Reflections of a Middle School Teacher

Ahhh! Yup, school is out for the Summer. At the start of every year I tell my students that we need to treat each other as if we are family. AND… just like family we will get sick of each other and bicker, pick, and get tired of each other’s habits. Well, I can honestly say we were at the edge. It was time for us to part ways and have a break. My students were ready and I was ready too.

It was an exciting year for me professionally. The book Create, Compose, and Connect Troy Hicks and I wrote was published, another book I contributed to is coming out very soon, and I am working on a book with some really great educators from all levels right now. In addition, I had the opportunity to present at some excellent conferences here in Michigan. I also felt I did a better job as a reading teacher, but I still have a long ways to go to consider myself stellar.

Looking back on this past school year has left me with mixed feelings. On one hand I feel as if the students completed a lot of writing and dug pretty deep into some reading throughout the year. On the other hand, I struggled with students retaining information as we made connections later on in the school year. My colleagues struggled with this as well and at times it was very exhausting to get students to make connections from earlier lessons.

As a middle school staff, I feel that we grew more this year and we are continuing to keep the students at the center. We are striving everyday to do what is best for them. In particular I worked more closely with our S.S. teacher on doing article of week, a historical research paper, and we worked on a written report for our Salmon in the Classroom Project. You can see where we were featured on Michigan-Out-of-Doors. You can see us around the 20:00 minute mark.

 

The Social Studies teacher and I  are starting to mutually appreciate each other’s strengths and I know our professional relationship will continue to grow. This year I really tried to be patient with all staff members and recognize their strengths when I could.

Besides trying to build more positive relationships with all of my colleagues, we will have a schedule change for next year, which is positive. We will now have about 60 minutes per class to teach. I am very excited about this because when our S.S. teacher figured it out, we are actually getting one extra class period per week when all of the extra minutes are added together. Prior to this we only had about 52 minutes per class.  I feel that my class discussions around different text we are reading or the different genres we are writing will be deeper and the students will have the opportunity to do more critical thinking. Feeling rushed to get through material could potentially fall to the wayside if all goes well (snow days could hinder this).

In addition to having more time with students, our principal made a push to put a more solid curriculum in place. Our monthly early release meetings can at times be a joke. In the department I co-chair we work hard to keep moving forward and we have done some tremendous work with the CCSS Anchor Standards, but from what I have heard from other departments, participants were using the time to shoot the bull and grade papers. At times when we have met as a whole district, it has irked me to see fellow teachers also grading papers.

This past year, it was proposed that there is a more solid focus on developing curriculum maps, pacing guides, and establishing what is important in concerns with the anchor standards. Though this was received well at our district improvement meeting, time wore on, and there were some complaints about what we needed to accomplish within our departments. My big question is why? Why are questioning what should be in place already.  We can’t just adopt the CCSS and say that is our curriculum. Personally, I am glad we are being asked to do this. Yes, I am willing to take time over my Summer break to make my teaching better and do what is best for students.

Overall, I am glad this year has come to a close. There are many aspects of my teaching that I am going to change. I am also spending the Summer reading some professional texts on how to become a better reading teacher. Summer is not a time to be lazy, it is time to think about our instructional practices and what we are going to do to help our students succeed. However, a few beverages are nice too!

Cheers!

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What Students Really Need to Hear

Jeremy Hyler:

An interesting read!

Originally posted on affectiveliving:

It’s 4 a.m.  I’ve struggled for the last hour to go to sleep.  But, I can’t.  Yet again, I am tossing and turning, unable to shut down my brain.  Why?  Because I am stressed about my students.  Really stressed.  I’m so stressed that I can only think to write down what I really want to say — the real truth I’ve been needing to say — and vow to myself that I will let my students hear what I really think tomorrow.

This is what students really need to hear:

First, you need to know right now that I care about you. In fact, I care about you more than you may care about yourself.  And I care not just about your grades or your test scores, but about you as a person. And, because I care, I need to be honest with you. Do I have permission to be…

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CREATE, COMPOSE, CONNECT! AN ADVANCED INSTITUTE FOR BUILDING DIGITAL LITERACY LEADERSHIP

Come join Troy and myself for a week long Institute July 20-25!

As opportunities for digital reading and writing continue to grow, teacher leaders must continue to develop their own digital literacy practices. We invite you to create, compose, and connect with us this summer!

During our week-long, intensive workshop, teacher leaders will be invited to participate in teaching demonstrations, writing activities, “digital literacy challenges,” and inquiry groups to investigate key questions related to digital literacy leadership.

In addition to providing teachers with a variety of ideas for the classroom, our goal is to help each participant develop his or her leadership capacity as it relates to leading professional development.

CRWP Digital Literacy Institute 2014 (PDF Version of Flyer)

Participants in this institute will:

  • Participate as learners in teaching demos provided by Troy Hicks and Jeremy Hyler
  • Read, discuss, and apply current research and theories related to digital learning to
  • classroom practice and school leadership
  • Engage in a variety of “digital literacy challenges” by collaborating with colleagues to
  • create pieces of digital writing
  • Develop plans for classroom implementation, curriculum, and assessment

The $500 registration fee includes:

  • Breakfast and lunch each day
  • A copy Hyler and Hicks’ book: Create, Compose, Connect!
  • All activities and materials for the week of July 20-25, 2014
  • A one-hour, post institute reflection with Jeremy or Troy via Skype or Google Hangout

Begin the registration process on our secure CMU site.

Housing and Transportation
The registration fee does not include housing or transportation costs. CMU is located in Mt. Pleasant Michigan, about 2.5 hours north of Detroit, and about an hour from both the Lansing and Midland airports. Typical rates for area hotels range from $80 to $150 per night. Also participants can opt to stay in an air-conditioned CMU dorm at the cost of approximately $150 for the week. More info on housing and transportation will be made available upon registering.

Graduate Credit
Up to 3 CMU graduate credits or SCECHs will be available at an additional cost (Info TBA)

(This Blog Post was originally posted by Troy Hicks at http://chippewariverwp.org)

Killing Passion for Reading in March

March is over and another year has passed where elementary teachers have celebrated reading with “March is Reading” month.

I like a party as much as the next person. I love socializing, dressing up if there is a theme, and who can forget about the food. Okay, so I love eating! I don’t consider myself a party pooper by any stretch, but can you imagine trying to have a Hawaiian Luau for an entire month?  That is a lot of pineapple and roast pig!

The point I am trying to make is that I feel we are doing our students a disservice when it comes to “March is Reading” month. Every day, on the calendar sent home with my oldest,  is a different way for my child and his classmates to celebrate reading.  Whether it is wearing flip-flops or reading with an e-Reader, the idea is to motivate students to want to read and for them to be excited about it.  For 31 days students are asked to do something different in association with reading to make it feel fun.  Again, I go back to what I said at the beginning of this post, imagine going to a pig roast 31 days in a row.  After awhile, you are going to crave something different.

I want my students to be excited about reading, but if they have been repeatedly bombarded in elementary school every March for an average of 6 years, they may have a bad taste in their mouth by the time they reach middle school.  Don’t get me wrong, there are other factors too.  Such as giving students questions at the end of every single chapter.  Something Kelly Gallagher calls Readacide

I don’t want to take just a month to focus on the importance of reading or to celebrate it. I want to celebrate it all year and motivate my students throughout the whole year and throughout their lives hopefully.

I have always been diligently trying to find when and how middle school students lose their passion for reading. I have been pestering my 8th grade students all year about why they don’t like reading and I get responses such as:

  1. They don’t have time
  2. Availability of resources in limited
  3. Being forced to read something that is not interesting
  4. March is reading month killed their love.

The last reason made me raise my eyebrow and let out a hearty, “really?”  However, it did make me think long and hard about “March is Reading” month that takes places in schools. I will admit, I don’t do a lot in the month of March as far as recognizing the month and the reading focus the month brings.  My students are reading and I still like to read to them because I feel it is important.

I am always open to new ways to get my students motivated to read, but I am not going to do overkill with my students. This is not an attack on elementary teachers or any other teachers.  I simply am asking that we should reflect on our practices and decide if what we are doing is best for students.

Fighting the Good Fight with Technology in the Classroom

Last Monday I had  a chance to present and talk with teachers at our local writing project site; the Chippewa River Writing Project. There were many great sessions where I took a ton of valuable information and resources away from the two sessions I attended. In addition, we had a spectacular Keynote speaker, Jim Fredricksen who is the author of  So, What’s the Story?: Teaching Narrative to Understand Ourselves, Others, and the World (Exceeding the Common Core State Standards). His ideas and thoughts on narrative are very thought provoking and have made me realize that it isn’t easy for students to write narratives.

My own presentation gave the teachers and pre-service teachers a sneak peek into the book I co-authored with Troy Hicks titled: Create, Compose, Connect: Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools due out March 6th. As I discussed with the participants some of the digital tools I use in my own classroom, a very interesting question was brought to my attention.

  • What do we do when the technology director blocks sites that are useful to students and won’t open them?

It is a great question and though I don’t have the answer, I can offer some suggestions that may help with your argument for implementing certain sites or apps withing your everyday lessons.

  1. Access and read your school’s acceptable use policy.
  2. Have face-to-face conversations with your principal.
  3. Discuss with colleagues what you would like to do and see what they are thinking – perhaps they can add support for you.
  4. Analyze your current technology situation at school. Will students have access to computers, iPads, cell phones, tablets, etc.?
  5. Why? Why are you using the app or site for your given lesson?

It occurred to me after the teacher asked the question that if the time is taken to thoroughly read the acceptable use policy it can work to a teacher’s advantage when it comes to trying to implement technology.  I hear teachers from time to time stating that the acceptable use policy is what was their demise when it came to their idea to implement some type of technology.  Though there is no doubt this may be true, I would approach it is how can it help my case.

After looking over the acceptable use policy, I feel it is vital to have a well prepared conversation with your principal and other administration.  Thankfully, I have a principal and a superintendent that sees the benefit of technology and they both understand how students are learning today.  Remember this too, Technology directors aren’t the final line of trying to open up a digital too.  I have overwhelming respect for Tech directors and the very reason they may not be allowing a site or app to be available is because the school may not have the capacity. However, administration should have the final say and it should be a collaborative conversation between administration and the director. It shouldn’t be left up to just the director. Thankfully, I also have a great tech director at our school which makes it easy where I teach.

The final point I would like to elaborate on is the why.  Why are you using the tool?  How does it benefit the students? Furthermore, I want to direct you to the info-graphic below.

Technology Purpose2

I want to give credit where credit is due for this take on using tech in the classroom. However, because I have seen it on Google + and Twitter several times…I have lost where it originated. I want to go out on a limb and say this is NOT mine and I did NOT create it.  The point of the info-graphic is to not turn people off to Prezi, blogs, or Wordles.  I perceive it as something for us to think about and remind us that we shouldn’t use these tools for just the sake of using them because they are cool or the students think they are cool.

Student engagement is something we all want, but we should also keep the student at the center of our lessons and ask the question: How are my students going to benefit from using this tool and how is it going to be used to further their education?

Just some thoughts to consider when trying to fight the good fight on using technology in the classroom.

Cheers!

Teachers Reflecting

I was a basketball coach for almost 12 years at all levels and as a coach I always reflected after each practice, game, and season how I could be better individually and how I could get my programs better.  I think that same principle applies to teaching.  After every class, lesson, day, week, year, etc. I am constantly trying to find ways to get better and help my students to be more successful. 

There are plenty of high quality teachers that reflect continuously on their practices and make adjustments from hour to hour, day to day, and year to year. But as I continue to wrap my brain around the idea of reflecting, I wonder if it is possible and how it can be possible to have teachers reflect on their own teaching to better serve students. In other words, how does a principal or fellow teacher establish a routine where reflecting on one’s own teaching should be done without it coming across harshly?  How do we get colleagues to step outside of their comfort boxes to try new instructional practices where they may have a more substantial impact on student learning?  Even though reflecting may be part of my professional routine, it may not be the routine of a few teachers down the hall (just speaking in generalities here, this does not necessarily reflect my own school or work environment).

 Students should be at the center of our lessons and units and we should start with them in mind when we create our lessons and units. Education is changing and has changed over the years. It should come as no surprise to any educator. We have the Common Core, new teacher evaluation, and the introduction of more technology into the classroom just to name a few.  Myself being in the mix of it all, I feel it is imperative that every educator takes time to reflect on what they are doing in their own classroom and make adjustments.  Don’t be afraid to try new lessons, teaching strategies, approaches, technologies, etc.  We need to have open minds to how our students learn and constantly think about what we can do to make our students better! They don’t learn the same way they did 20 or even 10 years ago. If we as educators can model for our students that we take the time to reflect, it can help our students to embrace that life skill that can be applied in all situations.

Cheers!