Posted in English escapades, teaching, Uncategorized

a little bitty star.

I want to reflect a little bit on last school year. It was hard, and I doubted myself a lot. I was a first year English teacher. I tried hard to project confidence. I really did. I comforted myself in the silence of the night by rocking back and forth and repeating “I taught Spanish Literature for college credit… I taught Spanish Literature for college credit.”   I had to force myself to believe that if I can get students to read 38 works of literature in one school year and earn college credit when they really didn’t want to do all that work… I could do anything, even this.

I started last school year with a post about all the reasons I could, and would do this job. But, for all the confidence I posted last year, each day and each month proceeded to break me a little bit more. Could I really do this? Were my kids learning? Would they pass their exam? In May when we got our results, I was elated and disappointed. If I’m honest, I was mostly disappointed. Our pass rates aren’t nearly what I am used to and what I expected. However, despite that, we improved by 10% or more in every category. I was bum-fuzzled to say the least. How do the kids improve in every. single. area. and still only the same number of them pass? I knew my kids had significant gaps… but hadn’t I worked to fill them all year long? Perhaps a school year isn’t enough time to fill years of gaps…

This summer I wracked my brain. I made changes. I beat myself up.

Then, in August, we got our State Accountability Ratings back. I was shocked to learn that our campus had earned a distinction in ELA / Reading. We only have 2 English teachers in our high school. Between the upper division teacher taking on and encouraging more dual credit students, and pushing them to earn credit, and the incredible reading / writing growth in my 9th and 10th graders… this is what I saw:

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 8.16.59 PM.png

I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t cry. I cried. I freaked out. I jumped up and down a little.

Our campus only earned this one distinction this year. Although we are consistently considered one of the better schools in our area, the standards for this distinction are very, very high. Additionally, our campus has never, in the history of distinctions (since 2002), earned the ELA/ Reading distinction. 

This little star restored my hope and my confidence that what I am doing/ and did do works. This little star is actually a really big deal. This is the culmination of every crappy day last year, every email dealing with another parent unsure of my methods, every fight with a student, every doubt, and every kid/ parent/ colleague who occasionally thought I had fallen off my rocker.

This little star holds every student who came to school and pushed their limits in grades 9-12, every teacher/ coach/ sponsor who pushed literacy and writing techniques and encouraged kids to focus on school, and every parent who made their kid show up and buck up. This little star is the STARt of something big.

My home is Spanish, but my home away from home isn’t so bad after all. 

-CL

Advertisements
Posted in classroom management, English escapades, teaching

Teaching is 1 part instruction and 3 parts making your students think you are weird.

I spend a lot of time here on the instruction in my classroom, but the reality is that teaching is mostly about relationships. The truth is that kids decide if they want to learn from their teachers. My job is to invest in them in such a way that they come in and are willing to hear me out and do what I ask of them. If I can do that, I’ll be able to facilitate learning experiences. If I can do that, they’ll be able to learn something about themselves. If I can do that, they’ll be empowered. One of the ways that I invest in my kids is by being human. (Un)Fortunately for them, I’m an odd human.

So, today, one of my students made critical mistake. He asked the age-old question: “Mrs. W., why don’t you have a clock in your classroom?”

Poor kid. I very loudly began to proclaim an honest but dramatized response.

Me: I don’t have a clock because I don’t like time.

S: You don’t like time?

Me: What you don’t realize is that time is a social construct created by society to imprison us within the confines of the clock.

S: **incredulous look**

Me: That anxiety you feel when you can’t tell how long we have left in class? That is your addiction to the imprisonment you’ve been brought up to admire, creeping up to wrap you in its grasp once again.

Ss: **more incredulous looks**

Me: You know why I don’t have a clock? I like to teach. I like to teach without a constant reminder that “society” has decided I only have 45 minutes to instill a love of knowledge in my students and fill the gaps created by years of education you missed while you were staring at the clock, wondering when the bell would ring and your enslaved selves would be obliged to move to the next required learning experience. I like the freedom I feel when I teach despite the bell. In spite of it. It is the same freedom that scares you when you search my walls and don’t find your familiar oppressor there, reigning you in once again.

Ss: **a sudden look of epiphany**

S1: OK, then.

S2: Hmm. Maybe that is why this class always passes so quickly?

Me: Remind me why you guys aren’t working again?

S: Heh. **returns to work**

So, here’s to Thursday, folks.

-CL

 

Posted in English escapades, Lesson plan component

Lesson Planning

As an FYI, the title of this post is what I’m supposed to be doing right now.

At least to some degree, however, I’m struggling. You may have noticed that I’ve switched subject areas, from Spanish to English this school year. This means that at every moment, I’m still evaluating what gaps my students have, and whether or not my approach to teaching a given concept is actually working.

So here I sit: evaluating the last week, mentally combing through my resources, and attempting to corral them into some type of a lesson plan.

If you have a second, send a prayer for me and all the other public education teachers writing LPs right now.

Posted in English escapades, professional development, Spanish relapses, teaching, Tech-ventures

Going Places

It’s funny. When I was a kid, relatives would constantly tell me that I was “going places”. They assumed my smarts and demeanor would take me away from my family and rocket me down some highway to Harvard. They weren’t wrong… but they weren’t right in the way they thought they were going to be, either.

highway

Many teachers face the constant questions about why they became a teacher instead of something else… you know… something that could “take them somewhere”.

I’d beg to differ with them on the point that teaching can’t take a person to new places.Teaching is like learning in that it expands the mind, and it expands perspectives. Teaching takes my mind somewhere new, every day.

In 6 years, I’ve taught at every level of K-12 education. I’ve taught everything from 2nd grade (all subjects) to Beginning Spanish, to AP Spanish Literature, to English, to Math, to basic twitter use for teachers! I’ve done the math… and I’ve taught nearly 1000 students (including my final internship).

I’ve also literally gone places, of course…like the Spanish Spelling Bee in Tampa FL, where my 4 students got completely creamed, but they were ecstatic to go and compete. Like Oak Cliff (Dallas), where I never could get my second graders on a bus to take them somewhere, so I walked them outside to do a lesson on the lawn and shake things up a bit. Like Fort Worth and Desoto, where I took buses full of country kids to read to bilingual students. Like the entire stretch of 287, where I made a 250 mile drive (one way) into a day-trip, just for the fun of it, for a group of seniors who got to see a play–live on stage, and experience a protest, and see modern art.

You know… I don’t always take the kids with me, though.

In San Antonio, I changed direction as a teacher, and it changed my life. I gained a PLN I haven’t let go of since when I joined #langchat. I went on numerous adventures, professionally, and personally–as I took my first solo trip post-motherhood to attend the ACTFL conference in 2014. I ate breakfast tacos, and I didn’t have to share. I celebrated birthdays with friends from other countries. I walked alone down the streets of San Antonio, in the rain, just for fun. I discovered the Pulsera Project and it changed everything. 

In San Diego, I presented at the ACTFL conference. My session didn’t go as planned, and when I started to roll with the punches, the attendees opened up and shared their needs. I threw out my whole plan and started from scratch right there, on the spot. We had an amazing time, and they told me it was the best session they attended that day. I took the fairy to my sessions, and I walked to the convention center each day. I spent my lunch hour at the beach. I got way too close to a seal. I watched a man build the longest hot wheel track I’ve ever seen, while my eyes kept glancing at a homeless man, who was searching a nearby trash can for food. 

In Austin, my face melted. The world is so much bigger than we can imagine, and it is even bigger than ACTFL could help me see. Seeing what was “new” and “next” changed my praxis. Much of what I saw didn’t directly apply to me, but all of it applied to my students. So, instead of trying to jam it all into my class, I came back and tried to share what I could with those around me. I got lost in the convention center. I got every free t-shirt available in the expo hall. I managed to get a free light saber, 2 selfie sticks, and 73 free pens. I tried fried avocado. I made a point of stopping at every Buc-ees between Dallas and Austin. I made life-long friends and true collaborative relationships. 

In Nicaragua this summer, who knows what I’ll experience. I know this for sure: it will be an adventure. 

So. To that person in your life telling you that teaching won’t take you places: they’re wrong. Teaching will expand your mind until it hurts. It will explode your heart until you can’t help but feel every. single. thing. It will challenge your thoughts, opinions, and perspectives, until you become a person who can see many sides to a single situation. It will literally take you outside the four walls of your classroom on many occasions, if you are willing to invest the time it takes to walk out those doors. If you let it, teaching will take you all over the United States, and beyond. If you let it.

-CL

FYI: The picture of the overpass at the top of the post… is from that time I decided to walk from to the airport to my training, just because. Because if you are willing, you can find adventure anywhere. 🙂

Posted in English escapades, Google, homework, teaching, Uncategorized

Taking “L”s

The first month or two of teaching English was an adjustment and a challenge all its own, but I think I survived, and survived well.

I don’t know if it is the upcoming Super Moon or some manifestation of Murphy’s Law, but in the past couple weeks I’ve been “Taking L’s”. This is what “the kids say” when they are taking “losses”, real, perceived, or immaterial. I’ve been taking all of the above.

So to cheer me up, here are some “W’s” from the past few weeks and things I have planned coming up.

  • I planned a trip and took several high school seniors on a DAY trip nearly 250 miles away to watch a play in a real theater. We also went to a modern art museum. They saw real-live protesters on strike protesting their wages. We ate at Chick-Fil-A, and we did all of the above (minus lunch) for FREE. #WIN
  • I searched for and planned maker-spaces to go with all my units for the rest of the school year. Our Poet-TREE has been coming along well! #WIN
  • For our Informational Text Unit coming up, I’ve designed a survey using Google Forms to allow the students to pick the topics that we read about in the coming weeks. I’ll gather the results and choose our texts according to their interests! #WIN
  • This 6 weeks, our homework will be student choice using a learning menu. There are 12 options, and the students will choose 4 to complete over the course of the grading period. #WIN
  • I’ve got several exciting projects planned, but the most immediate one is an infographic project my students are going to be working on this 6 weeks. Stay turned for exciting stuff in the Spring!!! #WIN

So, L’s: I’ve got some pretty great W’s to balance this out. You don’t win. I don’t lose. This weekend wasn’t quite long enough, but it was plenty to remind me that I love kids, and high expectations are part of loving them and believing in them. Teaching is hard, and sometimes those stakeholders are more like “stake-throwers” while we navigate the seas of change together, raising the stakes. (How many “stakes” puns can I put in a paragraph?) I’m not mad, and as frustrating as it is, I’m not allowed to be hurt, either. I’m just moving forward and buckling down. Thanks for reading.

-CL

Posted in English escapades, teaching, Tech-ventures

Universal Design

Today’s classrooms look very different than they did 100 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Today we have access to a million different resources on a daily basis, which can enhance learning (whether it does or not… well, we’ll talk about about in a paragraph or two!). We also need every bit of those resources. Unlike the classrooms of our forefathers, our classrooms are diverse.

Diversity is more than race. Diversity is ethnicity, culture, economic status, ability, life experiences, home life, home diet, technology experiences. Diversity literally means “all the things that make us different from one another”. Personality counts too!

diversity

*Image used with permission under a Creative Commons License 3 -CC BY-SA 3.0. Created by nyphotographic.com, original image URL: http://www.thebluediamondgallery.com/highlighted/d/diversity.html

Despite our best intentions and greatest hopes, technology is not the long awaited savior of education, nor it is the “great equalizer” we once hoped for. In fact, a great article I read this week, though “old” by academic standards, still had nuggets of valid insight, like this one: “The level of effectiveness of educational technology is influenced by the specific student population, the software design, the educator’s role, and the level of student access to the technology” (page 5).

We must constantly approach technology as a tool for our trade. Everyone is passing out hammers (technology), but some kids have screws and not nails. The educator’s role in determining what a student needs to move to the next stage of learning is vital. We will never be replaced in this way. 

Universal Design For Learning

Before reading about Universal Design for Learning, it never occurred to me that I might already be doing it–but I am (most days)! The basic premise behind it is that in our age of diversity, in classrooms of mixed ability levels, with access to thousands and millions of tools for learning each day, there is a way to help every student move forward in learning every day.

Essentially, lessons should be designed to give students options and access to learning that is relevant and on their level, in three main ways: (1) multiple means of engagement (the “why” of learning), (2) multiple means of presentation (what knowledge is presented to various learners) , and (3) multiple means of action or presentation (how they show what they know).

I am teaching high school English classes right now with students on a 2nd grade reading level in the same room as students on a college reading level, the average being about 6th grade. And somehow I need to help every kid move forward in learning. Somehow I need to engage every learner, teach every learner, and get a product out of every. single. kid.

It is a tough task, but it is much more difficult to pretend that the issues and challenges do not exist. So, I press on–as do most teachers. And I believe Universal Design is a great way to do that.

How does technology fit in to UDL (Universal Design for Learning)?

It is pretty simple, really. An iPad does not fix everything. Bringing students all to the same website does not fix learning. During a literature lesson last week, I wanted to introduce Edgar Allen Poe with a biography, to help the students better understand his dark writing. Rather than choose one, I chose 3. (Multiple means of presentation)

If I want students to present information, I can provide multiple tools for doing that. Can students with a fear of public speaking make a video ahead of time to show to the class? Can students use an infographic instead of a powerpoint? (Multiple means of expression).

If I want students to write a research paper, can I have students choose topics they are passionate about? Can I work with each student to choose what an appropriate way to cite sources would be based on their project choice? Can I allow students to collaborate using a variety of tools of their choosing?

I am working on a UDL unit right now, and I am very excited to see how it turns out. I am even more excited to see it in practice come April 2017!  Stay tuned…

-CL

**Featured Image used with permission under a Creative Commons 2.0 License. Created by Justin Baeder. Original URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/justinbaeder/5317820857

 

Posted in English escapades, teaching

My Favorite Thing 

Some things just warm my heart, and this one thing in particular tops my teacher-list for sure. 

My AP Spanish Literature kids did it last year without prompting, and already this year, another group has joined their ranks. 

I love to begin reading a work by circling up my students and reading it together, popcorn style. We stop every few sentences or paragraphs and I point out important details to model the thinking I want them to do for the piece. We discuss imagery, authors’s purpose, context, and we draw conclusions. This may last for a few paragraphs or a few pages. 

Eventually though, I knowwe will   never finish the work if we keep on that way, so I ask the kids to continue independently. 

In the case of my class yesterday, we spent the whole class that way, and today, I planned to have them continue the reading  independently, to prepare for an essay on Friday. While they were to do that, I planned to come around and hold mini writer’s workshops with each student. 

HOWEVER. 

While I was at my desk taking attendance and getting their work in order to come around and conference… The class took matters into their own hands. 

Without my prompting, and without my explicit permission, I looked up to find this: 


Some teachers would be angry. This is my class. My decision.  Some would be upset. What about my writer’s workshops? Others, like me, would pull up a stool and join in.  

Nothing warms my heart more than students who know what they want and need. That is more valuable than any lesson plan.  

Notice: No kids on phones. No one disengaged. 100% student choice. That is the ideal. 

-CL