Week 6: Coloring Outside the Lines

Guys I’ve actually started getting back into reading again, and of course it just happened to be in the form of graphic novels. This week I managed to finish two graphic novels. The first Stitches by David Small. This grotesque novel deals with a slightly crazy family and different medical things that happened to David as a child. The book itself is an autobiography, and it’s a little creepy. It will make you think about some things in a different light. Also, if you read any of David Small’s children’s books I think you can kind of see his childhood experiences bleeding through. The second book that I read was Relish by Lucy Knicely. This book is all about food, and how Lucy makes memories through her connections with food. I loved this book because a. I love food and b. the story is amazing. I’d highly recommend either of these books.

These books were both autobiographies, which got me thinking about all the different ways that we can express ourselves. Especially, about the different ways that our students can express themselves. If an autobiography can be a graphic novel then it can be written in any shape or form. Of course, this isn’t a new idea for me, but it does help me see how we seem to develop these ideas about what good writing is, or what a certain piece of writing has to look like. The thing is why can’t an autobiography be written in a poem? This has really got me thinking about the fact that too often we put our students in a box. We tell them that there is a certain way to do things, and we punish them for stepping outside of those lines. The problem is that too often some of the most effective literature breaks the rules and steps outside of the box.

My goal for my classroom more and more is to push my students to challenge the “lines” that have been drawn for them. I want them to ask questions, and if that means they question me that’s what I will encourage them to do. I want them to know that they are safe in my class, and that they don’t have to worry about me lording my power over them. I want them to know that a topic isn’t just made for one genre. I want them to know that I trust them and I care about them as people, and as artists. Most of all I want them to know that they are capable of being great writers and readers and I wholeheartedly believe in them.

I know this blog has kind of been all over the place, but this has just really been hitting me this week. I would hate to see what would have happened if someone had told David Small or Lucy Knisely that they couldn’t write an autobiography in the form of a graphic novel. I’d hate to see them told that they couldn’t write graphic novels. I look at all these authors that I enjoy and I wonder what would have happened if they were told over and over that they had to color inside the lines, and I want to create a classroom that doesn’t do that.

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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.

Week 1: Lead by Example

Wow, it’s hard to believe that I am beginning my last first semester of my college career. I’d say school, but as we talked about in Special Methods there are a lot more first days of school in my future. I guess that’s what happens when you decide to become a teacher. Coming into this semester I’ve had lots of questions. There are still so many things about teaching that I don’t know, but after this first week of this class I can see that many of those questions are well on their way to being answered.

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This week in class we started off talking about the importance of practicing what you preach. If you are continually telling your students that reading and writing are important you can’t not read and write with them. By not setting an example we are, in a way, giving students the idea that what we are telling them isn’t true. Actions speak louder than words. We need to be showing, not just telling.

I was so glad that Mary Anne asked about how to deal with required reading in the classroom. It’s something I’ve been wondering about myself. Especially in a state like Nebraska, where it’s very rare to find a school system that doesn’t have

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a list of books that you are required to teach. I’m a firm believer that students should be allowed to read what they want to read. I don’t see why we continually force students to read books that are above their reading level, or simply aren’t interesting. I liked the idea of mini lessons for these books, but I question if one can really get away with that. With so many schools having the attitude that they do I’m not sure what I can do against that. I guess my worry is that when the time comes I’ll be pushed into a method of teaching that I don’t want to use, simply because it isn’t good for my students.

The research supporting the idea that students should have freedom in the reading lives is out there, but how do I convince someone to listen to what I have to say, especially as a first year teacher? I appreciate the articles that were given to us this week because I feel like I can add them to my folder of information. They give me something else that I can use to defend the way I want to teach. I hope as we continue through this class I will keep finding a way to provide those that might come against me with the facts.

I’ve been stressed about lesson planning, and covering everything a student is supposed to know. Talking about reading, writing, and talking really put things in perspective for me. It showed me that I’m stressed about something that can really just be simple. I think I worry that I won’t be able to be successful with in the classroom, and because of this I feel like everything has to be complicated. Simplifying this has helped me see that if we just make sure the basics are there it can go a long way for students’ success. I’ve already gained so much knowledge this semester, and I can’t wait see what the rest of the semester brings.

Bringing Things to a Close

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This semester is drawing to an end, and I have to admit I feel like I have gotten more out of this semester than many of the semesters preceding this one. I’ll attribute part of this to many of the authors I have been introduced to this semester by my different professors, and of course to the amazing professors that I’ve had. I’ve read books on reading and writing by Don Murray, Peter Elbow, Nancy Atwell, and of course Penny Kittle. As the semester draws to a close I am grateful that Book Love is one of the books that I had the foresight to buy this semester because I have a feeling I will be wanting it over and over again in the future.

These final two chapters helped fill in a lot of the missing pieces that I had been looking for in the book. How do we as teachers make a way to fill societies need for grades? How can students expand their learning from the books that they are reading? I’ve these questions over and over as a I read, and I feel like I have a better grasp now on some possible answers to these, and several other, questions.

First off, I love the idea of the Big Idea Books. I feel like they work to help students develop a deeper understanding of the books that they read. I had a conversation with one of my professors a while back, and we were discussing how often we just read for surface content, and we don’t look for anything deeper in our books. Having the Big Idea Books helps students to think about themes, ideas, and arguments that are being made by an author. Even acknowledging the theme of a book can be a huge step for a student. I honestly didn’t really learn how to look at this until I was a sophomore in college. No one had really pointed out to me that there is more to books than just a story. Books have meaning, and I think it’s important that students at least look for those meanings. Also, having the book timelines really seems like it would lead to some interesting results.

I think that the quarter students assessments are really great. It is huge to be able to set goals and reflect on them. Having students reflect on their own reading lives gives them time to see how they have improved, and allows you to see what areas they think they are improving. I think it is really important to look at students’ own self-assessment because it allows you to see into their heads a little bit.

Over the years I’ve heard a million arguments against standardized testing, and even pitched a few of my own, but I think Kittle makes one of the best arguments about it that I have heard. She also presented a few thoughts on standardized testing than I had thought about before. Her suggestions on reading assessment actually make a lot of sense.

I’ve gotten so many amazing ideas for my classroom from this book. I’ve learned a lot about student readers, and ways to hopefully create more student readers. I’m glad that I will have this book around for quite awhile because I’m sure that I’ll be looking back at it several times in the future. Another great book to add to one’s teaching bookshelf.

Let’s Get Pumped for Summer!

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Summer has always been my least favorite season. I prefer the crisp days of Fall, or even the hopeful days of Spring, to those hot summer days spent trying to avoid the humidity that Eastern Nebraska likes to bring (thank you corn). The one nice thing about summer is that instead of taking classes my days are filled with my job at the local gas station and lots and lots of books. I’m especially excited for this summer because I have an idea of what I want to read, and how I want to keep my experiences from this class going.

I took a look at the #readeveryday challenge, and I have to say it looks like it might be more than I can chew, but I do think I want to set a reading goal this summer. I really Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge. It continues to push adversity, but also gives you a manageable amount of books to read even though it is actually set up to be accomplished over the course of the year. I also looked at some other Reading Bingo’s that seemed interesting and brought a variety of books to the table. I’d like to at least read 30 books by the end of the summer. Although I feel like if I can read that many books during this semester then I can probably do way more.

Summer Reading Bingo Challenge for Kids.  Get Your Kid Reading this Summer with these Free Printable Bingo Boards!:

Photo Credit- The Chirping Moms

I also found a Bingo card that focused on who you read to and where you read that looked interesting and creative, and I definitely want to try it even if it might be for little kids (Pinterest really is amazing). I have this grand images of curling up on the couch and spending my afternoons in good books. In reality my reading will probably be mixed in wherever I can get it. I’ve gotten into a really good habit of reading before bed, and I want to keep that going. My family is very active during the summers, so I can foresee a lot of outdoor reading and reading in the car.

I plan to continue using Goodreads and other YA blogs to find books to read over the summer. I have a lot of YA series that I want to read that I didn’t get to read this semester. I’m hoping to read Red Queen, finish the Maze Runner series, and finally reread The Mortal Instruments books by Cassandra Clare. Along with these there are still a few random TBR books that I want to check out. Thankfully I’ve looked and our local library carries most of them, yay! Our library is actually located in another town about 10 minutes away. While this may not be much of a drive gas really makes it hard to make a trip there everyday. My sisters and I have developed a tradition of going over to the library at least twice a week to stock up on books. We’ve learned to get more books than we think we need because often the stack we picked up the day before is gone in at least a day. I’m know this tradition will continue to help me continue to stock up on books to read, and with two sisters in middle school, and a sister who is a Junior I’m sure I’ll be able to get plenty of book suggestions.

I’m really excited for the summer of freedom and reading that I have ahead of me. It’s going to be great, and hey it will keep me out of trouble.

 

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 4.17.17

This week was filled with many books that either caught my attention or served to keep me occupied during my late night moments of insomnia. Even with Easter weekend I still managed to find some time to curl up and binge read three books this week. When I say binge read I mean that I sat down and read each of these in the span of two hours, so yay for six hours of reading this week.

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

Keeping on the track of reading about different disabilities this book deals with two Image result for girls like us gail gilesSpecial Education students as they learn to function after graduation. Biddy was born with a birth defect, and is unable to read or write. She also isn’t always able to keep track of (or understand) what’s going on. Then there’s the outspoken Quincy, who may not be able to write, but she will sure speak her mind. The two couldn’t be more different, but they also couldn’t be a more perfect match.

Pros: Wow a very eye opening book. The story deals in detail with what it means to be considered stupid just because your brain doesn’t work the same as everyone else. It really focuses on those with mental disabilities and what they go to try and fit into a world where everyone else tells them they are different. Biddy and Quincy are so different, but they have to learn to work together, share chores, and ultimately trust each other. This book has so much to do with friendship, respect, and what it means to be human. A sort of spoiler the book does touch on the subject of sexual assault, and to be honest it pissed me off the ideas that were put into these girls’ heads since they were different, and yet, it opened my eyes to how often the events in the book can actually happen.

Cons: The first half of this book was so slow. It took me forever to get into it, and I almost invoked my reader’s rights and gave up. Even though I’m glad I stuck with it, I really only loved the second half of the book (if that’s possible). The bad guy was your stereotypical creepy guy, and the plot was slightly predictable at times. I think this is why I hated the first half so much.

The Vanishing Game by Kate Kae Meyers (Book Club friends there are spoilers ahead)

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Let’s see. I’m not even sure how to describe this book. It honestly messed with my head in so many different ways. There is mystery, a little fantasy, and thriller all mixed into one, and my word it’s done beautifully. The book follows Jocelyn who receives a letter from her brother, Jack, who is supposed to be dead. Jocelyn teams up with a childhood friend, Noah, and revists her childhood in order to solve the clues and find Jack before it’s too late.

Pros: This book keeps you on your toes. If you like books that take you on several twists and turns, and you never know what’s coming next then this is the book for you. I didn’t even see the ending coming (and yes I’m still trying to figure it all out). Jocelyn spends a lot of time in her past mostly describing what it was like to be in and out of foster homes, and what it means to live with abusive parents. This book deals heavily with psychology, and it really makes you think. I’m not really sure what else to say, but that I really loved it.

Cons: As much as I loved the ending I felt like they tried to resolve everything too fast. Every twist is thrown at you in one chapter, and honestly I needed more time to digest it all. I wish all the information had been a little bit more spread out. Other than that I loved this book, and if it fits your interests I would highly suggest reading it.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

The third book I gulped down this week was actually my least favorite of the three. Sure it hooked me in, but there were definitely a few things missing. It’s Friday night and Rashad just wants to grab a pack of gum and some chips. Next thing he knows he’s being accused of stealing and a police officer is pummeling him. Quincy, sees the event happen, but the officer is his best friends older brother. What do you do when you are caught in the middle of it all? In an age where police brutality and racism are heavily discussed this books comes in as a way to help navigate it all.

Pros: Rashad is African-American and while he follows every rule he is still treated badly. Rashad is forced to look at the facts and decide whether or not he wants to do Image result for all american boyssomething or just stay quiet. He also has to work through how is race somehow impacted the police officer’s decisions. Quincy also has a lot to work through. He has to decide whether to do the right thing, especially when doing it could cost him everything. The two journeys help the reader think about what it means to act up and not just sit back and watch.

Cons: While there was plot to this novel there also wasn’t a plot. The book drug, and I felt like nothing was really resolved by the time it finished. Of course the boys have made their decisions, but I wanted something more to come of it. I think this was just me being optimistic and hoping that a book would somehow do something that we haven’t been able to do in real life. I guess that’s what makes this book so great is that it points out we have a long way to go, but each of us has a choice to do the right thing.