Sunday, February 28, 2016

Small Group Discussions

Hey everyone!

We just spent the end of the week and weekend cheering on one of our high school's wrestling teams--so much fun to see past students and parents along with some current ones, too. Apple Valley is well known for it's strong wrestling program, and my 7yr old hopes to be on the team some day :) We took a wrestling spectator hiatus for several years (when the boys were really little) but now that Sam is part of the AV club team, it makes it even more fun to cheer on the high school guys. One of my past students, Mark Hall, just became the first MN wrestler to win 6 state championships and 6 team championships. We look forward to cheering him on as a Penn State wrestler next year & seriously, keep an eye out for him in the Olympics...he WILL be there some day :) So fun to see kids shooting for the stars and reaching their goals!

Well, it's Sunday night. I have a lot of research papers to grade. And by a lot of research papers, I mean, like 140. We have two weeks until the end of the trimester, and I should have finished them by now...I know some of you feel my pain. I am a tried and true procrastinator, and it bites me in the butt. There have to be some memes out there re: grading procrastination..."You know you have papers to grade when you decide it's a good time to organize the toiletries closet instead."

So before I launch into grading, I thought I'd come back to write about two different conversation ideas I tried with the unit we are just finishing up--converstations and carousel conversations.

I hadn't heard of converstations until this year when we did them in both my district co-teaching cohort training and at a staff meeting. I love that it came up two unrelated times during professional development so I could see how it works in different settings.
The gist of converstations is that the class or group divides up into five or six groups. Everyone in the group gets a number. All groups discuss whatever it is you are discussing for however long you want them to discuss, and then when that wraps up, the #1s from each group get up and rotate clockwise. Their job is to tell the new group what their original group discussed, and when that is done, they stay on as a new group member for the next part of the discussion. When that second short discussion is done, the #2s from each group get up and rotate clockwise, fill in the new group (that has one member from their original group) like the time before. And on and on however long you'd like.

I used a modified version as it was a wrap up at the end of class. I had the student who was the oldest in the group be the traveller, and they had two things to share: what their original group had discussed re: the fate of one of the characters in the book they were reading, and they also had to bring a higher level question to pose to the new group. Then the new group discussed the question brought to them.

I have five classes of 7th grade English each day, and I tried things a little differently each time to see what worked and what didn't.

For the first class of the day, I just explained it verbally, because I decided on the drive to school to try this out! I have planning time right after the first class, so the rest of the classes had several Power Point visuals for direction

I played around with when to let them know who would be travelling. It seems to me that it is best to let them know BEFORE the discussion so the person travelling is ready. I thought it would make them all focus in more if I didn't let them know right away, but...with my kiddos, it didn't seem to add any urgency :)

I also noted as the day went along that in order for this to work, they really need clear directions, and that a little graphic organizer/quarter sheet for the traveler to jot some notes down as well as the question they are bringing would have helped. Most classes were ok, but by the end of the day, I had kids/groups who hadn't come up with a question and then didn't have one to pose to the new group. In that case, I had the group discuss the question they had come up with for their own traveler.

I was happy that I had at least tried this mode of conversation...I want to try it earlier in the year next year! Here is a fantastic video from Teacher Channel that explains it really well!

I just found this strategy from Teaching Channel, too...looks like a great one for engaging kids who are hesitant to join the conversation!

The other strategy I used with novel discussions in this unit (vs the traditional "discuss your record and responses from your notebooks, make a list of the main events from this section, make sure you touch on these questions if you haven't already, and jot down any questions your group has at this point") is a carousel discussion.

The students have been sitting with the same groupings (six groups of five to six kids)  the whole unit, so they are used to discussing the book with the same group. I had them start by spending 4-5 minutes discussing what they had for record and response work in their notebooks, but then instead of the group looking at a list of questions on a slip of paper, I wrote out one question per piece of poster board and had sticky notes on hand. The groups all had a different question at their table. They spent several minutes discussing and then jotted down their thoughts on one post-it, and added the post-it to the poster. When the groups were done, I had them rotate tables. Their task again was to discuss the question on the poster, look at what the previous group wrote, and then add their own thinking. By the time they had rotated through all the posters, they had had a chance to dig more deeply into each question as well as a chance to read what other groups were thinking.

Several reflections:
1) It worked well to have students who had been absent or who were behind continue to read/finish the book and their notebook work instead of joining the groups. I prefer to have them in the group discussions, but this seemed to work that day.
2) The kids really need to have the basics of group talk down--what it means to be an active listener and how to work effectively in a group. The classes did pretty well with this because we have spent time discussing it, but several groups didn't dig into the discussion very much and went to social talk after about two minutes. It helped me to see that I need to reiterate the importance of having their notebooks and novels with them when they discuss and that it's important and expected that they talk about the text and use text evidence. I'd usually talk about a group from a different class and several things I observed their group doing well to set up positive expectations.

The small group discussions led into planning time for a large class Socratic Seminar and then the final assessment. I'll take those on in a different post :)

Let me know if you have questions about how these activities went, if you have run anything similar, or if you have more ideas for changing up small group talk!

Have a great week & happy teaching!


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Getting Techy :)

Have you ever been really inspired, wanted to try a whole bunch of new things, and didn't know where to start?

That's where I am right now. :) Well, that's where I was...

Next year, our district will roll out 1:1 computing with our 7-9th graders, which means all my students (7th graders) will have iPads! Because of this, I've been busy watching teacher Scopers on Periscope and following links on Twitter (where there is a ton of inspiring PD!) and am really motivated to find technology that will enhance my students' lives. Saturday morning, I was watching a Periscope by Kami Butterfield for ITeachTVNetwork, and Sam and Thomas both were interested when they heard the music. Sam stuck around (He likes to tap the hearts on Periscope! And he has a longer attention span!) and devoured what Kami was sharing. She was showing how to use iMovie trailers, which is something I've wondered about but hadn't checked out. Sam decided he wanted to make a trailer, and off we went. Something I NEED to mention before that, though, is that on Periscope, you know how you can comment? Well, I commented about my 2nd grader watching, and Kami gave Sammy a shout out. And you know what?? He was TOTALLY impressed! He became adamant that he make an iMovie trailer and that I Tweet it out (how does he know these things?!) He was so motivated by having a real audience and by knowing that Kami wanted to see what he could do. So I showed him the basics, helped steady the iPad, and talked him through page selection, but he had the vision, and he made his own choices. He was all smiles when Kami re-tweeted his link (and super excited that he could see it on You Tube!) Here is a peek! 

Cool, huh??! It made me think a whole bunch about my students' motivation to write and how I need to be looking for more authentic opportunities to give them to publish. How could/would their motivation and sense of self grow with more opportunities? Lots to think about!!

Anyway, when I shared Sam's trailer on Facebook, I tagged Sam's Auntie Anna A to Z Library and she asked if we had tried Animoto.  No, but now we had to, right? :)

I had been recording and taking photos during a carousel discussion my students were having Friday about the book Witness by Karen Hesse, so I plugged some of that in to Animoto...and...

So that was our tech-filled try-it weekend! I'll dig into the carousel discussions as well as converstations later this week, and I'll be looking for ideas re: real audiences for our 7th graders! I'd love to hear ideas and what has worked in your classrooms!!

Happy learning!!


Monday, February 15, 2016

Periscope: Connections and Inspiration!!

Hello!  It's been a while. I know. I'll be real...ha ha! It's kind of awkward to pick back up after a year and a half of not edu-blogging, but I gotta get over it. l love connecting, growing, reflecting, helping others; life has kind of kicked us in the blue jeaned sitters (anyone know which short story that's from?!) the past year with my better half teaching at the college level in addition to working his regular job + getting his Master's, too. We've also added winter sports to the family calendar, so it's been a bit nutty. You know the drill :)

Anyway, I'm going to dive back in RIGHT NOW, because I've been getting a lot of professional inspiration from one of my teaching pd heroes, Jen Jones @hellojenjones
It's kind of interesting because this past summer, after attending an AVID summer institute, I became a huge fan of Twitter for professional connections and development. I follow some great people and organizations there: @edutopia @teachingchannel for starters, and whoa!!! Chris Crutcher and Ralph Fletcher in the same place?? Sherman Alexie, Lester Laminack?? It's hard to beat that!!

Enter Periscope. Periscope, if you don't know, is akin to Twitter...but the short form part comes in with how long the broadcast is up. You go on live, and your video can be replayed for 24 hours. You can save your videos to Katch or Youtube, but they are only on Periscope in the blink of an eye.

Up until about a month ago, I reserved Periscope for another part of my life, following some of my favorite people from my essential oils world. I had clicked to follow some teachers from the get-go, but the ones broadcasting regularly were my Young Living leaders.

Then somehow, I got smart enough to follow Jen Jones on Periscope, not just on Twitter, and the door opened to a whole bunch of awesomely inspirational teacher broadcasters...and then my reflective-teacher-self started itching to blog again. Funny how that works!

I've been busy WATCHING scopes and taking notes. This week I decided to be #redbarbrave and broadcast!!

I *DO* need an audience, sooooo if you are on Periscope, I'm at @HappyInThMiddle :)

In the meantime, I'm linking up to Jen's Periscope: PD in Your PJ's!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Do what you can....Thursday Throwdown Version!

I have a poster on my podium (which I'm not using this year, so I need to relocate the poster) that says this:

I kind of like that saying.  I thought about it this week as I started in with my 16th batch of new 7th graders.

Last year, my colleagues and I totally re-purposed and/or recreated everything we did during the first three months of school. I'm on our district ELA Lead Teacher Team, and my school colleagues and I had volunteered to be a pioneer team anyway, which meant/means that we were/are willing to shift our curriculum to inquiry based units of study at a much quicker rate than other teams in the district (we have six middle schools.) And last year, we felt the brunt of it. It was way overwhelming and tiring and mind-bending, but it was also exhilarating and fantastic and worth it.

This year, it is SUCH A RELIEF to go into the first month with only tweaks!!! I have been up late the past few nights working on PPTs because we wanted to introduce the Habits of Mind right away this year. Robin (my special ed co-teacher) and I learned about them mid-year at one of our co-teacher co-hort meetings run by the district and began seeing possibilities right away. We also realized things like, "Hey...we don't use Cornell notes much in English because we don't give many traditional notes!!" So instead of busting it to teach Cornell notes, we are leaving it to the science and social studies teachers (and AVID, of course, which hits it huge!) We like Cornell notes, just didn't use them after we had the kids learn them with an article last year.

We decided to change up our first day activities based on what we wanted the students to accomplish.  Last year, we had kids group and discuss a LOT more than ever before, so we decided to roll "how to get along with your classmates and hold an inspired discussion" into the first month of school.

We've done "Find Someone Who" before and while I like FSW, I've also noticed that students end up shoving their paper in someone's face and instructing them to write their name. Not the intended process :)

So this brings me to my Thursday Throw Down as well as why I was thinking about my poster.

Instead of the regular Find Someone Who...we decided that instead of writing in the boxes and having students roam for a while, we'd make it a more directed activity. Our purpose? We wanted students to stop and think and learn about the person they were connecting with for a little longer than "Here, sign my sheet." And, we did a Cell Phone Buddies activity on Day 2 where they scheduled 10 partners (1-9 and 0) so in the future (today) we can say things like, "Meet up with your #1 cell phone buddy and discuss the following..." We wanted to give the kids a chance to scope out who was in the class before they had to commit to someone they'd be working with on in-class activities.  The third reason we thought it was a good idea to run an activity like this on the first day was because--my Lord!!!--it was a rude awakening for ME last week, sitting and listening for several hours at teacher workshops, and I guess I was feeling empathetic

So what did we do? I named it People to People, which was the name of a game I used to play at camps, although I'm pretty sure it WASN'T this game. We handed out a People to People sheet to each student & instead of a grid with prompts, there were 9 summer icons (sun, flip flop, popsicle, etc.) with an empty box below each one. Three icons/boxes to a row, three rows. So it still looked quite a bit like a FSW sheet. 

Then we had kids group into threes, and when they were in groups, we showed the icon on the SMART board along with a question that they needed to discuss with the group.  Carly and Cathy had the kids write their partners' names AND their answers; I just had my classes write their partners' names and talk about the question.

Each icon had a different question i.e "What is your favorite summer food and why?" "What is your favorite season, and how would you describe the perfect weather?" "If you were a shoe, what type would you be? Think brand, color, type..." (Comment section....what would you be?!)

Once the groups discussed the question, we said PEOPLE TO PEOPLE and had them regroup and form a different trio. They had to write the other kids' names in the square and then I'd move to the slide (on the board) that had the icon they were on and the question that went with it.

It was interesting to see how students grouped, whether or not the girls and guys were willing to mix (really, how long it would take them to mix) and to see how they did in general.  I took the role of observing. I didn't intervene much, only if we had someone who needed a group (twos or fours were fine, too...not all classes are divisible by 3.) There have been times during activities like this where I have intervened and encouraged kids to be inclusive and actively helped kids to find groups, but this time I wanted to just observe and help minimally.  When Robin was in (we co-teach two classes, and I have three that I teach alone) she was more active in helping some of the kids who really struggled to interact.  Carly and Cathy took a different route with their kids and really worked the group, encouraging them to move into their trios, and making sure that there truly new partners each time.  It's fun to run things in slightly different ways and see how it goes.  Some days, I run activities differently from class to class (slightly...) to see what seems to work or to accommodate the class that is there at the time.  Of course, there isn't one way that is "right"...just different ways of doing things with different results :)

Anyway, all this had me thinking of how I've started the school year differently over the past 15 years. Way back in 1999, I got the kids into their seats, and then I would go kid to kid, asking what they wanted to be called, and having them answer a short question, usually "talk about something interesting that you did over the summer."  Then I'd go over the guidelines for class, talk about what we'd be covering over the course of the year, etc. For a good number of years, I'd also start in with a bio-poem assignment. I'm sure many of you know what these are and most likely have assigned one at some point.  I liked it because although I disdain form poetry, it gave kids an easy way in, especially at the beginning of the school year. And it's pretty easy. I'd assign it, give them class worktime, and it was always due that next Monday. Kids had to type it up, attach a photo of themselves as a baby or toddler, and decorate the page. It was a good way to see 1) Who handed in work on time; 2) What type of effort kids generally put into their work; 3) How cute they looked when they were little! I'd grade them and get them up on the wall for parent night, and they were always a ton of fun for both parents and students to look at.

Last year we decided to nix the bio-poem assignment (we can always pass it on to homerooms!) We wanted to jump right in and not add any "filler assignments," which the bio-poem kind of was.

Have you ever thought about how things have changed in your classroom? How the purpose for your activities has shifted? When I went kid-by-kid to get their names and a short bit of information about them, the rest of the class sat disengaged, bored out of their minds. What was my purpose? Could I get their nick names and learn about them in another way? Yep. When we did the People to People this year, what purpose did it serve?

Actually, the final slide after the nine icons/questions was a reflective discussion page. When we finished, we had a brief whole-class discussion with questions like Why would we do an activity like this on the first day of school? What skills did you have do use to do an activity like this? What was difficult about this activity? What was easy about this activity? I think that's the key--to identify and understand your purpose, make sure it's clear, and make sure it makes sense. We wanted the kids to start building community, to start getting to know one another, especially since they would be picking discussion partners the next day. I've read about and heard about building classroom community since I was in college, but the importance has really hit home as we integrate more interactive activities into our daily work, Socratic Seminars, small reading groups, etc.

The who-are-you-and-what-did-you-do-this-summer activity didn't serve much of a purpose. Now I get to know their nick names and likes/dislikes by observing during group discussion time or asking them when they have independent work time, and it seems to work much better. do what you can, with what you have, where you are, right?  :)

How do you start the school year? Do you spend time creating community or do you jump right in? A combo? I'd love to know!!

Happy teaching!


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Really....still around!

I really do still read and write with 7th graders. I promise! Apparently things got a little overwhelming after February though.

Last year, my 15th year teaching 7th grade, was probably my most hard-working yet gratifying

We are making huge strides in our curriculum re-purposing and overhaul. We are seeing awesome things from our kids. So we know it's worth it!  And yeah, I gotta say WE, not I, because I work with an AWESOME team. Love my ladies.

My hiatus from school blogging at the end of February quite possibly is the direct result of me getting really interested in essential oils at the same time. It was the last thing I ever should have taken on, but you know when you put some dessert on your plate even when you have enough other things to fill you twice over? I needed something else to focus on other than the immediate stress of school. I needed some dessert :)

And now I have a lot of it and am a distributor for Young Living, which I absolutely love. And because it was such a hectic year (and the kids were  really tough...probably my second toughest group of kids ever) I didn't spend any of June (once we FINALLY got out of school on the 13th) thinking about teaching. I was just a mom. An oily mom, but just a mom :) ( you know how awesome essential oils are? I have a diffuser for my classroom, too!)

At the end of July I had two days of work at our district office. One was a half day the 8th grade ELA Lead Teacher for our district and I (the 7th grade ELA Lead Teacher for the district) offered our colleagues as paid work time on inquiry units of study. Carly, Robin, and I spend our time reworking our first unit of the year, which we had totally repurposed last year, too. I am working on pieces of it right now, and I think it flows MUCH better than last year. It's so nice to see the bigger picture, the WHY, and then plan from there. I'll update y'all on the planning and activities as we get further into August and into September. My goal this year is to share past February 27th ha ha! We also have totally revamped our independent reading program, taking inspiration from colleagues from one of the other middle schools in our district (I truly love the 7th grade team in our district...we have six middle schools.) I'm excited about that and will write about it as I get my school brain back on, too.

The second day was a full day meeting for our ELA Lead Teacher team, which is made up of one representative from each grade 6-12, plus special education reps from MS and HS, and now reps from ESL and district social studies. It rocks. It's a team I LOVE. More on that in the days to come, too.

Speaking of school brains...I have a few weeks at least, but my sister and one of my sister-in-laws both start back in two weeks. It's only a week before me, but somehow it seems like an eternity. Have I ever told you that in every sibling and sibling-in-law family that my husband and I have (which would be 9 couples/families in all...7 on his side, 2 on mine) there is at least one teacher in each family?? And all of our parents are teachers. And since it is 10:20pm and my husband is editing photos, I'll give you the run down.

My parents:
Mom was a 1st grade teacher for her whole career (well, except for her first year when she was a speech pathologist.)

Dad was a 7th grade English teacher for most of his career. He had an elementary degree so he also taught a little math, social studies, and science here and there. I still have his overheads with Holocaust information. It was one of his favorite units and now is one of my favorite units well. Apple...tree.

My siblings:
Lisa, my sister, was a high school Spanish teacher for a long time. She is five years older than me, so she must have hit her 20th year of teaching. Now she is the World Languages Coordinator in her district, which is in the suburbs of Minneapolis.

My brother's wife, Cindy, is an ESL teacher in Minneapolis. She's transitioning from elementary to HS this year!

Stephen's parents:
His mom was a FACS teacher. Then she stayed home with the kiddos!

His dad has a doctorate in Music and has been a band director, an education professor, a psychology professor, in charge of student teachers. He's now a chaplain. 

Stephen's oldest brother, Brian, teaches HS Latin (and usually English), in Fargo, ND.
His oldest sister, Leanne, has an ed degree and teaches some early childhood classes.
His second oldest sister, Tricia, has five kiddos and has home schooled all of them at some point. They are currently stationed in Ankara, Turkey.
I teach 7th grade English, and Stephen teaches photography classes at St. Paul College. He is currently getting his master's so he can teach college full time. He's a photographer by day, soon to be art welder/sculptor!
His younger brother, Paul, is married to Anna who taught 2nd and 5th grade and now is a LUCKY elementary librarian in a northern suburb of Mpls.
His younger sister, Bethany, home schools her boys...she has four of them, but only three are school age right now.
Then comes his sister, Jessica, who is a 7th grade Special Education teacher in North Dakota. We will be comparing notes lots this year!
His youngest brother, Marcus, is in med school, and his wife, Stephanie, just graduated with an Art Education degree and then had our newest nephew, Sully!!

What did I tell you? It runs in the blood!! Sam, my 6 year old has been saying for the last three years that he wants to be a teacher...a science teacher currently! And this summer when we were back in Minot, ND, for my 20 yr high school reunion, we went to my mom's old school and were able to get in thanks to some awesome new teachers who were there already working in their classrooms! We went down to my mom's old room, where I spent many a day in the summer helping her (and using her construction paper and stamps, which I loved!!), and took some photos. I'll see if I can link some.

Anyway, I suppose I should stop jabbering. I do want to mention the TpT back to school sale, although for me it's not QUITE back to school yet :) 

All the best to those of you in school already, and let's talk soon! I'm getting the creative flow back and am almost ready to roll!

Happy teaching!


And hot dog....I just realized that I can link photos from my phone! Here's a bit of my summer...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

It's a SALE!!

Hey all!

I just realized that Teachers Pay Teachers is hosting a 3 Million Teachers Strong sale right now, so I jumped on in & set my store at 20% off through March 2nd (because if you're like me, you don't always get to TPT on week nights :)

I'm super proud of a new poster and activity kit I put together that merges vocabulary & text evidence via looking at character traits. MANY posters and reproducibles are ready at your fingertips!
It comes with three turn-in sheets, 55 word work pages, and 150 posters (3 sets of 50.)  It's being trench tested in my classroom right now :)

Happy SALEing!


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

On Implementing the Common Core State Standards

Today after school, I had a district ELA Lead Teacher meeting.  Last summer, in lieu of hiring a new secondary literacy person, our district hired one ELA teacher per grade 6-12, plus one MS & one HS special ed teacher, to form an ELA Lead Teacher group to forge the way for implementing the CCSS and creating/revising inquiry units of study. 

We generally meet twice a month after school & are out of the classroom one day a month to meet.  So far this year, we've worked at becoming a cohesive team to support each other in implementing the standards & inquiry units of study.  We check in with each other about where we are in the process, how it's going, questions/hard parts, successes. We have presented two half-days of professional development to our grade level peers and will move into a more active role in supporting our colleagues this summer and next school year.  All of us are full-time classroom teachers.

Today we started by reading two short articles.  The first was "NEA Calls for Course Correction on 'Botched' Common Core" (find it here.) The second was "A San Diego High School Used Schoolwide Essential Questions" (find it here.)

We are in an interesting position in relation to the first article.  Several passages stuck out:
  • "states and districts have 'completely botched' implementation...and must do a better job of listening to teachers..."
  • "there has been little to no attempt to allow educators to share what's needed to get CCSS implementation right.
  • "teachers must be given more time to grapple with the standards"
  • "more supports to introduce them into teaching and learning"
We are in an interesting position, because our experience is almost polar opposite. After reading articles like this, I couldn't be more thankful for our district's approach to supporting us in the implementation of the Common Core.  That being said, it hasn't been an easy process.

We began a new curriculum cycle several years ago, and it has been nothing like it had been.  In the past, we figured out which textbook we wanted after a series of meetings and presentations and then were given a dollar amount to order anything else we might need.  

This time around, things have been much different, and although it's been confusing along the way as details were ironed out, it is much more efficient and smart.
We aren't host to book companies trying to sell us their latest and greatest. Instead, we need to purposefully plan inquiry units of study, figure out which texts we'd like to go with them, and then place our order.  This means that the process isn't a one-time deal, but has been spread out over several years.

It has also led us to a deeper working relationship with a local library-builder, Mackin Books.  We are able to submit book list requests based on our inquiry questions, and Mackin's people will compile a book list for us to consider.  In the end, we can request some/all/none of the books listed, add from our own knowledge base, etc. 

Carly and I requested two lists, one for our current unit ("How do individuals and communities deal with conflict and tension?") and one for the unit we repurposed last spring ("How do individuals impact the community, and how does the community impact individuals?" mainly using the text Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman.) We are looking for alternate titles for our struggling readers for the current unit, as Witness is a sophisticated text--in the "productive struggle" range of independent reading for the "average" 7th grade learner in our school.  For the other unit, we are looking for tougher texts for our advanced readers; we want them to end the year in a productive struggle, and Seedfolks (in our opinion) isn't challenging enough for them. Our lists haven't come in yet, and I'm so curious to see what they come up with!!  

Anyway, back to the main we do this work, we are finding that it is tough. We are in constant flux, planning, trying out new concepts, trying hard to build the concepts through the year, working on new rubrics for writing that reflect the standards. We are constantly reflecting; most days, Carly and I touch base several times to share how each class responded, to see what we want to change for next year, to decompress, to find humor. We find ourselves planning and planning some more. We had intended on waiting until this summer to repurpose our Holocaust lit unit, but once you are rolling, you are rolling. Inquiry units of study and the Common Core aren't "something to do, to check off of a list as DONE." They are a way of being, a way of teaching. And how can we go back to a quiz that has kids match members of Anne Frank's family and the people in hiding with personality descriptions when we just finished a Socratic Seminar where kids spent about 15 minutes in one class (50/50 special ed/mainstream) discussing the difference in how Klansman Johnny Reeves dealt with conflict when the KKK kicked him out, how Merlin Van Tornhout dealt with conflict after he didn't follow through with the Klan's request to poison an African American family's well, and what made the difference in their choices based on their circumstances: age, investment and buy-in with the Klan, etc. All we had asked was how characters in the novel dealt with conflict!

When kids say things like, "Well, while I hear what you are saying Tyler, but I disagree. I think that Harvey Pettibone actually *was* loyal to his wife, Viola, after all, because in the end, he realized he was in way over his head with the Klan and they ended up fixing their marriage." Well, after this...knowing that Otto Frank worked for Opekta doesn't seem so relevant. To assess kids on whether or not they know a small fact doesn't tell us how they are progressing with their critical reading and thinking.  Why Anne's diary has resonated with readers so much so that it's the second most widely read non-fiction book after the Bible seems like a much more relevant question.

So instead of grading the research essays we both have waiting (and waiting loudly!) we did some impromptu down and dirty planning yesterday during our prep time because the new unit starts next Monday.  So we kind of needed to.

My point is that this process isn't streamlined. It isn't perfect. We still have a ways to go, looking at how to challenge our high-level students, how to work with our struggling students. How to build on concepts from one unit to the next.  How to incorporate effective activities back in so that the humor and fun doesn't disappear in our quest to up the rigor.

This is new territory for me, and I most definitely, most honestly couldn't do it alone.  This is my 15th year of teaching, and when I started I had no idea there were standards.  Even when we went through my first curriculum cycle in 2005-2006, I read the standards, but I just thought Yep, I cover that with this story...I think I cover that...check, check, check.

I planned with the story in mind first, then the activities. Standards didn't really enter in.

Carly's good at reminding me that now we need to start with the WHY. What's the point? What do we want kids to get out of this unit? 

Then we find ourselves moving to the standards and figuring out which skills kids need to develop and stretch based on the continuum of the CCSS.

Then we do a rough "How do we want to run it? What do we want it to look like? What routines have we done earlier in the year that we want to keep stretching them with? How do we put the learning in their hands and make it active and meaningful for them? What texts do we want to use, and if we are repurposing and I've used a particular text for years, how can we supplement so it's an anchor text vs a whole class novel?"

Yeah. It's messy. It's hard. I am exhausted. But I'm telling you, I haven't felt such a sense of purpose in my teaching ever.  And the best, most awesome part, is that we truly, honestly know that we are helping students grow in their writing and independent reading, that they will leave 7th grade much stronger critical thinkers, which is the BEST, most gratifying part.

So, back to the first article, YES!!!  "More time to grapple with the standards, and more supports to introduce them into teaching and learning." Sincerely necessary. 

  Last year our expectation was to plan and implement one inquiry unit of study (while implementing the CCSS), and this year two and on.  Carly and I agreed to be a Pioneer Team to forge forward faster, and I have that responsibility, too, as an ELA Lead Teacher.  We then can use our experiences and reflections to guide other teams working on implementation, to help with inquiry questions, ideas, our process for using things like Socratic Seminar in class, at the same time acknowledging that there is most definitely more than one way to do it, that we aren't the know-it-alls, that it's a never ending learning process, that teachers are at different places with their comfortability in this process. Heck, I still grapple to understand the standards. I still ask myself from time to time if we are "doing this right."  Well, you know, if we are in the ball park at least. 

Overall, I think I'm trying to say:
  • I love the Common Core and inquiry and what it's brought to my teaching and learning.
  • I've had an excellent (albeit overwhelming and exhausting) experience in implementation, and I think that's because we have awesome support district-wide and are able to grapple with the standards and implementation without being given a prescribed curriculum or mandates. 
  • As teachers, we are l-e-a-r-n-e-r-s!!
Well, after all of that, it's way past bedtime.  Crossing my fingers that mother nature warms our tundra tomorrow so we don't have a 7th day out of school due to cold or snow.  Too much of a good thing is getting to be, well, too much :)

I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of this--the CCSS, implementation, inquiry, how your district is supporting you, how your teaching has changed.  Please consider commenting :)

Happy teaching!