Friday, December 21, 2007

Modeling the Writing Process

When I sit down saying, "I'm going to write," whatever ends up on paper, particularly fiction, is very rarely good. But sometimes if I have a concept that hits me in the middle of the day and I write it down, it may be half decent (at least, in my mind).

But we as teachers know that one won't become a good writer unless one practices and, I think, for myself at least, I need to force myself to sit down and write.

Which is why we have our students write in journals or writer's notebooks, maybe everyday or maybe just three times a week, either in class or for homework. Many of them (in my limited experience) look at it as a chore rather than an exercise that may help them improve.

I'm reflecting yet again on writing workshop and its implementation in my classroom when I was a student teacher. I don't think my half page handout gave my students an inkling of an idea what a writer's notebook is. It told them it wasn't a diary. It told them they might expand some of the pieces to be part of their portfolios at the end of the hexter. That was it. A professor I had the semester prior to student teaching gave me her five mini-lesson set on introducing students to writer's notebooks.

I made my own half page handout.

How quickly we can revert to our freshmen ideas of how a teacher is supposed to teach.

My own writer's notebook got off to a slow start in fall 2005 in my teaching writing class with Louann Reid, and I certainly didn't keep up with the three times a week I asked of my students in spring 2006.

But sometimes events in my life provide a catalyst giving me a need to write. That's what happened when I met my future wife in 2003 - I wrote 30 poems in three months. When I was finally able to get back in the classroom after my student teaching in 2007, there was a spike in the number of posts on this blog. Peace Corps has had a similar effect - nine entries in my writer's notebook for December thus far. Hopefully I can keep the streak going by sometimes forcing myself to write.

But students need to know that they won't always have great ideas. They need to be prepared for the very real possibility that not everything will be good.

Thinking back on my own schooling, I don't ever remember being presented a clear, complete, and realistic model of the writing process from drafting to publishing. We wrote stories, did peer reviews, revised, our teacher's edited, and we made our own books at the school printing press. But our stories were what our teachers told us to write - we didn't choose our medium and our topic required approval. There was only one draft - no turning back, no starting over. Having never seen a good peer review as a fly on the wall, we didn't really give completely honest or constructive feedback. We changed a word here or there and added the necessary commas. Our teacher's graded. We took the finished book home and showed our parents, who proudly distributed our publication to Refrigerator Front Bookstore before it was ultimately shelved as a childhood memory.

That's why I started this blog. It's my first step to show my future students more realistic models of the writing process and a more authentic audience. The two haikus posted now are finished pieces from my first two months of using a writer's notebook. I want the blog to model publication as closely as possible. I would appreciate your comments and spreading the work to friends who you think may be interested.

I'm thinking maybe I videotape myself doing a peer review with my wife, or if one can view history on Google Docs, I could peer-review, revise, & edit there. Any other ideas?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Human Brain Cloud

Check out the Human Brain Cloud, introduced to me by this post on Errata, the Wordie blog. Presents some possibilities for vocabulary instruction, I think, which I've posted numerous times about here, and back up with the pedagogical evidence here.

UPDATE: now the links actually work. A little bit of operator error. Sorry.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Spam, Glorious Spam!

Hey everyone. I just now caught the spam from back in October. (No, I'm afraid none of us won the million euro lottery.) I haven't been blogging much here, but not for lack of thought. I just don't like typing on a cell phone (few computers in our African village and only one with an internet connection).

I hope to make a couple posts on Friday. Until then, you can follow me on Twitter.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Lesson Reflections and the Feed

I have decided to try to reflect on my lessons here so that I have a digital copy, I may receive feedback, and so because the technology might encourage me to do it more than when I was a student teacher (like, maybe for every lesson instead of none).

Before you hit unsubscribe, I've excluded reflections from the site's feed. So you won't be totally bombarded. If, for some reason you want to subject yourself to more, you should subscribe to this feed.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Relevancy in Lesson Plans

This post was a draft I just found today from back in April. I'm relying heavily on my lesson plans here, so I'll give this a whirl.

When I write up a lesson plan, I include some sections to keep me honest. "Theory into Practice" is one example. Same with "assessment." Master teachers may have something in mind for each of these when they jot down a lesson plan, but I like to get something down concrete to remind myself.

After teaching today and reading this post by dy/dan, I think I may want to add a section on relevancy. In language arts today, my students are completing a comprehension sheet on some non-fiction they read. But I'm pretty sure few of them have a reason for learning how stars are formed. They should know, it ties into current events (life on another planet - I think fifth graders would find that relevant).

Friday, April 27, 2007

Semantic Mapping Website Visuwords

I've posted before about vocabulary instruction, semantic mapping methods, and (For those without the time to go back and read three previous posts, here's the summary: if you do decide to do vocabulary instruction, students should choose their own words for the lists and they should use semantic mapping methods to learn the new words - otherwise they're more likely to memorize the words for the test and forget them the next day. is "like Flickr, but without the photos." It's an online tool I've been trying to use, somewhat successfully, for semantic mapping.)

I'd try to say something about this site in relation to all that, but I think it speaks for itself pretty well. I'm also in a planning period right now, but maybe I'll think of something/have more time later today.

Seriously, it will blow your mind.

UPDATE: Okay, so now I do have a few brief points to make about In her book Words in the Mind, Jean Atchinson argues that words are organized in our mind in groups by relationships. Aitchinson finds that there are four ways in which words may be associated: co-ordination (words on the same level of detail, such as hot, warm, cool. This group includes antonymns.); collocation (words likely to be found together, like salt water or butterfly net); superordination (an overall term that includes the stimulus word, such as bird for sparrow); and synonymy (words that have a similar meaning, like hungry and starved).

I was using Wordie with my students to create a semantic model of the mind. We would comment on words we wanted to use, linking them to coordinating words, synonyms, antonyms, and superordinating words.

Visuwords makes these connections and displays them graphically. I think this site would be a great way to introduce the concept to students. It might be cool too if students make their links on Wordie during the week (you can learn new words by connecting them to words you already know) and then at the end of the week looking it up on Visuwords to examine some possible definitions maybe they hadn't considered.

If nothing else, it is wicked cool.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Confession

I came to a realization this morning. (I know, such a dramatic opening, huh . . . I'll make a point about this later.)

Dana recommended Classroom 2.0 in this post, and I thought I'd check it out. I've been on a bit of a social networking binge lately - I've used Facebook for a while and just started using MySpace, and my brother created his competition site (which I plugged for him briefly here).

When I first logged on, there was a big discussion going on regarding a post Miguel made on his blog regarding Classroom 2.0. At the risk of offending someone by attempting to sum up the debate, what I read into it was whether blogging or social networking sites were better.
I agree with you in part; it is definitely a good thing to have a support system of teachers who have a similar perspective on education, and who are interested in trying new things.

But I think it's also important to hear new ideas as well. This is something that can happen in a discussion, but reading blogs offers more of a shmorgish-board of ideas that can spark something new. I read about Classroom 2.0 on Dana's blog. I started thinking some more about by book clubs on Cindy's blog. And I rethought my entire approach to education on Karl's blog.

That being said, I can agree with some of the concerns about blogging posted here. I've been blogging since fall of 2006, and while that's one year less than Miguel, it gets distressing post after post without any readers or comments. Some would probably point out that I'd have more readers if I posted more often - but I'm not going to write to a brick wall either. I know I have some readers, but not enough to generate the kind of feedback that will help me really think about my teaching.

Anyway, I think Carolyn makes a good point above. If it's helpful, we'll use it. If it's not, we'll find something else.
It was around the second to last paragraph that I consciously realized what I've been doing unconsciously for the last two years: I started blogging because my professor Cindy brought in Bud as a guest speaker to talk about integrating technology with learning. It seemed like I better get on the boat or get left behind, if that makes sense. Blogging was a way for me to learn more about the leaps and bounds technology was taking, and join a community of educators who were thinking about their teaching openly. It was my own form of continuing education, something to help keep me honest.

I've been so concerned with the whole audience piece that I don't think I've been honest with myself (or my few readers). I've been so concerned with sounding like a good teacher and sounding smart (like that dorky, overly dramatic introduction). I've hesitated to blog about things because I'm not sure what others will think of them. I've gone back and read previous posts to try to decide if I'm being judged by them - if I feel that I am, I edit or delete them. I'm more concerned with appearances than with using the tool as I intended too. I don't speak genuinely all the time, only if I think people will approve of what I have to say.

I think I've been trying too hard and worrying too much about site visitors and getting comments. We all want approval, and bloggers thirst for comments. And we want to show our mentors that we've learned from them. We want their approval especially.

I want to know my writing is finding an audience - but I should write without being so conscious of the audience. Audience and purpose are important pieces in the writing process, but they shouldn't control every aspect of one's writing.

My point is that one finds the community one wants and needs to be apart of by being genuine. You can't choose the community first and try to fit into what you see as their mold. Maybe that's a benefit of Classroom 2.0 - the discussion decentralizes the conversation, whereas on a blog, my own writing is all you see when you first arrive at the site.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Changing How Students Learn

Karl's post about the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program has got me thinking a bit. Karl's post includes video of a speaker for OLPC presenting at Google. You should definitely read the post and watch at least the first 10 minutes of the video.

If you decide not to do either, here's the basic gist I got out of it, and what's been troubling me. The goal of OLPC is "change how kids learn." There's nothing there about laptops. The speaker points out that from age 0 to 5, the majority of learning we do as children is discovery driven. No one tells us what a dog is - typically, we see a dog and ask "what dat?" And then someone tells us. All the learning is informal and "student" driven.

Then, all of a sudden, at age 5 or 6, we're sent off to school and everything changes. Learning is (most often) authoritatively driven; the government determines standards, teachers write units and lesson plans, and students (at least, the "good" ones) listen to the teacher and learn what they're supposed to.

To be fair, standards are needed to make sure there's some level of accountability in education. As much as I would like the government to trust me to teach what students need to learn, it's nice to know all students are learning the same basic skills. And then those skills are tested annually here in Colorado with the CSAP - also a necessary piece of education. There need to be some forms of accountability, though many of us may feel there are better options out there than our current one.

Thus in kindergarten and first grade, we learn the alphabet and how to read; in second and third grade, we learn multiplication tables and fractions; in fourth and fifth we learn some basic US History and more advanced reading. All these things are definitely important.

But then, they get to junior high or high school, and we ask them to write an essay with their own original thoughts, or put together a project that showcases their learning - we ask them to start driving their own education again, and most of them look at us like we're crazy. I know my eighth graders during student teaching had the hardest time when I told them they could write three pieces and that they could be about anything they want. Mass chaos. I was part of the problem - I've posted about it before here, here, and here. But really, to draft, revise, edit, and publish three pieces of writing about absolutely anything you want, all English teachers want our students to be able to do that.

The goal of OLPC is to change that. Students are given laptops that connect with other laptops in their community and eventually, through those other laptops, to the school server and the internet. The idea is to create a grassroots movement of children who are learning by discovery once again.

I was thinking about this concept as I taught a first grade class last week. A few of the students were unmotivated and uninterested (for the most part) in their lessons on counting money and making popsicle stick bridges for their Billy Goat Gruff finger puppets. Instead, every chance they got, whether during a lesson or during free reading time, the students would hop up to grab a copy of the Children's Illustrated Dictionary.

Imagine. Students who want to read the dictionary. That's student-motivated learning by discovery. I felt bad redirecting them to the tasks at hand.

Some of the first grade students did need a lot of help with their math. One student conceptualized counting in a way I've never seen before (which isn't saying much, since I've taught first grade for three days now). From what I could figure out, he had to draw whatever it was he was counting before he could count it. And he expressed the numbers in the ones place in a different way. If he was writing 53, he would write it like this: "5o." But if I write 53 on the board, he understands it as the same number.

This student is discovering math in his own way. Yet with an authoritarian method of teaching, this particular student's way of seeing numbers is not supported. If the teacher takes on the role of a "master craftsman," one who is knowledgeable and practiced in the subject, they can act as a resource for the inquisitive student. The student takes on the role of "apprentice," slowing developing their skills in their own way, taking on harder and harder projects.

Maybe this doesn't work for a logic based subject like math. But this is how I intend for writing workshop to work with my students. The question is, how much of a base do we have to teach using the authoritative model. Is discovery, while a more desirable (at least, I think) way to learn, too time consuming? Do students need to reach a critical mass of prior knowledge before they can reach this creative, trial stage that I want them to achieve? Because even if I give a discovery oriented assignment, like, "look at the different kinds of persuasive essays in this WebQuest and get an idea for what kind of format you need to follow in your essays," I'm still the one assigning it.

In high school I read a book titled The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education. The idea was that you could quit school and learn what you needed through discovery based learning, pass your GED and move on to college. Unfortunately, I was not able to convince my parents to let me "get a real life and education" (or quit school, for that matter). But maybe the school teacher who wrote that book is onto something.

Today I'm teaching Pre-AP Literature at a high school. For part of the class period, they're taking the time to research and write their persuasive essays. Some of the students chose to spend that time in other ways. On same days, I might be tempted to argue that they were "wasting their time" or "straying off-task." For some this was probably the case, like the young woman looking at Spiderman 3 ticket prices, or the woman watching dog show performances on Google Video. But others were actually learning something. One young man was looking at various architecture around the world on Google Earth. Another was investigating the city of Fort Collins debate on Round-a-bouts (not the topic of his paper, by the way). Another young woman was looking at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science website (our local version of a Natural History Museum - for some reason they decided to dumb down the title), while another was researching various mental health disorders.

So I guess my thoughts haven't really reached any sort of tangible conclusion. I suppose the downside to total learning by discovery is that students go looking for something when they are interested in or see the relevancy to - the topics they don't see as relevant will be overlooked.

It's an interesting concept OLPC is promoting. I think it's great that they're increasing the use of technology in the third world. Technology is a powerful tool for development. When 75% of the third world is populated by farmers, think how helpful it would be to know the price one could get for corn before transporting it to a major city for market. You might weight for a better price and go another day.

However, OLPC seems to be doing little to promote safe learning of technology. Teachers apparently also receive a laptop, but (like the children) receive no training on how to use it, or the uses of technology in education. Who will teach these students safe use of the internet? How will the teachers learn to integrate technology in their lessons? If they're going for discovery based learning, are the teachers going to make them put their laptops away during class? I was totaly psyched about OLPC when it first started out, but now, I have my concerns. The idea is great, but they've got to follow through.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Blogging about the Peace Corps

For those interested in my personal, non-education related experiences in the Peace Corps, Jennie and I are blogging about them at

Meet Soup . . . mmm, mmm, good.

My younger brother has just launched a website/project he's been working on while at college, and I think it's one that has some educational uses:
meetsoup is a site for making contests --- meets, if you will. You can make a meet that gives your friends a month to write poetry about fish, for instance, and let anyone and everyone judge your work. Or perhaps you want to enter a meet that tells you to, in six months, make a drawing only one inch square, that will be judged by an art critic. Or you could read short stories written in just five minutes, with no judging at all. You make the rules, you set the deadlines, you judge the results. It's a big old bowl full of all sorts of meets: it's meetsoup.
Here are my thoughts: writing workshop with classroom, grade level, school-wide, or district-wide, poetry, short story, and essay contests. This initial encouragement to enter in a school contest on will lead students to other contests outside of the school with a potentially wider audience. Since their clever teacher did a unit on safety with technology and internet use, students could participate in those contests in a safe manner.

My other thought I've already started: educators can share lesson plans, with or without the judging session. I've already started a meet for educators to contribute their best sentence fragment mini-lesson. While sharing lesson plans, we might all get some ideas on how to enhance our teaching of a similar, or completely different lesson.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

I'm Going to Africa!

Jennie and I finally received our Peace Corps invitation today. We're leaving for South Africa in July. Jennie will be doing work with HIV/AIDS and I'm going to serve as a "Primary Teacher Trainer Resource Volunteer." This is scary, seeing as my experience teaching includes my student teaching last spring and the substitute teaching I'm doing now, the majority of which is secondary.

I'm expecting to learn more there than teach, and I think if I approach it all as an exchange of information instead of "teacher training," we can learn a lot from each other (more me learning from the experienced South African teachers). But I admit I would feel more comfortable with my own classroom teaching EFL or English language arts as a plain teacher. Though, you have to admit, my current five-word title sounds pretty sweet . . .

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bruce may have just explained to me why my writing workshop was oh, so lame in this post:
I think the portfolio system works really well with certain kids. But it also, in my experience, sets up another kind of kid for a hard fall. The kid I'm thinking of is the somewhat unorganized kid with a lot of outside interests who has a tendency to let things slide until its just past the time when it's possible to actually get it done. They tend to assume, in the absence of other feedback, that they're doing fine, that everything is okay. Then when they find out it's too late and they've let the work pile up too long, and that their grade is going to be a D or an F, they freak out. As do their parents.
That sounds like a good 25% of all my former students. I can be so blind!

Friday, March 2, 2007

Classroom MP3 Players

I was substituting at the junior high school today, and while teaching Sheltered US History in third period, I had a vision:

A classroom set of MP3 players. I haven't fully developed this, so bear with me. But with a classroom set you can have numerous audio books for dependent readers. You could get players with built in microphones so students and groups could podcast - perhaps podcast book talks for their peers looking for a good book to read. They're going to listen to their peers and classmates before they listen to anyone else about what books are good. These could be posted online or in a virtual library in the classroom, and selected ones downloaded to the MP3 player when a student is looking for a new book. A classroom set would also make my revision and commenting process equally accessible under the same medium for all students. I could even podcast my direct instruction and modeling each day for students that are absent, though video might be better. This may not be financially feasible just yet, but as technology gets smaller and cheaper, I think it will be.

I think there are more possibilities here. Can you think of any?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Experiments with Wordie

A few months ago I wrote a short post about Wordie, a site "like Flickr, without the photos." It was shortly after I posted about some vocabulary pedagogy I had researched.

Today I substituted again in Poudre School District for a 4th grade class. The teacher pretty much let me decide what I was going to teach, which was pretty cool (at least, for me). She asked me what I enjoyed teaching, and when I said poetry, she felt that would be a good thing to touch on before CSAPs (the Colorado standardized test) coming up in March.

Anyway, long story short, I got to lesson plan significant pieces of the rest of the day using the 30 minutes I had while students were in P.E. And after keyboarding, we did some spelling/vocabulary practice using Wordie. You can see the spelling list and (by clicking on individual words) the semantic mapping students did using comments here.

Some students got it, and some didn't. And I think it would work better with some sort of self collection of unknown words during silent reading. And some more modeling on my part. I secretly hope the teacher will consider continuing it with additional lists, but that's asking too much. I really lucked out getting the chance to experiment, but I think it was constructive; the students were way more interested in their words once they took on a virtual landscape.

I'm going to look into this some more, see if I can put together some lesson plans, handouts, and maybe post a video tutorial. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Finally a Chance to Subsitute and Control Theory

Well, after being on the substitute list for two months, I finally got a call on Monday to take over for a 4-5 grade teacher out at Timnath Elementary School who was feeling a little under the weather. It's a bit of a bike ride from my house, but I did end up making it in time. The students were awesome, very helpful and hard working. I was very impressed and a fun time was had by all.

Either my classroom management has improved, or I was a much better teacher when I didn't have to worry about classroom management (confirming what my supervising teacher believed during my student teaching).

Tuesday, to my surprise, I got another chance to sub for a kindergarten teacher during the second half of her day at Dunn Elementary School. This did not go as well. It could be because I just don't do as well with small children and I have more practice with the middle years. I have another theory, however.

I recently read and wrote about control theory. The 4-5 grade teacher gave his trouble makers specific tasks while he was not in the classroom. One particular student who seemed to be of concern to the classroom instructor received the task of making sure students who had to go to study hall during recess got there, among a bunch of other things. The student was given power, and therefore didn't have to act goofy in class in order to try to get it (and the recognition from other students that comes with it).

In the kindergarten class, students who acted inappropriately were given less freedom, as is consistent with the traditional classroom model. These students then got in more trouble by trying to gain power over the other students and me, spiraling downward.

So that's what I think. It's too bad though, because kindergarteners are pretty cute.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Control Theory in the Classroom

In the interest of improving my young and inexperienced use of classroom management methods, I recently read about William Glasser's control theory in his book (so cleverly titled) Control Theory in the Classroom.

Control theory, for those who are unfamiliar with it, basically states that all people are driven by five primal needs:
  1. to survive and reproduce
  2. to belong and love
  3. to gain power
  4. to be free
  5. to have fun
Glasser points out that students hold very little power in the traditional classroom environment. They are forced to work on assignments they may sometimes not enjoy, and then are assigned grades on these assignments. The outcome is based solely on the teacher's assessment. While roughly half of students follow the stimulus response model most traditional classrooms utilize, Glasser points out that 50 or 60 percent success is hardly satisfactory.

His solution in this book is to use "learning-teams" based on the cooperative learning model of Johnson and Johnson. This is group work where each member is given a specific task in the group. The students work together to complete a task - preferably one that lends itself to group work (ie not memorizing vocabulary words as a group, rather, each group taking one vocabulary word and developing and presenting a visual mnemonic and semantic map that links the new word to familiar ones). The goal is for the teacher to provide structure the students can build upon, giving them some power to decide where they will go with it.

I am all about group work. Group work is the foundation of my educational philosophy. But if there's one thing that always made me feel silly as a student, it was being given the title "Encourager" in group work. That may sound like a trifle of a thing to be concerned about, but I don't think students need titles to complete specific tasks. I think it is belittling.

One way around this is to give titles that relate somehow to the assignment. One educator had an assignment where students participated in a computer simulation of 15th century sea exploration. In the group there was a captain, quartermaster, mate, and (unfortunately) encourager. The first three titles make better sense.

Control theory can be applied more widely, and that's how I intend to use it the most. While it is certainly a balancing act, I think that there is a group of students who act up because they don't have enough control over their own actions and grades in class. Traditional forms of assessment not only focus too much on the lower three levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, but in them the teacher chooses the questions and decides how the student will be graded. Students assessed with traditional methods shut down - they don't have power over their destiny and so they think "why bother?" Alternative forms of assessment, where a student can pick large parts of their assignment from a list, or create their own final project, assess a student's ability to apply, synthesize, and evaluate knowledge, and gives them greater control and power over their learning and their grade.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Hiring Teachers by Multiple Choice

I'm a little torqued off.

I received an e-mail today from Poudre School District, asking me to complete a survey by the Gallup Corporation as a step in the application/hiring process. I'm happy to take any steps they ask me to keep my application at an active status.

I was expecting some essay questions that one might be asked in person at an interview. Instead, I'm asked to answer somewhere around 50 multiple choice questions.
Is the teaching profession the best profession on the planet? [worded more eloquently]

a. Yes.
b. Teaching is one of a few noble professions.
c. All professions are equal - each one serves a purpose.
d. It depends on the professions being compared.
Is this supposed to show how dedicated I am to teaching? I have to think that I'm better than everybody else because I teach? I think teaching is pretty cool, but I don't have the authority to say it is the most noble profession of all.
I am always positive.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Neutral
d. Disagree
e. Strongly disagree
I'm sorry, but human nature isn't going to allow me to be positive about everything, all the time. Yes, I'm going to be bummed out when a student fails - or when I fail a student. And I'm not going to blindly follow the decisions of administrators if I disagree with them. But yeah, I like to be positive and have a positive outlook in my work.
I like working with negative people.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Neutral
d. Disagree
e. Strongly disagree
Oh, very clever. I feel great now.

I wish I had taken the time to copy some of the questions down, but since I was only allowed 15 seconds to respond, it's probably good that I didn't. What bothers me the most is that my abilities and attitudes as a teacher have been reduced to a multiple choice quiz. I don't get to ellaborate at all about why I might "break the rules so a student can achieve" or what rules those might be (district wide required reading lists). And yes, there are times I "don't like calling parents on the phone" - like the one who told me it was my fault his child was failing and that I should have called him sooner - but I do it anyway, and I continue calling that parent every Friday like they ask because I want my students to succeed. And yeah, sometimes "it is difficult for me to talk to new people" because I'm shy and a little bit of an introvert - but I force myself to open up and be louder and wilder and zanier because I'm a teacher and I have to and I want to. I want to be a good teacher and I'll do what is necessary to get there. Somebody in human resources is going to judge me by a multiple choice test that doesn't say anything about how I teach or what my philosophy is - but they're going to think it does.

Whew! Complain, complain. Doesn't he ever shut up?

I guess with the number of applications PSD probably gets, they need to narrow it down somehow. But I have half the mind to send them a letter of "disappointment."

(Gee, a lot of personal tagged posts recently. I'll finish my Glasser book and post something more pedagogical soon.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Writing is Alive and Well

In this week's Newsweek, Anna Quindlen writes a social commentary on the movie Freedom Writers. She states:
Ms. G, as the kids called her, embraced a concept that has been lost in modern life: writing can make pain tolerable, confusion clearer and the self stronger.
She goes on to say:
The age of technology has both revived the use of writing and provided ever more reasons for its spiritual solace. E-mails are letters, after all, more lasting than phone calls, even if many of them r 2 cursory 4 u. And the physical isolation they and other arms-length cyber-advances create makes talking to yourself more important than ever.
If not writing (whether it be e-mails or blogging), the internet has made more creation and sharing of stories possible through YouTube, podcasting, and the other forms I'm forgetting. The same reason Time named "you" the person of the year for 2007.

A Little More Job Networking

I'm in the substitute teacher pool. If you're a teacher in Poudre School District or know one, I appreciate any recommendations you feel comfortable giving. My substitute id # is 5818841. I sub all grades in English, ESL, and social studies.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Blogging as Journaling

Recently I've been thinking more and more about how my own blogging will act as influence to me later on. I wish I had posted something about each of my lessons everyday, because the few notes I did make on my lesson plans at the end of the day are insufficient now as I look back. Plus, blogs are searchable and tagable. It just might not be as entertaining or useful to readers (not that it necessarily is now, what with me not currently teaching).

Here's one post I read today that I want to look back on when I try to do writing workshop again (not that you wouldn't enjoy reading it too).

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Book Clubs Handout

I opened up my lesson binder from student teaching today with the thought of looking over and maybe rewriting some of my lessons and handout now that I've had 8 months or so for everything to stew.

I got past my syllabus and found my handout attempting to explain book clubs.

Needless to say, it's a little sparse. Here are some thoughts on what I need to add:
  • Club members choose the books (or other texts) they are going to read. I think I originally left that out since the district required us to read The Pearl and Night. Both good books, but if I was in 8th grade, I wouldn't choose The Pearl. I'd probably choose House of the Scorpion. Clones rock! I also wouldn't do book clubs with books required by the district. I'd probably resist teaching books mandated by the district, just to stir things up a bit. Ultimately, I think the best course of action might be to check out the books, tell the students they won't be tested on the material, and let them read it during Sustained Silent Reading and at home.
  • Club members use cognitive strategies (taught in mini-lessons) to understand difficult pieces of text. My lessons early on didn't focus enough on how to discuss in book clubs. We modeled using sticky notes and think alouds, and I had bookmarks with discussion prompts, but there needed to be much more practice with short pieces of text (I think there was one day?).
  • When club members choose a book or text they for the most part strongly dislike, they abandon it for something better. A lot of groups would have abandoned The Pearl. Actually, a lot of groups did, just without my permission. During my actual book club unit, there were some books that a lot of students disliked, although it wasn't as bad as it had been with the district required texts. Since my book club unit was centered around a common theme, do I need to have other books that cover that theme that students can choose? Or, if they abandon a book, should they be able to choose anything? Winnie suggested that I take students to the library and tell the groups that by the end of the period they need to all find a book they can agree to read. I want to try this idea, but the problem I see is that tastes will differ within preselected groups, and I'd be curious to see if students could make loose connections between the books read by other groups. Maybe connections aren't important. I don't know.
  • Club members discuss things they read that they find significant. Members ask each other questions, they don't answer questions that are teacher generated. My book club discussion guides were too loose in my first unit, but they also had a section where I asked a question. I'm not sure if this belongs on the discussion guides. As I'm moving from group to group, I think it's fair for me to ask the occasional question, but I think my students were able to ask each other good questions when they got better guidance. Still, I never really breached the point where students had more stuff they wanted to discuss at the end.
  • Students choose how they will present their book to the rest of the class (from some sort of list or assignment sheet). This part worked out in class, but it was something that needed to make it on to the initial concept sheet.
I'm not sure if I can fully convey the idea of book clubs just by putting all this stuff on a handout and discussing it in class, but at least this gives me a jumping off point.

What else do students need to know about book clubs?

OLPC to Launch in June

The One Laptop Per Child program is continuing to move forward.

Apparently, files will be organized a lot like a blog/log of everything the student has worked on. It's a neat idea - I just hope there's a search function.