Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Ghost Boys

I went to a training, and the presenter provided books for the “students” (us) to use while we participated in independent reading to use for reading/ writing journaling. 87 pages later, she asked for her book back 😂😂😂 So… I drove my happy butt to Barnes and Nobel and picked up their last copy.

 
It isn’t what I expected. I’d heard politically charged reviews, but reading it for myself was enlightening.

 
I wrote before about helping helping kids see themselves in books. That’s important. It is also important that we learn to see others, really see them. Books can help with that too. I’ve never lived most of the experiences or circumstances in the book. But at least, now I’ve read them through the eyes of a first person narrator. That’s a start.

-CL

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Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Forged By Fire

This is the book that comes after Tears of a Tiger. I’ve started it, but a student asked to borrow my copy 2 years ago, and I let them have it without finishing it. Now, I’ve bought a new one, and I’m going to try again! Tears of a Tiger was good, but there was a lot I didn’t personally identify with. This book is a different story entirely. From the part I read before, I could sometimes see replacing the main character’s name with my own and calling it an autobiography… (not completely, but you get the point.) I look forward to helping some of my students find themselves in books, too.

The biggest mistake we can ever make is thinking we are alone in anything. If we can’t find a person to help dispel that myth, maybe we can give a kid a book instead. Shared experiences are powerful in delivering hope.

This book was… hard to read, but I couldn’t put it down. It tells of the wave upon wave of trauma that two young people suffer. This is a picture of my favorite page in the book—the last page. It is a sly reminder that giving a kid a book they see themselves in can maybe save their life. Give it a read: Forged By Fire.

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-CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

So… I read this book, and I loved it. The teenage narrator is authentic, and the book basically addresses nearly every contemporary issue a student might be seeing in the news these days. Poverty, “whiteness”, diversity, privilege, drug and alcohol abuse, death, Native American culture, racism, identity, and more. The book does a great job of presenting these issues authentically and in a way that a student book club would be able to tease them out and allow students to explore the topics further. It is full of gems of truth.

Something else I love is the inclusion of the narrator’s drawings. Yes, the book is partially illustrated! For reluctant readers, this is sure to draw them in even more.

When a book calls it out 😬😂

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When the teenage narrator accurately characterizes the teacher shortage in rural schools: 

If you are a human, you need to read this book. So much truth, so much wisdom, so much humor. There are a few awkward spots for adults, but for teens, it is spot-on. Read it!

***

After reading the book, I stumbled upon a debate on whether or not to recommend the book or use it in the classroom. There were two arguments worth noting (and plenty not worth the time).

1.) The author has had accusations placed against him for sexual harassment, and he has admitted to it.  Having been sexually harassed and abused myself, I honestly don’t know how I feel about the fact that I purchased the book and know that in some small way, I lined his pocketbook. I’m conflicted. (a.) The book is freaking beautiful. It needs to be read. (b.) Maybe people can change and his admission is a step toward that. (c.) Maybe I’m a dunce, and those who have boycotted his works are right.

2.) Secondly, the narrator and other characters repeatedly use terms like gay and faggot as derogatory terms. Some argue that given the book’s modern take on so many pertinent issues, it completely misses the mark on #LGBT issues. My only reservation with this argument is that I don’t know enough about Native American culture to know if these terms are still in regular use on reservations (where the main character lives). Maybe they are, and the usage represents the culture of the narrator. Maybe they aren’t, and Mr. Modern is stuck in 90s vernacular. I honestly don’t know. If it isn’t contextual, that is very disappointing.

The other arguments about the language (curse words) and the mention of masturbation make me roll my eyes. Clutch your pearls elsewhere; its a Young Adult read for a reason. If a teacher doesn’t feel comfortable using it as a whole-class selection in their context, I think it would still make a great literature circle, book club, or classroom library selection. Heck, I’d even read excerpts from it as read-alouds or passages to spur journal writing.

-CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Sea Prayer

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

One of my favorite authors, Khaled Hosseini ❤️

This is a short illustrated story (basically a picture book) that humanizes the struggles of refugees. In fact, I think it would be a GREAT book to pair with Refugee by Alan Gratz. A teacher might even use this as a read aloud and point students to Gratz if they want more.

I love how books can show us another world. The narrator begins by describing memories of how his country had been before the war. The narration shows both the common thread of carefree childhood and the distinct cultural beauty of a place and its people. The narrator mourns the loss of a country and culture his son will never know in he same way he did.

I’ve read that books can cure fascism. That is because reading helps us develop empathy and compassion. Reading helps us live their experiences and see it from their perspectives.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies; the man who never reads lives only one.” -George R. R. Martin

-CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: The House on Mango Street

This summer, I’ve been reading lots of books both for leisure and professionally. After each one, I’ve been posting reviews/ thoughts on my instagram (follow me! Cwilsonspanish). I wanted to share those here, since they are basically blog posts!

Here’s today’s:

So, I finished The House on Mango Street last night. I started reading it because it was recommended multiple times by other English teachers. Looking back, I realize that I have read many excerpts from this novel in textbooks, and standardized tests, and just in the sharing of good literature. However, I realize that reading those excerpts gave me a false view of the book. What initially seemed to be a poignant and sometimes impressionistic view of childhood via excerpts is still that, but so much more. It is a look at being Latinx, at being poor, at being female, at having dreams in a dreamless place. The excerpts are beautiful, but cut from the context of the novel, they lose some of their complexity and power. The book is haunting. Genuine. Tragic. Real. It echoes in my life. It resounds in who I was and who I became and who I’m hoping to be.
Given the excerpts I’d previously read, I settled in for a beautiful but carefree read. I was way off base. The book is troubling. It should be. There are moments of such intensity in this book that left me gasping for air because I was breathless reliving the common experience of being a woman. I see now that this book has layers. A young reader will read it at face value and miss much. The mature reader, having background knowledge and experiences, will read between the lines. The mature reader will read a tragic but honest piece.

-CL

Posted in English escapades, Lesson plan component, teaching, Uncategorized

They Sing of Rain

We are studying poetry right now in my ELAR classes. Usually, I have my students write whatever genre we are reading, that way, I can give them effective mentor texts and strategies. Today, I taught a strategy called “free association” to help my students generate topics and ideas for a new poem in their individual collections.

Anytime they write, I write. Today, I came up with this:

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Posted in classroom management, English escapades, Lesson plan component, teaching

First day of school

I started a new teaching job. This year I’m teaching English, Spanish, and Theatre Arts at a small school. I’m mostly teaching 5th-8th grade, though I do have a specials rotation with 3rd abs 4th grade.

Every year I start my classes out basically the same way: students fill out info and goals sheets as bell work while I do first day attendance and housekeeping. Next, I do a basic introduction presentation and go over my syllabus. If there is time, we do the name game, and class promptly ends. Seven years. ~1000 kids.

This time, I did something different. Year 8 began with stations. I said hello, we made name tents, and off they went to 5 different stations. (1) student info and goal setting, #goals, (2) syllabus puzzle (using block posters) and syllabus quiz, (3) book tasting from my classroom library, (4) a reading survey, and (5) write a letter to yourself.

Doing something different has already changed everything about my class. I was able to teach my expectations by showing my students instead of telling them. They were able to experience my procedures for grouping and moving around the room. And, I got to see how and with whom they interact. It was a success.

-CL

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:

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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

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!

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*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