Saturday, February 22, 2014

This I Believe [About Teaching & Learning]

On the advent of your field practicum in middle school, I would like you to compose a succinct yet comprehensive statement that articulates what you believe about teaching and learning. You may throw English language arts into the mix, but please do not focus entirely on the content. Let's focus first on the art, the craft, the pedagogy, the motivation. What needs to be in place for learning to occur? What should learning look like? What are you teaching for? What are you teaching against?

Use those slam-rific poetic skills, folks, to craft a statement (1-3 paragraphs?) of thoughtful, careful words that will give us (and others!) a glimpse into your teaching philosophy before you step foot in your middle school placement.

Please have this (substantive) statement posted to your own blog by Sunday evening at 5:00pm, so others have time to read, comment and soak it in. Thank you!

Here's the actual This I Believe site, in case you've never heard of it.

And, here are the guidelines and instructions for writing, from the NPR website. Please read these directions carefully and follow them. (For example, I don't want to see "we" statements or "all teachers should" statements, just "I" statements.)

This I Believe Essay-Writing Guidelines

Tell a story: Be specific. Take your belief out of the ether and ground it in the events of your life. Consider moments when belief was formed or tested or changed. Think of your own experience, work, and family, and tell of the things you know that no one else does. Your story need not be heart-warming or gut-wrenching—it can even be funny—but it should be real. Make sure your story ties to the essence of your daily life philosophy and the shaping of your beliefs.
Be brief: Your statement should be between 350 and 500 words. That’s about three minutes when read aloud at your natural pace.
Name your belief: If you can’t name it in a sentence or two, your essay might not be about belief. Also, rather than writing a list, consider focusing on one core belief, because three minutes is a very short time.
Be positive: Please avoid preaching or editorializing. Tell us what you do believe, not what you don’t believe. Avoid speaking in the editorial “we.” Make your essay about you; speak in the first person.
Be personal: Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. We recommend you read your essay aloud to yourself several times, and each time edit it and simplify it until you find the words, tone, and story that truly echo your belief and the way you speak.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Three principles of digital citizenship

Hello Teacher Candidates! Our focus this week, here in our virtual classroom anyway, will be on writing for an online audience. I asked you to create a blog last week and then to post to it, and I am seeing that some of you are either dragging your feet, are wondering how to post, or are timid about dipping your foot into the blogging pool (or, who knows, a host of zillions of other reasons that I'm sure are relevant...) So, I've reflected on how I can assist you in making the transition to digital writing, as a way of transitioning you to the inevitability that you will be writing digitally with your students, too.

First: MODELS. It seems important to provide some solid models of teachers as thoughtful bloggers. You are writers, and you are teachers. It is only reasonable that we, then, write about the process of becoming teachers, making our reflective practice transparent and also making the process of learning to teach transparent. This isn't about a 6-week crash course in summer, people! This is a lifelong endeavor: learning to teach. Welcome to the beginning of a long journey. Let's document this beginning by writing about it! (Note: I hope you appreciate as much as I do how the models and teachers below are from a diverse range of places and contexts. Being networked to a global resource is really, really cool.)

1. George Couros, a principal in Canada and an extremely tech savvy educator. I learn from this guy every day!

2. One of my longtime favorite educator voices, writers and advocate for public schools, Mike Rose, has a great blog that you may want to subscribe to:

3. This is a great blog about teaching writing, written by a writing teacher at UMass Amherst, Peggy Woods:

4. If you want to roll with the "in-the-know" crowd in education activism, you gotta know this guy, Jose Vilson:

5. Gail Desler, National Writing Project teacher, has an excellent ed tech and pedagogy blog:

Please peruse these blogs and pay attention to: the writing (both content and form) and the design aesthetic of the blog itself. What is the digital reading experience like for you when you visit that particular blog?

*Note that the one common feature of all these blog posts are short, engaging pieces that focus on one specific incident, observation, reflection or idea. These are not pieces of writing that ramble but instead are crafted to be succinct, powerful and concentrated.

Second: FOOTPRINTS. It seems prudent to ask you to Google yourself to see what you find about yourself. What's out there? What will a principal see if he Googles your name upon receiving your application for a job at his school? Let's uncover our (past) digital footprints before we make any more footprints in the digital snow. Do you have old blogs that are dormant or a leftover MySpace page from 7th grade that you'd like to delete? Google your name in all its configurations, with your town of residence and/or your place of employment alongside. See what turns up in the first couple screens of hits.

Third: DESIGN. One of the most significant differences between turning in a paper to me every week and writing on your teaching blog every week is that your audience is looking at a space you've designed while also reading your writing. The space, and the design, has an affect on the reader. In some cases, the text on the blog is difficult to read because of the background the author has chosen. For others, your blog is still sparse and empty. What might you fill it with to provide a context for your writing? A profile so we can see the author, maybe? Also, be mindful of margins and toolbars and photos and profiles and hit counters and so on and so forth. In digital writing, DESIGN MATTERS. I want to implore some of you to go back and tinker with the design of your writing spaces. I will have to read your posts on these blogs for a year, so as your primary audience member, I think some of your spaces need some redesigning with the reader/the audience in mind.

Please consider these three features of our digital writing experiment this semester and take time to read the blogs, Google yourself (using specific keywords), and consider the design (vis a vis the reader) of your blog. Then, we will discuss these three things in class this week.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Macbeth and relevance

Part of becoming a teacher is learning that intellectual work is shared work, a byproduct of this community of collaborative and helpful souls. In teaching, intellectual work should be transparent, explicit, and shared, and so we are going to start practicing this "think tank" mentality this week, as we proceed with our design for an instructional unit on Macbeth.

Part of what I asked you to think about and write about this weekend has to do with Macbeth and relevance. Why do we teach this play? Why is it important for a young person to read or know about Macbeth by Shakespeare?

With this, I want to return to Rosenblatt and to her always pertinent and brilliant reader response questions:

  • What happened, not simply in the story, but rather within me as I read the story? 
  • What things struck me forcibly? 
  • What were the “clues’’ in the story that “added up’’ to a meaning for me? 
  • What puzzled me?

This week, I want to know what the relevance of Macbeth is for you, and the answers lie in your answers to the questions I've posed above. So, please, consider what I've modeled for you below...a look into my mind and into my thinking of why Macbeth might be relevant in today's classroom, I chart a course of thinking, and then I follow that course to the end, where I may have a viable unit framework or idea. I am hoping to get you to show us, here on the blog, the transparency of your thinking where RELEVANCE and MACBETH are concerned. So, give it a shot, please! 

When I read Macbeth, I am reminded of the potential in all of us to do harm to others, to let our sense of self importance get the best of us, to let our anxieties rule our actions. When I think of those three predicaments, my mind turns to other texts and ideas. I think about George having to kill his trusted friend Lenny at the end of Mice and Men, and I think of Brutus delivering the fatal blow to his best friend Caesar, and I think of Macbeth killing his friend and kinsman Duncan, I wonder: What drives a person to kill someone he loves? What in human nature causes us to destroy that which we love? 

And, then, as an English language arts teacher, my mind goes wild. I think of war narratives, the poem "Naming of Parts" by Henry Reed, and of All Quiet on the Western Front (innocent boys all full of bravado heading to war only to see each other slaughtered). I think of Braveheart and of Scottish pride. 

I think of all the reasons we kill: mercy, justice, vengeance, democracy, freedom, greed. 

And then I think: How can I structure an instructional unit around the concept of taking or ruining another person's life? 

And, then I am envision, to plan...

I can't wait to read about your ideas!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Tell Us About Your Transaction With Macbeth

This week's post is all about your experience, as a reader, with Macbeth

I want you to tell us, to describe for us in detail, what the experience of reading Macbeth has been like for you, this time around. I want you to pay attention, a la Rosenblatt, to your response, your reaction, as a reader, to the text. What sort of transaction takes place between you and Macbeth

In 1981 Robert Probst stated that “Louise Rosenblatt has been, since the first publication of Literature as Exploration in 1938, the most articulate proponent of patterns of instruction in literature that emphasize the reader's immediate experience with the text” (p. 43).

"...the reader's immediate experience with the text..."

Rosenblatt states, “In aesthetic reading, the reader’s attention is centered directly on what he is living through during his relationship with that particular text.”

For this week's entry on the class blog, I'd like you to focus on your experience as a reader: 

What do you live through as a reader when you read Macbeth?

What was your experience with this text like, this time around? 
What sort of relationship did you create with the text when you read it this time?

********Tell us in a 350-450 word post, due by Tuesday*********

Monday, January 27, 2014

Social Identities

Welcome to our class blog! Home of Joy 'n Justice in Teaching ELA!

As promised (albeit a little late), I am going to ask you, in your first post on this blog, to think back to listening to your group members' social identity narratives in class on Thursday. Go to your notebook and look back over the jottings you made while people were reading (because those were the instructions, remember?). Think about how, all these days later, your classmates' social identity stories are still impacting you.

In a post that ranges from 300-400 words, please tell us what you took away from hearing others' stories and, especially, from hearing how others defined their social identities.

Some questions you may want to consider before you start writing your post:
  • What were the details of peoples' lives that they chose to share with the group?
  • What details from your life did you choose to share?
  • What did you have in common? What are differences?
  • What is a social identity, anyway?
  • Why are stories about our lives important to the study of ELA?
  • What function do stories (narratives) serve in a classroom?
It would be great if you could have this posted by the morning, but if not, I understand why! Thank you. I look forward to reading about your thoughts.