It's been a while since I've written. Last year my contract was 60 percent English and 20 percent designing the school's web site. This year, I have a 100 percent contract, 90 percent teaching. It is a whole new ball game with two small children, one of which is attending the school this year. However, I wanted to write about what I want to write about so that I don't forget. This is my tenure year, and this blog will serve as my portfolio. I need to make time for this along with everything else. It's also nice to reflect and such.
This summer I attended the "WLU Literacies for All" Institute in St. Louis. The sessions were great. My three biggest takeaways from the conference were 1. Different methods to give student feedback
2. Using creative responses vs. writing standard essays and 3. A huge list of books that I want to read!
I was also impressed by the teacher activism going on in urban areas, specifically Ferguson, Missouri. It gave me a lot of food for thought on what is the role of the teacher in the classroom.
Connecting with Kids on the First Day
On the first day of school with my 10th Grade English class I am very strict and explain the policies and guidelines. However, I don't want to create a total authoritarian atmosphere. The next class I ask them to email me answers to questions about themselves and questions or concerns that they might have about the class. (I also do this in my Social Studies courses). I've added a number 6: "Ask me (almost) any question about myself. The students usually ask, "Why did you become a teacher?" but there are other questions about favorite t.v. shows, what do you like to do for fun, what do you like about being a mom, and others. I think it humanizes me for the students, but in a safe way, one to one on email.
Another thing I tried for the first time is showing the students feedback I received from last year's class at the end of the year. The category that I shared was "advice for next year's class." I kept is as they wrote it with grammar mistakes and all so that they would know it was really from their peers.
A weakness of mine is decorating the classroom (and my home for that matter). This year, inspired by another colleague, I put up a poster with my favorite quotes. It's already been a hit with the kids. I prefer posting student work, but they really seemed to get a lot out of it. A challenge is that I teach three subjects, share a room with two other teachers, and there are only a few bulletin board. However, I think I will find a way to add more without ruining the walls!
Seizing the Day: Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart
The weekend before school began, I read an amazing article called Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart by Scott Anderson. Although it will add to my work load, I can't not include it in my Middle East History course. However, it is a very long article and not linear, so it requires a lot of scaffolding. There are great lesson plans on the site, and I will use some of them, but I need to weave the article into the curriculum in a meaningful and authentic way.
What's exciting is that I contact the lesson plan designer who wrote me back write away. Fareed Mosoufi wrote the lessons and Mark Schulte is the head of the Pulitzer Center. While of course I'm familiar with the Pulitzer Prize, I didn't know of that they had an educational wing. We have already corresponded eleven times. They want to know how I'm using the article and would like feedback. We also are going to try to schedule the author to speak to my class and my colleague's class.
One of the first suggestions that I made is that they have the author record an audio version of the article to make it more accessible to students with learning disabilities. We will see what they say!
This is not my first time using long form journalism in a class. At my last school I used The Girl whose Mother Lives in the Sky by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Tom French http://www.sptimes.com/the_girl/index.html to teach about immigration. He then spoke to the class and they loved it!
I hope my students will share my enthusiasm. We will see!