Professional Development Book 4: It’s Never Too Late by Janet Allen

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Hey guys, so I finally managed to complete my fourth professional development book. I can honestly say that reading the professional development books is definitely not as fun as reading my YA novels. That being said I have gained so much knowledge from the professional development books that I have read. My final book was “It’s Never Too Late” by Janet Allen. This book deals a lot with helping your struggling and at-risk students. Janet Allen has a special place in her heart for students that struggle, and she has dedicated a lot of her life to helping these students.

This book mostly covers one year within Allen’s classroom as she takes on the task of being a researching teacher. The first couple of chapters explain how Allen got into teaching struggling students. She pretty much got thrown in to the room and told that has long as the kids weren’t outside of the classroom she could do whatever she wanted. She tells us that a lot of what she discovered in that first year was quite incidental. However, she discovered several things that she would hold on to for the rest of her teaching career.

I think for me the first two chapters spoke to me a lot because they dealt a lot with the first year of teaching. I do hope that I will have more supplies than what Allen had, but I do have some idea of what I can do if I end up in that place. One of the things that was born out of this was the read aloud. Allen had to rifle through closets in order to find books that she could read with her students. Even when she did find books she discovered that she didn’t have enough copies of the books. Because she didn’t have enough books she simply started to read the books to her students. This made a large difference in the attitudes of her students.

I think one of the biggest things I learned from this book is that you have to be careful about what you assume your students know. Allen noticed that she often put her students into a position where they weren’t ready to be. She would ask them to do thing that they had no background knowledge of and this led to problems within the classroom. Allen realized that when she needed to continually model what she is asking her students to do. Modeling has to be a big part of your classroom. When you model what it means to be an active reader and writer it can make a big difference in what your students feel like they can accomplish. Another key is not giving up on your students. You have to continue to try even when it sometimes feel like you can’t anymore. I would say that if you are working with a struggling class of students this book is the place for you to turn.

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Week 16: Thank You

This is my final full week of classes. Next week I’ll report for my finals, and then I’ll be packing my car to head home. It’s odd to say that, since Chadron has become as much home for me, as the house I’ve lived in for the last three years. In fact, Chadron has definitely become my home a way from home. I have a family here, that while not biological, has played a huge an important role in my life. So, as the end of the semester approaches, and I begin to get ready for my role as a student teacher I want to give a huge thank to everyone who has been a part of preparing me for this moment. This is probably going to be some long sentimental post, so if you aren’t into sentiment you can feel free just to skip over this one.

First, I want to say thank you to my family. I never could have made it this far without you supporting me and encouraging me. I’m thankful that you all have pushed me to try new things, and I’ve become a more well-rounded person because of it. Mom and Dad thank you for supporting me by just being there to answer my midnight phone calls, and to Skype for three hours at a time. To my siblings thank you for your Snapchats, e-mails, texts, and your want to always come see me.

Second, to the family that took me in. Thank you to my host family for giving me a place outside the dorms that I could go, relax, and have a home cooked meal. I’m definitely going to miss the craziness of your house, and sitting at the kitchen table doing homework with the rest of you.

Jamie and Melissa. How did you two put up being roommates with me for two years? You two have taught me so much about myself, and about how impatient I am. I’m excited to see you both take huge steps in your lives next semester, and I’m grateful you both have asked me to stand by you on your special days. Thank you for Sunday dinners, late night talks, and introducing me to the Harry Potter movies. Jamie good luck next semester during practicum. I’m sure you’ll make a huge difference with those kids. Melissa, enjoy your easy semester, and actually living in a place where people won’t be screaming outside your door at midnight.

To my classmates, our similar degrees might have brought us together, but I’m so blessed to have known each and everyone of you. I consider you all friends, and I can’t tell you how weird it will be not to have you all around next semester. It will be weird going from seeing you all everyday this semester to being an hour away from the closest one of you. You all are so amazing, and I know that you will be a blessing for the students that you teach, and the people whose lives you will touch. I’m excited to see you all succeed next semester, and please, don’t become strangers.

Thank you to my professors who have challenged me since day one, and have taught me to enjoy things that I never thought I would enjoy. Your classes have opened my eyes to several issues, ideas, and viewpoints. I’m thankful you have given me the opportunity to see the world a little differently. I am confident that you all prepared me for this next step, but don’t be surprised if you get an e-mail or two from me next semester asking a few more questions.

People often give me funny looks when I tell them I attend Chadron State, and often they ask me why I choose to come here I always look at them, smile, and say “Because it felt like coming home.”

Professional Development Book #3: The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell

I really do enjoy reading professional development books that don’t get too bogged down in statistics, facts, and other things that normally repeat stuff I already know. This book had such a great balance between statistics and and actual information about how to help my future students. Nancie Atwell is probably one of the best writers I have read. Her writing is clear, well-organized, and she conveys what she is trying to say through several different modes. I think one of the things that really helped me while reading this book was actually getting to hear Nancie Atwell speak at NCTE. Her speech at NCTE kind of glossed over a few of the things that she talks about in her book.

One of the main things that she talks about was the reading zone. The reading zone is this place that students get to when they are so caught up in a book that they forget about the outside world entirely. Getting students into the reading zone should be one of our main goals. If students are constantly getting into the zone then they will continue to want to read. It’s important that we keep helping students reach the reading zone. She does include a list of ten things, decided by her students, that teachers can do to help their students reach the reading zone.

  1. Book talks and mini-lessons
  2. A big, diverse classroom library with regular new additions.
  3. Quiet, daily, in-class time to read
  4. Individuals’ free choice of books, authors, and genres
  5. Recommendations of books from friends and the teacher and a special bookshelf for kids’ favorites.
  6. Comfort during in-class reading time
  7. Students’ letters to the teacher and friends about their reading
  8. Individuals’ conversations with the teacher about their reading
  9. Individuals’ lists of the books they want to read someday
  10. Homework reading of at least half an hour a week.

A lot of the rest of the book is talking about how you can help foster each of these ten things within the classroom. There were a few of her ideas that I found really interesting. One of them was writing letters to the teacher and to other students about what students are reading. Every other week Atwell’s students write letters about the books that they are reading. These letters allow those students to interact in a community of readers. These students can write back and forth about what they like, don’t like, and what is happening with their books. I think it’s a pretty genius idea.

I’d highly recommend reading this book. It really helped me to develop some great ideas about things I can implement in my classroom, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read it. I feel like a lot of the professional development I’ve done this semester has been in reading, and so, it was nice to finish a book that also helped me develop some ideas for reading in the classroom.

Week 14: Countdown

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Photo CC-Jorgen Stensrud

Last week was insanely crazy. I landed in Denver around 6pm Sunday, got to the place where I was staying the night at around 11, and then was up at 6:30am to make it to my first school visit at 1:30 on Monday. That being said I wouldn’t trade my NCTE experience for anything. I’m still trying to recover, and my biggest hope is that I can understand my notes because there’s no way I remember everything. So while I recovered from all of that I headed home to do my visits for student teaching, and boy was that eye opening.

I think it’s hard to believe that countdown to the end of my college career is slowly ticking lower. I’ve done my teaching visits, and as of today I have just over two weeks left in a classroom where I am the student not a teacher. I’ll be honest with you I don’t feel ready. I am sure I will do fine, but all I can think about is how terrified I am to be at the head of a classroom. I’m so thankful that I’ll have time to work my way into the classroom because I think I’m going to need it.

One thing that is comforting is that my cooperating teachers are going to be great. All of them have been teaching for 10+ years, and you wouldn’t believe the sigh of relief I gave when three out of the four talked about the way they use reading and writing in the classroom. I was especially excited to see Donalyn Miller’s “The Book Whisperer” sitting on one of their desks. Oh, and you guys wouldn’t believe the rush I got when I was told we could do a multigenre project plus book clubs! They call them literary circles, but they are pretty much the same thing. I’m excited to get to work with some of the things I have read about, but haven’t yet had the opportunity to see in action in the classroom.

While I’m sure not all of my student teaching experience will be sunshine and rainbows, there was something calming about finally meeting my teachers. Before my visits they were just kind of faceless people that I didn’t know anything about. Now I feel much more comfortable with them, and I have a better idea of what they are expecting from me next semester. This doesn’t mean that I am not still nervous, but it did help calm a few of the butterflies. I do know that with the time running short I keep coming up with questions that need answered, and I just keep hoping that I can get the answers before time runs out. I am starting to realize though that somethings you just can’t plan for. Life is going to throw curve balls at me, and hopefully I am prepared enough to deal with them when that happens.

The next few weeks are going to fly by I am sure, and I just keep trying to get them to slow down. This campus has become my home away from open for the last 3.5 years. I’ve made so many friends in my department that I wonder what it will be like not to see them every day. These people have encouraged me for the last 3.5 years, and no matter how tired we get of each other I will still miss them next semester. Next semester is going to bring some changes, and I am excited to see where I go from here. I am excited and apprehensive all at the same time. The clock is ticking, and pretty soon I’ll be out there ready or not.

Week 13: NCTE

Okay guys, my feet hurt, I’m exhausted, still defrosting, but this trip has been amazing. Honestly, all of my English teacher friends if you have never been to NCTE yo need to go. This conference has been so eye opening, and I have learned so much. Plus, I have gotten to hear some of my idols speak, and meet some of them.

There have definitely been some major highlights of this trip. Yesterday I stood in line for 15 minutes in order to get a copy of All’s Faire in Middle School signed by Victoria Jamieson! I can’t remember if I’ve talked about All’s Faire before, but if I have then you know I think very highly of it. I think it was definitely like being on cloud nine getting to meet such an amazing authors. Plus, I’m pretty sure meeting authors is an English Major’s form of meeting a movie star (not that we wouldn’t enjoy that too).

Another highlight of this trip was getting to listen to Nancie Atwell, Penny Kittle, and Kelly Gallagher. Their session was so informative, and I got so many ideas for it. One big take away that I have heard from their session was the idea that you have to give students choice about what they are reading. Their project was interesting because it took schools from two different sides of the state and had them choose books to be in a book club together. The way that they organized it almost blew my mind, but the amount of ideas that I have now are slightly overwhelming.

In fact, this whole conference has been super overwhelming. I feel like I have been handed a whole bunch of information, and I’m just crossing my fingers hoping that I have everything I needed written down. My notebook is overflowing with notes that I’m hoping make sense.

Anyway, I’m pretty satisfied with this adventure. St. Louis is a beautiful city, and I haven’t even been to the Arch yet. I’m hoping to fit in a visit tomorrow morning before we fly out. I’m excited to bring back everything I’ve learned, but I’m definitely not excited for the plane ride home, the drive from Denver, and then having to drive all the way home.

Professional Development Book Review 2: Fearless Writing by Tom Romano

Fearless Writing: Multigenre to Motivate and Inspire

I’ll be honest you guys, I devoured this book. I couldn’t get enough of all the information that Romano was throwing at me. Don’t get me wrong I loved Penny Kittle’s writing, but this book drew me in from the very beginning and I swear it just never let me go. So, if you don’t know Tom Romano you need to start looking up his work right now. This is the second time I’ve read something by him, and not only is his writing informational, but he also gives you more than just the information that you are expecting. He gives you feedback from students, he tells you what has and hasn’t worked for him, and he is willing to admit to the times that he has failed.

This book is entirely about multigenre papers, and how to implement them into the classroom. I was first introduced to multigenre papers in Kittle’s work, and I had wanted to learn more about what they were. When Dr. E introduced this book in class on Tuesday I knew it was exactly what I had been looking for to build off of my last professional development book. I dove into the pages hoping to learn more about this elusive idea of a multigenre paper, and how I might begin using it in my own classrooms.

One of the great things about this book is it is also written in multiple genres like the papers it discusses. While many of the chapters are still written in expository, other chapters are simply dialogue, plays, and even poems. I think that the fact that the book is put together this way really helped me to better understand what it means to write in multigenre. The explanations that Romano gives are great, so are the multiple examples of multigenre papers that he provides. Even so, it was almost comforting to see it used within a published book.

I loved the fact that Romano also provides information about how standards and grading interact with multigenre projects. He does a good job of explaining the way he grades multigenre projects, and especially how you can use them in conjunction with standards. This part takes up a very small portion of the book, but if you are nervous about anything that Romano talks about with multigenre papers/projects this section will definitely put you at ease. I really loved this book, and if you are curious about multigenre assignments I suggest that you check it out.

Week 12: Setting Up Mini Lessons

This week in class we discussed different ways of developing mini lessons. I hadn’t thought much before about how to go about planning out a mini lesson, or how I wanted to go about putting min lessons into my classroom. We read several articles discussing different ways to set mini lessons up within the classroom, as well as watched a demonstration of a mini lesson by Penny Kittle.

Many of the articles discussed a way to plan and set up mini lessons over a period of time. This way of planning allows you to plan lessons based on what you are seeing in the needs of your students, but at the same time they are planned out around a week in advance. These types of mini lessons are more the kind that you plan to go within a unit, and it can be saved from year to year. That being said you don’t want to continually use the same mini lesson all the time. You may need to change it depending on the needs of students, or you could want to change up mentor texts based on your student’s interests.

The mini lesson method that Penny Kittle used was a little different. She has a student that approached her on a Thursday, and he was having a problem deciding where he needed to from his storyboard. So she organizes an impromptu mini lesson in which the class works with the student in order to help him come up with ways that they can continue from there. This lesson was great because it allowed the student to get ideas, but it also helped with classroom discussion. Not only that, but during the discussion the students were actively communicating about literature, coming up with ideas, and overall being amazingly creative.

After studying both of these things we were then asked which one we would use in the classroom. I would have to say that you need a balance of these two ideas. You need to have ideas for mini lessons that fit within lessons, or that can deal with specific areas that your students struggle in. You also need to be flexible. Not every lesson can be planned into a schedule. Sometimes someone asks a question that really gets the class going and you don’t want to stop it because they are actually discussing things. You have to be willing to look for situation in the classrooms that you can turn into a learning experience for everyone. It’s often those impromptu lessons that really do make a difference. For these reasons I want to include a good variety of both types of mini lessons within my classroom. I think a lot of it is just finding that balance between spontaneity and planning.

 

Week 11: Dealing with Poverty

On Tuesday we had a former CSC student come to class and talk about her current job. She works as a 10th and 11th grade English teacher at St. Francis on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. It was interesting to hear about what her life as a teacher is like there, and how she works with her students. She described several things that I had seen when we went to visit Pine Ridge earlier this semester. The ideas surrounding education are different for these people than they were for me when I was growing up. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but it does demonstrate the differences that arise depending on the home or the place that you grew up in. These children are no less important than any other child that enters my classroom.

Poverty has been something on my mind a lot lately. Two weeks ago we went to a presentation on poverty in schools. This, combined with our other discussions has really gotten me thinking about the plight of students that may enter my classroom, and how I am going to help them and encourage them as people and as learners. I understand that many of these kids will be experiencing things that I cannot fully comprehend. I can’t say that I have really ever been in their shoes. I also knew that I would have food, a place to sleep, and clothes to wear. Some children aren’t afforded that luxury. Yes, children in America are still caught up in poverty too. There are starving children in every country all over the world, and some might just be sitting in your classroom.

I hadn’t really thought about how I would deal with poverty before this week. In Block we talked about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and then talked about how we could help meet each of these needs for our students. This got me thinking about what I can do as a teacher to help those students out. Now before I hear any arguments about how it’s not the schools job to help those in poverty, and that they should learn how to take care of themselves, I want you to realize something. People who live in poverty usually have jobs. In fact, a large percentage of people in poverty have at least one adult in the household who is working a full time job. Also, students can not learn on an empty stomach, so if you want them to succeed you have to be willing to give them a hand. This isn’t about politics, it’s about children’s lives.

Anyway, when it comes to helping students every little thing counts. You could put granola bars or other nonperishable food items in your classroom, so your student actually has something to eat that day. Does your student work all night, or live in an unsafe home where they are scared to sleep? Let them catch a nap in your room over lunch. For some of the students that walk into your room it will be the only safe place that they know. Make sure that it is safe. Build your students up, help them grow, don’t belittle and put them down. Create an environment that is safe and conducive to learning. This is about helping your students learn, and you can do that by doing more than just teaching them. Dare to be the teacher that not only teaches, but takes the time to care about the lives your students may be living outside of school.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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I have a ton of stuff to be doing. I have to take the Praxis II next Wednesday, I have presentations coming up, a rough draft for a critical essay to right, and yet I couldn’t seem to put this book down. “Brown Girl Dreaming” is a collection of poetry written by author Jacqueline Woodson. The poetry comes together to demonstrate a beautifully written autobiography. Woodson definitely has a great grasp on writing and storytelling, and she weaves in so much outside history into her poems that it really does just draw you in. These poems are the story of a girl as she is born in Ohio, grows in a racially charged south, and finally ends up in New York City.

Pros: This is a book of poetry, but it doesn’t read like a book of poetry. I know that seems weird, but I never once felt like there was a difference between this book and a book written in prose. The poems were so beautifully composed, and I continually found myself getting lost in the lines, and the picture that was being brought together from poem to poem. Also, Woodson knows how to tell a story. She knows how to draw a reader in and get them lost in the story that is being told. The poems are all well written, and honestly the reading level is not bad. This would definitely be a book that I would recommend to a reader that may be struggling, especially because the poems are short and clear as well.

Cons: I’m really not sure that there are any cons. I fell in love with this book from page one, and I couldn’t wait to see how it ended. I felt like someone looking in on Jacqueline’s life. It was almost like I was the quiet ghost in the corner taking it all in. Seriously, I have nothing negative to say about this book, and I highly recommend you go check it out.

Week 10: Classroom Management

Guys! I’m finally placed, and I couldn’t be more excited!! I also couldn’t be more nervous. It’s starting to hit me that in a semester I will be student teaching, and then looking for my own job. Where did the last four years go? I’m pretty sure that college goes faster than high school, but maybe that’s because I enjoyed it more? Either way the butterflies are starting to form in my stomach especially when it comes to one topic, classroom management. Thankfully, my instructors seem to be on the same page as me this week because not only did we address it in my special methods course, but also in or PDW we had this week in BLOCK.

I keep expecting my first year of teaching to look like one of those bad teaching movies. You know the one’s where the students are constantly throwing things, talking over the teacher, and just generally ignoring the teacher? Yeah, that terrifies me. How am I with my 5 foot 4 inch frame supposed to handle all of that. I am definitely not intimidating, but then again do I need to be? A few weeks ago I wrote a blog on relationships and the importance they have in the classroom. Now what I understand from my teachers is that building relationships is also key to classroom management. Making your students feel important is huge. When we are taking the time to build relationships with our students it’s saying that they are actually worth caring about, and honestly I’m pretty sure that’s something huge. I know too many students over the years that teachers gave up on. I’ve seen too many kids who could have been great cast aside because they weren’t the best and the brightest. I think this is the wrong way to go about it, and if you walk into your classroom acting like you are the lord of all you probably shouldn’t be there.

See along with relationships is this thing called respect. It’s a little hard to show respect to someone when they are constantly treating you like crap. Let’s be real we all know that one person that wants you to respect them, but the does something at every turn to try and force that respect. What happens? You don’t want to respect them, instead you develop that little seed of dislike. Okay, well that’s what happens with me anyway. Back to teaching though. If you can’t also respect and encourage your students, why should you expect them to respect you back. You  have a piece of paper, that’s about it. These kids have thoughts and ideas too, and it’s important that they are heard.

So, while I’m still more scared than ever to start my career in teaching, I also feel like I’m starting to get an understanding of how I can help my students. I’m calling them the two R’s of teaching, relationships and respect. Also, just to point out this applies to your colleagues, administration, and community too. Our PDW speaker on Wednesday said something that really hit me, and I think too many people don’t realize it, so I’d like to share it again here:

Teaching is not a career, it is a lifestyle.

You will be watched from the moment that you become a teacher, and you need to be sure that you are living your life in a way that leaves no question about what you have dedicated your life to doing.