Monday, February 08, 2016

Teaching Tip #99

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #99
Students as reverse-mentors.
What if we weren’t just assigned a TA.  What if we were assigned a student to work as a “reverse-mentor”?  Imagine a student coming to your room on your prep to help you “millennialize” your curriculum.  They could help show you the ins and outs of social media or why putting together a Power Point with stock pictures and 10 font and 20 bullets per slide is cruel and unusual punishment.
Just think of all that we’d learn

Saturday, February 06, 2016

What's Going on in Room 205

It's already the start of the third week of second semester.  That means only 12 weeks left school.  Wow!

I'm always amazed at how each class and each semester has its own feel.

So far this semester it has been wonderful.

I have College Comp 2 first block.  Fourteen seniors.  That's not fair.  This class has been excellent so far.

We started with a book that we didn't read in my first semester College Comp 2 class: Cal Newport's So Good They Can't Ignore You.

My version of College Comp 2 comes with a heavy dose of college and career readiness rather than simply focusing just on expository writing.  This doesn't always go over well with seniors, many of whom have built up an incredible amount of hubris as they are now incredibly big fish in a very small pond.  In other words, many think they know everything about everything.  Yet, they do not even have a high school diploma let alone a college degree.  I always tired of this battle.

However, so far so good in this CC 2 class and our first reading.

Newport's core thesis is simple: the advice of simply following your passion is terrible.

First, what 17 year old even knows what their true passions are?

Second,  even if they do know what their passions are, what are the odds that the student can match that passion to a career?

Third, even when you ask people who supposedly love their jobs and have a passion for them, how they got to such a job, what they tend to tell you (just follow your passion) isn't accurate.

I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who loves their job more (hence why I'm blogging about my job at 8:30 on a Saturday morning) than me.  I did apparently follow my passion (my love for reading and writing) to a job I love.

But that's not quite the whole truth.  I actually hated teaching my first few years, so much so, that I applied at UPS for a position.

So much for me really following my passion.  Teaching for me from 1998-2001 was very much just a J-O-B.

Newport argues that what you should do instead of following your passion is to actually find out, instead, what you are really, really good at.

Then find a major or job that plays to your talents.  For he has found - and I like to think that this is true for me - passion is a byproduct of being really good at something.

But simply playing to your strengths isn't enough.  Instead, you need to practice the craftsman mindset in which you use deliberate practice or serious study to get really good at something.  Once you are really good at something, you start to gain rare and valuable skills.

Here is how that worked with me.  I didn't realize it when I was a kid, but all of those hours I spent up in my room reading heavy metal (Hit Parader, Circus, and Metal Edge) and horror (Fangoria) magazines and horror novels as well as writing songs, poems, and short stories were deliberate practice and serious study.  All of that reading and writing allowed me to excel in my English classes in high school.  Because I had excellent teachers in college, I began to continue deliberately practicing and seriously studying my craft, which gave me skills to excel and developed my passion for English and writing and reading as a result.

Newport next argues that once you have rare and valuable skills, you will gain career capital, which allows you to have work that matters.  And work that matters tends to possess these three things: impact, creativity, and control.

When I first began teaching - subbing in the area - I realized quickly that simply being a good reader and writer wasn't enough.  I had to be able to connect with and relate to kids.  So here was a new set of skills I had to work hard on to develop so they would make me rare and valuable.

A moment that illustrates this is when my dear Mother was at Dr. Mickelson's eye clinic in the spring of '98.  Dr. Mickelson's wife was an elementary school teacher in town.  Dr. Mickelson had asked if I had found a job yet (Dr. Mickelson himself was a former high school science teacher).  Mom answer no and that she hoped I would make a good teacher.

Dr. Mickelson informed her that I would do just fine as his wife had told him this story - apparently, I was subbing at Challenger and brought my kids in to Mrs. Mickelson's room for reading.  We broke up into groups (this part I actually remember clearly) and read from the good old Weekly Reader series.  In the copy we were reading, there was an article examining whether the technology from the Star Wars movies (which had been re-released as part of their 20th anniversary) was feasible or not.

Well, this happened to be right down my alley, as I loved those films as a kid.  So I soon was asking them if they had seen the originals and if they were excited for the new film, A Phantom Menace, to come out.

I didn't know it, but Mrs. Mickelson had seen this and must have mentioned it to Dr. Mickelson how I had those kids interested and engaged.

Well, that convinced Mom she didn't need to worry about me as a teacher (though that didn't stop her!).

Newport argues that work that matters doesn't stop there with just rare and valuable skills.  You must continue to practice the craftsman mindset (using deliberate practice and serious study) to continue to acquire and develop rare and valuable skills to keep improving at your job.

And that is exactly what I have done every since I left for graduate school in 2001/2.  Since I was single and didn't have anything else to do other than teach, study, read, and write, that is exactly what I did with 90% of my time.  I discovered new approaches to writing and new assignments that I never would have found just following my high school curriculum.

When I returned to LHS in the fall of 2002, I still had a lot of learning and deliberate practice to do, but I found myself having more control over my work.  I was teaching Science Fiction, Composition 10, and eventually British Literature, which was as close to a college course as I had ever taught.

Then in 2006 when I finally published my thesis, I was in a position to teacher College Composition I.  Originally, I taught just one class per semester.  However, as I've worked to tweak and refine my curriculum, I now teach 5 out of six classes that are college level.

So far my College Comp 2 class has totally bought in to the text.  And I couldn't be happier.

They have also written two essays.  They had an essay on a persona strength due on the first day of class.  Yesterday, they submitted their second essay, a definition essay.  The final product for So Good They Can't Ignore You will be an infograph related to one of Newport's four rules regarding finding work you love.

Here is my example -


I'm not quite sure, though, where we are going after this book, though.

The rest of my schedule this year is teaching College Composition I.

My third block class is a dream - 13 students for the longest block of the day.  This is a dream because I can give every single student quite a bit of individual attention to help them craft their writing.

My fourth block is quite different.  It contains some of the brightest kids in the junior class, but I have 29 of them in what amounts to the shortest period of the day.

That is quite the challenge.

So far, students have written three short description essays (a favorite place, a prized possession, and a description of their choice).  I gave each student feedback on their drafts.  Then they chose one of the drafts to revised into a second draft.  Finally, they took that and peer edited it in small groups and submitted the essay.

I was able to grade my third block's in a single night.  What a dream.  Then I gave them the option (for bonus points) to allow me to put it up on the Smartboard in front of the class and revise it for the whole class.

Every single student opted to share their essay.

So we were able to spend the better part of two full class periods simply examining their final drafts and how we might revise them.  It was a blast.

As far as my fourth block, well, I still have to grade their essays, though they were technically due a day after third block.

Next, we are working on writing narratives.  I am taking a new approach to the narrative this year.  I am teaching them to apply their descriptive writing skills from theme #1 to two snapshot moments related to their narratives.  (I stole this from Penny Kittle's amazing Write Beside Them - again, thanks to deliberate practice and serious study).

So here is how it will break down

For their narrative essay, students will write two rough drafts: a rite of passage narrative and an expertise narrative.

For each narrative students will first write two snapshot moments.  Then we will spend time connecting those snapshot moments with elements of narrative (dialogue, condensed time, thoughts, suspense . . . ).

After that, which should put us at the end of next week, we tackle Seth Godin's The Dip.


Friday, February 05, 2016

Teaching Tip #98

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #98

My dream assignment #2: parents come to my class and students go to their parents’ work for a day.

How cool would it be to have the parents come in to my classroom for a block while their son or daughter went to their job?

I’d love to see the parents work on an essay or read “A Rose for Emily” and then take some homework home.

I think the parents would learn a lot and gain a better appreciation for what their kids go through on a daily basis.

I think, though, what parents would learn would pale in comparison to what the kids will learn about what it’s like out in the real world.

And I think that is the most valuable lesson they could learn.  And it might just make the student appreciate what goes on in class a bit more.  They might have to write an essay, but that is nothing compared with having to deal with a disgruntled employee or back a sixteen wheeler into a loading bay.


Thursday, February 04, 2016

Teaching Tip #97

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #97

My dream assignment: shadow a student (maybe two) for a day.  This article gave me that idea.  What an eye opening experience this would be.

I know I’m guilty of not seeing the whole experience of what it means to be a student.

After all, my day is just three blocks all in my room.

What would i learn as I followed one of my students to their math class?  Then followed them to my class and then had lunch with them (and having to either eat the school food or rushing madly to one of the fast food places in town).  What would I learn as I followed them to their history class and then ending the day with science?

I bet I’d be damn worn out.  Oh yeah, to make it even better, I could follow them to practice or work.

I don’t think their life is harder than mine.  That’s not the issue.  The issue is simply trying to understand all of the other stuff the student goes through.

I think this would give me a much better perspective.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Teaching Tip #96

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #96

Let your students feel like they have a seat at the adult table when it comes to building culture, designing policies, and devising assignments.

This builds off of the previous post.  

You remember what it was like at holiday gatherings when you were relegated to the kids’ table.  Then finally you experienced the rite of passage of being big enough to have a seat at the adults’ table where you had to step up your manners (please and thank you were musts) and your skills (you actually had to pass the food and dish it for yourself unlike when you were at the kids’ table and your mother brought you your plate with your favorite food on it).

How can we give our students a seat at the adults’ table, so to speak, in our class?

I try to do this in a few ways -

I have them help me set the core values for the year.  

I challenge them to then hold me accountable for personifying the core values.  

I also challenge them to not only hold their peers acceptable for the core values but to also call them out (usually on social media) when they see them personifying the core values.  

I also ask for their input when devising assignments.  I’ll often give them several options for an assessment - they can write an essay OR develop an infographic OR they can devise a Prezi OR they can create a Youtube video.  Choice and input are vital.

I’ll listen to their input on due dates.  For example, when we have professional week in College Comp 2 (where students have to dress up for a whole week . . . this is something most dislike by the way), I ask them what week would work best.  They try to have it coincide when they have the most home games so they will be dressed up anyway.

It’s not perfect, but one of the things that I think students will tell you they enjoy most about my classes is the culture that is created.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Teaching Tip #95

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #95

How do you allow for personalization in your classroom / subject area?  These are the post-millennials.  These are the kids who we (yes, we are to blame for the generations after us because WE raised them to be the way they are) raised without the ability to fail.  These are the kids who we gave a trophy to just for competing in the tournament, regardless of winning anything.   These are the kids who we raised knowing that it wasn’t their fault.  The teacher was too hard on them.  Their boss wasn’t being fair.  The coach only played her favorites . . .

So not only are they used to being catered too, but they are also the most marketed to generation in the history of the planet.  If it isn’t commercials, it’s advertising on Youtube or any webpage.  Or it’s social media enticing them.

And if all that isn’t enough, this generation has the ability to customize almost every single thing in their lives. Just look at their iPhones.  The case is unique and reflects some type of passion (mine, for example, is from Etsy and combines my life for apple and Star Wars).  Their screen saver is customized (mine is of my daughter Kenzie striking a pose on the first day of school).  Their background is also customized (mine is of my son, Cash, showing off his Captain America hat).  Every single app is customized in that there are only a handful of standards apps on the iPhone.  The rest are individually purchased or downloaded from the app store (on mine, for example, I have a folder of education apps (dropbox, twitter, Pinterest, Youtube, Facebook, Google Drive, podcasts, Instagram . . .).  Each of those apps are individually customized as well (my Instagram has my unique tagline and information as well as avatar and background pic and the podcasts are unique to just my specific tastes).

Yet, when students come to our classes, what do they get to customize?

Very little.

How can we allow them to customize our class?

I am no expert at this, but I also try to allow them to help me set the core values for our class and set up the class rules/expectations.  This way they have buy in, and they have ownership in the class.

It is by no means perfect, but it is vital in creating our culture in room 205.

There is no way I’m doing any of that, you say.  Okay.  I get it.  Students won’t be able to do any of that in college or at work (at least both instances are rare), but the college classes and employers who do allow for customization will get far more out of their students and workers.  And isn’t that really what we’re after?


Monday, February 01, 2016

Teaching Tip #94

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #94

Another very insightful read: To Lecture or Not to Lecture?

I love lectures.  I learned so much from them.   I think of Jerry Schnabel at Bemidji State University who lectured every single class.  They were brilliant performances.  He was like a conductor making sense out of all this various elements of history, and, somehow, connecting it to our own lives.  The same was true for Nancy Michaels who also lectured every single class.  She had us in awe - especially when I had her for two graduate 3 hour long night classes - the entire time so that those three hours went by in what felt like one hour.

I hate notes, though.  I learned little from them.  John Halcrow, head of the education department, was notorious for this.  So was Spiro Thomidas in the history department.  I was bored to tears in those classes.  Worse, anything that I learned, I taught myself.

Schnabel and Michaels were able to teach me via lectures in a way that engaged me and didn’t even make me aware of how much I was learning.  They somehow turned me into a sponge that just soaked up what they were teaching.

Halcrow and Thomidas didn’t teach me much since I wasn’t engaged.  They turned me into a stone that just let their boring monotone voices bounce right off.

So I am in no way anti-lecture.  But a “lecture,” as I see it, is a performance.  It’s not regurgitating notes or talking off the cuff about stuff I just committed to memory in the car ride to school.

They take planning and outlining and vast resources.

In fact, I’d love to see each teacher required to give a lecture (to their classes or to a large group in the commons) once a month.

The faculty response I give to at the Honors Banquet is an example (at least I think of it that way) of a lecture.

So I think lectures kind of get a bad name as they are lumped in with bad practices like just going over notes or teaching half ass because we aren’t prepared.

But like anything, I think there also needs to be a balance.  Deliver a rousing lecture once in awhile.  Bore them to tears with notes every so often.  Have students do a group presentation a few times.  Engage in a socratic seminar a few times.  Don’t just fall into a rut.