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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 clich├ęs.

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...