Archive | October, 2013

Reading the Whole Book

24 Oct

I came across this blog post today, which is totally something I should have already written, considering how often I think it. The piece is written by Ariel Sacks, who is an English teacher who also just wrote the book Whole Novels for the Whole Class. Her main point is this – it’s no wonder that kids don’t like reading these days because we’re always interrupting them. The metaphor she gives is a great one – how would we feel if we were at the theater and suddenly, after the second scene, the lights came on, and someone started asking us questions. Buzzkill! I hate that. 

I’ve had experiences a few times recently that have been really eye opening to me involving being asked to read a text that I actually love and then also having to answer questions about that text. Now, I’m not talking about thought-provoking questions but fact-finding questions like “What color was the driver’s suit?” and “What was the man carrying?” I mean, I love literature, and when I really love a text, I want to talk about it, but I want to read it first. I want some time to digest it on its own. And then I don’t want someone asking me the kinds of questions you ask someone if you don’t trust that they’ve done their reading. Ask me something interesting (that does not have a right or wrong answer, please!). 

It’s this disharmony between the aesthetic and efferent tasks of reading for pleasure vs. reading for information that make me think the next time I teach any literature in class, I’ll do it in the form of a book group or lit circle but not as a central component of the course. I know that I’m definitely in the minority of English teachers when I say that I’d rather get kids engaged in critical reading, thinking, and writing when they’re working in non-fiction. Let’s savor that fiction. Dissection does not lead to love. 


Motivating Students and Not Licking Desks

21 Oct

So many of us are struggling to help our students to see the relevance of classroom assignments to their lives and to help motivate students to do their best work. Though this article is from the perspective of a college instructor, I think that middle and high school teachers can glean a number of good ideas from her article. Namely, let’s create authentic tasks for our kiddos! They’ll believe us in our never-ending campaign to try to convince them that writing is important if we actually help them to do important writing. 

My sister is in her first year of college, and I wish her freshman writing instructor were practicing some of these ideas. My sister, who is an animal science major, was most recently asked to write a descriptive paper about an item in her dorm room – she chose her desk – in which she uses her five senses. Snooze fest! And good luck trying to convince someone who loves science that this writing (My desk tastes like…chili?) is going to help her – ever. That’s the tremendously sad thing. Descriptive writing is, of course, hugely important in the sciences, but my sister isn’t buying it. Bring her a real-world example of science writing, and let her try her hand at that. I mean, I have two degrees in English and 10 years of teaching experience in the field, and I have never had to lick my desk. Let’s try not to ask our students to lick theirs. 

On that note, check out this awesome article on the immortal jellyfish. This is one of the best pieces of science writing I’ve read recently. Let’s do more of this!

To Tweet, or Not to Tweet?

14 Oct

Okay, friends. I need your advice: Twitter, yes or no?

I have to admit that I am slightly perplexed by Twitter. Those of you who know me are probably not surprised by that, considering that I still own a flip phone, don’t text, use a paper map… You know, some might call me a luddite, but it’s not true! I’m just highly sensitive to time wasting, and I don’t want to be poking around on the internet while my kids are playing on the playground. Sigh.

Anyway, it seems a bit like Twitter is the place to be these days, especially for educators. What do you guys think? Time waster or fertile ground of discovery?

Thanks for your input 🙂

Make RSA Animate Videos

14 Oct

Okay, I love this idea!

Check out this blog to learn about making RSA Animate videos with your students.

If you don’t immediately recognize RSA Animate, check out this video. It’s one of my favorites – so fun (and true)!

It’s Connected Educator Month

11 Oct

Connected Educator Month is kind of like an illustration of my general teaching philosophy. We all need to have the time and support to be out there participating in the conversations happening in education. There are so many great resources circulating around the internet right now; here are a few:

A great list from Edutopia with ideas for becoming a connected educator

A Pinterest board to help you build your professional educator network

Also from Edutopia, a roundup of resources related to Connected Educator Month 2013

Now that I have this blog, I mean, I must be pretty connected, right? Yeah, well, I’m getting there. Here’s my real question – I’m still not on Twitter. What do you think – to join, or not to join? Am I missing out? Clue me in here!

In what ways are you connecting with other educators? And, on that note, if you have a blog or any favorite blogs to read, feel free to leave the links in the comments.


On Creativity

10 Oct

Gosh. How much do I love TED? I heard this a few weekends ago on NPR and thought it was a really lovely collection of thoughts on creativity.

I love this quotation from Abigail Washburn:

“Is it an original idea? Or is it something where you’re literally a creative collagist? You’re taking pieces of the world that you see around you and that are inside of you and put them together in a way that you see fit.” — Abigail Washburn

I am most definitely a creative collagist at heart. For most of the decades of my life, I’ve kept a journal. I’ve taken a hiatus over the last few years (thanks a lot, kids!), but I’m definitely ready to get back to it and have slowly begun that collecting that used to be so central to my life. In my little purple notebook so far – teaching ideas, thoughts about the garden, funny things the girls say, quotations from texts I’m reading, charts, drawings, and diagrams, a pressed flower, general musings, memories, lists – I’m getting back to my old habits of collecting words and ideas, and I’m really thankful for that.

What’s your medium for creative expression? How do you make time for your art, whatever it is? Are you a creative collagist? How so?

Collaborative Practice

8 Oct

Man, check out this spot-on blog post from Education Week.

The post references a paper from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, which suggests a number of structures that would help schools to retain teachers and help, overall, to professionalize the field. My favorite of the bunch – time in schools for collaborative practice. Yes, yes, and yes.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a job listing at one of the schools in the High Tech High network in San Diego. They were looking to hire a director of faculty research. What, what? A DIRECTOR OF FACULTY RESEARCH. In a high school. Mind = blown. Teachers having access to the conversations going on in the field! Teachers contributing to conversations! Schools supporting teachers’ contributions to the field! How about that? Seems like a pretty good idea, I’d say.

So, yeah, thanks, state teachers of the year, for making a point public that is so important yet so forgotten. We get better by reading and writing and reflecting and participating and listening and speaking and contributing. Let’s make some time for that.