Sunday, December 2, 2012

Classroom and Content Management Learned at a Conference

I recently returned from the National Writing Project annual meeting, Literacy in the Common Core working meeting, and a day of sessions at the National Council of Teachers of English annual convention--all in one weekend in the desert town of Las Vegas.  It will take some time to process all the information that was generated or gathered at those three events, but I did make a few observations about content delivery that I can apply to my classroom immediately.

First and most pleasantly, the best presenters used humor.  With a witty comment or a comical picture, we could laugh in spite of the talk that centered around assessment and standards implementation.  Sometimes the presenter used himself or herself as the target of the joke.  Perhaps we should be able to laugh at ourselves and help students see events from a different, lighter perspective.

These presenters also acknowledged that the space and environment was not conducive to working in groups but that we were going to do it anyway.  Fortunately, my desks are easier to move than the convention center seats.  I currently have six rows of four desks in my classroom.  Two rows face one direction and the other four are perpendicular to those two.  There are also two tables.  The desks are large and difficult to arrange in very many configurations.  As much as it may surprise my coworkers, I prefer these row arrangements simply because it is easy to arrange into different group variations.  We can quickly do an elbow partner share or turn four desks together for a small group discussion.  It is also nice to begin the class with independent work, notes, or writing, which seems to work best in rows (in my classroom, anyway).

Most helpful was the fact that before each think-pair-share or small group activity, presenters gave clear directions and time limits for the tasks at hand.  Each task was small and manageable in a short time frame.  There is a fine art to giving directions for small group work.  Does the teacher provide instructions, then groups convene, then repeat instructions? Remarkably, there is little need for repetition if the directions are short and simple.  And when the group is finished with the task, it is actually possible to pinpoint the transition moment by the short lull that occurs in the conversation.  If the teacher can bring the class together at that precise moment, there may not be the need for raising voices or clapping.  But sometimes signals are still necessary (clapping worked nicely for one presenter).

Finally, I learned that it is sometimes okay to stand and deliver.  If the content is narrative in style with accompanying pictures that enhance the story, then don't be afraid to be that sage on a stage if it is appropriate for the situation.  I listened to a teacher of the year tell her story and inspire me with her message.  She made us laugh with the pictures she chose for her visual accompaniments.  I had no desire to think-pair-share or work in small groups to discuss anything.  I listened; I smiled; I enjoyed.  It was also possible to listen, smile, and enjoy because she spoke for only twenty minutes.  So I am writing a note to myself:  Don't be a sage for too long or the audience will stop smiling.

As I begin to process the information I was purposely seeking at these big events--research on teacher efficacy, the benefits and disadvantages of teacher autonomy, effective professional development, student achievement in writing--I will begin applying this knowledge to my research and to my classroom.  What I have learned in observing presenters at this and other conferences, though, is more classroom management and content delivery than I had to go on the first few years or so of my teaching career.  So here is another piece of advice:  Find opportunities to attend professional conferences--local, state, or even national conventions.  Sites affiliated with the National Writing Project provide several of these opportunities every year at mini-conferences with additional institutes offered during the summer.  At the very least you will see other teachers in action.  Bonus if you learn new content!  You will be glad you did.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Writing to Learn in a Science Classroom

It was definitely Halloween with jack-o-lanterns and costumes in the classrooms of our middle school.  With mad scientists on the loose, the pumpkins weren't safe.  This, I thought, would be a great day for me to sneak a peak in a science classroom--the day of the pumpkin explosions.

I spoke with one of the science teachers about having the students do a writing activity to go along with the annual pumpkin experiment. Students would be witnessing a chemical reaction that, when ignited, would cause an explosion.  This could be prime writing material.  He graciously agreed to allow me the lead during the first class period of the day.

I started with a little questioning about the day's activities, then asked the students to write a prediction of what would happen when we went outside.  They "hypothesized" that pumpkin guts would spray out or that the outer shell would collapse.  Some offered sound effects that called upon their background knowledge of the word "explosion."  I loved hearing their renditions of what a pumpkin would sound like the moment it was blown up.

Once students shared these predictions, I asked them to make a T-chart. They were to use the left side of the chart to record observations on three pumpkins while they were outside.  Because there were going to be at least ten pumpkins ignited, I thought it would be best to narrow the number of observations to something manageable.  We discussed observations as being what someone sees, hears, smells, and possibly touches and tastes, though that wasn't recommended for this particular experiment.  The right side of the chart would be addressed when we returned to the classroom.

We collected the pumpkins, filed outside, and sat on the very cold concrete entrance into the school. The edge of the parking lot became a science lab.  Students listened as one of the science teachers explained that what they would see was the result of a chemical reaction, but they couldn't share the names of the ingredients because they were fairly common household items.  Then, the first pumpkin was prepared and...barely anything happened.  Ah, but the chemicals weren't balanced correctly, the teacher explained.  The next pumpkin gave the students what they were hoping for--a dramatic POP!  I watched students write their observations and encouraged those who were not writing to remember their observations and try to write them down. Some students in the front row captured the event on video.

It was bitterly cold in the shade of the portico with the wind blowing, so after about eight pumpkins the students were ready to move inside.  After twelve pumpkins, they were eager to get feeling back into their fingers.  When we re-entered the classroom, I asked students to make general observations about the activity and the conditions of the day.  A scientist's work could be affected by the temperature of the lab and a number of other conditions.  "I am so cold" was a common complaint, but there was one student who said, "Even when I'm eighty years old I will come back and watch the pumpkin explosions! This is the best science day ever!"  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out he loved the sights, smells, sounds--the experience--of science.

Finally, I showed the students why I wanted them to draw a T-chart.  They were to find a partner who made observations on the same pumpkin and compare findings.  Most students did a nice job of labeling which pumpkins they were observing and wrote more than one or two details.  There were a few, however, who had simply written "explosion" and seemed to find the others who had written just as little.  All the papers I saw, though, had at least one side of writing by the time the day was complete, even if the pumpkin observations themselves were limited.  When we returned to our seats, one young gentleman commented that they could use this as a piece in their school writing folder.  In fact, this led to a discussion of what kind of writing it was--writing to learn or writing to demonstrate learning.  Most agreed that it fit the category of writing to learn, though this writing was also allowing them to show some knowledge of science concepts.

Most students gladly gave me their papers with the expectation that I would scan them into their school network files.  Even though I guided the students through the day's writing tasks (as we do with many types of writing to learn assignments such as notes and brainstorming), these tasks and others could be stepping stones for formulating questions and developing creative inquiries in future science units.

That leaves us with the question that if students recognize writing as proof of learning, as a means to learn, and as a foundation for asking questions, why can't we as teachers be more purposeful about including writing as part of our daily curriculum?  I say make it small.  Not everything has to be a mountain to climb.  So often I ask my students a question and familiar hands will shoot up.  Sometimes they blurt out answers before I can call on them.  But when I ask the students to jot down a few ideas and give both the students and the ideas processing time before I call for "hands up" I will see different hands waiting to respond.  Those students, the ones with pencils in their hands, have learned how to think.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Engaged in Evidence Gathering

My students love post-it notes.  I buy or find ways to procure the square 2"x2" ones.  A smaller size would probably work better for most classroom activities but cutting the notes in half works just as well (making sure, of course, that each half has some stickiness).  I've had to beg, borrow, and steal sticky notes after the last activity my students did, which shows, perhaps, how adding a little novelty can keep students engaged in something as simple as gathering evidence.

After reading Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman and an article on community gardens, my students prepared themselves to navigate "Antaeus" by Borden Deal.  We briefly discussed the mythological connections to the title of the story.  If Antaeus, the giant, maintained his strength by touching the earth, why then is his name used in the title of this story?  What allusions can be found about earth creating power in the individuals or in the gang?  We also discussed vocabulary.  What if the definition were not conveniently located at the bottom of the page?  Whatever could we do to decipher the meaning of the word, the sentence, or the passage?  Therefore, context clues became our second focus for the activity.  Interestingly enough, many vocabulary words the students documented could also be used for as allusions to earth and power.

With two levels of focus in mind, students equipped themselves with the textbook, a stack of sticky notes, and their small groups of three.  Their goal was to tag the textbook with the sticky note when they found a piece of evidence that could answer either the allusion or vocabulary question.  They needed to make notes on the post-it about their thinking and what prompted them to tag that passage, sentence, or word.

What proceeded for the remainder of the class period were engaged discussions about the text.  Students who do not normally speak, much less read aloud, were voicing opinions or writing on sticky notes.  Members within each group took turns reading aloud, creating the potential for a roomful of groups to sound cacophonous.  Instead, the reading, digging for evidence, asking questions, and documenting thinking generated an electric hum that felt rather energizing.  My advice would be to not shy away from small groups reading aloud, even in a small classroom.  When given a specific focus and a stack of sticky notes, even the students who are normally the least engaged will rise to the challenges set before them.  One caveat: I did assign students rather randomly in some classes but very purposefully in others.  I asked a few students to do this activity alone and receive assistance from me rather than from their peers--not a decision I take lightly because I believe Vygotsky had something when he wrote about the social component of learning.  But I also believe that students should have a positive group learning experience, which sometimes does not happen if not everyone in a group has the same goals.  A few students asked to read and work independently, and I reluctantly allowed that option.

There may be a few disadvantages to having only a class set of literature textbooks, but I haven't really discovered many.  First of all, we don't use them as readers in the classroom.  My department selects various stories, some from an older, beloved literature book, a few from our newer one, and many complementary materials from our own searches.  Secondly, this activity would not have been nearly as effective if the students each had his or her own book.  You see, the final step of the evidence-gathering process was to remove the sticky notes from their books and place them on a piece of notebook paper.  Before removing the note, the group members needed to check their notes for completeness (page numbers, quotations, etc.).  As class ended, I collected the sticky note-laden papers.

The next day, when I returned the papers to the groups, I asked them to look at what they collected.  We began to discuss allusion by only referring to the evidence on the sticky notes.  It was difficult.  Regardless how much the students remembered about the story, most of them had very little actual evidence.  Writing a vocabulary word, the word "allusion," and page 472 did little to help them articulate why it was a piece of evidence.  When they set out to "clean up" their digging, students pulled quotations from the text and linked them to the power of the earth.  They identified the context clues around the vocabulary words.  They documented the page numbers.  They wiped me out of post-it notes--even when the notebook paper would have worked just fine for day two.  I am eager to try this activity again, but they may not let me get away with not using sticky I will be borrowing that Office Depot catalog soon.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Specific Feedback

As I look at the date, I am astonished that so much time has passed since reflecting on my classroom in writing.  Perhaps there could be the question of whether I do reflect on my classroom practices, and the answer would be a resounding "Yes."  Unfortunately, it is the writing (not the reflection) that has been under the knife and nearly cut from the slim budget of time that the school year has provided me.  In the time since school started this year, there have been a number of ideas and projects that deserve attention in this space--NWP/Gates foundation/LDC professional development work, literacy theory in my graduate class, new course designs, and new course assignments. There is one concept, though, that I want to focus on today: specific feedback.

My students are finalizing their literacy story drafts.  This assignment has been challenging in oh so many ways.  Instead of narratives about their favorite waterpark or the death of a beloved pet or even memoirs about their aunts and uncles serving overseas, they are writing about their journey with literacy.  Essentially, if they did write about a favorite book or hobby, they needed to include how that book or hobby has shaped their reading and writing.  Sigh.  Perhaps a simple letter telling me what they like and dislike about reading and writing would have been easier...much easier.  But we are trekking up this mountain, and we will plant a flag somewhere at the top.

As with other writing assignments I have mentioned, I included mini-lessons on transitions and on creating leads.  Writing leads can be interesting because, as I tell my students, often the best introductory paragraph is the one you just wrote as the conclusion; so we have most of the draft completed before I venture into a mini lesson on leads.  I found a variety of books on my bookshelf to help me show the students what different leads might look like:
Dialogue--Charlotte's Web
Flashback--The Young Man and the Sea
Action--Any Matt Christopher sports book
Snapshot--Leviathon; Dust City
After reading a paragraph or two of the book, I asked my students to focus on their literacy story idea and try writing their own leads.  A timer seems to add urgency to the task.  Many students were surprised when, after the four or five attempts, they had filled a page or two or three in their composition notebooks.  It was really amazing when one student found that he had a pretty incredible introductory paragraph after he combined two of his leads together.

It wasn't difficult up to this point to give casual, verbal feedback when students were asking questions about their topics, transitions, or leads.  When it was time for some initial written feedback, however, I knew that time would be a crippling factor.  The media center specialist had arranged for my classes to listen to book talks on the books nominated for the Bluegrass book awards, releasing me from my teaching duties; so that was going to be my time frame for responding to their stories.  After attendance, gathering notebooks, settling in a corner of the library, and preparing post its, only about 50 minutes (or less) would remain in the class period to respond to between 21-28 notebooks depending on the class period.  When I explained this to my students the day before we went to the library, they understood the issue of time and how difficult reading a whole rough draft would be.  Many students also had sentence practices and notes interspersed with their drafts and had already made a number of revisions.  It might be difficult to just find all the pieces much less read and respond.

We then talked about the type of feedback they were looking for.  A question such as "Is this good?" would be extremely difficult to answer for a number of reasons: again, the draft is in a very messy stage and may not be easily found or understood; and time constraints would limit the opportunity to discuss the variances of "good."  On the other hand, if a student asked me, "Does my lead draw you into my story?" or "Do I have enough details about my literacy in this paragraph?" I could probably respond fairly quickly.  Students drew a box around a troubling piece of their writing, a section with which they wanted or needed the most help.  Then, on the post it note I gave them, they wrote a specific question they wanted me to answer.  With the post it acting as a tab, I could quickly flip to the correct page.  Before moving on to another notebook, I moved the post it so that my feedback could fit alongside it for a snapshot, which I then uploaded to Evernote into the student's note that I had created at the beginning of the year.  With the new writing program reviews and the fact that my sticky notes are not very sticky, I felt that documentation would be helpful for all of us.

I did not have time to respond to every notebook in that short time period, but I came very close--even with adding the picture-taking time.  The remainder were completed during planning time, and I was able to quickly assess who had not turned in a notebook or had not written a question on a post it.  The students also learned the skill of being specific when asking for feedback.  And post it notes are fun.  In fact, next time I'll discuss another activity in which I used sticky notes for gathering evidence.  Unfortunately, these activities have depleted my supply of sticky notes.  I'm not sure there is one left to use as a reminder note to buy more.  That's just another day in the life at the SPMS Literacy Workshop.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Literacy Learning--What a Difference One Summer Can Make

As I prepare to start a new school year this week I am in a good position to reflect on what the summer has taught me about best practices in the classroom.  Being a student for the last year, including two summers, has made me appreciate the varied ways in which my professors have delivered instruction or guided my learning.  This summer has presented me with several educational opportunities including being a facilitator, a researcher, a creator, and a student.  In my program and since this journey began, I have seen each experience overlap and intertwine with another, making theory and practice come together in profound, mind-boggling ways.  While the purpose of this writing is primarily to reflect on my formal coursework, other events and adventures have also added to my learning and have a worthwhile place in my end-of-summer and course reflection.

In mid-June, facilitators led a 40-hour institute for teams of content teachers from different schools.  We represented math, social studies, science, and language arts (me).  We taught (and learned) a number of strategies through demonstrations (showing), workshops (doing), discussion (recapping), and writing (reflection).  We shared strategies such as reciprocal teaching, accountable talk, peer response, publishing using Realebooks, inquiry research, tapping background knowledge, and problem-solving strategies.  As important, though, was the discussion about "what kinds of kids" these strategies work for.  Nothing will heat up a conversation quicker than saying, "My kids can't do this."  With time, patience, and encouragement, these strategies and learning activities work with all students.  For example, the science facilitator presented her work with middle school students who are being published in a high school science journalism magazine.  Most of the student work she presented came from students in her "comp" classes, not her "AP."  They chose science topics that interested them, researched information they needed, wrote independently or with a partner, sent articles to the university who sponsors the publication, made changes based on the feedback from a university professor, and then were published in a national high school level magazine.  This is authentic; this is value-added learning; and "those kids" performed better than most other students at the same grade level in that middle school.  It seemed that the theme of the summer was to identify who "those kids" were, but more importantly what we could do for them.

During those two weeks, I gathered a great deal of information.  But as a researcher, I felt like I should have had a clearer sense of what the big question was.  However, that was not the case.  In many ways, the events and experiences of the remaining parts of the summer have helped shape some of those questions and, hopefully, in the near future, I will be able to make sense of all the data collected including teacher responses, reflections, pictures of brainstorming sessions, agenda revisions, and videos of closing remarks. An interesting point is how the perception of content area literacy changed in a positive way through the course of those two weeks.  Participants discovered fascinating ways that reading and writing could really be  assets to each content area.  This leads to something that interests me, which is the idea that students could possibly maintain their motivation for reading and writing if given the right literacy experiences in their middle school formative years.  Research says that these middle years are when declines in motivation occur.  I see that sometimes in my classroom.  But I wonder if having these content-area teachers who are equipped with research-based literacy strategies will make a difference with these students.  It's a hunch that the answer is yes.  Learning how to create great literacy experiences for my students essentially became the foundation for the rest of my summer experiences.

Shortly after this two-week institute, I embarked on another LWP-related adventure.  The Literacy Design Collaborative module writers from New York, Colorado, Kentucky, California, Idaho, Michigan, and New Mexico met outside of Denver to share our module creations, discuss the needs of the local Writing Projects, and plan for the next year's professional development that would arise from this experience with the Common Core and module writing.  Even these NWP meetings showed best classroom practices by allowing time for processing, discussion, sharing, reflection, and even playing.  Along with meetings, there were a few break-out sessions on the big topics in the Common Core.  I chose to attend one about English Language Learners because I have no experience with teaching these students, but I work with teachers who do.  I had also recently explored articles about ELL in the graduate class I was taking during this same time (more on that in a bit). Some teachers have over forty languages being spoken in their schools and must teach the Common Core standards while these students are also learning English. These statistics opened my eyes to the cultural diversity we have in our metro schools. Not only are there different languages, there are different beliefs and values.  Looking at my own rural school, I think that we have our own challenges when honoring diversity. Because we do not have wide representations of different cultures, our students are often sheltered and unaware of what is outside their own cultural experiences.  But we have diversity in other ways: socioeconomic, sexual orientation, and career choices to name a few.

To add another layer to my summer educational experiences, during July, the same month as the long-weekend trip to Denver, I was also enrolled in the Literacy Learning and Cultural Differences graduate class.  We focused first inward to our own literacy learning and experiences--we gathered important items and discussed them, we introduced ourselves to the class with the help of a symbolic book or story, we wrote our own literacy stories--and then looked each week at different aspects of culture and the effects they had on literacy learning.  One major charge we were given was to get to know a family or place that was different from us and learn what we could about the literacy within that other realm.  I met and talked with a large Jewish family with eight children who taught me a great deal about my own students.  In the classroom, they just want to be heard, to be able to talk, to work on projects together, to be creative.  So although I thought I would learn how different these children were because of their city upbringing versus my rural, or their faith, or their family size, they want and need the same things that all of my students need.  My students need to find where they fit in this world.  Learning about cultural differences and literacy is not enough if we don't learn about our individual children and learn how we can help them create a space for themselves within our communities.

In the class, we did not just learn about ELL or different faiths in the classroom.  There is a digital culture that we should embrace and learn.  There is a difference in how boys learn and in what girls are interested in.  Gang members do not always fit the stereotypes, nor do immigrants.  And how do teachers accommodate for all these differences in the classroom?  We let the students guide us there.  In order for students to achieve at the levels being asked of them in our present and our near future, we need to show them how to solve problems for themselves.  Part of literacy learning is showing students that literacy is everywhere.  We as teachers need to understand its interconnection in order to not shortchange our students' learning.  Visual media, blogs, grocery receipts, billboards, commercials, books, newspapers, zines are only a few tools we should be using in the classroom.  During this summer class, we visited virtual museums.  The physical building of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. must be a small portion of what I explored online.  That is only a guess because I haven't been there in person, but I could have lost hours visiting the museum virtually.  Everything, it seems, now has a digital presence.  I recently read a blog written by a principal who said that the teachers he interviews should have a digital presence and show (not tell) him how they would use technology in the classroom.  How many of our students already have online profiles?  Perhaps that's a question we need to ask.  Our classrooms need to enter this digital space.

We can't be afraid of all these cultures crashing into our structured classrooms and destroying the plans that we spent so much time creating.  Our classrooms need to invite these varied cultures in and be transformed by the knowledge that is unique to each of them.  We need to read professional literature and learn from literacy leaders like Anderson, Smith, Wilhelm, Gee, Beers, Fletcher, and all the researchers who show us best classroom practices. We need to find out what our students know about literacy and help them see it in ways they never thought before.  Maybe there are ways literacy exists that we never thought before, either.  And that's okay.  We're learning.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Exploring New Paths and the Importance of Seeking Them

I want to start by saying that this blog addresses practices within my middle school classroom and what informs those practices.  Today I want to focus on that second part because what informs and shapes those practices has become my second (or third) life and has changed how I enter my middle school classroom each day.

My mom said I was reading cereal boxes in kindergarten.  I remember that.  I even had my own alarm clock that my grandmother gave me for Christmas and felt really grown up to fix my own cereal each morning.  It occurred to me recently that the reason I was so self-sufficient is that my younger brother was born that February of my kindergarten year and Mom needed me to be, but that is for another day.  What I don't remember is learning how to read, just the constant desire to always be occupied in some way with words.  My young elementary years were filled with Nancy Drew.  Later came Judy Blume (I still remember the cover of Tiger Eyes) and S.E. Hinton.  My grandmother introduced me to the mysteries of Victoria Holt, and I worked my way down that library shelf one summer.  I am definitely not as well-read as my colleagues since there have been many years in which I didn't bother to read quite so much.  But I will always remember questioning my stepson one spring about the book he kept rereading.  It was some book about magic called Harry Potter.

When I read the first book, I knew I needed the next and the next.  It had been a very long time since I had enjoyed travelling to another world, an adolescent world, and a magical one at that.  On a hand-me-down couch (from my grandmother, again) in the quiet living room of our near-suburban house, I recaptured my childhood.  I rekindled a book-loving passion and made a new connection with my stepson that we still have now--a desire for books and the need to discuss them.  After reading the first four and sharing them with my husband, we impatiently waited for the arrival of number five.  We celebrated that release date as a family by going to the local bookstore and participating in activities such as face painting, wand making, and scavenger hunt(ing?).  When they finally called our number for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, we joyously retrieved our copy (actually I think we bought two so there was less wait time for our three readers).  This midnight adventure made an impact on us as a family.  We were surrounded by passionate readers that night...a passion that we shared as well.  Our younger children have since grown up to embrace that same excitement for books, and who's to say it didn't start that night?

My husband warned me when I started teaching middle school that the students there were not all going to be like me.  I love the smell of crayons and new notebooks.  I struggle with selecting the right pens and how to organize my materials.  My students won't like school like I did and still do, he told me.  He was right, mostly.  And I wondered for a long time how I was going to teach students who didn't want to be there, who were just there because it was the law.  In those first years I just did the best I could and encouraged students in my "teacher" way--"do your best" "try this book" "do the assignment"--without much success at motivating them.  They learned the content; they did well; but they still didn't care like I wished they would.

It was when I was given the opportunity to design a new literacy class that I was able to shake things up and try new approaches.  That summer I read Carol Booth Olson's The Reading/Writing Connection.  It helped me prepare for this new semester class, but at the same time it showed me how much I needed to learn.  That feeling grew stronger as my students and I worked through those two semesters writing and reading and thinking.  We learned a lot...together.  My students learned that they didn't mind reading and writing so much, perhaps even liked it.  I learned that I was being called in a new direction.  I wanted to have this experience again.  I wanted to learn how to design literacy programs on a larger scale.

For a year now I have been a doctoral student at the University of Louisville in the College of Education and Human Development.  The end goal is a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on literacy education.  My first experience as a doctoral student was the Louisville Writing Project, no doubt the most life-changing professional experience of my teaching career.  I've written about LWP before.  Let me assure you that you don't have to be a doctoral student (or even enrolled as a college student) to be a part of the Project.  Teachers and literacy coaches and other education professionals attend the Summer Institute to learn best classroom practices and to have the opportunity to write their own pieces. It helped me to see several pieces of my writing go through the writing process, including several revisions.  Yet, the bigger growth for me was in preparing professional presentations, including three LWP mini-conferences and the KCTE/LA state conference.

The more classes I attend, the more I see others present, and the more I present my own presentations, the clearer the goal becomes.  Kids need to hold onto that excitement of first making sense of words and of language, and we need to help them.  Students need to understand how to make sense of different content areas and those specific literacy needs.  Families need to love books together, or at least appreciate them as a means of maintaining communication with one another.  Schools need to, well, schools need to encourage reading and writing in every content area, but not just by using passages out of the textbooks.  Silent doesn't mean learning is not happening during silent sustained reading.  I guarantee that if kids are given the opportunity to read and then the opportunity to talk about books, then learning is happening; there are about twelve Common Core standards in reading, writing, and speaking and listening that can be addressed when that kind of reading and discussion happens.

As I begin year two of my doctoral program, I am beginning to get a sense of my long-term research goals.  I want to see how school-wide content area literacy practices affect students' motivation to read.  My gut is telling me that motivation, even for a middle school student, will improve with the development of a deeper thinking questioning model and more intentional reading and writing practices in every classroom.  It may be difficult to prove, however, because it takes investment and buy-in.  So for now I resume my college studies, learn from the best, and try to become the best I can be for my students.  As I do that, I encourage you to explore the National Writing Project site and get involved in any programs your local Writing Projects are sponsoring.  You will not be disappointed.  In fact, you may be finding yourself exploring your own new path.  Good luck.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Power of Sharing

Even when school dismissed May 16 for the summer, I had the best intentions to continue blogging.  Somehow the right topic kept eluding me, though, since I was not in the trenches of the classroom.  There is plenty that I am busy doing, creating, and thinking about, but the essential function of this blog is to share classroom experiences.  With that said, I want to share some experiences I have had as an adult learner that I definitely want to take into the classroom when summer break is over.  Yes, "share" is in the title, so you'll see that is the theme of today's musings.

I just returned yesterday from an overnight Louisville Writing Project work retreat.  Even though I was only able to attend one day, those 24 hours showed me what we are trying to prepare our students to do in the real world.  Whoever could attend those three days had a piece of the action and captured it on large chart paper, in notebooks, and within digital media.  The work of the Louisville Writing Project (and with it the Kentucky Writing Project and the National Writing Project) has a statewide and national presence.  These organizations work closely with the Gates Foundation to develop modules for the new Common Core standards.  They design large and small conferences and workshops to support teachers (and students) in technology, new standards, ELL, End of Course assessments, and writing.  The summer institutes for the Louisville Writing Project (16 days of 7 hours each) and the new Content Literacy (through a separate grant, 10 days of 4 hours each) have to be planned, along with the followup sessions throughout the school year.  Yes, many sheets of chart paper were used.

As I think about all the activity in the room and the conversations at meals and the laughter we shared, I know that working together made every product meaningful and purposeful.  Because I was added to the state team to meet with other module writers for the Gates Foundation, I definitely had an agenda for my stay:  feedback for my module.  But therein lies the problem...I did not know what kinds of questions to ask or what kind of feedback I needed.  When the other LWPs asked what I was looking for, I felt like one of my students who says, "I don't know. Is it good?"  How many times have I prodded my students to be specific and then I could not articulate my own questions!  So here is what they prompted me to do--share.

After sharing the main components of the module (an inquiry-based project), we had general discussions about rigor and the more important "R"s of relationships and relevance.  Our rather tangential conversation brought itself around to the task at hand.  They asked questions.  LOTS of questions.  In my notes I substituted "I" for the "you" so I could better reflect on the answers.
Why did I choose this inquiry method?
What did I personally gain?
Did I evolve?
What challenges did I have to address?
What did I want the students to gain?
What does it mean to be a stakeholder? 
What skills are being taught? (think about Marzano, Blooms, etc. and use the words synthesize, analyze...)
How could I use an anticipation guide to check on what skills the students already know?
Do the students know how to take notes? And does a module ever show us teaching this skill?

Some of their questions helped me validate that my work was headed in the right direction.  We talked about relevance; my mini tasks showed students that relevance.  Some of their questions were guides for creating a narrative for other teachers to follow but not necessarily for changes in the design of the module.  Even more important is that these questions should be the cornerstone of every unit reflection and not just this particular module. 

We seek an audience.  We want to know if we are targeting the right audience and if our ideas will be accepted.  When I led a demonstration for a small group of teachers in which they created short narratives, they were disappointed that they did not have time to share their writings.  It had been an oversight on my part because I had intended for that sharing to happen, but for whatever reason it didn't.  When one of the teachers gave that feedback shortly after the demonstration, I realized how important that component is.  We decided to share pieces of stories while we ate lunch that day, and it was a perfect addition to the meal. This same demonstration has been revised to include actual slides that say, "Group Sharing" so this same oversight does not happen when it is presented again (at another teacher meeting on Monday, in fact).

My students want an audience, too.  They love to talk.  And, yes, sometimes that talk is far removed from any goal I want to accomplish that particular day.  I have to remember, though, that I have been in those same conversations.  When the other LWPs and I spoke about relationships, relevance, and rigor in our work session, it was a discussion about cookie-cutter lessons, taking risks, what students know or don't know, principals, and policy...which had very little to do with feedback for my module.  But we cleared our heads of the cobwebs, made new connections, better acquainted ourselves with each other, and then dug into the work.  When students engage in talk, sometimes they aren't ready to ask the question, "Is it any good?" or more specifically, "What can I change about my second paragraph of my argument to make it more effective?"  They simply want to ask, "Can I share?"  

As I sit here musing and sipping my coffee from my favorite stoneware mug (engraved with LWP XXX), I must say that I am glad that there are new Speaking and Listening standards in the Common Core.  I  want my students to know how to speak, to know how to collaborate, to know how to SHARE.  These standards do more than encourage talk in the classroom.  They necessitate it.  We need to remember that they need to talk as much as we adults do.  So as you plan your lessons for next year, enlist help from Marzano, Bloom, and Medina (or better yet, sit in a session with John Antonetti), but also remember those S&L standards.  Let students share.  It's pretty powerful.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Nearing the Beginning

I am tempted to say that we are nearing the end.  After all, it is almost the close of another school year, and everyone is counting down the days (that is not just a turn of phrase...someone really is sending daily emails with the countdown).  What happens, though, at this time of year is the big planning for the beginning of the new school year.  We take notes throughout the school year, we assess students' progress, we discuss best practices, and finally we decide on the next year's starting point.  The new Common Core Standards for Reading, Writing, Language, and Speaking and Listening pose new challenges for the language arts classrooms.  The standards are more rigorous and indeed ask us to up our game...but this is so students can up theirs.

Penny Kittle (Write Beside Them, 2008), Laura Robb (Teaching Middle School Writers, 2010), Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer, 2009), Ralph Fletcher (A Writer's Notebook, 1996), and Jeff Anderson (Mechanically Inclined, 2005) have inspired me to create a workshop out of a classroom.  Each of these writers discuss the importance of writing and reading...not just for the students, but for their teachers.  That means us!  Does that mean we should read or write when we aren't grading papers, or taking attendance, or checking students' notebooks?  Actually, we should be modeling writing before we circulate and work with students.  At least that's the lesson I am hearing these authors preach.  And that's the lesson that the Louisville Writing Project taught me as well.

When I first experienced intense writing during the LWP last summer (partner of the National Writing Project), I was confused, frustrated, intimidated, and very unsure of what to do.  Then day two came, and day three, and, well, by day four I began to see how a familiar routine (music, reading selections, invitations to write) helped generate ideas.  My pen glided across the page with fresh energy.  I "got" it.  Of course, times of frustration still annoyed me during revision stages, but I watched my writing grow through these revisions.  Four finished pieces of writing emerged as a result of drafting, reading, reflecting, rewriting, peer conferences, revision, and more peer conferences:  two Erma Bombeck style essays, a Civil Rights monologue, and a Civil Rights poem.  Probably more importantly, I have the history behind each piece to show me the work that resulted in that final publication.

Fast forward to the end of summer and the beginning of this last school year.  This "teacher as writer" philosophy would take me on a journey through several entries but nothing polished.  Each time I asked my students to write, though, they would...if I wrote with them.  I started many stories but had not ever arrived to the end of one until now.  Without the daily energy of my peers, the words of encouragement and support, I am focusing on the lessons I've learned in the classroom.  That summer reminded me how to be a student again.  With that in mind, I want to plan for next year because there are a few things I don't want to forget.

First of all, students need to write consistently.  Writing should be routine and, well, Pavlovian.  Dinner bell = drool; music/quiet/beginning of class/end of class = write (or whatever routine a teacher wants to set).

Second, students also need to produce sufficient writing early enough in the year for me to make a determination about their skills.  That is definitely a "do over" wish I have for some of my classes.  If you have read earlier blog posts, you know that I have enjoyed assigning group research projects centered on the First Amendment.  What you would not know is that I regret it when I do not have an evaluative piece of individual and independent writing before we embark on this endeavor.  When I did assign an essay (most often about their names) near the beginning of the term I always had better products when it came to the more complicated I-search essays.  During this last rotation of classes I did not assign that beginning essay.  There are lessons I would have addressed earlier on if I had known then what I know now.

Third, students need to read.  We need to show students examples of great writing and help them read like writers.  What makes a book good?  Is it the character or how the author helps us visualize the character?  And maybe this should be fourth, but students need to have opportunities to talk about what they read.  Why should the teacher have all the hassle of selecting the best texts?  Students tell me about great books all the time.  Why can't they just tell each other?  In class?  In discussion groups?

We can complain about time.  There is never enough of it.  When has there ever been?  Yet I can waste plenty of time on Google Play looking for a new app to organize my books.  How is that any different in our classrooms?  We complain that we don't have time to read or write in class, yet waste our time on activities that don't push our students' writing in any direction.  I can't even pretend to know all the answers...I wish I did.  But then, that's why I look for the experts, my inspirations, to help me find them.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Multiple Readings with Multiple Purposes

Part 1
For the last two years, I have worked with my students on identifying the subtle differences between speeches and other types of writing.  ReadWriteThink ( introduced me to a lesson using Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" and Tecumseh's "Sell a Country? Why Not Sell the Air?"  I used these speeches with my first group or two of students but focused almost exclusively on Patrick Henry's speech.  

What is so neat about the way the lesson is structured is that students look at the speech multiple times and read for different purposes each time.  This model can (and has in my classroom) been used with a variety of texts.  We first listened to an audio recording of an actor (too bad there's no way to get a recording of Patrick Henry’s original) and noted words, phrases, people, and places that were unfamiliar.  We took the time to look them up.  Then we discussed rhetorical devices and how they fit into speech making.  The students identified and highlighted in different colors similes and metaphors, alliteration, repetition, and allusions.  They also kept a color-coded key with the definitions for these various devices in their folders.  His speech is especially full of allusions, which makes it a great piece of literature to use for this activity so that I can explain allusions using a variety of examples.    Finally, we listened to the speaker one more time and noted tone, volume, and mood.  We compared the tone and volume at different points in the speech, and particularly when Patrick Henry used different rhetorical devices.  All of this on each student’s single copy of the speech.

Each student marked his or her copy of the speech with these annotations as we worked through the speech multiple times.  The margins were full.  There were three and four different colors marking phrases and words.  Words were underlined.  I think some students actually submitted their copies of this speech as writing-to-learn entries for their writing folders because they had so much of their own writing on them.  And their post-reading entries stated what research said would happen:  they gained a profound insight into the meaning of the speech after listening and reading it multiple times.  I decided to change the speech that future classes read but did not change the activities because I believed in the power that multiple readings would have in my classroom.

Fast forward to other groups and this other speech:  Maya Angelou’s words at Coretta Scott King’s funeral.  Because it was much more current (2006), and because my students would be familiar with the Civil Rights Movement that she spoke of, I was excited to substitute this for Patrick Henry’s speech and work with the same lesson model.  And it doesn’t hurt to enjoy the speaker when the listening count rises over forty with preparation for class and the actual activities.  It has been a great experience to listen to these speeches with fresh ears each time with a new class.  That alone should tell me that something is right about rereading texts in the classroom. 

Read Part 2 for more on the story.

Classroom Chaos versus the Computer Lab Structure

Part 2
The lesson should have been a slam dunk.  I had taught almost the same lesson several times before because of teaching a rotating enrichment type of class.  This is my fifth group of students in two years, so it seemed that any kinks there might have been would be worked out by now.  Welcome to technology.  As cool as it is (and I am a huge proponent of using any and every digital tool that is available), there are times a simple highlighter can do so much more than the mouse on the computer.  In Part 1, I described the series of lessons that I’ve used multiple times in my classroom.  In this part, I would like to explain how sometimes the best classroom lessons may need to stay in the classroom and stay out of the computer lab.
We worked through multiple layers as we read and reread the speech:  unfamiliar terms, rhetorical devices (highlighting with different colors), noting mood, tone, and volume.  Students appeared to do all of these things.  I circulated and watched this happen.  When the last day arrived, I asked students to submit their annotated texts online.  I really couldn’t wait to see how well this worked in the digital classroom.  I shouldn’t have been so excited.  There were really very few submissions that were “models” of what I was expecting to see.  Some had comments, but some skipped whole segments of the activities (did not note volume or tone, for example).  Many identified the rhetorical devices in some way but perhaps only one or two instead of every instance of all devices. 
It did not take long to figure out what had happened.  During previous “non-digitized” classroom lessons, students pushed chairs together and worked in groups of at least three to four.  In the computer lab, working with the person in the next seat may be acceptable but too much movement invites chaos.  Though students had the computers at their fingertips and could readily search for definitions and examples, they seemed stifled by the screen in front of them.  They may have been more distracted in an environment that offered easy access to online radio.  After the disappointing annotations, I thought I would trade in that easy access for the chaos of my classroom any day.  In that chaos there is talk.  In that chaos, my students are learning from each other.  And in that chaos, there is Maya Angelou’s speech on paper that has writing all over the margins and different colored highlights. 
Don’t misunderstand.  I have enjoyed showing my students the digital tools I use for writing, that I use when I collaborate with other people who live nowhere close to me.  We do our students a disservice when we either try to shield them from the digital world or we don’t explore what is out there ourselves.  In this case, however, I missed a key step in the computer lab lesson.  I did not open up the lesson to true online sharing and show my students how we could bring our collaborative classroom environment into a different setting.  Google Docs, Wikispaces, and so much that I am fumbling to learn.  And now Google Drive is entering the scene.  So as I’m learning what I should have done in that computer lab lesson (that was good but could have been great), I’ll hope that I’ve at least ignited the spark for independent learning and inquiry.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Close Observations, Picture Books, and the Challenging Class

What happens when what works for all other classes just doesn't work for that one?  I change the seats, they yell across the room.  I teach differently in this one class than I do in all the others.  How does that odd combination of students make such a difference?  The trimester format doesn't help the situation because not being bonded with students from day one keeps those stronger relationships from forming.  I'm not even sure that is the reason we struggle together, but struggle we do.  I don't have the answer for that because I'm probably not asking the right questions.  But more on that in a moment.

This week I took Ralph Fletcher's advice (A Writer's Notebook) and helped my students make close observations. He wrote about an old vw bug, overturned and rusted in a nearby field that he had never noticed until his son's babysitter commented on it.  I want my students to observe closely. As Fletcher says, I want them to do three things: 1. Pay attention, 2. Write down what you notice before you forget, 3. Later, go back and reread your entry.  See if you might want to write more about it.  They even wrote these three steps in their writer's notebooks (or because it's nearing the end of the year, scraps of paper found in the bottom of their backpacks or paper grabbed from my stack).

With these three steps in our notes, and Fletcher's story fresh in our minds, I took my students on an observation walk, which was quite an experience in itself.  They noticed things they might not have noticed before.  I don't think I ever noticed the wind chimes  hanging between the front doors of the school.  Still yet, some classes see differently than others and definitely act differently.  In my most rambunctious class two students found a dead frog and found a teacher to pester, which certainly added unexpected excitement to our walk. As the day stretched on, I laid out different rules before the walk around the school building began. I always allowed students to keep out their digital devices though. Some students recorded, took notes, or snapped pictures of what they observed. On a side note, as one teacher watched us exit the building, he asked why my students had their phones out.  Why indeed?  Why not?  Is it not okay to capture experiences with cameras and digital notes?  Although I am concerned about possible YouTube videos documenting our mini adventure, I let the practice continue.  So far I haven't been called to the office, so we might be okay.

We captured pictures and notes, and yes, even the dead frog with our digital devices and notebooks. We returned to our observations in the following days while also making new ones.  I encouraged this same level of observation as we read Coretta Scott by Shange. The students did not dissappoint as they pointed out subtleties in the pictures that I hadn't previously noticed. Picture books that use powerful images and poetry are like rich that they beg for multiple readings and multiple viewpoints. In Shange's book, an image of the crescent moon appears at the beginning of the book, which contrasts with the harvest moon at the end. I wonder if this means newness and the harvest of hope and possibilities--a student said this, not I. And with silhouettes, as with the image on one page  of people marching, one cannot distinguish white from black. These kids get that. They make these observations. I don't have to point out the deeper meanings if I ask the higher questions.

I asked those questions to the challenging class. They observed. They wrote. One student wanted to share his written observation. He said, "The first moon, the crescent, could symbolize the few freedoms that the black people had. The moon is at its smallest and the black people had very few rights. The harvest moon at the end is full like the freedoms that these people achieved." Aha.  Yes.  Very interesting.  And another student pointed out that there were only the images of faces (Coretta Scott and her two siblings) and only a solid yellow, dusty-colored background on the page that said "the face of danger."  This is a tough crowd, but they know how to think. 

Picture books.  The interplay between words and pictures, sounds and symbolism, meaning and the interpretation of meaning.  Don't put away the picture books when the kids grow up.  Let the words and pictures ask the questions that you didn't think to ask.  And let the students answer...they may have a better answer than you do.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Deeper Thinking in Middle School Research

It's been almost four weeks since my eighth graders began this unit of discussion and research on the First Amendment.  Their presentations this week have been thought provoking and informative, but there was also an element of surprise when groups shared facts or statistics that no one else knew; for example, Elvis's Christmas songs were banned in some places because of his unchristian values (he did shake those hips).  Though many students stuck with the facts--often First Amendment or censorship definitions from the Encyclopedia, which stated the five freedoms of speech, press, assembly, petition, and religion, and the four types of censorship (moral, military, political, and religious)--they made interesting connections with how those definitions applied to their topics of music censorship, book banning, or expression.  Interviews with peers, teachers, and even authors (via email) opened a conversation about other viewpoints.  One student couldn't wait to share how he and a friend debated about the legitimacy of shelving the Bible at school...this conversation happened while they were on the bus ride to school!

Even better, though, is to see their thought process as they write about their experiences with this research.  As I read their drafts of this process, I see opinions as well as more questions forming.  I ask the students after their presentations or while I circulate and read drafts what they think about this topic of research, or more specifically what they think about these issues.  One student replied, "I have more questions now than I did when I first started researching."  I told her that her questions will make a fascinating conclusion to her essay.  How can they not?  Can we really pretend that research is about finding the simple answers?  Then maybe we aren't asking the tough questions.

Because the introduction of this research unit centered around the idea of Banned Books Week (with this  trimester class I recreated the discussion that happens the last week of September every year), many students focused their research on reasons for book challenges, particular books that have been challenged, and how authors might feel about censorship.  One group member had nearly finished the Hunger Games series when she discovered that the first book was on the most challenged list.  Nearly in shock, she attempted to find out why it made this list.  (Mature themes such as violence, children killing children, and political commentary are certainly some of the reasons that it has been removed from some libraries and classrooms.)  Her look of disbelief guarantees that I will continue to have these discussions with my students.  They need to find out for themselves that censorship is a real thing, but it is not always a bad thing.  And they do understand why music, movies, books, and television are censored.  They acknowledge that language, sexual content, violence, drugs, and other mature themes make adults uncomfortable and should be kept out of the reach of younger children. But they can also explain how the First Amendment protects the rights of those who want to keep the media uncensored.  They want adults to know they "can handle it."

When theaters released the Hunger Games movie, and many of my own students (as well as my daughter) attended the premier, I became curious about the fervor for this movie adaptation.  After listening to Jennifer Buehler's podcast on (Episode 48 Published March 16, 2012
"A Second Look at The Hunger Games"), I approached my students with the ideas and questions she posed in this episode.  The futuristic, dystopian nature of The Hunger Games doesn't feel too distant in the future and seems far too realistic (for some countries).  To summarize briefly, the Capitol has taken control of twelve districts and obliterated the thirteenth after a rebellion.  To keep similar uprisings from happening in the future, the Capitol creates the Hunger Games in which a girl and a boy from each of the remaining districts compete to the death.  The one winner receives a lifetime of ease and the district being represented receives a more comfortable year for its people in terms of food and other supplies.  What I focused on in my brief discussion was the fact that these games are televised for the Capitol's entertainment.  This book, which makes a commentary about the lure of entertainment and the voyeuristic qualities of reality television and the news, is now being released on the big screen as entertainment.  One student said, "I didn't think about that" while another student questioned, "Isn't that irony?"  Indeed it is.

The timing isn't always so opportune.  And a replicated discussion of the issue may only work for a short time ("Remember last year when The Hunger Games movie was released?" versus "Remember four years ago..."). But won't there always be another timely issue?  Don't we often have controversy when it comes to freedom of speech and movie ratings and political correctness?  I want my students to be ready to think, so I ask the deeper questions, the harder ones.  Believe it or not, these kids want to be asked, are ready to be asked, and they want me to hear their answers.

Monday, March 12, 2012

An I-Search Reflection

In my eighth grade literacy classes, we have been researching the First Amendment.  Many of the students began this unit of study wondering what difference it really makes to have the First Amendment when there are such limitations in a school setting.  They are discovering now that these freedoms pertain to everyone, and that students can voice opinions and do have rights.  They have developed questions that many adults don't consider: What is free speech? How can I use this freedom without "getting into trouble"? How does the freedom of press affect me? If I protest a publication, how will that affect other people?  Do I have the right to tell other people how to believe, what to say, and what not to read? They are forming opinions about what is appropriate and inappropriate in their school settings, home, and community.  It is now my job to make sure they know how to find evidence to support their opinions.

This job is not an easy one.  Yes, you must have a book reference.  No, there is not a book with the title Book Banning. Yes, the Free Speech book has information about the affects of censorship. No, the encyclopedia will not have an entry on "school dress code."  Yes, you can interview an author via email.  No, there is probably not a book that has the complete answer to your research question.  And I tell them that unlike finding the definition to specific terms such as "freedom of speech," "censorship," and "freedom of press," gathering information to answer their research questions will be a challenging task to say the least much like a jigsaw puzzle.  Where is a simple answer to how authors feel when their books are challenged or banned?  In what encyclopedia is there an entry that details the differences between an adult's and a child's First Amendment rights?  And where is the website that lists the appropriate and inappropriate books for a middle school library?  With that last question there may actually be a site, but what are the best descriptors for that search, and is that website blocked in your school like it is in ours?

My students wonder why a book that was challenged and banned in Boston, Massachusetts in 1922 was also burned in Germany in 1929.  Another student is questioning the role of censorship in music, and I was surprised at many of the song titles and reasons.  But there are some students who still don't get it.  On some level they may care about the topic, but what I see is a bleak future for our country if I can't incite a passionate response (or even a casual yet somewhat interested response) about civic rights and duties.  As I carry around my clipboard, I wonder if I am checking progress or inspiring thought.  And I think, again, that it is my job to make sure they know how to find the answers to their questions because, after all, they are the ones who made up these questions.

The students' checklist includes a place for me to chart completion of notes and citations for six different sources: book, encyclopedia, internet, periodical, library website/catalog, and interview.  Students work in small groups or individually to uncover facts from all these sources.  I recommended that students "divide and conquer" the work, and most of them do.  Unfortunately, some students use one notebook, one pencil, and one hand to record information.  This tells me that my researchers lack confidence in their researching skills.  Do they really want to break away from their partners only to return to the group with wrong information?  It is not just for grade accountability that they scribble furiously to copy a partner's notes into their own notebooks; it is for self preservation; it is to be alike rather than different.  Do I have an answer to that?  Not yet, but I'm working on it.

So I wonder about the final products of this research project.  The Prezis, movies, Animotos, and PowerPoints will no doubt be dizzying and informative.  The notebooks will have some indications that they traveled with the students to the library, the computer lab, and down the hall for interviews.  The buzz in the classroom will be proof that discussion and debates ignited in between talk of ballgames and lunch.  And students may develop a stance for an argument.  Yet, I wonder if they will be able to support these stances with evidence.  Will their interests wane as I guide them to the books (encyclopedias, internet, journals) yet another time to find the publisher, year, and page numbers for their information?  Or perhaps they need information from the source they so dutifully cited?  And when the time's up for the booked library or scheduled computer lab what's next?  The books come to them, and maybe that makes a difference.

As I venture to the next step, which is group collaboration on the presentation of information, I must remind myself that learning happens sometimes in spite of what I try to do.  My clipboard can't capture the number of times I've heard students say, "I didn't know _____." Often I can reply, "I didn't either. Tell me more."  And maybe that's when I become a real teacher...and learn from my students.