At the urging of a few friends, I am starting up my blog. Perhaps this is a better place to air my grievances with the world.
So, last night kicked off the self-adulation season, also known as award season in the Hollywood. I have resolved that I will not watch these shows--I havent for a number of years for a number of reasons. I just happened to turn it on thinking the news would be on. I was looking thorugh Facebook and saw the reference to Meryl Streep's speech. I decided to watch the speech. I paid special attention to the people who weren't clapping--Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, a woman in a green dress. I feel for these people. It was awfully intrusive for her to take an opportunity like that to ramrod her thoughts down their throats. They were there for the free drinks and maybe an award or two. Instead they received the grandstanding of the century--a lecture to keep the President Elect in check and call him to the carpet--because, after all, she is supremely qualified to lecture these in attendance and all watching on that which is right and good for us.
In 2003, Meryl Streep gives a STANDING OVATION for Roman Polanski--who was convicted of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor and fled the country in violation of his plea bargain. Mind you, the young woman that he assaulted, at Jack Nicholson's residence, was 13. There was some ridiculous legal dealings--serving 42 days of a 90 day sentence, judge threatening to sentence him to 50 years in jail, etc. This pedophile, who has dual citizenship in France and another country, will never be extredited back to the US. This woman will never get justice. This man, however will continue to make films and continue to receive the praise and ovations of women like Ms. Streep.
Meryl Streep spoke of Trump allegedly mocking a reporter, which has been refuted numerous times, but failed to level any attention toward the Live FB streaming of a disabled man being tortured in Chicago. However, here's the 411 on this alleged mocking incident. It stems from a remark that President Elect Trump made concerning people, of Middle-Eastern descent, celebrating across the river from the Twin Towers after the planes flew into them on 9/11. He made this comment to George Stephanopolous on November 21, 2015. Stephanopolous and all of the major news outlets, including the Washington Post, immediately denied this. Well, Trump tracked down an article written by Washington Post’s own reporter, Serge Kovaleski, on September 18, 2001. He wrote, "In Jersey City, within hours of two jetliners’ plowing into the World Trade Center, law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river." Hmmmmmm, well, that's interesting. The media IMMEDIATELY plays slight of hand and manipulates the situation. This reporter even claims not to remember what he wrote...well, that's journalistic integrity. As soon as the narrative no longer dictates, the journalist shifts his initial story so that he doesn't appear to be vilifying Muslims...convenient.
But by all means, let's be sure that she and "the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in OUR community" will be there to "safeguard the truth" as they see fit.
I feel late to the game having only started Writing Workshop in earnest this year. I feel as though my previous attempts were merely dabblings; however, now that I am collaborating with my fellow 8th grade teachers, I am totally obsessed with the process. Having spent a considerable amount of time reading and researching, my fellow workshop novices and I began using Corbett Harrison's Sacred Writing Time (SWT) model. I have my ELA students for 100 minutes per day--technically 2 periods of 50 minutes. We have been using SWT twice per week at an increasing increment of time in order to build writing stamina. My honors students started at 10 minutes, and we just bumped up to 12 minutes on Tuesday. My goal is to begin next quarter at 12 minutes but move to 3 times per week. I will then increase the time achieving 15 minutes of SWT 3 times per week by the end of the semester.
Now to the second part of my post title, I am writing at the same time my students are writing. This is not revolutionary--Penny Kittle does it. Corbett Harrison does it. So, I've been writing and sharing with my students since the first week of school, and I can honestly say it's one of the best activities I have ever done. I am no longer the preachy teacher hounding them with ridiculous guidelines. I am helping them authentically engage in a rewarding experience--rewarding for them and selfishly rewarding for me! My co-teacher and I are even talking of hosting a writer's circle a few times a month for our students because this model has allowed us truly to see who among them are thirsting for more in regards to their writing. We want to nurture a writing community among our students.
For me, this experience has me thinking like a writer--seeing the world like a writer. I am constantly thinking about how I will craft the words to sound appealing or create an image. It's a beautiful experience. It's beautiful more so because I am hearing this feedback from my students. When I announced my proposed change to the SWT, I heard cheers and saw fist pumps--a few scowls, but that's to be expected. I asked them what they thought this increase means to them, and their answers were deep and thoughtful: "more pieces that are longer...more thinking...meticulously crafted works..." just to recount a few. We've begun sharing more as well, and I hope to increase this as well next quarter. There is a fantastic symphony of writing being performed in my class, and I'd be completely remiss if I weren't playing my own instrument right along side them. We are working on "I Am From" poems which are modeled after George Ella Lyon's "Where I'm From" poems. Here is my dabbling--enjoy!
"I Am From" by Amie M. Trahan
I am from the family table in the kitchen
from Dial soap and Lipton Iced Tea--vacation tea as we called it.
I am from the home I've known for 40 years.
(Constant, warm, it smelled like pipe tobacco.)
I am from the rose bush in the corner of the backyard
the holly bushes that line the front walk,
leaves prickly and green.
I'm from Christmas jingle bells and road trips to the shore,
From Ellan and Booby and sister-cousins.
I'm from loud mouths and strong hugs.
From I'll take you behind the fence! and I love you.
I'm from choose your own way on the Sunday school bus.
I'm from the city of brotherly love and the garden state.
From the woman who is stronger than she'll ever know,
the man who loves us all so much.
In the closet and drawers, in sticky photo albums, on reels of silent film are the images of family long passed.
I am from love poured out, hugged on, and always in abundance.
We are working on our Mystery Unit. We have read "A Study in Scarlet" and now we will be watching BBC's Sherlock: A Study in Pink. I have created a notes sheet as well as the guidelines for our comparison/contrast essay. I am always trying to find new, relevant ways to highlight the literature that I cover. The kids are really looking forward to this...many have begun watching Sherlock on their own, but skipped the first episode because we are watching it in class :) I've included the CCSS that are exemplified in this activity, and if you scroll down, you can see the activity.
Prior to this the students generated all of the vocabulary words that are relevant to this unit. We created a concept map and the kids had lots of fun competing to see if they could get "their word" on the board. We have investigated Sir Arthur Conan Doyle through www.Biography.com. We have also read "A Study in Scarlet" and "The Adventure of the Speckled Band."
In addition to this in class reading, my students are engaging in literature circles on Fridays and meeting to set up their reading for the week on Mondays. I borrowed extensively from the College Board guide to literature circles, so I'm not comfortable sharing that here. I have 6 groups meeting about 6 different mystery novels. Each student was given 6 choices and from that picked their top 3 choices. I grouped them accordingly. The discussions they are having are amazing. Students who have never shared in the whole-group setting are blooming in Lit Circles. Their novel choices were And Then There Were None, Code Orange, Dodger, The Clockwork Scarab, The Westing Game, and The Christopher Killer. I am looking forward to incorporating the Lit Circle elements into whole-class discussions. Have a great week!!
Key Ideas and Details
I can't begin to express how excited I am that I have finally embraced the Writing Workshop...Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Jeff Anderson, Troy Cockrum, Laura Robb...all of these amazing teachers have provided a foundation for me to bring this to my students. I have had a mental block for this for too long--it's as though the fog has lifted and I see clearly the construction, benefits, and need for this in my life and the life of my students. In the pictures you see my students' entries in their notebooks for the Quick Write "What's in your Heart?" We are having a great time with this and other Quick Writes leading up to a narrative writing unit that includes a memoir and a short, short story (Smart Writing, Laura Robb).
I have also begun Literature Circles with my students. I am using it in conjunction with our Mystery Unit. I gave them novel options without the title or author. They completed a Google form to rank their choices. I revealed their groups and novels last week, and today they are meeting for the first time. I used the format of the Literature Circles by The College Board 2010 and adapted it to my students' needs and abilities. They are thrilled at the opportunity to read different novels that they had a hand in choosing.
Needless to say, I am as excited as the students are to be exploring these new opportunities and experiences. I will continue to post updates and student contributions. Now it's time to head home and batten down the hatches for our 2 snow days :) I don't get to say that often!!
This new year has brought so much excitement and motivation to make changes to increase the success of my students. With the help and encouragement from my colleagues, I am implementing some meaningful changes.
I introduced SSR time to my students this year. For the first semester, I only required them to read during their 10 minutes of time at the beginning of Reading class. This semester I have attached some activities and accountability to SSR time. I am now encouraging my students to read 10 additional minutes at home for a total of 2 hours a week of reading. I am also encouraging them to read around 50 pages a week. They will be giving Book Talks or doing iMovie Book Trailers on a great book they've read. I am attempting to build a classroom library to enrich my students' literary experience. So far the feedback has been very positive from both students and parents ;)
The biggest leap I am taking is with writing workshop. I have always dreamed of doing this, but fear and uncertainty have held me back. After attending NCTE and listening to Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, I knew I had to try for the sake of my students. Another English teacher I work with purchased Penny Kittle's Write Beside Them, and we began talking about how we could implement her ideas. We decided that fear be damned we were just going to jump in. So far I am thrilled with the results. Our first activity was for the students to write about something that was their favorite--whatever they wanted to write about. They shared their quick write with a person at their table, and that person selected something they liked about the entry. The video is the result of those choices. I am using many resources to craft my writing workshop to fit my students. It's overwhelming but so rewarding. I am writing along with them and sharing and being quiet, letting the words and ideas sink in.
I haven't begun the literature circles, but I am taking a completely new approach to reading novels. I am giving my students 6 descriptions of the novels I want them to read. They are choosing their novels and will be paired up based on the novel they choose. They will be engaging in literature circles for reading and discussing their novels. I am very nervous and excited for this quarter.
This summer has brought many exciting adventures, the latest of which I will share. On our recent trip to Edwardsville, IL, my cousin and I took our children, (mine include a 15 year old and a 44 yr old--husband) and hers include 8 year old twins and a 13 year old, to the City Museum in St. Louis. As we adventured through the amazing obstacles, we encountered one that especially unnerved me. It has a wired bridge connected to a suspended airplane which was followed by a spirally ladder type thing. Oh, did I mention it's about 20-25 feet in the air? My daughter and husband, who traversed this with ease, had both relayed back to me that I probably wouldn't like it. My cousin and her 8 year old daughter proceeded ahead of me. As we entered the airplane, Emma began to get frightened. Her mom was ahead of her and I was coming up behind her, quite nervous myself. She began to wimper that she was scared. I knew I had to step up. I hurried up and got right behind her and said, "If this old lady can do it, so can you!" She giggled and ventured forth. Despite my fear, I had to proceed in order to encourage her. Even though my husband and daughter kept saying I wouldn't like and my cousin thought I'd chicken out, I had to persevere...for Emma. Once I completed the elevated wire mesh death trap, I was very pleased with myself, and Emma went on to slide down the 15 foot slide of doom--on her own. As I finished up the day, I had a revelation...
Isn't it the same with flipping my classroom? I will introduce a new way to structure everything about my classroom, and the students express their fears and trepidations. I myself may be nervous because my first year trying this didn't go as planned, but I know that the experience will benefit my students and make them better learners. I may stumble on assigning videos and creating activities that are fulfilling, but I won't give up on the entire process because I know there is a better use for my class time than just having my students copying notes from an overhead or mindlessly scribbling on worksheets. Despite my fear, I have to proceed in order to encourage my students to be better thinkers, learners, and people. Even though colleagues will look at me funny and criticize me because my classroom isn't in neat rows with silent children...even though...I must proceed for the sake of the students.
There is something about the simple act of communicating with a fellow human being who shares your interests that gets the cerebral juices flowing. I was lucky enough to get to spend the better part of the afternoon hanging out with my friend Elaine. We are Nerds cut from the same cloth, so the majority of time was spent discussing what we planned to do in our classrooms in the coming year. She has so graciously loaned me numerous books which I have finally read this summer and by which I have been profoundly affected. Readicide and Reading Reasons by Kelly Gallagher will be guiding forces for my teaching from now on. We also talked about being the lone nuts dancing on the hillside (see TED video "Evolution of a Movement") and how we are just fine with that :)
I then came home and took to Twitter to gain inspiration from my PLN about a novel that our entire school will be reading. Lucky for me @guster4lovers, Cheryl Morris, just happens to have a degree in South African culture and literature. When I asked for some input, she immediately generated some suggestions. When that became to much for Twitter, she started a Google Doc and her fingers must have been flying across the keyboard as she brainstormed multiple ideas for different subjects pertaining to our novel, Left to Tell. I am in complete awe of her abilities and willingness to help out a group of teachers and students she will probably never meet, in person at least.
I am so humbled by all of the people I have met since participating in last year's FlipCon. So many are willing to give of their time, energy, and resources just to be helpful and for no personal gain (Andrew Thomasson, April Gudenrath, Troy Cockrum, Crystal Kirch). They help simply for the fact that someone asks it of them, and they know that our future is better for it. The "flip" movement is such a wonderful force in which to be caught because it is so extremely fulfilling.
So as many of my colleagues and friends can attest to, summer break really messes with your sleep cycle...summer insomnia. So as I tried to calm down my brain and get a decent night's sleep, the conversations of today came flooding back--particularly a discussion about mentor texts. I am always struggling to incorporate my reading class with my English class because until recently I only taught the English. Well, I do believe that this thought was divinely inspired (contrary to the recent Dan Brown novel's poo-pooing of this concept), probably a little "Ray" inspired, and driven by the conversations and collaborations of the day. This past Christmas I received a gift from my parents; it is a picture of my grandmother's house in Avalon, NJ. Tucked into the back of the frame was a narrative writing piece that I wrote for an English class in 1994 at USL (aeons ago). The piece is about the impact that Avalon had on me as a teenager and how much I missed it. Well, what a better way to show my students that a writing piece is truly never "finished"??? I can use it as a mentor text and really debunk their idea of "one and done" writing. I can tie it into literature with "This Side of Byzantium," which is Ray Bradbury's reflection of his boyhood town of Waukegan, IL. Oh the joy of these moments of interconnectivity and inspiration (as demonstrated by the video I made using Snagit and Camtasia--thank you Techsmith and FlipCon)!! Ahhhhh, now I can get some sleep...maybe.
**by the way, the quotation marks for this font are driving me CRAZY!!!
So I just want to give a shout out to these two pioneers, Cheryl Morris and Andrew Thomasson. These two have continued to be a guiding force and inspiration in the ELA flip movement. Tonight's chat was so motivating and helpful. I am so grateful to have met them during last year's #FlipCon12 and to have met them in person at this year's #FlipCon13--sorry I got into your personal space, Cheryl. I'm to extroverted for my own good most of the time :)
Tonight's chat focused on the 5-5-5-5 mentioned by Jon and Aaron in our closing session of #FlipCon13. Needless to say, I have a hard time figuring out what I'll do 5 minutes from now let alone 5 years, but it's a great formula to keep revisiting. Thank you both,@guster4lovers and @thomasson_engl, for giving of your time and dedication to this movement.
I've been doing some reading, work related and recreational. I'm trying to adopt the 50/50 approach to writing as suggested in Kelly Gallagher's book. I really enjoyed reading this. I should've done it years ago when I began teaching reading--better late than never. I feel now that I can implement some sound reading practices in my class and get my kids really communicating about what we have read in a meaningful way.
Just finished this one at 2:15 this morning. It was alright. It was a little too History of Florence 101, but the story line was intriguing. If you are paranoid in anyway about doomsday profits or apocalyptic messages, don't read it. You won't sleep...anymore...ever. Luckily my brain thrives on a steady diet of denial, so I'll be fine.
The last book I'll discuss here was the first book of the summer for me. As a staff--faculty, admin, everyone--we are reading this amazing book. Our students will be reading it as their assigned reading in their religion classes for the first quarter. We will be doing cross-curricular activities with our students; I will be tying it into my anti-bullying unit and my summer novel _The Book Thief_. The author will be coming to our school later this fall and she will be speaking to all of us. This year has really had me contemplating the way people act in our world. Many nights my FB status read: We need to do better as humans. We need to be better humans, treat each other better, and protect those who are most vulnerable among us. This book resonates with that sentiment. If you haven't read it, I strongly urge you to do so. It is powerfully intense and spiritually uplifting.
What a difference a year makes! This time last year I was returning from FlipCon12 with such enthusiasm and ideas, but I felt like I was fumbling in the dark--all year I felt that way. By year's end, I chalked my Flipping experience up as a failure and myself as well.
Attending this year's conference has renewed my spirit. Sitting through the awesome sessions with Troy Cockrum, April Gudenrath, Jason Bretzmann, Brett Clark and meeting (in person) Cheryl Morris, Andrew Thomasson, Jason Bretzmann and everyone else, has given me perspective on my year. I am way too harsh on myself. I completed many of the tasks I hope to accomplish with my students, and therefore it was not a total washout. *I know I have left out some people here--I apologize :(
To prove this I'm including some pictures of my students' amazing 20% projects--the pinnacle of the year--and some other images from Room 232 :)
I feel like I have a chance to really do something amazing in my classroom for my students. Now that I can see the last year through a lens of objectivity, I can see so much potential for more. Thank you to all of the presenters and keynote speakers at #FlipCon13. I am so grateful to have this experience and am looking forward to tackling the curriculum again. Take care and God Bless :)