education thoughts

I’m behind in my self-paced program — NC Teacher Action Research. The question for the of Sept 16th (see how far behind I am???) was:

If you could change/improve anything in your classroom, what would it be? Take a few minutes to reflect on your feelings about your own teaching.  Make a list of things that “nag” at you as you plan and teach.

  1. more reading; less complaining
  2. figuring out how to get kids to want to engage in the language arts (I love the term for this: agency)
  3. making language arts tie into other content areas
  4. finally figuring out how to balance writing and literature instruction!!
  5. making language arts more active — creative — visible (this is probably my makerspace)
  6. I’m always interested in the technology aspect
  7. I may be somewhat interested in teaching argument — but not enough to actually study it
  8. can I go gradeless? Nope!
  9. more inquiry in English!!
  10. showing student growth without teaching to the EOC

List the areas in your practice that you would like to change or improve

  1. I’m really interested in how to create a more active learning classroom. If the kids are more interested in their phones than what we are doing in class, then I’m doing something wrong.
  2. I stink at giving feedback, even though there is so much research showing its benefits — I think this might be a class management issue.


How can I create an active and agentative learning environment through the use of a makerspace while keeping students on task?

Reflection Questions

Self-reflection (theories): So, I’m definitely of the constructivist argument of education. I think we learn through interactions with each other and in conversations with peers.

Descriptive (describe problem): I don’t think my problem — engagement and agency — is new for the students I teach; however, I see that my students don’t leave their area, for the most part. They make their lives in an area that isn’t really growing in population, yet the ways they learn best –hands on–isn’t privileged in a “college and career ready” atmosphere.  During my time in education, I’ve become better at giving students more say in what we do in class and trying to get them more active, both mentally and physically. And, while I think I have been somewhat successful, I don’t see/hear kids talking about being in flow — where they are totally immersed in an activity/lesson/ process. Plus, I don’t just want a student to be compliant — to play at school. I want to see some passion in in their desire to go further in their learning, which is a difficult concept in a Language Arts class where we read the same texts that their parents (grandparents??) read!

Exploratory (why): This may be where my question breaks down. The “why” of makerspaces interests me — I see the intersections of literacy, writing, and making, but it may not be seen in similar ways by my administration who only cares about test scores. So far, I’ve been lucky in the testing arena — I’ve found myself in the “green” with regards to EVAAS scores, although it’s on the lower end of the standard deviation — and there has been minimal growth in my students’ scores. I need to find ways to gather data to show/prove that making and active lessons engages my students, but I also have to show growth.


“Let’s do something fuuuuuuuuunnn this year,” my colleague Jana whined.

We’re in my classroom, trying to do the beginning-of-year planning that is required by all departments. Both Jana and I feel we’re in some sort of weird holding pattern with our classes. Last year, we saw our freshmen and sophomore students’ faces blurred with boredom and apathy. Neither of us wanted that again, especially in light of the political upheavals and teacher bashing that has become commonplace.

The more we talked and brainstormed, the more I thought about this past Teacher Research Week at UNCC. During the week, we made with words, technology, and science. It felt that Jana and I had happened upon a STEM/maker train of thought that refreshed our outlook on teaching literature and writing.

Our first speed-bump was logistical:  “Is this appropriate instruction? What will other teachers and administrators say when our classes are loud and messy? How much money will it cost to ‘make’?” Thankfully, though, my administrators allow teachers to be independent thinkers and aren’t married to a pacing guide — we are extremely lucky in that regard.

Next, we began brainstorming all the different ways we could create “experiences” with our literature (This term comes from Dave Burgess’ book, Teach Like a Pirate). Our plans for sophomores include: experiencing the story “How Much Land Does a Man Need” by walking the cross country track and burying dead “bodies” (cutouts) at the end; having students dress up for book talks; writing marathons around the school campus and on field trips, and creating digital personas through the Voki website. My class today will make 6-word memoirs of Holocaust survivor stories, and then represent them with pictures.

Our first foray into making, though, came two weeks ago with freshmen and the story, “The Most Dangerous Game.” We wanted the classes to get the feel for the main character’s (Rainsford) stress as he hides in the woods, trying to trap and outwit his antagonist. They had one hour to use recyclable materials they had brought from home, and whatever outside material they could find, to create a trap that would stop an aggressor. Jana and I developed a rubric, not for a grade, but as a guide for their thinking. Each group had to reflect on the STEAM elements, as well as respond individually as to how their group worked together, design flaws and challenges, and whether they thought their trap worked as planned.

The day was nothing short of amazing! In the individual and whole group reflections in my class, I heard things like, “It showed us the stress Rainsford was in”;  “I don’t know if I would be able to think on my feet like he had to”; “Our trap didn’t work because our string was too thin. We should have added a small tree or bush limb”; “We had to listen to everybody’s idea and use pieces of each one”; “We should do this again because we can live the story.”

I am excited about this school year! Just like my students, I needed another person to bounce ideas off of to get a maker movement started, at least in my department. Jana is very good at imagining these kinds of ideas, and I’m very good at getting the curriculum targeted. It takes both levels of thinking to Make Space for Making, and I look forward to continuing these experiences.

For your viewing pleasure:

sols_6I haven’t posted in TWT in a while, and I miss this community. I’m especially glad to be writing today, as I’m having existential angst with my writing instruction. My sophomores and juniors are so apathetic right now that I’m finding it difficult not to scream every day and pull my hair out!! Sounds drastic, right?

It does until my 2nd grader brings home her work from last week, and in the packet is a story she wrote about a girl named Alex who feels like other girls at school are bullying her because she doesn’t have the right kind of clothes. I have no clue what the assignment was, but the only feedback she had on the paper was a minuscule check mark at the top of the page. When I ask her about it, she says she just wrote something down because she “doesn’t have any stories in my head.”

After this exchange, all I want to do is cry. My high school students feel like my Lily. For so long, their voices haven’t mattered, except for a check mark that they did something. I see them just want to get an assignment finished — not write for an authentic audience or get feedback from me or share with classmates. Writing is something to hide — and to whisper in my ear or on a post-it note that they used to like to write, but now they don’t because there are “no stories in my head.”

My angst comes because the more I try to be mad at the apathetic teenagers sitting in front of me more concerned with their cell phones than my grand lesson plans, the more I see a room filled with tall Lilies….begging me to bring their stories out no matter how much they whine and complain and pretend that they have nothing worth saying.

Why can’t I just be mad?????

CS Lewis quote

nerdlutiont555I’m struggling again to create a literature unit plan for my high school students. We MUST read The Great Gatsby. I WANT my students to read The Great Gatsby. But they will take too much time, I won’t be able to incorporate writing or test-prep, and they will just tell me that they don’t understand this book. How do I know these things? Because this is how they roll!

I’ve worked all day trying to figure out strategies they can use to read and understand this book. I’m drawing/sketching, using Notice & Note language, and writing in the margins of the book. I’m learning more about the book — this  is only the 2nd time I’ve taught the book — but this process is so labor intensive that I really don’t think my 17 y/olds will persist with me. And if we have to read this whole thing out loud, they will DEFINITELY bolt!

So, I’m stuck. Everything is so slow with this group, and I don’t feel like I’m being very structured in my lessons. Stopping the whining now and getting back to reading and notetaking…

Wish me luck

#nerdlution #2

sols_6So, I’m trying to find different ways to address argument, common core crappy standards, NC high school English test-prep, and technology without boring my students (or me) to tears. In my unit on storytelling right now, I have planned on using two TED-Ed talks: Sir Ken Robinson’s on education killing creativity and Dan Pink’s on motivation. Well…

This morning, on Twitter, I followed a link to a TED talk (but I can’t find the link at the moment). Once at the site, a tab tells me to “Flip this lesson”!! I’ve spent the better part of the afternoon working on this activity that might be a total BUST!!! But I’m a tad excited about it. Rather than use a paper version of my Article of the Week assignment, my students will watch these two videos and complete test prep and extended writing about them. I know I don’t like the test-prep part, but that’s the nature of my job at the moment.

Anyone up for completing the activities — or really just looking at them — and giving me some feedback? If so, go here — my class website. I would definitely appreciate it!!

Happy Sunday!

sols_6I’m not the same after a time change. Spring forward, fall back…it doesn’t matter because my internal clock just gets all confused. Either I can’t sleep, or I wake up too early. It reminds me that I need to look at where I am teaching-wise, and what I have left to do (Don’t ask why time change makes me think about teaching, but it does!).

Anyway, it’s also progress report time — AGAIN. I’m pretty sure I’ve written here many times that grading is my least favorite part of teaching. My students who never turn anything in always seem to want/need confirmation that they really haven’t done anything, and my students who complete everything get assurance that I see them!

So, as I try to get my body’s clock back into rhythm, and my students’ progress-report-temper-tantrums contained, The Foo Fighters sing me advice. My man, Dave Grohl (who is more than welcome to give me advice personally any day of the week!!), usually can make me remember what is important. His song-writing this time tells me that even though things change, that change can be good. It’s okay that the time changed; I’ll adjust. It’s okay that my students seem shocked with poor grades; maybe this time they will change. It’s okay that work is stressful at the moment; Spring Break is right around the corner.

Thanks, Dave!


sols_6Being a high school teacher toughens a girl up. I’ve come to believe that without some toughness, a girl can be doomed. Teenagers treat their teachers like a girlfriend they can’t dump. First they act like you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. You think everything is going along fine: they are reading, writing when you ask, talking about their literacy. Then, it’s time for checking papers and assigning grades, and BAM!!! Where did the love go?

When it first happens — not matter how long you’ve been teaching, this always takes you by surprise! — you think it’s you. You haven’t used English words. You haven’t tapped their learning style or dominant left-brain/right-brain strategy. You gave them too much freedom….You didn’t give them enough freedom. You change their seating, their assignments, their technology. Everything is wrong, but nothing works. Even your teacher friends are helpless.

Then you get mad. The students aren’t taking you class seriously. They tried to trick you into thinking they wanted a good grade; they wanted to learn. Then you yell at them, and you realize that the only ones who are remotely listening are the ones who normally do their work. You have them in tears — they don’t know what they’ve done wrong! Then you get even madder because the “bad” ones are laughing at your tirade; one of them raises his hand and says, “Hey, ain’t you acting like one of them ar-key-types you told us about? One of them shoes?” You shake your head because even though he got the word wrong (he meant “shrew” of course), he got the idea correct.

Then, being the good teacher that you are, you go on a Google search — there has to be something some smart savant has come up with to help with the little kiddoes problems. So you get an answer that looks like this:


Apathy search

Yeah…that says a million sites. A MILLION!!!! Now you realize that you aren’t the only teacher dealing with students who don’t feel a connection to school — the one place you could call safe when you were little. How can that be? You immediately realize this is a dumb question because there were classmates you remember from school who didn’t want to be there and who didn’t graduate. You know the problems they dealt with and are still dealing with (you have a Facebook, for crying out loud!) for not having a good education.

While you’re thinking about your students, your kid yells at the pretend class she’s teaching to “BE QUIET, I SAID! NO, WE ARE NOT GOING TO READ OR WRITE STORIES TODAY! YOU HAVE BEEN TOO BAD AND ALL OF YOU ARE IN TIME OUT! AND NO RECESS!!”

So now you know this school-hate starts from little school where we (the teaching profession) ruin little kids and their tender feelings. We have retarded their curiosity — especially if the student is male. We don’t think they can write their own stories or read books not on their “level.” We stop teaching science and social studies in favor of test prep. They move to upper grades where their teachers are trying, but aren’t able to help them get that Kindergarten love back. And we test them ALL THE TIME. AND ALL THE TESTS ARE “IMPORTANT”!

And just when you know all is lost and you start writing about your frustrations, maybe your kid sees you writing and does this:

Lily writesAnd you think that maybe you’re doing something right after all.


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