Monday, October 28, 2013

Numb Skull

It's not nice to call yourself a numb skull, but that's what I am right now.

I spent the day with Jeff Wilhelm.

Well, not really just me and him...but I spent the day at the MCTE Fall Workshop with Jeff presenting, and truly, my brain is awash with possibility, questions, new information, empathy for my students when they feel overwhelmed.

It's nice to immerse yourself in the familiar, to hold the handrails of security, and there were numerous times today when I felt like I was trying to ride a tricycle...and I don't think they have training wheels!

Jeff is a dynamic presenter, and he is full of information, statistics, real classroom application, so it was a day well worth it...AND he's left me a bit catatonic; lots to try, lots to read, lots to investigate.  The morning half was all about argument, and as a 7th grade English teacher in our building, I don't have much experience with argument and persuasion as a teacher (sure...loads of it as a human!!) so much of what he was talking about didn't fit onto any coat hook of my brain.  It was NEW, and it felt uncomfortable.  But in a good way!  I tried to jot down and then type some of his ideas and observations to help myself remember what I want to investigate now that the day is over.  I wish I had a week to unpack my brain, to discuss, reflect, plan, plan, plan with colleagues...but back at it tomorrow with O. Henry! No rest for the wicked. Or middle school teachers :)

The afternoon was about informative writing, and again, new information!  Jeff focused mainly on definition, which although such a basic of our life was quite thought provoking.  Again, I had to barter with my brain to start shelving new information, to apply it so I'd remember it, to try to glean everything I could from him.  This is tough work, blog readers!! Jeff Wilhelm talks at LIGHTNING SPEED!

So as I unpack and learn from him, I'll share here.  He has done and is doing incredible work. He's now up there in my mind with Lester Laminack and Ralph Fletcher.   My literary and teaching heroes...

The take-aways I can remember right now:
1) I distinctly felt like a learner, and that is a good thing!  I need to remember when I am teaching to be even more patient when kids aren't getting something. And inquiry truly is exhilarating!

2) The WHY has begun to click.  Several years ago, we were told by admin/the district we needed to post target goals and essential learnings.  Not having much of a history with these things, I didn't really get it.  I mean I always explained what we were doing for the day with the kids (that was good enough, right???,) but I didn't always have it posted.  Now...I get it, at least a little bit more!  For so long, we/I taught without standards as our/my guide.  We started with the literature and the assignment.  As our district has been shifting to inquiry based learning and the Common Core, it makes so much more sense to begin with the standards, the when Jeff talked today about essential questions, it clicked into place a bit better than it had been.  I'm starting to see how the pieces fit together. And we came up with some great essential questions for A Christmas Carol :)

3) Ranking examples of the type of writing you are doing...I'll elaborate on this in a different post, but Jeff had us rank examples of definitions and then figure out what criteria we would list for what makes a strong definition.  It reminded me of an activity I used to do with our getting-ready-for-the-7th-grade-writing-assessment-on-demand-essay-unit where I had kids rank three essays that previous kids had written.  We are planning on using this activity between research and writing the research paper in January to kids can take an active role in discovering what constitutes a strong thesis, intro, paper, conclusion, etc.  This all vs just attaching an example of a well written paper at the end of the packet.  Still in the works. I've incorporated some of this with narrative non-fiction after reading part of Heather Lattimer's work (Thinking Through Genre.) I'll write about that later in the year, too.

To be fair to Jeff, so as not to blame him for all my cranial confusion tonight, I have also been reading Pathways to the Common Core so I can learn from it as well as intelligently discuss it with my ELA Lead Teacher group; we met today after the workshop from 3:30 - 5:00.  Great discussion on take-aways from the workshop (loved the phrase urgency vs patience,) great work on norms for our group (in progress). I'm humbled to be part of such a forward-thinking and courageous group of teachers. It feels good to do this work. It feels good to engage in educational transformation. It feels good to work toward betterment.  And I love being in a group with people 6-12, general ed and special ed.  WE are learning through inquiry, and for the first time ever, I am somewhat ok with not having all the answers, not having a set, set plan for a unit, with getting messy and trying new things, tweaks on strategies, definitely daily and sometimes hourly!!  The work we are doing is good. It is engaging our students, and we feel like they are becoming deeper thinkers. Most days anyway ;)

I'd love to know what you think about professional development you've been engaging in lately, what you think of the CCSS, what work in the classroom you've been trying out. Feedback, comments, questions all welcome :)

Happy teaching!



  1. Hi Michelle! I'm Laurel. I just discovered your blog through Lovin' Lit. I work in a district that provides us with no professional development, so I live vicariously through you, Erin, and Kasey Kiehl. I have had to inservice myself on the Common Core and the PA version of the standards. The best piece of advice I can give anyone is the website Here, I found a wealth of materials to train myself. I so envy you that you have an ELA group like you do. It must be so energizing to share. I am so glad generous teachers like you blog for us who are starved for such a collegial atmosphere and professional district. Thank you for all you do.

  2. Hey Laurel! Thanks so, so much for commenting :) Your comment helps me focus on why I blog and helps me remember (even though I'm a pretty grateful person) to be even more grateful for the professional development opportunities I get through my district. I'll try to do my best to share my learning here. Thanks for the tip...I'll be checking it out for sure. Michelle :)