Professional Development Book #3

Sometimes I do not like having to drive from Crawford to Chadron and back every day; some days I find it annoying to have to spend my time driving. Today was different. I was happy to have the chance to think about things while I was driving without the guilt that I should be doing homework or doing something more worthwhile than just sitting and thinking (though sitting and thinking is very worthwhile in my opinion). On the car ride to my brother’s house, I thought about student teaching, lit crit, and the professional development book I had just finished reading, Make Writing: 5 Teaching Strategies That Turn Writer’s Workshop Into a Maker Space by Angela Stockman.

“In its traditional form, the writing process appears to be linear: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. While such a model conceptualizes writing simply and clearly, it is decidedly misleading and has provoked serious misinterpretation. The process is not sequential, nor is it tidy, and when writers are initiated into their work in this way, the expertise they gain is likely superficial at best…Familiarity with writers and writing has taught me that there is no one way to experience the writing process” (Stockman, 52)

Stockman describes 5 hacks to making a classroom a better space for making writing: Make writing, Remake your space, Teach them to Tinker, Keep it real, and Hack your curriculum. Sometimes, kids do not like to write because they are more of hands-on learners. They stare at a blank paper or a blank computer screen, and they can’t think of anything to write or they can’t get the words to come out. Stockman encourages the teacher to allow students to use their hands to write by using things likes Legos and cutting out and gluing together sections of writing.

“When kids aren’t writing well on the test, it’s typically because they aren’t doing enough authentic writing and learning about writing all year long. They don’t understand how writing works, who they are as writers, or how to approach specific forms…The more writers simply do what teachers tell them to do, the less they are able to generate and execute their own ideas or solve their own problems” (Stockman, 68).

In order to allow students to make their writing, the classroom has to reflect a place where students can manipulate words with their hands. Stockman says that allowing students to work with white boards, sticky notes, and things like scissors and glue can encourage the creation of writing with students’ hands. Teaching students to tinker is a way of helping students to find a writing process that works for them. A lot of the time, we give students a basic organization of how writing should be done: brainstorm, outline, draft, revise, draft, edit, done! It works for some students, but it doesn’t for a lot of students. Helping students to see that the writing process is something they can tinker with and their own writing is something they can tinker with can help students to find the writing process that helps them.

“When kids know they are writing for real audiences, they work hard to impress” (Stockman, 73).

Students need authentic reasons to write and authentic things to write about. They need real audiences. They need real topics. They need to see that their writing matters to them and to other people besides just the teacher. It is hard for a student to get involved and excited about a piece of writing that does not relate to their lives at all. Finally, hacking the curriculum means establishing what you want to teach in a sort of vision/values statements, and working to do things in the classroom that follow this vision of your classroom. As a teacher, you have to be willing to fight for what you believe is best for your students. Find ways around things like required reading so that your teaching can reflect your vision of the classroom.

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School Site Visitation

I was nervous about visiting BHS. I wanted to make a great first impression. My first visit was on Monday, and I was extremely tired from the St. Louis trip. It was a good visit though. The students in Mrs. N’s class were really excited to talk about The Book Thief! I knew after that class that these were some students who enjoyed reading when a good book is placed in their hands. They all had a lot to say about their favorite parts of the novel, and about how powerful words are. Mrs. N told me that her teaching philosophy was that every student has the potential to learn, a teach just needs to find the places where they can reach them. Mrs. N does not run a workshop class, but she makes it a point to make assessments as creative and as fun as possible. Mrs. N and I have been emailing a lot about plans for next semester!

With the 10th graders, we will read Monster by Walter Dean Myers then move into argumentative writing which I think will be an amazing transition. Sophomores also do articles of the week, and I look forward to talking to these students about current events! With the seniors, we will be reading Animal Farm by George Orwell then I think we are going to move into research writing or college prep. With the 8th grade English class, we will be working on a poetry unit, and I think memoirs would be a good transition off poetry. With the 8th grade Reading Class, we will be working on a short story unit. With the Literature class, we will be reading All American Boys by Jason Reynolds (hopefully, it’s pending approval right now) and then we will be reading The Giver by Lois Lowry. I am planning to encourage each class to read independently, and, as I get to know them, I will be recommending more and more books. I also plan to encourage each class to write daily or at least several times a week. I am going to implement quick writes into a lot of the lessons, and I am going to give time for booktalks! I am a lot more reassured after my school site visitation because I have a plan for each class for the first eight weeks!

My second day of visiting the school, I was in Ms. D’s classroom. Ms. D’s teaching philosophy is to teach the whole child, not the subject. She spends time in her classroom helping students with their future plans, listening to their problems, and building relationships with her students. Ms. D begins each class with 15 minutes of independent reading! YAY! She then has students talk to her about the books they have read. In the first class I observed, the 7th grade students had just finished reading a 600 page book in two weeks, Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick which I really want to read now! The students loved the book! They were so excited to talk about it! Ms. D likes graphic novels in the classroom, and encourages students to relate the books they read to their own lives. Ms. D holds Open Mics where students read their poems in front of their peers which I think is a really fun way to share their writing!

Ms. D stresses the importance of being able to hold a respectful conversation in her classroom. She has pow-wows where she sits with her students in a circle, and they talk about all sorts of things. She thinks it is very important to teach students how to listen to others. I listened while Ms. D held pow-wows about thanksgiving plans and about how she could better improve the classroom; she was willing to work with her students to make her classroom a better learning space. I also got to lead two pow-wows with 7th grade students; it was an amazing experience! I asked them what their favorite book was, and only one kid said he didn’t like reading (BUT then he said he didn’t mind reading the Mike Lupica sports books!) All these 7th graders were genuinely happy to talk and listen to me! I do not have a plan for what I will teach in Ms. D’s classroom, but I am excited because her students are really great kids!

Even More on #NCTE17

My first Saturday afternoon session was Breaking Sexual Taboos around Sexuality and Gender in Middle Grade Fiction. The speakers began by talking about their books. One stated that we have the tendency to want to shelter our children instead of preparing them. Books that talk about touchy subjects prepare our children for the world. These middle school books were presented as a little less risky than the topics of YA books. They discuss first crushes instead of sexual awakenings. Books that address topics of sexuality and gender within middle school allow for inclusivity beginning at a young age. Teachers cannot withhold important topics because they are scared of backlash, instead, they have to prepare for the backlash, and create a good argument for teaching these books within the classroom.

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My favorite session of the entire conference was my last session on Saturday: Stop Grading: Empower Your Students to Evaluate Their Own Learning. This session was given by ThePaperGraders who are residents of Colorado and have an awesome blog at ThePaperGraders.org. They began the session with their tenants: teacher the writer, not the writing and teach the reader, not the book. We have to emphasize the process of writing, and see the learning in the classroom as the work. Instead of evaluating students work, teachers have to be the mirror; they have to reflect back to the students what they have done so that the students can evaluate their own learning. Teachers have to focus because it is impossible to teach all the standards.

The paper graders gave eight steps: 1. Figure out what you’re teaching, 2. Build a classroom based on that focus, 3. Get your students working, 4. Collect data on their work, 5. After they understand what the work is and how to do it, show them the learning objectives, 6. Ask your students to each choose a few learning objectives for themselves and show them how to track their growth, 7. Continue to be the mirror, and 8. Make the need to determine a semester grade and opportunity for reflection and conversation over student learning. After going to this session, I realized why Dr. E assesses in the way she does which I have always liked. I think giving students the opportunity to evaluate their own learning creates motivation to learn and autonomy over their own learning. I do not think I have done this session justice, but I have to move on or I will write seven blogs over this conference! Saturday ended with Sushi! SO MUCH SUSHI, and a relaxing evening in the hotel. I got through a good amount of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl which I have now finished, and I am in love with it!

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I got so many books from this conference. I bought a few at really low prices, then I got a lot more free! I send an entire box of books home, and filled my backpack with books! I got my copy of Ghost signed by Jason Reynolds, and I got my copy of the graphic novel version of Edgar Allen Poe stories signed by Gareth Hinds. It was incredible to be surrounded by so many people who loved books, so many teachers, and so many amazing writers!

The last session I attended was Dark Corners and Dead Girls: Horror and the Supernatural in the High School Classroom. David Gill spoke about his new book Uncanny which I plan to buy as soon as possible. Then, the speakers went on to talking about how multiculturalism can be taught through local ghost stories. Students can research local ghost stories and present them to the class. Finally, the speakers talked about a fun alternative assessment called the brown bag exam. Traditional exams are boring, and they do not reflect what students have learned about a novel they have read. The brown bag exam includes placing objects that relate to the novel the class has read in brown paper bags; for example, an apple or a red ribbon could be used for a brown bag exam for The Giver by Lois Lowry. Students open their bags, and list possible connections to the text from their objects. They list connections to themes, characters, plots, symbols, settings, etc. Next, students get in groups, and work to list more connections for their own objects and their peers’ objects. Then, students find two or more passages from the text that connect to their object. Finally, students write a one sentence take-away about their object and the text to share with the whole class. The brown bag exam is good for kinesthetic learners, and it helps students place the novel within their lives.

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The rest of Sunday was spent travelling home. It was an exhausting trip with so much to do and so much fun. I hope to be able to go to more NCTE conferences in the future!

 

More on #NCTE17

I forgot to write that, on Thursday, we went to the St. Louis Art Museum which was an amazing experience. My third session on Friday, Books as Flint: Using Graphic Novels to Spark Political Activism, gave me loads of books I need to read. I filled two pages in my writing journal with graphic novels I need to read and buy for my classroom library from this session. The speakers at the session also discussed how these graphic novels normalize marginalized voices. Our classroom libraries should include titles about and titles written by marginalized voices. These diverse titles allow students to see themselves in the book, and allow students to familiarize themselves with people who are different from them. Introducing students to diversity within books helps fight ignorance about people who are not like them. Finally, the speakers talked about encouraging people who challenge these books to read the books! We cannot censor everything because real life topics like racism make people uncomfortable. \

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My next session, Hey There Young Adults! There’s a World Out There! Using YA lit to Engage our Teens, also provided me with many books to buy and read. Brenden Kiely, Suzanne Young, and Sharon Draper spoke about the books they have written and the books they have coming out soon. They went on to encourage teachers to find the books to place in students’ hands that will make them fall in love with reading. I heard it several times at this conference: Kids do not hate books, we have not been giving them the right books! Teachers have to let students know that the books they like to read are good enough and important. Finally, the speakers talked about setting up a Survivor Book Club where students read and vote books off the island like in the popular show Survivor. Friday night we went to St. Louis City Museum where we were all able to embrace our inner child! We climbed, explored caves and giant whales, slid down slides including a 10-story slide, and build with giant legos! It was the most fun museum I have ever been to!

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Jacqueline Woodson was the speaker at Saturday morning’s general session. Woodson spoke about some very important topics. She told us that every student needs to know they have the right to be in the classroom. She spoke about the gift of picture books for struggling readers, and how we need to legitimize nontraditional forms of literacy. We have to give students access to books, and we have to read about history so that we do not repeat it. Finally, we have to give voice to the voiceless.

My next Saturday session was Empower Your Student Writers Using Effective Feedback and Tech Tools. The first thing the speakers talked about in this session was getting students used to the idea of first draft suckage. Too often, we insist that students write their first draft as though it needs to be perfect. We have to help students to see that first drafts are made to suck, and that through revision, great writing can be found. We cannot look at products in isolation. We have to look at the student and at progress in writing. We have to emphasize the writing process. Peer feedback needs to be taught to students because they often associate feedback with editing. Peer feedback does help both the student giving and the student receiving the feedback, but it does not help them if they are looking at grammatical errors while giving feedback. Teachers should correct one or two grammar issues within a piece of writing rather than marking up the entire paper with red ink because one or two issues is manageable for students while a paper full of errors is basically a sign to students that they are not good writers and that they should give up. Finally, teachers have to give students ownership of their writing. Students have to know that they can accept and decline the feedback they are given.

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Next, I went to the session Interrogating White Privilege in the Trump Era. The first thing that the speakers spoke about was the fact that Midwest, majority white and middle-class communities are places where people think racism does not exist because they do not see racism. The speakers encouraged that teachers talk about intersectionality in the classroom: that we talk about racism in relation to poverty, misogyny, and ableism. We have to supply students with books that address intersectionality. We have to embrace the fact that racism is going to be a topic in which a lot of our students are uncomfortable, but they should be. It takes being uncomfortable to fight internalized, systematic racism that is at the heart of this country. Teachers have to bring up the subject of racism in the classroom, and they need to teach students how to have respectful discussion over topics they are uncomfortable with. We have to force people out of the happy little bubble in which they live their lives. While I saw some problems with the way the topic was presented in this session because it felt to me that they were trying to avoid the actual topic of racism by talking about poverty and misogyny, I did learn a lot from this session and enjoyed the session.

I did not think it would take three blogs to talk about this conference, but I forgot how much was packed into those several days, so more in the next blog!

#NCTE17

I had such an amazing time at the NCTE conference in St. Louis! It was a rewarding learning experience along with a lot of fun times! The trip started out with many Disney songs being sung at the top of our lungs, an adventure of running out of gas outside of Sterling, and an early morning trip to the Denver airport. The plane ride to St. Louis was fun and very scary for me. It was only my second time on an airplane, and it was a beautiful view. The train ride from the St. Louis to the convention center allowed me to see how pretty and huge the city of St. Louis is. It was rather unnerving for me to be in such a big city since I have spent almost all of my life in rural Nebraska. Thursday evening, we all attended the secondary section get together where we learned about how to defend the use of books with sensitive issues such as racism, sexuality, religion, etc. in our classroom.

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Due to an unfortunate fall, we did not get to hear Lois Lowry speak at the Thursday evening general session. However, Laurie Halse Anderson replaced her as the general session speaker! Anderson told stories about how teachers had influenced her life, and she gave useful advice for future teachers. She told us to be the helpers that help children to find their path. She also told us a story about finding her love for writing in a time when she was not worried about being judged or assessed for what she wrote. Anderson spoke the ever important reminder that we need to look at our students as a whole. We have to understand that high school is a sensitive time, and that students are going through a lot of stuff at home and at school. We can’t be scared to call out the bullies in the faculty, and to love and care ceaselessly for our students. Finally, she spoke about challenged books. She said that parents often challenge books for two reasons: 1. the topics in the book bring forth painful memories of their own past, and 2. the parents have not learned how to talk to their children about these sensitive topics. She encouraged us to keep teaching these challenged books because they are the books that make us think!

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“The only way to fight ignorance is with knowledge” – Jimmy Baca Santiago

Friday included many sessions, and several amazing meals! The food in St. Louis is incredible.  There were at least twenty restaurants within a half mile of the convention center! And here I was thinking that it was crazy that Bridgeport got a Taco Johns. The Friday morning general session included Jimmy Baca Santiago as the speaker. Jimmy taught his fellow prisoners to read, and has been drawn towards teaching his entire life. He talked about making sure that parents are involved in their children’s learning. And about how words and poetry are a form of rebellion where people can speak to injustices within the world. He encouraged us to invite writers to speak in our classrooms, and to encourage students to write about their mistakes and their fears because mistakes are where powerful, truthful poetry comes from. Finally, Jimmy talked about how difficult it is to teach students how to express their authentic voices. He said that it is easy to teach grammar every day, but giving students the ability to express their feelings without fear is way more difficult. We need to make our classrooms a place where authentic voices are expressed and heard, where the toughest subjects can be brought to the lights, and where children can learn to wield language and knowledge as a weapon against injustices.

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The next session I went to on Friday morning was From Marvel to the Mannequin Challenge: Using Pop Culture to Revitalize the Classroom. Pop culture can be used to better connect with the students while allowing students to learn and display their learning in an interesting way. Using pop culture can motivate students because what they are doing in the classroom relates to their lives in a way that most things within the classroom do not. Pop culture should be used as a tool within the classroom, and it requires teachers to go outside of their comfort zone to use it. The session speakers gave examples of using Buzzfeed quizzes, snapchat, and the mannequin challenge within the classroom which all looked super fun and useful. The example of using pop culture in the classroom that I liked the most was using superheroes! The speakers used superheroes in place of Greek gods and goddesses where students would have to create a character that was the child of two popular super heroes. The students had to design their created hero’s outfit and super powers. I think this allows students to learn how to create a character in writing in a way that will interest them, and in a way that will show their creativity.

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More on the NCTE conference in the next blog!

I Can’t Think of a Good Title

I haven’t been able to read as much as I like to right now since I have been working so hard on my lit crit critical paper. However, now that I am done with it I was able to get through the graphic novel Saga which I loved. Saga reminded me of how much I love science fiction books. I am going to have to read some more here soon. I also started reading Ghost by Jason Reynolds. After Ghost, I am going to read Orwell’s Animal Farm because I have learned that my cooperating teacher is planning on teaching that novel to her senior class, so I figured I better know a little about it. She is also teaching Walter Dean Myer’s Monster!!!! I also bought Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, and I can’t wait to read it. I have about a hundred more books that I want to read, but that’s my plan for right now.

I just tried to plan which sections of NCTE I am going to. It was a hard job. I did however make sure I was hitting an even amount of sections about teaching and sections with authors I like. I planned to listen to Jason Reynolds, Jon Klassen, Ellen Hopkins, and Laurie Halse Anderson, but I also planned to go to the sections where Ralph Fletcher, Nancie Atwell, and Amy Vanderwater. I am hoping my plan will be a good balance of entertaining and informative sections. I am so excited to go to NCTE. I have never been to St. Louis, and I think I am going to learn a lot.

The more I learn about teaching, the more I think it is all about balance. Teachers are responsible for students’ learning, but students also have to be responsible for their own learning. Students need to be able to choose what they read, but teachers need to urge them to read more advanced books. Teachers need to allow freedom in the classroom while maintaining order and high-level expectations in the classroom. Teachers need to help open students’ minds to other perspectives while allowing them to read things they are interested in. Teachers need to give students assessments that allow them to show their creativity and that are diverse, but they also need to prepare students for high-stakes testing. Teachers need to be flexible while having a routine.

It all sounds very stressful recently. I know that if students are reading, talking, and writing in the classroom every day that they are going to learn, but it seems like so much more is expected of us in the classroom. We are the backbone of learning. Students cannot learn anything if they cannot read, and they cannot enjoy learning if they do not enjoy reading. I keep being told that I won’t know much about teaching until I actually do it, but that makes me feel like no matter what I do as a teacher it isn’t good enough. There will always be people that will try to tell me how to run my classroom, and that will tell me that what I am doing is not good enough.

Turtles All the Way Down <3

“You’re both the fire and the water that extinguishes it. You’re the narrator, the protagonist, and the sidekick. You’re the storyteller and the story told. You are somebody’s something, but you are also your you.” – John Green


I finished reading Turtles All the Way Down by John Green… finally. It took me a little while to get into the book, but that is mostly because it is a busy semester and my mind is like a crazy tornado all the time right now. John Green has grown so much as an author since writing things like Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns (both excellent books, fight me John Green haters!). I’ve been fangirling over John Green for like two weeks now. I cannot get over the magic that is Turtles All the Way Down. He uses his experience with mental illness to show a reader what it is like to live with OCD. I have found that many of his other female characters are unbelievable or stereotypical which, of course, does not mean they are not entertaining character; I did not think this with Ava. I felt like Ava could have been a real person. Her struggles with friendship, high school, relationships, and living with her OCD are compelling and believable.

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“Most adults are just hollowed out. You watch them try to fill themselves up with booze or money or God or fame or whatever they worship, and it all rots them from the inside until nothing is left but the money or booze or God they thought would save them.” -John Green
There were probably 50 times within the book that I smiled on one page then cried on the next page. I loved John Green’s references to popular culture and classic literature though I do not think I would’ve enjoyed it quite as much as a high school student who does not know the things he is referencing. For example, I did not catch any of the One Direction references until Regan mentioned it because that is terrible music in my opinion (Sorry if you like One Direction, it’s terrible). So, I think most high school students reading Turtles would feel the same about the Shakespeare quotes. Honestly, I was not as deep and thoughtful as any of the characters in the book as a high school kid which is where I think John Green kind of forgets what it’s like to be a high school student, but I guess not all teenagers think deeply only minimally like I did in high school. Overall, Turtles All the Way Down is an amazing and entertaining read. I was able to let go of my tendency to try to analyze and critique the text, and just get lost in the story (these are my favorite books now because I am tired of looking for symbolism everywhere; analysis ruins books for me). Also, yes, “turtles all the way down” is cliché, but John Green uses it in an amazing way.

“Nobody gets anybody else, not really. We’re all stuck inside ourselves.” – John Green

P.S. Look at this beautiful nerd! I love your brain John Green (insert loud fangirl shriek).