Category Archives: Reflection

My new crush is a Team Effort

I make no secret that I am a technology fan: OneNote has been an integral part of my classroom for four years. It is the best tool I have to grade, share material, and demonstrate good writing.  And, while I might have the occasional student who loathes most technology (except the cellphone), most of my students love the ease of the application.  I too love OneNote.   And then I met Microsoft Teams.

Last year at ISTE (the International Society of Technology) 2017 Conference, Microsoft previewed their program Teams.  It’s a software platform that combines OneNote, Planner, Cloud, and the Microsoft Office Suite.  I knew I would love Teams; I had already started learning Microsoft Planner.  As a natural list maker, Planner easily integrated into my work day.  However, the software is a bit limited; it’s still just an agenda built for individual or team use.  Teams, however, is built for whole classroom integration.  The Planner add-in allows anyone enrolled to assign tasks.   With that integration,  I knew instantly that Teams is how the school newspaper will get done this year.

I’ve been on the hunt for something to match the hurried, somewhat organized, fast paced, year round (ish), task based newspaper classroom.  We tried just using OneDrive; file management felt tedious.  We tried OneNote last year; it felt clumsy and just not innate to the many tasks editors had to navigate.  (InDesign is just not friendly with OneNote, even as a storage locker.)  Teams looked just right. Capture76

AgendaI implement the software last week.  I’ve already had six students ask me how they could use it for other classes and clubs.  Some just want the Planner add-in; my assistant editor is a list fanatic and is already scheming how to use Planner.  I can’t blame her.  It’s also my favorite function.  Pl2For newspaper, assigning articles and jobs outside writing is suddenly easy, organized, and visually pleasing.  Within each task, you can start conversations; since I share newspaper with another teacher, this is often a great way to check in when not in the classroom. For example, while the layout editor creates the new master document for the new paper, I can communicate with her via checklist or the comment function about that task.  In turn, she can check them off the list.  Screenshot (2)The tabs for each task help students prioritize; I’ve labeled ours according to issue and time.

Teams also has an instant chat function.  The girls can communicate with each other while in the field.  Even more so, because the class doesn’t meet December through February, it gives the students a space to continue building community and sharing ideas.  I’m also realizing what a great tool this will be for our spring editor.  The paper shifts leadership with a new editor in spring, and I have high hopes Teams will allow for a more seamless transition.  It will definitely allow for better record keeping.  Capture4.PNGOne of our headaches from last year was locating files from previous issues, other editors, last year…it just seemed that every editor preferred a different way to name and store files.  Teams solves that right away; it has a file function built into the platform.  The students can create folders and upload files right in the application. Of our current files, I created one; the editors have taken over, something I’ve loved to see for some time.

I will admit right now that the students learn faster than I do.  Quite frankly, they need to: this is their publication.  I’m thrilled that Teams has been the vehicle pushing them into ownership.

I’m not sure this is class ready;  it doesn’t quite match my English classroom structure.  I’ve started to think about how the chat function could be instructive rather than the distracting thing I’m sure it will become.  I’m also keenly aware that many students can repel away from technology overload.  If I ask them to use their OneNote, upkeep their planner, and then upload files, it feels a little like overkill. I’m not sure the agenda won’t just feel like a tedious task; many students are assigned one thing unlike the newspaper.  OneNote also allows for individual spaces; Teams is very much a collaborative environment.  So while I’m currently enjoying my new crush, OneNote and I are still in love.  At least, when it comes to my English classroom.

In the meantime, I’m thrilled to see newspaper crushing on Teams as much as I am.

 

 

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What to Really Do for the First Day Of School: a List for the Practical Teacher

IMG_20161213_155131 - CopyEvery teacher I know is playing their first day out- whether with the experience of last year fresh in mind or the optimism of the very first year ahead.   I quite enjoy the anticipation; it forces me to reflect on last year’s good intentions, last year’s “what worked and what did not work” so to speak.  I’m also a goal-orientated educator; articulating objectives or reflecting on past practices helps set the tone for the year ahead.  And, since I have a captive audience, I’m adding my list to the millions of other posted lists about the first days of school.  Only this list is the real list; the list of things you most need to do.  After twelve years of teaching, this is the list that works for me.  

  1. Eat breakfast. Even a small one.  This may sound like practical advice more than teaching advice.  Eat breakfast.  I spent many a school year running out the door without something in my stomach.  I spent many a school year wondering why my mornings just didn’t run as smoothly as my afternoons.  The one thing I did last year that change everything: breakfast.  Even if it was on the go, I had something prepared in my stomach every day.  Soon, I was up early so I could eat breakfast which means I was in my room a little bit earlier and I was in a great mood to attack the day.  It’s the same for students as it is for teachers- a little breakfast goes a long way.  Before I knew it, I was a morning person.  This year, I was gifted a kerig machine for my classroom and I’m tempted.  Very skeptical, but tempted; after I do number 3, I may add it to my classroom tech arsenal.
  2. Have templates, will use.   My teacher mentor from years ago gave me one of the best gifts: a collection of templates.  Have a student who has been absent and needs a reminder to check in? I have a template for that email.  Need to contact a parent about a student update? I have a template for that email. Need to update class on snow day make up work? I even have a template for that email.  Figure out what you need for the year and create those before the first day.  Leave room to make them personal (I do not make templates for feedback or comments in a gradebook) but efficient. I have a template for the first email to all parents that I modify depending on the year.  I use my absent student one all the time. Keep these electronically; mine live in my OneNote Teacher notebook in word doc form.
  3. Clean your room.  I sound like my mother who insisted that you really couldn’t do anything in a messy environment.  She’s right; last year I opted to clean my room before leaving for the summer.  I really spent time thinking about how the space was used (turns out I don’t need an extra bookcase for supplies) and how I want it to be used (I moved the lending library near the door- students grab and go with ease).  I eliminated the need for a desk two years ago; it just seemed to be a collection of things I didn’t want anyway.  Now heading back, I’ve got some leftover supplies from my summer class that need a home.  I’m excited to clean the department supply cart (a solution we came up with after declaring that no one wanted to keep the same supplies in every room), and I’m using washi tape to re-organize my dry erase boards.  I’m also re-examining how to better situate technology in my very old classroom; the document camera needs a new space and I’m hoping to convince technology to re-wire my projector.  And I clean.  With Clorox. Everywhere.
  4. IMG_20170602_102404 - Copy

    Part of the Core: Teachers who Started the Same Year As Me

    Establish your core.  I’m not talking about exercise, at least not physical exercise.  I mean your support group, your colleague core.  If you are new to your school, reach out to the person you will most work with and establish some mutual grounds.  Email your librarian, your IT department, and your department head.  Ask questions, schedule a time to meet before the school year gets started.  I reach out to the librarians with my course syllabus; the IT department and I meet to discuss the new technology I’m implementing.  I usually lunch with a few teachers in my discipline and invite new ones.  It’s important to feel connected to a sense of community, whether that be big or small.  Teaching very much takes a village and realizing how each of us connect is a big part of student success.  Any teacher who feels like an island is never well placed for a good year; if you aren’t a fan of big groups in the lunchroom, invite others for a coffee break.  While it takes time to develop a professional learning community, it takes one coffee break to feel connected. And that’s a start, for both you and your students.

  5. Harpers_Ferry_Fall_Foliage_by_Terry_Tabb_(770px).jpgPlan your next break.  I know, school hasn’t even started and I’m suggesting planning your next break!  I learned this years ago, when teacher burnout really threatened to end my career.  Before school starts, I plan the first vacation break in the new school year.  It can be as big as a week long diving trip (oh March, you can’t come soon enough) or a small weekend get away.  Have one in mind; better yet have one planned.  You will not have time to do this during the first months of school.  It will motivate you, re-invigorate you, and absolutely sustain you.  My first trip involves Harper’s Ferry, a convenient hour away.  I have a cute bed and breakfast planned right in the middle of October when the leaves are at their best. I may bring grading along, but I will at least be resting as the first two months of school are marked down on the books.
  6. Get a haircut. Maybe a manicure.  Okay, this one is maybe not a hard fast rule, but a spirited one.  Make yourself physically ready to greet the first day.  Find a first day outfit, get a first day haircut, or treat yourself to a manicure.  When you feel your best, you will be at your best. Maybe rock that brand new purse handbag patagonia messenger.  Do something that signifies a new start.  After all, that’s exactly what a first day is, no matter how many years of teaching: a new start. This year I may do all three.
  7.  Start mapping your collaborations or projects now.  Most teachers spend a lot of their summer re-inventing their curriculum, excited about how to make it new.  I will be honest: I spend most my summer trying not to think about my curriculum.  It rarely works in entirety; by this time I have an idea about new things I’m willing to do or new projects I’d like to try.  My first project is relatively easy to start: I’m re-doing the vintage game Guess Who? for the literary classroom.  (More on that soon.)  I’m also re-thinking the science fiction elective and hoping for a buy in from the science department.  Newspaper will utilize Microsoft’s Teams this year and this week I’ve started to establish their group site.  (Remember that utilizing a new technology can sometimes be a project itself.)  I’m also re-doing a play I wrote because a student  asked to produce it this year and wondering how to package the script.  All of this really gets my brain thinking and excited for the first day!
  8. IMG_20170705_130536 - Copy.jpgBring your kitten to work.  I’m just kidding.  Probably not an advisable thing, even if your kitten is just as cute as mine.  Instead, bring a happy photo for your classroom.  Just one or two; your students don’t need your life story in pictures.  Have one photo that makes you smile on those days you may need one.  I rotate mine out- sometimes it is my mom, sometimes its a kitty picture, and sometimes it’s just pictures of cupcakes.  (I’m not kidding.)
  9. Invest in a good planner and then use it.  I’m a moleskine devotee; my planner is a red 5 by 7 moleskine notebook.  I fill it in well before the first day, even taking an hour to double check my school email for events I might have missed.  I also utilize Microsoft Outlook on my laptop as well as Google cal for my phone.  Even so, the red moleskin is my dedicated school planner.  And I love the size- I can fit it into a bag with ease, the color is quick to spot, and the binding doesn’t catch on fabric.  I take notes right next to the calendar grid which is essential in faculty staff meetings.  Trust me, if you are navigating both a calendar and a notebook during a quick meeting, you will miss things.  I highly suggest a planner that leaves you room for both.  I have my planner with me through everything but lunch.
  10. Leave room to have room.  There is such a thing as the overplanned, overscheduled teacher who has a spot for everything.  That is just not me, and I find that often times it leaves little room for collaboration or those wonderful spontaneous moments when a project just clicks with the class.  Prepare, but don’t over prepare so much that you leave no room for the grinds to grease.  Let your students help guide your curriculum; leave room for them to explore.  I’m teaching Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and intentionally leaving some room in the course schedule for discussion.  And in the event there is no discussion, it will be okay. I’m going to let them guide me that week.

Now I’m feeling like I need cupcakes, a kitten, and my course schedule completed.  Happy first day to all my teacher friends, and be sure to add to my list.  What did I miss?

 

 

 

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Notes from ISTE 2017 (or why an English Teacher Should go to a Tech Conference)

​​ISTE, or the International Society for Technology in Education is held every year nationally and this year was hosted in San Antonio, Texas. It is part conference, part massive share session, part exposition, and all teacher-student focused.  And while this is my second year in attending, every humanities teacher should attend at least one ISTE.  I was thinking about the “why” behind that statement very much during this year’s conference; how exactly does English (or humanities for that matter) fit into a growing STEM curriculum?

I’ve got five reasons in no particular order.

1. Sometimes a new idea is best found outside your comfort zone.  ​This was a good part of keynote speaker Jad Abumrad, co-creator of Radio Lab.  (And yes, I was completely fangirl about his speech!) He spoke of the need for teachers to re-think, re-know, and re-create.  And the more I think about it, some of my last year successes came from last year’s ISTE.  Some of this year’s new ideas came from this year’s ISTE.  Especially from….

2. ​The Playground is more than swings in the 21st Century.  ​Our students are living in a world where the playground is virtual or at least a mix of both the virtual and the real.  ISTE acknowledges that the best learning is understanding how they work together; the best teaching involves lessons that give students both theory and application.  And instead of listening to some amazing educators, you can go to the ISTE Playground and interact with educators, students, and even “play” with some of the new technology and curriculum developed in different schools.  My favorite “playground” this year is a three way tie. Technically, one is in the exhibition hall, which I’ll get to in number 3.  The other two share a space: Microbit and Code Academy.  Microbit is a new toy​ obsession​ microprocessor from BBC that introduces both a way to code from your phone (via their app) and coding in general across multiple platforms.  It works with Python, Java, ​Scratch and others.  And if you are new to code and want to learn, Code Academy was right next door to demonstrate their free coding classes.  I’m on my fourth one.  I’m addicted.  Grab me and I’ll tell you all about how I re-ignited my love of html (oh my angst high school blog…how I miss you and your html) and started learning CSS.  I’ve started Java, and Python is on the docket.  (And if you like learning languages or graphing sentences #nerdhere, then you will love this.)

3. The Swag to Meet all Swags: The Exhibition hall at ISTE is a claustrophic nightmare, but a great way to really get your hands on something.  Literally- exhibitionists (I couldn’t stop myself…)bring their wares/technology/software/etc to the massive room and set up shop.  This year, I studied the map before entering so I knew what vendors or peeps I wanted to meet.  It’s also a great way to get some amazing swag: I came home with a free microbit from BBC, four cool tshirts, entry access to a couple new software programs, and a hot wheels car.  Which brings me to Microsoft, my third favorite “playground.”  This year, #hackMicrosoft used their exhibition space to create a hotwheels STEM playground.  Using the retro toy ( I was totally a hotwheels girl- my parents found it a bit unnerving), they set up a station where a hotwheels car, a paperclip, a micro processor, Microsoft excel, and a race track helped you understand and measure the velocity, speed, and friction of an object in motion.  I have pictures. I am happy to share.  It was amazing.  They even had a station set up where you wrote about your experience (more on this in #5).  If you could tear yourself away from the cars (it took me 45minutes), around the corner was the nextgen of OneNote and the premiere of Microsoft teams. I’m using both in my classroom next year.

4. Who run the world? Educators​.  Last year was a bit of hit or miss for me when it came to the sessions.  This year? I couldn’t find enough time or clone myself to attend all the ones I wanted.  Every one I went to was a great way to dialogue with other educators, a way to learn how to look at curriculum a bit differently, or just a really amazing idea I’d like to adopt.  I even met one of the authors of a book I purchased in the ISTE bookstore and had an incredible conversation about the changing nature of English education and the importance of preservation.  I met librarians, English teachers, theater directors, ESL teachers, and even a few high school students who presented their digital partnership with a school in Africa. If nothing else, ISTE is an invigorating reaffirmation in the power of education and the incredible resilence of teachers.

5. How does this relate to English? At the end of the day, it’s not technology that connects us to the world or each other.  It’s not even the experience itself; it’s how we communicate our experiences, how we express our solutions, our innovations, our passions.  And where can you find that curriculum in abundance? The humanities.  Every tech/science/math teacher I met at ISTE argued that the humanities have never been more needed.  Every Microsoft developer I spoke with (and there are surprising quite a few at ISTE) emphasized how important communication, critical thinking, divergent thinking, and even empathy were core values to their company.  I’m not just learning to code because it’s fun; I’m learning a different way to communicate albeit with a program.  And then, I’m writing about that experience to a very human audience.  Yet, our students have trouble transfering their very applicable English skills to the STEM classroom.  My theory? If we don’t see STEM/STEAM as an interdisciplanary collaboration with the humanities, if we don’t practice and work in tangent with other departments, then how can we expect them to do the same?  My own ruminations on this have motivated me to re-invent my science fiction course.  Even more so, I would love to see every school embrace a creative non-fiction class where students would learn how to respond, react, and even collaborate with a very interdisciplinary reality. And that is really the new reality.

So yea.  Go to ISTE.

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Life is Not a Solo Act. [Nor is teaching.]

My 11th grade English teacher had one motto and one motto only for nearly every inquiry or sought after advice: life is not a solo act.  A high school me understood that as the importance of friends but, while a true sentiment, not quite how I understand that motto now.  In fact, my previous understanding rings a bit false; we all need friends but that doesn’t always guarantee you are not a solo act.  Friends are often our most forgiving audience.  No- I think Mrs. Isenhour’s motto was about something slightly different than friendship, something the adult me recognizes immediately as a cornerstone of many successful relationships: collaboration.

Teachers are the stuff of collaboration.  The vocation almost demands it, whether collaborating with a student to master an objective, working with another teacher to develop interesting curriculum, or simply attending professional development with a team.  Collaboration might be my favorite thing about teaching, especially any collaboration that allows for interdisciplinary design. And if by chance lunch happens at a table with a diverse crowd, collaboration can be organic as it was the day Ms. Mattox introduced Dr. Ward and I to Kara Walker, a silhouette artist that focuses on the American South as a medium. We spent lunch discussing visual arts and the profound effect visuals have in moving others into action or reflection. And later, when meeting in the Madeira art studio to view Walker’s work, I could easily see the Southern Gothic influence in her art and I couldn’t help but recall the Gothic module in the American Literature curriculum.

It’s very tempting to write an entire diatribe about the Gothic tendencies in the Puritans and the arguably unavoidable connection to a Gothic inheritance in antebellum Southern society, exactly as we did that day.  I’ll spare the reader this in service of staying on topic.

Gothic3What happened next is, quite frankly, my favorite collaboration of this year.  Using Walker’s medium, Ms. Mattox, Dr. Ward and I crafted a project for the Gothic module in which I am affectionately calling “A Light in the Night.” We prompted students to remember their Slavery to Civil Rights module and connect the grotesque displays of racism during that era to Walker’s intent in some of her pieces; we then ask them to recall their current study of the Gothic grotesque.  In many ways, these two courses are the shifting notion of a very literal darkness for the Puritans trying to settle a nation in the wild woods and the very metaphorical darkness found in even the most democratic hearts and minds.  Students then channeled Walker, Gothic motifs, and their own “darkness” to create silhouette candles.  The results were sublimely fantastic, scary even: Mallie’s created a candle that reflected the electric chair and the horrors associated with the death penalty.  Katie’s candle reflected the damsel in distress motif and the fantastical dangers surrounding femaleness.  Ally’s candle watched you, quite literally, behind two demonic eyes. For all students, it was clear how art could channel the feeling of a time period, past and current, to move some into action and some in reflection.

Gothic1As for our own reflection, it’s a project that speaks to the testament of collaboration.  Perhaps Ms. Mattox coined it best, “[Collaboration] provides teachers a new opportunity to view their subject matter in a different light and lens, and share ideas for engaging students on multiple levels of learning.”  Essentially we become students too, waiting for that moment when the interdisciplinary design becomes alive in the mind of others.  While my favorite part was designing the project, there was some shared sentiment for Dr. Ward’s favorite moment: “seeing each little success: the right cut, the design that came out “just so,” the happy accident—each one a lively little moment of insight.”  I think that’s an elegant way of saying that collaboration is very much a reminder of how shared experiences are often the most insightful; that while individuality is indeed a solo act, life is not.

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Becoming an Active Reader

*Note to reader: the original published version is here.*

body_reading“Learning to love reading is easy; learning how to be an active reader is not,” I say often to my students. I hope they start believing me because this is precisely what Madeira English is about: active reading. From the moment they start ninth grade, we push students to articulate the why or significance of a text. By sophomore year, we ask them to expand their ability to express how a writer’s technique creates shades of meaning. In junior year, we inch toward research mode by asking how that significance might correlate to a movement, a historical time period, or even an abstract concept. It is a process and it begins with active reading. But what does that mean?

This is the question asked most often in my classroom usually in some form of “How should I read this?” or “Am I doing annotations the right way?” From a teacher’s perspective, there are many answers to those concerns. For some, annotating means a highlighted, scribbled-in-the-margins book. For others, it means a Cornell-style note page. Last year in my class, it meant a presentation of insights in a shared document. The teacher in me loved this; the reader in me started a rebellion. After all, isn’t part of the assignment how you enjoyed the novel? Why you may not like it? Aren’t annotations a little too forced? I am trying to read, after all.

I really began investing how to join those two things- how to move my students to both a personal response and an academic view of a novel.  I spent the summer like most English teachers, reading, only this time, I really tried to examine how or when my love of the book merged with my thinking about the book. And, while I may be closer to an answer, I do not have a perfect one. I did, however, emerge with new thinking about annotations. When we began Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon in the junior English Slavery to Civil Rights module, I asked students to do two kinds of annotations. The first is what I’m coining “commitment.” The assignment was simple: pick a chapter you liked, a chapter you felt connected the reader to a bigger idea, then organize your annotations for sharing. Not much different than last year; the significance here is “pick a chapter you like.” I’m coining the second collected annotations “invent.” I asked the students to do the same thing except, this time, they were to take the annotations and make something. Anything except notes. Make something that illustrates understanding and demonstrates why they liked the book.

The results were incredible.  See them here: https://vimeo.com/142632023

 

 

 

 

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Twas the Night Before Class….

Sometimes I’m not quiet, I’m scheming.

I need to write about the VAIS conference that energized my teaching philosophy, but all I can think about right now is the Gatsby game that begins in my classroom tomorrow.  I’m like a kid at Christmas, an excited neurotic bundle.  I can’t wait to see it played, I can’t wait for feedback, and I’m already anticipating writing about it.

I can’t help it; I’m a gamer through and through.

This all started with “what ifs.”  I often find myself on Lauren Roy’s couch (she is the an education technology specialist at my school) playing through “what ifs.”  In my dream school, English is married to computer science or a technology class.  Video games are nothing more than interactive stories; novels are the original role playing games.  Yet so many educators are reluctant to join the two for fear we lose something.

I, on the other hand, think they would be great for each other.

It started like this:

“what if Gatsby were a video game”

and

“what if we took the desks out of my room”

and

“didn’t we just buy Ultimate Werewolf for Casual Sundays?”

and

“couldn’t Gatsby be an Ultimate Werewolf game?”

And suddenly, we were scheming. Two weeks later, and the Gatsby RPG  is ready for play tomorrow.  I’ve deviated a little bit from the original schematics (I’ll write more after the prototype is played through), but it’s just wonderful to know the fruits of collaborating with an amazing “what if” partner.  (Also, OneNote is a great tool to keep all those couch borne “what if” ideas.)

*Click the picture for better detail.*

OneNote Planning for Gatsby

OneNote Planning for Gatsby

For now, I’m giddy and can’t wait to play.  Will report back soon.

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Reason #45 Why I love OneNote

It makes visual journaling soooo much easier….(and this yet after writing about a moleskin journal)Visual Journal Prompts_Page_1

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The Untarnished Moleskin

Mattias Aldofsson's fountain pen moleskin drawings

Mattias Aldofsson’s fountain pen moleskin drawings

I’ve been in love with journaling since I could remember/retain what journaling meant; I remember my first diary very clearly.  It was pink, glittery, and had a lock that was sure to keep out my little sister.  My grandmother bought it at the dollar store, along with the pack of pens that I would lose in the next hour.  But that diary….

It seemed to me (and still does to some extent) that both important people and everyday people alike kept a journal.  Lewis Carroll (of my beloved Alice in Wonderland stage) kept meticulous diaries, even though they would one day incriminate him.  Virginia Woolfe, the first writer I really understood as a woman’s writer, was an avid journal scribe.  Mark Twain was never seen without one, Kurt Cobin rarely seen with his but it existed.  It didn’t matter what walk of life, as a young girl I thought that people were supposed to keep diaries and journals.

I’d like to say that I kept up with my journaling through grade school naivety, through high school angst, and even through college busyness.  But only some of that is true- I went through spurts of intense writing, where every day was meticulously detailed, “Lunch: tray of fries.  Milk.  God, why can’t I stop eating fries.”  As I got older, details become ideologies ruminated at the end of the day, “How is it possible to know when you are in love, like the very moment?”  But the truth is journaling, like writing is hard.  And habit-forming, as in, you have to do it and make it a habit or you don’t do it and oops, where is that thing again?

And yet, I own at least seven, unused, neatly wrapped moleskins.  Every now and then, I take them out, fondle the unbroken spines (50 Shades of Molekskin anyone?), and wonder if today is the day I will write in one.

Hike Guy's Moleskin Page

Hike Guy’s Moleskin Page

I imagine some of my hangups are the same one my students face when asked to do an essay, rough draft, or even a creative writing piece; after all, the same questions they ask plague me.  What do I write?  How do I start? What if I get it wrong?  What is a good entry? How long should it be? Inevitable, I begin to compare anything I might do to the amazing work of others.  Like this guy, Kolby Kirk, and his amazing hiking journals.  I particularly love how his moleskins are hybrids of writing, mapping, and sketching.  I really like his philosophy that journals should be messy, dirty, interactive things that are free from constriction.  Like rough drafts, but fun.

And then, a thought happens: how could I use journaling in my classroom as a way to help my students become active journalists?  How could I help myself?  Where would one begin?  How would one start?  Could I start? I talk all the time about the value of a rough draft, a good outline, and a working thesis.  These are a lot like messy, dirty, interactive moleskins.  Maybe this is merit in journaling frequently in class, but how could there be proof without being intrusive?  What kind of negotiating would a teacher need?

And then: how do I let go of the part of me that wants to organize, label, and categorize every entry before I even start?  How do my students? Do I grade them?  How do I grade them if I want them to write freely?  Is the act alone enough to warrant a grade?

I almost think with my new project (gamifying the classroom), journaling will become a must- it must become both record book and reflection.  Journal prompts are a whole other issue- I have a love/hate relationship with using journal prompts in the classroom.  While I completely see the merit in a guided prompt, the non-teacher side of me cringes every time I see or use one.  I’m much more likely to use a writing guide, an insert if you will for my students.  I really like Mike Shea’s moleskin insert for writers; making one for high school students would be interesting.

The best start might be my own: unwrapping a moleskin of my very own this week and put the untarnished moleskin issue to rest.  Stay tuned.

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“It’s Alive!” (Kinda).

It’s been a little over two years and I’m in desperate need of an update.  It’s funny re-reading posts from two years ago; I was so trying to be an active blogger.  It’s kinda cute.

And boring.

There. I said it.

I thought about deleting my old posts, but I think they need to stay.  To remind me to be thankful of the past two years.  Rather than tell how I lost hope, how I really struggled to stay in the teaching profession in North Carolina, how lost I really felt in the public school system, I’d rather get right down to the now and the excitement I feel in my teaching career.  Perhaps even re-state some new objectives for this blog.

Here goes.

I’m teaching at an all girls boarding school (independent school, that is) in an entirely different state (Virginia), where I live on campus (it mostly rocks) and teach American literature (on a modular schedule).  And I love it. The school hosts about 300 girls of which 40% board.  There is a diverse mix of international, minority, and local students.  And they are all girls.  My day consists of four 80 minute “blocks” of instruction with some open blocks of 15 minutes in between the instructional blocks.  I don’t teach all four; because I coached field hockey this past fall,  I only teach two.  The last block for every teacher and student is an elective- anything from creative writing to playing on the school softball team.  It’s the first time the school has been on the “mod” schedule.  To me, especially coming from teaching at the university level, it feels a lot like the norm.

I have a lot to share about dorm life, the schedule, adjusting to a new state, and I can’t wait to start the reflection process of that, but mostly I just want to begin anew with this profound personal statement:

I am in love with what I do.  Again. I’m alive and teaching. Again.

This year feels very different than any other year I’ve taught (obvious reasons aside) and it can be attributed to several small things and two big ones.  It’s these two I’d like share and that mold the new objective for this blog.  The first is something I’ve always been into but never quite considered as a part of my profession: technology.  I have always been a computer/playstation/xbox/tech junkie.  I wanted my classroom back in 2006 to be a tech haven; public schools just weren’t there yet.  Neither was I- the english curriculum didn’t seem to need the kind of technology I used at home.  Technology was a learning outcome in my classroom, not a tool.  Years later, and I’m the teacher putting a playstation in my classroom (because girls are gamers too) and using OneNote as our class platform (more later).  Technology is the biggest tool (haha)in my teacher toolbox. I breathe it; I love it.  And the English curriculum is such a natural pairing for all those things I love: games, computers, writing, storytelling.

The second is more of a coming of age via the teacher version.  I am learning to embrace the things that I love to read and disect (StarWars, dystopias, Harry Potter, zombies, Cormac McCarthy, graphic novels…) in my own teaching.  Yes, the canon is important.   However, we should also leave room for things like the American Gothic, the role of philosophy in graphic novels, Asian American identity, ethics as explored in science fiction, readings in queer literature.  I don’t know that I fall into the camp of “it’s a classic so they must read it.”  I’m definitely becoming more of a “if it isn’t relevant anymore, why are we reading it?”  And that has reshaped a lot of who I am as a teacher.

So.  With this in mind, the objective of this blog isn’t to glorify the profession, talk about how to teach the canon, or even present all my successful lesson plans.

This blog is to share in both my success and failures, to examine why or how some things are taught, share some of my nerdy obsesssions, help my students understand my classroom, and help me reflect on me, the teacher.

Mostly, to share, reflect, and learn. And maybe play a game or two.

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Creating New Syllabi

It’s almost two weeks late, but finally complete: the syllabus for the summer course I teach.  This is no small feat: I can crank out a book review, but a syllabus is a careful consideration.  Is it too boring? Will it fit my students? Is there too much reading? Is there too little reading?  Does it match curriculum standards? Is it challenging? A slew of questions attack the moment construction begins.  A good syllabus understands exactly who it is for and what the expected outcomes should be.  But I wonder- how many of my own professors’ syllabi fit this description?  Upon reflection, I think my undergraduate instructors were much more concerned or attuned to how the syllabus was interpreted by students whereas my graduate instructors catered their courses to emphasize their own strengths.  This makes a bit of sense:  graduate instructors understand their audiences are seeking specification (and perhaps even more so, are captive) while the undergraduate is a general study. My own audience for the summer is a fairly more complicated.  How do you teach Debate and Persuasive Rhetoric to the nation’s top 1% of preteens? (I know, a less rhetorical answer involves Bloom’s taxonomy.)

So far, I think I have a great start.  Good thing, class begins in 14 days.

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