Week 5: Endless Possibilities

Panic. That’s all I felt when on Tuesday I was given the instruction to plan out all of my units for a year. Now you might be thinking, “What’s wrong with that? Planning your units is something you should be able to do.” While this is very true, I don’t think most people are given a six minute time limit. Yes you read that right, six minutes. So heart pounding I set to work trying to list off every unit I could possibly think of that we could cover in the course of a year. While I got a few ideas out on paper I seemed to keep hitting a mental road block. I don’t know if it was because of the time limit imposed on us, or something else, but no matter what I couldn’t come up with anything else to write down. It wasn’t until we started talking about our ideas as a class that my brain started working again.

As I sat down to work on my unit plan I started to feel so many pieces come together. I started to see things as a sort of whole picture. Ideas continued to flood my brain, and soon an unspoken question that had been hiding in the back of my brain was answered. How do I make writing and reading workshop as a teacher in a school that requires me to teach grades 9-12 or even 7-12? You see I’ve been worried about this being too repetitive from year to year, or not challenging them to learn more information. Then it sort of hit me that I can vary my units.

Not every class has to have the exact same units. I started to look at units outside of the normal. I got excited about drawing up a unit on newspaper writing, or even on how to read the news and find reliable news sources. I got caught up in the idea of doing a study on folktales and fairy tales. Why not get outside of the realm of essays, speeches, short stories, and poems? Why can’t we explore all sorts of genres in our classrooms? I think my problem before was that I was too focused on a narrow band of ideas. I had allowed myself to be limited by the things that I had done units on when I was in high school, but I don’t have to do that.

You do not have to limit yourself to just the basic units. You do not have to limit yourself based on what is normally taught in school. The options surrounding reading and writing are endless! There are so many things we can do with writing, and we shouldn’t limit our students. We want them to become lovers of reading and writing, and how can we do that when we aren’t giving them all the options. If we limit our students  we are limiting the scope of their talent and their imagination we are limiting them to what we think they should do, not what they can do. Thinking about units has really opened my eyes to all the possibilities, and honestly I’m even more excited about teaching now that I’m starting to see the possibilities are endless!


Week 4: Building Relationships

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Since the beginning of the semester I’ve heard conflicting things from both my Special Methods class and my Education class. Okay, this has occurred during the entirety of my college career where I have been getting two different things from two different departments. So, imagine my surprise when I started to see something lining up between the two. On Tuesday we talked in class about the importance of building relationships with our students and letting them know that we are interested in what they say.

Relationships are key to helping your students to succeed in the classroom. No, this doesn’t mean that every student has to be your favorite student, but it does mean that you can make every student in your classroom feel like you actually what to hear from them. Why should students want to learn or do work for someone who doesn’t actually care about their success? I know last week’s blog was about the watermelon rinds in our classrooms, and I think this plays into relationships as well.

Not only do student relationships provide you with the opportunity to build your students up, but they also give you the opportunity to learn about their lives and the struggles they have. The more you know a student and the more they trust you the more they are willing to open up to you. Our special education professor in BLOCK talked to us about the importance of knowing what your students are going through. You need to know what is happening in their lives, so that you can help them to the best of your ability. Because no matter what anyone else says the things that happen outside of school can have a very adverse affect on your students’ learning lives.

All that being said I’m not sure I fully know how to do this. Sure, I know how to listen and to be supportive, and maybe it’s not the building part of the relationship that I am worried about. In fact, it’s that part that comes after that I stresses me more. One of my good friends Ali talked in her blog this week about empathy, and how important that is in the classroom. My problem is that I often have too much empathy. I’m the person that will take in every last stray and try and fix all their problems, and while I want to help my students I don’t want that to get in the way of being able to teach them. How do I find a balance? What do I do when I find out something about one of my students that absolutely makes my heart break? Sure, I can keep extra food in my desk for the one’s who need it and I can make allowances for those that don’t own computers, but this seems to me to be so little. I want to build these relationships with my students, but I’m not sure I know what to do with them once they trust me. Trust is such a fragile thing. How do I find that good balance?

Science vs Education: TED Talks Blog

I was one of those students in high school who procrastinated everything. I knew how to do the work,  I knew I could get a good grade, and honestly that’s all that mattered to me. I was good at what I was doing, and honestly I wasn’t feeling challenged. So, in order to challenge myself I’d see if I could still get an A if I wrote a paper 2 hours before it was due. The answer was normally yes, but honestly looking back I didn’t enjoy it. The only reason I even wrote the paper in the first place is because I was told I had to to get an A. The intrinsic motivation wasn’t there. My education was driven by a grade system, and looking back today I wonder how much that hindered me as a student, especially after watching these two TED Talks.

I would definitely say that the TED Talks by Sugata Mitra and Daniel Pink go hand in hand. They both in their own ways tackle this idea of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Mitra shows us that if students want to learn, they will learn. If they are interested and intrigued by something they will put the time and effort into learning about that subject. I love his idea of “The Granny Method.” Most of the time kids just need that little grandma figure telling them how great they are doing, asking them questions, and most of all encouraging them to get better. They shouldn’t need someone standing over them forcing them to do the work, they need someone who is interested in what they are doing.

Pink takes this a step further with his exploration of motivation, and the fact that science and business don’t really agree on it. In fact, the way we have modeled business (I would also argue schools) is against everything that scientific research tells us. Science says that external motivations like rewards/punishments (grades) actually hinder creativity and production. It keeps people from becoming interested in what they are doing, and forces them to almost over focus on an idea not allowing them to see all the options.

Pink says we need three things to motivate us intrinsically: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. In a class room these things should be what we are encouraging students to conquer. Let students write papers about things they want to learn about. They will be way more interested in that then some topic you assign them from a list. Let them develop a purpose. Encourage them to be purposeful. They see no purpose in writing a six page paper, double spaced, in 12 pt font, but they do see purpose in writing a paper telling you about how excited they are that their favorite football team is winning this year. Students can learn without us forcing a grade scale on them, in fact they can even perform better without it. Science says if kids want to learn they will learn. Science says kids will perform better when we foster intrinsic motivation. Science says that students will learn in environments that are open for learners. So why doesn’t the education system listen?

Week 3: Watermelon

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Anyone who knows me knows that I am an avid lover of all fruits. I love strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and most of all watermelon. Watermelon has been my favorite fruit since I was little. I live for warm summer afternoons when I get to come back from the pool and have a slice of watermelon, or pretty much any other time watermelon can be served. Let’s be real I’m even eating some while I right this. Now you might be asking what in the world does my love for watermelon have to do with education? Well you see I’m a very weird person, I love to eat the watermelon rind.

I know. I know. It’s probably the weirdest thing you’ve ever heard, and that might have grossed you out a little, I’m sorry if it did. The only reason I bring this up is I will defend my love for watermelon and the rind until the end of time, my death, or some other traumatic event that takes watermelon away from me. Anyway I got to thinking about how the rind is usually that undesirable part of the food. It’s that piece that we cast away because it isn’t as good as the rest of it.

Now some of you may already see where I am going with this, but I’m going to keep going anyway. We were asked last week to identify a percentage of students we want to achieve a certain goal, and honestly I (and all my other English Ed friends) really struggled with that concept because I want all my students to succeed. I see no reason why I can’t expect my students to have some level of understanding. If they don’t understand what I am teaching them then it is me that is broken, not them. Except, we have developed this mentality that there will be some kids who are hopeless, or just aren’t as good as the rest. These kids we have a tendency to give up on, and I think that is complete crap.

This week we looked at the writings of two students, and let me tell you my English teachers from high school would have cringed if they got a paper from these students. The grammar and punctuation were all over the place, but if you stopped to look past that you started to see some positives. These kids knew how to use their voice in writing, the brought to life the story they were telling, they were honest about themselves, and most of all they had put effort into that writing. Now, obviously we wouldn’t traditionally rank these kids at the top of the class. In fact, I can see them being passed over for another kid who does what they are told and is considered a “good student,” but why? I think it’s because we have gotten too caught up in believing that if a student doesn’t get it right away they will never get it.

These kids have potential, and I bet you they can write a story that could have you at the edge of your seat. That to me says they are just as good as any other student in my classroom, and it’s my job to make sure that EVERY student that walks in my classroom door becomes the best version of themselves. It’s my job to help my students become the best readers and writers they can be, and that means NO ONE gets left behind. I refuse to put a percentage on success because I refuse to discard my students like a watermelon rind that no one wants, and just like I believe the rind of a watermelon is awesome, I believe my students are just as awesome. I will fight for my students to all be recognized.

So, maybe it’s wrong for me to compare students to food, but stop for a second and think of that one food you love that everyone else hates. Each of your students is that food, and you should defend each and everyone of them just as much as you would defend that food because your students need teachers that will fight for them, not throw them in the trash. My challenge is this: in a world of teachers that toss out watermelon rinds, be the one that recognizes just how awesome your students can be.

Week 2: Learning From My Own Life

What makes me a reader and writer? Why do I identify as each of these? This week we were challenged to create a list of at least 50 facts or ideas about what our identities are as readers and writers. I found it infinitely more difficult to create a list about my identity as a writer than my identity as a reader.  It made me realize that as I make my journey into the English classroom that I need to work on developing my identity as a writer. The nice thing about this list was that it gave me a lot of things to work on in my writing life. By sitting down and writing the list I was able to identify areas in my writing life where I didn’t feel comfortable, like sharing my writing out loud, or areas that I simply wasn’t sure about, like my ability to write from different perspectives. These are just a couple of examples, but now that I have identified them I have started to work on them more.

In fact, I’ve found myself turning to my writing journal for my than just my assignments. It’s started to become my place to turn to when I need to get thoughts out, write down an idea, or even keep a list of books I want to read. It’s amazing how having a special journal for writing has helped me to improve my writing life. I realize that this is only the second week of classes, and I’m excited to see how my writing journal continues to play a part in my writing life.

You see it is important that we realize who we are as avid readers and writers because it also makes it easier for us to design our classrooms. If we look at our reading lives and don’t see something reflected there why would we force students to do it? If we can become active readers and writers without all the extra  things we throw in, shouldn’t our students also be able to? Obviously somethings won’t be the same for you and your students. I, for example, am a lover of mystery novels, but not every student in my classroom will love mystery novels. By identifying that, I can then stock my classroom library  with a variety of books. It had never occurred to me before to examine my own life as a reader and writer in order to help my students become better readers and writers.

The discussion in class this week opened my eyes to new possibilities in the classroom. It also helped me to positively examine my identity as a reader and writer, which is something that I have never really done before. It was very informative for me, and I can see how it will also be beneficial to my students. We also talked this week about how teacher’s feel like they need to have control in the classroom, and how we have a tendency not to trust our students. As someone who has constantly been indoctrinated to believe that you have to constantly be in control this is a hard thing for me to see and apply to my classroom. I am hoping that throughout this week we have discussions that help me with the release of control I’ve been taught to have.