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.


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