Once again I have been given the opportunity to be part of something that is much greater than myself. I am at the annual meeting for the National Writing Projoct (NWP) and as always, I am filling my brain to the brim with new ideas to take back to my students, colleagues, and school. My brain will overflowith.
Every year there is a plenary where members of NWP get to listen about the state of the writing project and where we have been and where we are going in the future. This year our director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl discussed where we should “double down” as teachers in certain areas and the importance of taking a stand for what we believe in. After all, it is through the narratives we write that gives us power and makes our story known.
As I thought about the gambling term “double down”, I began to think that most educators do double down, don’t we? We do it because we care about our students and want them to succeed. Yes, there are educators who don’t go “all in” when it comes to their job or doing what is best for student. Let’s face it, we know at least one. Needless to say though, most of our hearts and minds have a passion for our career and our students.
This year has been odd for me, other than the new teaching assignment. I have struggled at times this year to the point where the environment that I was working in was having such a negative impact on me that I just wanted to stay home. Other days were fine, but for almost three weeks, I rode the struggle bus. As I began to reflect on my 1/2 hour drive home one afternoon, I knew I couldn’t give up on my students. My relationship with them was becoming very positive from where I was at with them last year as 7th graders. They drove me nuts. I knew that I had to be there for them and continue to walk with them in their journey through school and life.
I had a hard time leaving my students to come to this conference. We laugh, we learn, we get frustrated with each other. We are a family. As one of my writing project colleagues has said, ” The learning is in the struggle”. A statement that couldn’t be more true for me right now, but I am starting to better understand what I need to do and it became more clear today while attending the conference.
So, being “all in” and thinking about the power of narrative reminds me our writing is what gives us a voice. On the other hand, I know I have to keep fighting for my students and not let a negative school culture give way for them having a negative teacher where they don’t want to go to class or have hope.
I will continue to use my voice in writing to help me be more positive for my students so they too can see there is hope with the right attitude and the right tools. I want to model for them that they too have a voice and can make a difference. Even when it is with their pen.
It’s time to stay positive!
It’s time to go to work!
It’s time to write!
This week has been crazy to say the least. On the other hand, it has been phenomenal!
Tuesday, my 2nd hour seventh grade class began an adventure I felt was worth taking. For quite some time a writing project colleague and myself had discussed having our classes collaborate with each other using Google Hangout. If you do not have prior knowledge of Google Hangout, it is just that, an online space for people to collaborate via web cams and voice chat, or…hangout! I believe up to 10 people can chat at the same time. The idea was brought on by our discussions we have had previously about using digital portfolios. Eventually we decided we wanted our students to collaborate and discuss the myths that each our classrooms were reading and writing along with have the students publish their writing to a broader audience.
As we searched for a common time for our students to meet online, it occurred to us that we needed to introduce our students to each other before we did any real collaboration about the myths. Each of our classes had written “This I Believe” essays, and we decided we would use these essays as a mean for our students to get to know one another. Because my own students had already written their essays at the beginning of the year, it was a great time for my students to reflect back on their writing to polish it and decide if their beliefs had changed at all. Furthermore, they needed to understand their writing was going out into the bigger world for people to see and they needed to clean it up before publishing.
Prior to work with the essays, we showed our classes our school websites, discussing with students what they noticed. In addition, any questions they might have. Before our meeting on Tuesday each of our classes composed questions to ask one another. As we were hanging out, the students went in front of the camera and asked questions about each other’s school. For example:
- What types of writing have you done this year?
- How many students do you have in your middle school?
- What sports can you play at your school
- What do you do for fun?
- Can you choose your own electives in middle school?
After the students took turns asking questions and answering them, we talked with the students about what we were going to do next with them.
As I mentioned earlier, the students are using their “This I Believe Essay” to get to know each other more. My colleague and I decided we would have the students post their essays on Youth Voices. Youth Voices is an online platform where students can publish their writing where other students can discuss the same topics or issues. By having the students post here, they could read each other’s essays and respond appropriately.
This allows the students to see what beliefs they may have in common or what they may not have in common as well. Regardless, we feel that our students are now publishing their writing for a broader audience besides their teacher or classmates. Furthermore, they will get feedback that can have the potential to make them better writers in the future. After our students have posted to Youth Voices and everyone has had a chance to be paired up to respond to at least one other student, we will move forward and participate in doing more live hangouts where our students can discuss myths.
Doing something this simple with technology has long lasting impacts on the students from each class. First, I would like to say our schools are very different when it comes to the dynamics of the number of students and the cultural diversity. My middle school consists of 120 seventh and eighth graders. My colleague has just over 500 in the same two grades. My school consists of about 98% whites where his school has Latinos, Hispanics, Arab, African American, and whites. With this being said, I felt it was wonderful for my students to be emerged into this type of cultural diversity. Our students need to learn they will be working with a very diverse culture when they enter the work force.
I was also surprised at how my students “locked up” when it came time to talk on camera. They were dead silent and if it wasn’t for the fact I had students assigned for each question being asked, I would not have had volunteers. My students were very shy and I was shocked at this. In the end, when it came to them talking on camera, they needed to speak up too. My colleague actually felt his students were rude and too loud. A concern, I actually thought was going to arise.
Overall, Google Hangout and Youth Voices are great tools, especially ones that can help meet the demands of the Common Core Standards. The ideas behind using the online tools were to:
- Practice communication skills
- Publish student writing to a broader audience
- Receive feedback on student writing
- Become connected with other learners
- Be exposed to more diversity as is such in the real world
I have officially arrived at NCTE. As a first time Vegas guest, I must say it is crazy. My body has not transitioned to the time change and I am up at 5:00 a.m. working on my blog. A nap may be order later, but who knows with so many great sessions.
Speaking of great sessions, yesterday evening Barry Lane gave another one of his spectacular performances for NWP teachers. Though I didn’t attend earlier annual meeting sessions, my NWP peeps convinced me to peek in on what Mr. Lane was doing. If you have ever been to one of Barry Lane’s presentations, you know it is very entertaining and informative.
After laughing continuously and feeling energized as ever, he brought up the term “rigor”, which has been associated with the Common Core Standards since they have been released. Teachers are supposed to have more “rigor” in the classroom with the CCSS. When he asked a woman in a video what her definition of rigor was she stumbled and passed the buck on to her friends that she was standing with. Needless to say, their definition was less than perfect. So Mr. Lane put up the first six definitions of rigor from the dictionary. Here are a few of them!
1. Strictness, severity, or harshness, as in dealing with people.
2. A sever or harsh act, circumstance, etc.
Does this sound like something we should be infusing into our classrooms? Barry Lane had a few other definitions from the medical dictionary too. One medical definition is, shivering or trembling, as caused by a chill. Again, do we really want to be teaching something like this in our classroom? Tom Romano was even in a video where he said rigor is the sister of mortis. I cracked up on that one.
Instead of “rigor”, Mr. Lane said we should be teaching “vigor” instead. I couldn’t agree more, especially after seeing that definition
1. Healthy physical or mental energy or power; vitality.
2. Force of healthy growth in any living matter or living organism.
Perhaps the two are easy to confuse. I know that vigor sounds much more appealing and attainable in my classroom. I also know “rigor” can occur in my classroom too and if I adhere to the definition, my students are going to get turned off as learners. Can there be a balance of both? What are your thoughts?