. This is difficult time wise with teaching and working on my masters, but it is not only possible, but necessary. I need to spend time with my creative writing, my reading for pleasure, and being outdoors moving my body.
  • Promise 2 - Be forgiving. One reason I'm feel frustrated is that I feel that I am not as far in my curriculum this year as in the past - I just don't feel like I've taught what I usually have by this point in the year. However, I've tried several new things this year and many have been successful. So, I need to see it as a fair trade.
  • Promise 3 - Communicate. Talking positively with colleagues helps remind me that even if I'm going through a rough period, I am still part of an amazing profession. I'll be attending the CLAS spring conference this coming weekend, and this will be an opportunity to learn from other teachers and share time and space with others who want to improve themselves. Reading and commenting on teacher blogs has been a positive experience as well.

Friday, March 2, 2007

New Visual Element to AP exam

I wonder if getting more visual literature into the English classroom will become easier with the addition of the new visual element to the AP exam... If The College Board feels it is important enough to have on one of their essay questions, will districts be more willing to spend money on visual texts such as graphic novels?

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Last Game in the Standardized Practice Series

I finished the last in my series of games gearing my students up to the extended written response question on the upcoming CSAP exams. (See my post on the third round). Both of my English 9 classes won (one just barely)their competition with SAP, and I was amused at how personally they had taken this four week battle. They came into class with a vengeance after losing last week and were ecstatic when they won. What I am more proud of are the students who have transferred their knowledge to their writing. I've given them some pushes here and there to apply what they have learned from each other in their own writing. I wish I could say that all have done this without prompting, but that is not the case; however, some students improved their writing with this being the only "formal" writing instruction on refining details. Next week I will urge the students to apply this to their standardized test answers.

While I started this activity with the intention of helping my students do better on the extended written response of CSAP (these being our "trouble" scores for our building), I have found this to be an effective teaching tool for writing in general. I'm going to work on incorporating more aspects of writing and the framework of the game.

I think that this was successful because of a few factors. I will do a quick survey in class to see what my students think, but here are my initial observations/perceptions:
1. There were two levels of competition - students were in small teams, but also were a part of the class team as a whole. This lead to more encouragement between teams.
2. Because the game became increasingly more difficult, students were not bored each week (which was my biggest fear) and needed to use what they did before, but take it to a higher level
3. They liked having a set, attainable goal to beat

I'd like to hear from other teachers on their comments on what I have done, their use of competition or unique ideas to practice for standardized tests.