Friday, December 11, 2015

I Managed to be a Teacher

My student teaching experience came to a close today, and as I left school for the last time, I felt myself feeling a myriad of emotions.

Leaving my students today felt bittersweet. I was sad to have to leave before the end of their semester in January, but I’m excited to get back to my classes and I’m looking forward to my graduation in May.

Last week, my creative writing students turned in their final portfolios, and I asked each of them to write a cover letter explaining their choices regarding the pieces they chose to include. In one of my classes, students took this opportunity to thank me for being their teacher this semester.
My cooperating teacher and other teacher's
in the school wrote me encouraging notes
inside Poetry 180 to wish me luck.

I was both shocked and touched. But even more than this, it’s so telling of the incredible students that I had the opportunity to work with this semester.

I watched my students grow as writers through the semester, but I wasn’t sure that they were seeing the growth, and I found it hard to tell whether or not I was getting across to all of them. These letters affirmed that I was indeed making a difference.

In one of the letters, a student openly admitted to hating my class, but then went on to say that he had grown as a writer. While I wish that this student had been able to enjoy my class more, I think it’s so cool to see that he was still able to identify growth in his writing.

However, despite hearing all of these thank you’s in these letters, and today at school, I find myself looking back on this semester, and I recognize all of the roadblocks that it presented.

This semester, I dealt with everything from students who really struggled with class material, to feuding students, to students who lacked motivation, to students who would push me and test me, to students who were consistently ahead on all of their work, and everything in between.

I dealt with (and passed!) the edTPA.

I dealt with a broken alternator in my car that required me to get a rental car so I could get to school the next day. I dealt with a flat tire at 6AM, which required me to wake up a friend and ask if they were kind enough to drive me to school.

I dealt with self-doubt despite all of the positive feedback I received from my cooperating teacher.

I dealt with constant worry and concern for my students.

Yet, with all of these difficulties (and more) that I encountered over the course of the semester, I still accomplished some incredible things.

I managed to teach a room full of high schoolers on a daily basis, and I watched each of them grow as writers.

I managed to wake up at 4:45AM every day and drive an hour to school.

I managed to grade paper after paper after paper, and still made time for lesson planning.

I managed to overcome all the car issues I experienced and still make it to school.

I managed to complete and pass the edTPA despite all of the other work that I also tackled while working on this project.

I managed to lead a reading and writing workshop style class and navigate standards based grading – two things which I had never before encountered, even as a student.

I managed to help my struggling students by offering them extra help and working with them one-on-one.

I managed to be a teacher.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Standards Based Grading

This year, my cooperating teacher decided to implement a standards based grading system for our freshmen English classes.

For me, it has been quite the learning experience since I’ve never seen a standards based grading system in the works, so I was interested to see how to manage it. For my cooperating teacher, it has also been a learning experience, since this is her first year using it.

At the beginning, it was a little rocky. My cooperating teacher had picked out five writing and five reading standards that we were going to focus on this semester, and we asked the students to rate themselves based on their abilities with each standard. Students took this paper home, and asked for parent input on their ratings. Parents then had to sign off on these papers.

Students had the option to pick ratings of 5 or less, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10. Until we had gathered enough data from students, we used these as a gauge to see where they were.

As we gathered data, it became clear that we needed an intensive organizational system since two of us were looking over the work, and it took us awhile to figure out what that would look like, but now, we’ve fallen into a pattern.

However, if there is one thing I have noticed about this grading system, it’s that it is incredibly time consuming.

For every freshmen paper/assignment I grade, I make thorough comments on the document, then I go to a website my cooperating teacher and I use to make notes for each student and I write a detailed paragraph about the student’s progress with the piece and what they should continue to work on, and then I make a record of whether or not their score should change on a chart that I have printed out.

From there, my cooperating teacher and I set up a date to conference about each student and discuss where we both feel their scores are. Conferencing is the fasted part of the process. Typically, we are on the same page when it comes to scores.

When I am no longer student teaching next semester, I’m curious about how my cooperating teacher will manage the workload. Despite me teaching for some time now, my cooperating teacher and I have been splitting the grading because it is so time consuming.

One of the biggest issues I’ve noticed with this grading system is that it doesn’t hold student’s accountable.

If a student doesn’t turn in a paper/assignment, nothing happens. Their grade stays the same.

I’ve had several students throughout this semester neglect to turn things in, and for each paper/assignment that is turned in, at least six students in each class fail to turn it in on time.

Out of these six students, maybe three will turn it in a few days late. One or two may turn it in a week late, but inevitably, at least one student in each of my freshmen classes neglects to turn the assignment in completely. Typically, it is the same student(s) with each paper/assignment.

Because of this, I’ve talked to my cooperating teacher about adding a score for commitment and organization. In our gradebook, each standard is out of ten points, so I’ve suggested that this be made into another “assignment,” in the gradebook so that it is clear whether or not a student is turning in their work. Additionally, this will reward the students that do the work, but are struggling to grasp the concepts. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Getting Personal

When students ask questions, and believe me, they will, I sometimes have no idea how to answer them.

And I’m not referring to questions about class content.

I’m referring to the personal questions. From day one of this experience, I’ve fielded questions that I expected to be asked, and questions that I never could have even dreamed to have been asked.

A few weeks ago, the questions became so bizarre that I began making a list of them. Below, I’ve typed up a fairly comprehensive list of the questions I have been asked:

What is your first name?
What is your zodiac sign?
Do you have a significant other?
Where do you live?
Where are you from?
Where did you go to high school?
Are you good at sports?
Do you know so-and-so?
When is your birthday?
How old are you?
How many siblings do you have?
Who is your favorite celebrity?
Who is your favorite author?
what is your favorite movie?
What is your favorite book?
What do you order at Skyline?
Where do you go to college again?
What is your major?

I’m sure that there are questions that I am missing from this list, but these are some of the most common/bizarre questions students have asked me.

So how do I deal with these questions?

I give my students the most vague and non-committal answer as possible. While sometimes this is less than satisfactory to my students, I'm okay with that. I think it's important to have strong relationships with my students, but I don't want my students to know too much personal information about me.

In my creative writing classes, I share my writing with my students, so if they ask a question about some of the content of my writing, I usually give them an answer if I can tell they’re not trying to make me go off topic since I’m willingly sharing that information in my writing anyway.

For example, I shared a piece I had written about a injury from when I ran cross country, so I shared that I used to be a runner.

But when students come out of left field in the middle of a lesson, as they occasionally do, I ask students to save them for after class. Not that this always stops them, as some of them are rather persistent, but usually they give up.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

How to Stay Healthy During Student Teaching

It’s no secret that high schools, and schools in general, are full of germs.

So how does one stay healthy when presented with a room full of students who are sneezing and coughing – clearly too ill to be in their seats?

Allow me to help.

First and foremost, take care of yourself. There are many different ways to go about this, and below, I deliver a detailed plan for how I’ve attempted to take care of my health throughout this semester.

1. Hand Sanitizer
Since day one of my experience, I’ve carried hand sanitizer in my purse. I tend to use my hand sanitizer between every class in hopes to avoid any viruses or particularly nasty colds that my students suffer from for days.

2. Vitamins
Take your vitamins. Or, if you’re like me, don’t take them -- but then find alternatives. My alternatives are preventative in nature. Upon the first word of a terrible illness making its rounds, I make sure to take Airborne when I get home. I’m convinced that this extra boost of vitamins is keeping me healthy.

3. Liquids
Drink as much water as you can. During the school day, I find myself not having any water, mostly because I’m too busy to even think about digging out my water bottle from my bag. But once I get home, I try to make sure I’m drinking as much water as possible.

4. Sleep
For me, this has been the hardest part of taking care of myself this semester. I’m accustomed to sleeping for six hours or less a night during the school year, but this semester, that’s not an option. With my 4:45AM wake up, it’s imperative that I sleep for seven or eight hours. I’m finding myself going to bed earlier and earlier – which is no easy task for me, but I know that I must in order to stay healthy.

5. Eat Well
This has been one of my biggest struggles this semester. With my early wakeup and hour commute both ways, my cooking has fallen to the wayside. Poptarts and popcorn have replaced chicken and tacos for dinner. My breakfast each morning: a quick breakfast bar. Luckily, I try to make up for my unhealthy eating habits with my lunch. Every day, I pack carrots, an apple, and a yogurt. But with dinner, it’s always a toss-up. Some nights, I barely have the energy to boil water for noodles.

6. Exercise
At the beginning of student teaching, I had much more time for exercising than I do now. But recently, I figured out a way to multitask. I try to make time for reading for fun so that I can recommend books for my students, so I’ve started walking on the treadmill while reading.  

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed this semester, it’s the lack of time for extra activities. While I knew that student teaching would be time consuming, the workload is a bit more than I expected. I think this is partially a result of the standards based grading system my cooperating teacher and I use, but it’s also just how teaching is. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Giving Student Feedback

One of the most difficult aspects of student teaching is giving my students feedback.

At the beginning, I struggled with knowing how much feedback to give. How much was too much? What was helpful?

The issue for me wasn’t what to tell them. It was the amount. I didn’t want my students to feel overwhelmed, nor did I want them to feel as though I was being too critical.

In all, I never want them to lose confidence in their abilities – especially their writing abilities.

After the first round of papers, I began to realize that the amount of feedback I give has to vary from student to student. Since that first paper, I’ve noticed that some of my students are ready to take on as many comments as I can give, while others prefer feedback in small doses.  

Now that I’ve learned this about my students, I cater the amount of feedback I give to each of them.

One of the coolest aspects of the classroom in which I am teaching is that I have the ability to conference with my students. Doing this allows me to go over my feedback with each student and gauge whether or not it makes sense to them. These conferences really allow me to differentiate instruction and help my students move from point A to point B – with both reading and writing.

As the papers continue to pile up, I’ve noticed that giving feedback is a lot easier. The first comment I make on any paper is always positive – I either thank them for sharing, or I compliment them on what they did well. From there, I move on to where they can improve and how they can move there.

While sometimes it feels like I’m behind on grading because of the amount of feedback I give my students, I can see growth in my students writing with each paper they turn in, so I know that the time is worth it.

But because of all this grading I’m doing, I’ve noticed myself doing something a little silly. Recently, I’ve started grading songs on the radio as though they had been turned in as free verse poetry in my class. It goes something like this:

Great work, Macklemore! Awesome job avoiding clichés.

I see what you're going for, Justin. But how do these ideas connect? What do you mean?

You really put yourself in this piece, Adele. Thank you for sharing.

I'm undecided about whether or not this has enhanced my musical experiences on my drives to and from school, but I know that it certainly stems from the number of free verse poems I find myself grading.

Friday, November 6, 2015

When in Doubt, Make a Snowball

I’ve never been in charge of a snowball-style writing activity. I’ve only participated in such activities as a student. But when the opportunity arose to use one for a quick little vocab review, I couldn’t resist the temptation.

Normally for a snowball writing activity, every student would begin to draft a story and after approximately five or so minutes, each student crumples up the paper and throws it in the center of the room.

Photo of me with a snowman I built when I was in
the second grade.
Another student picks up the paper, reads what was started, and writes where the other writer left off. After five or so minutes, this student crumples up the paper and throws it in the center of the room.

Another student picks up the paper…

You get the idea. It’s cyclical, silly, and fun.

So I decided to modify this activity as a different way for my freshmen to review for their vocab test. To do this, I had each table split up a piece of paper into four or five parts – depending on how many people were at the table.

I then went around person to person, instructing them to write a specific word from their vocab list for the week, or to write the definition for a word from the list. Once I exhausted all the words and the definitions, I began to repeat.

After everyone had something written, I had my students throw the papers in the center of the room. Everyone got up, took one, and then had to find the person that matched either their word or their definition.

Once everyone had a partner, I had them repeat this activity again.

For the most part, the review game worked. The only thing that didn’t work, was that it was clear that not all my students have been studying, as some of them were unable to provide definitions, which hindered the review for everyone else.

It was a nice change of pace for our vocab review, since my students actually had fun reviewing their words, which was a dramatic change from the usual groans and sighs I hear in response to "Okay, time to review our vocab!"

Today, we had a read around in each of my Creative Writing classes, and both of my classes finished early. As a result, I decided to give the traditional snowball writing activity a try. 

Each student took out a piece of paper and began writing for five minutes. When I said that time was up, I had my students pick up their pen/pencil wherever they left off -- even if they were in the middle of a sentence. I asked them to then crumple up the paper, and had them throw the papers in the center of the room. 

Every student picked a new piece of paper out of the center, and began writing where the other writer left off for about five minutes. Then, they crumpled up the paper again, threw it in the center of the room, and grabbed a new one. When they returned to their tables, they read what was started, and then finished the piece.

After about five minutes, I had them pass the paper to another student at their table so they could read the finished product. What resulted: a stack of incredibly imaginative stories. 

Needless to say, snowball activities are definitely something I will do again...

Friday, October 30, 2015

My First Parent/Teacher Conference Night

Yesterday at 4PM, conferences began. I was fairly petrified. As someone who has never been a participant in a parent/teacher conference, I had no idea how they would go.

My only experience with parent/teacher conferences is when my parents would go talk to my teachers in middle school and high school.

Oftentimes, I would spend the hour or two that they were gone cleaning various rooms in the house because I was so nervous about what would be said, even though I usually had no reason to be nervous.

I think it was those same fears coming back, despite the fact that this time, I’m the teacher, and not the student.

And by the time I got through the first three conferences, they were a walk in the park.

Okay, fine. They weren’t that easy.
"Education is not the filling of a pail,
but the lighting of a fire."
-William Butler Yeats

Some were definitely more challenging than others, but in all, they went well. The parents that I had the pleasure of meeting were so kind, and a few of them complimented me on my presentation, which made me feel good about how the whole night went.

While I’m certainly glad that parent/teacher conference night isn’t every night, I don’t think I’ll have the same fears when I have to do conferences again.

From the experience, I learned that the parents often drive the conversation, because they already come in with ideas and points that they want to talk about. And before I jumped in, I asked the parents if they had any points of concern that they wanted to address. I found this to be a good starting point since we had such a limited amount of time.

As the teacher, it was my job to answer their questions about what goes on in the classroom and how their child is progressing in my class. And since I conference with my students on a daily basis, I know exactly what they are all working on during any given class period, so I found this part to be exceptionally easy.

I think the best part about conferences, however, was having the opportunity to meet more of my student’s parents in person. I found that doing this gave me a better perspective on each of my students, which is invaluable.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The edTPA is Finished

Last weekend, I put the finishing touches on my edTPA.

Once I finally hit the last task, it seemed to fly by, rather than crawl as it had been for approximately two months.

Upon finally submitting my edTPA to all the proper sources, I celebrated by buying myself dinner. After having this project weigh on my shoulders for a few months, I noticed that it started to take its toll, so I gave myself a break from, well, everything.

Photo I took on a flight home last October.
I spent the rest of the weekend relaxing and grading the few papers I needed to grade. Needless to say, it was nice. I haven’t had a calm and relaxing weekend since I began the edTPA process. It was much needed.

But now that it’s over, I can really focus on my students and I’ve already noticed a difference this week. I no longer feel like I have to rush through making my lesson plans, grading papers, or giving feedback. I feel like I can focus on what it is that my students need, and I don’t feel like my attention has to be in five places at once.

While multitasking may be my forte, I was struggling to find a solid balance between the edTPA and the reading and writing workshop style in which I am teaching. My cooperating teacher and I are using standards based grading in the workshop, and the documentation for standards based grading is demanding. Now, I feel like I have a hold on what it is I need to be doing.

That said, I now intend to enjoy my weekend with a trip home. After all, the final submission deadline for the edTPA was today. So why not celebrate?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Famous Last Words: No Plot Summary!

This week, while grading student papers for the edTPA and for other assignments in class, I could not help but notice a pattern in my comments. It seemed as though every other paper earned the comment of “No plot summary.”

Naturally, after writing these 13 letters multiple times, I began to wonder if I could write a Six-Word Memoir about them. Then, it hit me:

Famous last words: no plot summary!

A few weeks ago, I introduced Six-Word Memoirs to my Creative Writing class. I gave them Ernest Hemmingway’s famous example of “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Ever since this class, I have been continuously thinking of Six-Word Memoir’s – most of the time, without even meaning too. Oops?

For those who have never heard of a Six-Word Memoir, it is essentially a short story comprised of six words. Over the years, I have compiled several of my own six word memoirs, and much like the one I came up with about plot summary, they tend to just hit me. After my students wrote a few themselves, I shared a few of my examples with them. My examples are below:

1.      I laugh when nothing is funny.
2.      Small fire. Baking soda. We’re okay.
3.      Big dreams in a small world.
4.      Destination: sandy beach in Southern Florida.
5.      Pen to paper; hands to keyboard.
6.      Six words with nothing to say.
7.      Meaningless or meaningful? You pick.
8.      Wanted: the wardrobe of my dreams.

With my examples, I was trying to show students that Six-Word Memoirs can range from the serious to the not-so serious. My students shared what they came up with, and it was clear to me that they really understood the point.

As a writer, and now, as a teacher, Six-Word Memoirs are definitely a personal favorite. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Wait, That Wasn't on My Lesson Plan

The bell rings. It’s 5th bell, English 9. My students are sitting there, staring at me -- waiting for me to do something. I begin teaching. It’s going well. My students are really getting the lesson.

I’m happy

…until I look at the clock. Then, my happiness becomes shadowed by the realization that there are still 20 minutes left in class, and my lesson, which was supposed to last all 48 minutes, is doomed.

I begin scrambling.

In my head, of course. I can’t let me students realize I have nothing planned.

My thoughts are racing.

Okay, Miss Valco. Think. We’re looking at this piece as readers today. What else can we do?

Then it clicked.

Now, normally, I would have given my students workshop time in a case like this. But I hadn’t yet introduced the first writing assignment. This experience happened in the first few weeks of school, when I was still getting the hang of things.

If this were to happen now, I would be able to shrug it off like it’s no big deal. I’m just here to let everyone who has had a moment like this know that it’s okay. It’s horrifying when it first happens, but it’s okay.

But when you’re in that moment? Well, there’s a good chance you’re full of panic.

I managed to maneuver around the issue by asking my students to write their own short little narrative in the style of the author, despite reading the piece like readers that day. It worked. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

I Could Not Be a Teacher Without Sticky Notes

Sticky notes are my lifeline.

A lot of my cohort was at the edTPA
Boot Camp that we had this week, so
before we started working, we had
to document our mini-reunion.
My cooperating teacher has started to notice that as the stack of student papers grows on my desk, so does my stacks upon stacks of sticky notes reminding me that so-and-so needs to take Vocab Test 1 & 2, and that so-and-so has not yet turned in their concept map, and that we need to work on such-and-such skills before this-or-that paper is due.

And then there’s my stack of edTPA centered sticky notes. These ones are reminding me that I need to go back and proof-read Task 1, that I need to grade my students assessments so I can complete that portion of the edTPA, and that I need to finish deciding which video clips I want to use.

I have sticky notes everywhere. On my binders, on my notebooks, on my students notebooks, on my students work, on my students notebooks, on my gradebook, on my lesson plans, on my desk, and even on the edge of my keyboard. The desktop on my laptop screen is even covered with virtual sticky notes. And don’t even get me started on the sticky notes hanging in my room.

Sticky notes are keeping my student teaching world stitched together -- somehow. What may seem like a chaotic system of disorganization becomes an ordered system that is quite effective for me.

Without my mountains of sticky notes, I don’t know where I’d be. I’ve already gone through three packs of sticky notes since school started.

I even give my students sticky notes to practice their vocab words.

This week, I had a day off to work on my edTPA, and I attended an event on campus called edTPA Boot Camp. On my walk there in the morning, I realized that I forgot two essentials: my nice headphones (unfortunately I had my old and broken ones) and sticky notes.

Despite already being on campus, I considered walking the mile back to my apartment just to get sticky notes.

I didn’t make the trek, but I definitely would have appreciated having my sticky notes during the edTPA Boot Camp, as they would have been nice to make small notes on about what I had done, what I hadn’t done, and what I still needed to do.

Needless to say, I don’t know how I would be a teacher without sticky notes.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Do Not Start Training for a Half Marathon the Week You Record for the edTPA

My advice to all those who are presently going through or will go through, at some point in the future, the long, arduous, and often mysterious edTPA process: do not start training for a half marathon the week you decide to record your classes.

This week, I learned that student
teaching requires a lot of
Now, let me set something straight -- this is not the case for me. I had no intention of beginning to train for something as difficult as a half marathon this week, but I had plans to do things other than obsess over my edTPA.

I had plans to eat dinner somewhere other than in front of my computer screen. I had plans to at least say “Hello” to my friends. I had plans to take a break every night and you know, just breath.

But those plans did not happen.

You see, it’s not that the edTPA is all that difficult. Sure, the process can be confusing and hard at times, but when you break it down and really look at it piece by piece, it’s not a level of difficulty, but a level of clarity that needs to be reached.

The issue I had this week is with the time commitment. This week, when I wasn’t working on my edTPA, and when I wasn’t planning lessons for the other classes I teach, and when I wasn’t grading papers, I was trying to figure out what I still need to do for the edTPA, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was sleeping.

I will not lie. The edTPA is demanding. I’ve already put in hours of time and energy -- and I’ll admit, a puddle of tears as well – but I still have a long way to go before I can turn it in. What makes the process so grueling for me, is that I’m still planning and teaching other classes besides the one I have chosen to use for my edTPA, so I’m finding myself in a position where I’m trying to do all of the items I’m required to for my classroom, as well as everything I’m required to for the edTPA.

It’s time consuming and it’s hard to split time between the two. It’s not easy to find a balance.

For now, I’m just waiting to land on some sense of clarity as I fumble through this process.

Just remember, whether you’re working on your edTPA at this exact moment, or whether you’re completing it in the future, you’re not the only one. Remember to breath and enjoy your time in the classroom. The edTPA is just a small portion of your student teaching experience, and soon enough, it will all be turned in.

Just breath. It will all get done.

And remember, don’t bother training for a half marathon the week you record your lessons. There will be plenty of time for that in the future.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Observation #2

This week, I was observed for the second time by my supervisor. My first observation was only about two weeks ago, when I first started to take over classes, and it went well – not outstanding, but well. My supervisor was pleased with my progress then, so I was interested to receive his feedback this week.

Despite knowing that my first observation went well, I was still nervous.

I was hurrying around during my planning period to make sure that everything was just right.

Was my lesson plan in the right spot in my binder? Yes.

Did I mark my lesson plan with a sticky note? Yes.

Was the rubric that my supervisor requested easily accessible in my binder? Yes.

Were my goals displayed on the board? Yes.

Photo I took of the lesson plan book that my
cooperating teacher and I use. We each have
a copy, and we go through weekly plans
together and have them written down so
we are both on the same page.
The bell rang signaling the end of my Creative Writing class, and my supervisor entered my classroom. The nerves hit me in full force.

I took a deep breath as I showed my supervisor where to find my lesson plans as well as the rubric he requested, and I turned to face my students.

The lesson I taught was on lead writing, and I wanted my students to practice writing three different leads for a piece of writing they’re working on called an indelible moment.

All in all, my lesson was a success.

In the conference I had with my supervisor after I taught, he complimented my improvement over the past two weeks, and told me I’m doing a great job, which he even specified is a compliment coming from him, as he is honest in how he feels his student teachers are doing.

I was really pleased with my observation overall, and while I know that I will still be filled with nerves for the next observation, I at least know that I’m doing something right.

Friday, September 11, 2015

You Can't Write a Poem About...

Windshield wipers. You can’t write a poem about windshield wipers. But I did. Or, at least I tried to. And I encouraged my students to do something similar…

Every day, I start my class in a circle. This circle is part of our community building, and in the circle, I share a poem. Tuesday’s poem was called “Song to Onions” by Roy Blount, Jr. After the poem each day, I ask a question and we pass around a talking piece so everyone can add to the conversation. My question for Tuesday was: “What is something that you can’t imagine a poem being written about?”

My students came up with some pretty interesting answers. I heard everything from brownies to Red Bull to shoes, and everything in between. I used this opportunity to lead into our lesson of the day: looking at a poem through the eyes of a writer.

After our opening, I shared a poem titled “You Can’t Write a Poem About McDonald’s” by Ronald Wallace. Individually and as a class, we examined Wallace’s craft as a writer to see what he does in the piece.

We created a class list of the aspects included, and I encouraged my students to write their own poem titled “You Can’t Write a Poem About…” whatever the item was that they named at the beginning of class, or another item they came up with. I challenged them to fill their poem with personification, as Wallace does in his, just to see how that feels as a writer.

Some of my students opted to work on other assignments during workshop time, but the ones who accepted my challenge to write a poem borrowing Wallace’s style had quite a bit of fun. As I conferenced with my students, I was really impressed with the creative route they took with the assignment.

Some found it challenging, others found it to be silly and enjoyable.

I’m hoping that as the semester progresses, more of my students will feel adventurous enough to try this style, just to see how interesting it can be.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

Earlier this week, my university supervisor came into my classroom to observe me -- I was terrified.

He came to my first class on Monday morning, and I was so worried that my lesson would flop because most of my students forgot to do their homework that I was fairly scatterbrained when he walked into my room three minutes before the start of class.

But the lesson was great, and despite not having done their homework, my students caught on to the lesson after I provided a short review.

My supervisor was impressed, and in all, I was happy with how it went.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are definitely things I would change now that I’m reflecting on the experience, but for having my first observation only about a week and a half into school, I think it went well.

The lesson I created was about heart maps and hand maps, which are tools that my Creative Writing students can use to help brainstorm topics for their writing.

In essence, a heart map is, so to speak, a map of your heart. You start at the center and work your way out with what means the most to you. However, not everything in the heart has to be a positive experience.

A hand map is a map of anything that you like to do. When I asked my students to make these, I asked them to think about everything they’ve done recently. An example I gave them was putting out fires – which I meant both literally and figuratively.

I gave my students 15-20 minutes to work on both maps, and then I had them stop and collaborate with their tablemates. Not only did they have my maps on the board to reference, but they were also able to listen to what their peers had to say.

This exchange of ideas not only helps build the community in our workshop, but it also helps students recognize different ideas that they could put on their own maps. It all goes hand in hand (pun intended).

Later in the week, I had the chance to do a marathon writing activity with one of my Creative Writing classes. For the activity, I typed a list of firsts, printed it, and then cut out each sentence on a strip of paper. I put the paper strips in a brown paper bag and went around so each student could pick a topic to write about.

Some of the items on the list were “First time getting in trouble with your parents.,” “First time trying coffee.,” “First time driving by yourself.,” and “First paying job.” were among some of the first time experiences.

I had my students pick a new topic three or four times throughout the course of class so they could get more ideas for their first assignment.

Before my students left for the day, I checked in to see how they felt the exercise went, and with the exception of a few students, they all asked me if we could do a similar activity with different prompts later in the semester. I’d say that means the lesson was a success…

Friday, August 28, 2015

Timing is Everything

It’s cliché, I am well aware. But I can’t express to you enough how true this statement has become for me.

Timing is, in fact, everything.

Throughout this semester, I will be completing my student teaching. I began my experience last week, and so far, all I have to say is wow.

For now, my only complaint is waking up at 4:45AM every day, which is well worth it the moment I step into school.

My cooperating teacher is incredibly supportive, and despite only being about a week and a half into my experience, I already feel more relaxed and more prepared for my future career. As I have started to teach more, she has been giving me resources to reference for ideas, as well as for general practices that I can use. I am so lucky to be working with such a dedicated teacher.

Photo I took of Big Ben in January 2014,
since timing really is everything.
Moreover, the students I am working with are among the best students I have encountered. When they come into class, they’re always eager to begin and they’re willing to put themselves out there. This was not the case in my field experiences last year, so seeing this stark contrast firsthand has been a learning experience.

Overall, I’m finding it difficult to put into words how amazing my experience has been thus far.

Now, I must confess, my experience hasn’t been sunshine and butterflies the whole way. I’ll admit there have been some minor bumps in the road, but so far, nothing earth shattering (and I’m hoping to keep it that way).

This is where timing comes in. I’ve taught a few different lessons over the course of this week, and I did not plan enough activity for one of my lessons. I am teaching two freshmen English classes, and we did an activity to foster a team-oriented environment earlier this week.

The activity itself was phenomenal. My students were really into it, and they were able to conclude the activity with the outcome I was hoping for: how to have a successful classroom environment in which everyone feels included and respected. The lesson worked and I couldn’t have been happier.

What didn’t work, however, was timing. The discussion we had as a class after the activity was one of the best discussions I’ve had in a classroom, but I had to drag the conversation out a little longer than I would have liked, as I feel like after a certain point, my students started to become a little antsy.

In hindsight, I should have included another activity so that downtime at the end of my lesson wouldn’t have been such a big deal.

Looking back, I could have included another short team building exercise so students would get to know students other than those at their table. I could have showed a short portion of Tom Wujec’s 2010 TED Talk titled “Build a Tower, Build a Team.” Or, I could have made the challenge a little more difficult so students had to work through a more difficult problem.  

While my lesson ended up working well, and timing ended up being just a small portion of it, I definitely felt better prepared for my lessons later in the week, which had no timing issues at all.

In fact, my lessons later in the week, which were about writing territories, went really well. Granted, I taught the same lesson four times, so by the fourth time, I had it down to a science, but each time I taught it, I realized more of what my students need from me, which leaves me feeling more prepared going into my lessons next week.