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Keeping Students Motivated

14 Mar

Friends. Romance. Home life. Snow days. Testing. Summer. Work. Sports. Sleep.

And we wonder why it’s so darn tough to keep kids motivated to learn. Man, this has been the hot topic in  our buildings all year since I began teaching eleven years ago. A friend just posted this great piece from the KQED blog “Mind/Shift,” and it really got me excited to start thinking again about deeper learning and learning for transfer. How do we keep kids motivated? We invite them to join conversations, and we make sure we’re all learning together. That’s my starting block anyway. Being a teacher is so exciting! Sometimes it’s easy to forget that.

Have a great Friday!

Great Ideas from Readers

30 Jan

I love the New York Times’ Learning Network. Here’s a link to a cool series they’ve put together of great ideas from readers on using the NYTimes in classrooms. Enjoy!

What is relevant to a sixth grader?

4 Nov

I have been so excited to have met a smattering of senior English teachers over the past few years who work with their seniors on resumes and college application essays. Senior English teachers, in some ways, you have it so good because you can tell your kids – “These essays will turn into dollars for you if you do them well!” – and that will be true. And there’s so much great stuff out there – check out today’s post from the Learning Network or this weekend’s article in “Education Life” on admissions videos to help kids see what’s being created for this genre. 

Now, how do we do that for 11th graders? or 6th graders? I mean, do those guys even know what they like? I’m kidding, of course, but with seniors, life outside of school is so about to happen that they can be pretty well convinced that they’d better get their acts together. Sixth graders? Not so much. So how do we make what we read and write relevant to them? 

It’s time for some comments, folks. Really, what do you do? Any success stories out there to share?

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!