Deconstructing Lily

My daughter wrote a story about a leprechaun the other day at school, and I learned so much about my own teaching that I wanted to document it here.

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Posted by on March 17, 2012 in inquiry, Writing


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Learning: Mine or Yours??

Today, I’m immersed in some online professional development, thanks to Twitter people I follow. I’ve been to Colorado for something called #colearning; someplace-USA for #dublit12; and a SlideShare presentation shared by Teri Lesesne on reading ladders and strategies (This is a MUST-read!).

The #colearning site links to the session wiki here, and from there, I watched a Prezi about “who owns the learning.” I kept taking notes and trying to fit myself in the mold of a teacher to puts student learning at the center…but I know deep down that I’m not. I WANT to be — but that’s different than actually BEING. The first video was by a guy named Alan November. He talks about who’s doing the learning in the classroom, the only choices being the students, or, most likely, the teacher. I know I fall in this category because he asked “who does most of the work in class?” Most definitely, it’s me. I’m worried about student grades. I’m worried about who’s missing assignments. I’m worried about being a failure as a teacher. The kids “don’t care,” right? I mean, that’s what we (meaning I) say when I don’t know what ELSE to say or attribute student apathy to.

Mr. November cited Daniel Pink’s book Drive (if you haven’t read it, I thought it was very insightful). There are three main “have-tos” for motivation: purpose, autonomy, & mastery. November’s argument is that purpose is the most important for educational issues because students (all learners, any age) sees that they are adding to a larger conversation; contributing to issues that matter to the learner.

I’m at a DUH moment. Cue the crickets!!

I know how difficult the situation is when I can’t get through to a student(s). I feel like a failure that I haven’t built that vital relationship because, let’s face it, you can’t get along with everyone. But what I need to change my thinking to is what have I done today that allowed the learners in my classroom to join a larger conversation? How have I created a climate where they feel comfortable writing and reading about things they care about? What conditions do these learners need in order to see a purpose to the work I’m asking them to do?

I’m working on these.

Here are some #dublit12 tweets I wanted to remember from today:

Last…this is probably the BEST resource I could have on my curriculum inquiry….Oakland School District‘s curriculum mapping information!! There are “normal” maps for all subjects, and they are adding some specifically #CommonCoreSux topics. It will be helpful to me because I really don’t know how to PACE the kind  of crap I teach, and am NOT and expert in curriculum. So this model is visual and makes sense to my disorderly way of looking at education.

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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in curriculum, questions



A New Beginning

So, the short story is I’m out on medical leave for the rest of the school year. The long story, if you’re interested is on my personal blog here: boxofchocolates29 (the first two posts on that page).

Anyway, I’ve been going nuts because without teaching, I don’t know who I am. I don’t have any other types of hobbies, or creepy past times, or teams to play on. I don’t even really have friends who aren’t teachers. I know, right??? Who sets themselves up for failure like that??

So, after several days of no sleep (or nightly cat-naps), I came upon the “perfect” solution. I should take this time off for what it needs to be: independent teacher research!! Yes, I know that in the perfect world, I’d have great ideas, try them out in the class with my sweet high schoolers, and report the results — for better or worse. However, that’s not an option until I return to the classroom in August (with a spanking new smart-board, I do believe!!). My aim for now, then, is to comb through these crappy-assed Common Core standards with my for-better-or-worse fine-toothed apparatus, and figure them out!! What in the hell do they really mean? How will I know if I’m “teaching” to them, or just “assigning” them? If I delve into them, does that mean I’m embracing the standards as the godsend that NCTE and IRA are touting them as? Do I really have to drink that kool-aid?

I’m not sure of the answers to those questions, but I’ve been following some interesting conversations on Twitter, most notably from the Diane Ravitch/Steven Krashen camp versus the Carol Jago camp. I figure the “answers” are somewhere in the middle. But am I rolling over and playing dead if I’m trying to learn how incorporate these standards? I think I’d rather have my own set of lessons rather than let people in my district (or on the national stage for that matter) tell me what I’m supposed to be doing. Who says their way would be any better than mine???


So…with that in mind, I’m at the beginning of the Inquiry Circle (By the way, I got this pic from a guy talking about inquiry in Sunday School — DEFINITELY worth reading!!) Here’s what I’ve done this morning:

1. made preliminary notes in my daybook about what I want to do (yes, I’m still keeping a daybook during this time. It’s important, right?)

2. made a list of the resources I want to use  to teach  (these include Kelly Gallagher books, Deeper Reading and Write Like This; Image Grammar; using Short Texts — can’t remember the exact name; Marion Roach Smith’s memoir-writing book & resources from her website, especially her page about memoir as argument!!!; some video arguments from the Dylan Ratigan show on MSNBC; and a book I saw on NCTE’s website about testing –I’ll write more about that one after I read it.

3. created the last 20 pages in my daybook as a Handbook for: Writing, Reading, Grammar, and Independent Reading. All the pages are “assigned” and when I make some notes on them, I’ll upload some pics and details. This part sort of makes me smile because I’ve tried to do this for some time, and I never have “time” to play around with format or exactly what I want it to look like or how the students can use it effectively. To introduce it, I want the instruction to be inquiry based; however, I need the format so the process flows and the resources make sense to the students. For now, though, this is what I”m talking about: for the writing part, I have a page to decorate as a “title page”, the facing page is Common Core Standards for Writing; next page = Express & Reflect; Inform & Explain; Evaluate & Judge; Inquire & Explore; Analyze & Interpret; Take a Stand/Propose a Solution. These titles come straight from KG’s newest writing book; I left myself a note to have a mentor text glued in, a few notes about what this means, and a short handout for the bottom of the page for students to track when they’ve written like this. I think introducing these at the beginning of the semester will take care of the “journal prompt” problem so many kids have — when they don’t personally connect to a topic, but don’t have the guts to choose their own yet. Throughout the semester, then, I can have mini-lessons on the types of writing & have them write the Handbook reference page.

4. I’m thinking about using PSAs as the technology/speaking aspect to Common Core. There are a couple of local radio stations I think I can elicit help from in having the students’ work actually published there. I think it could work as argument, right?

5. And, I’ve restarted this blog to track my progress and my thinking. I figure that it’s a better place to just keep professional types of thinking without getting bogged down in the minutiae of my life right now.  Plus, I’m embarking on Year 3 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at TwoWritingTeachers using my BoxOfChocoates29 blog…so, my professional life definitely needs to be separated!

Now, what do I need from the people who read this blog??? Well, I need you to be participatory and feedbacky!! haha…I love making up words…What  did Lewis Carroll call them? Portmanteau??? But please, leave comments and questions and make me think. My feelings won’t be hurt — in fact, if I’m just sitting here all alone, I’m going to think I’m right about everything, so you owe it yourself to question me!!

Let the conversation begin!!

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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in CommonCore, curriculum, inquiry, questions


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SI — Day 8 Final Reflection

Dear UNCCWP Peeps,

It has been a complete  pleasure to meet and collaborate with you these last two weeks. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed all the demos, learning, and resources you’ve shared. But, since this is one of those “required” parts of the institute, I need to articulate my learning. Here goes….

As I’m taking in all that collaboration has meant during this time, I’m listening to a Jay-Z song, “Forever Young”, where he “collaborated” with a British pop singer named Mr. Hudson. In the song, Mr. Hudson sings about being young forever in the midst of adolescent angst and trouble; Jay-Z, interrupting that narrative, says he lives his life as if he’s always young in his mind, despite any misunderstandings about the world — he’s not going to let “the world” skew his experience toward the negatives. Jay-Z gives his voice to the remake of a 1980s Alphaville hit (that pulled me through some very tough teenage angst, let me tell you!). His voice/identity, which is definitely not part of the original version, shows his individual take — how he’s pulled himself up from poverty and made something of himself. Jay-Z’s experience matters in the world.

Why does this matter for Summer Institute? Simply that, for me, it’s the theme song (along with “Revolution” by the Beatles, of course), and this is how I feel about being part of SI this year. All seventeen of us have our own versions of educational reality (“hoping for the best but expecting the worst”) and who we are as teachers (“we don’t have the power but we never say never”). However, as a community, we’ve brought our collective voices together to create an entirely new reality — a new melody/song — of what being a teacher of writing (and teaching in general, too) can mean to us now (“I’ll be here forever/you know, I’m on my /fall s***,/ and I ain’t with foreclosure, I will never forfeit..”). We’ve learned that there are myriad ways of coming to that work — We just need to keep the door open, realizing, as we heard from each other during Dorry’s presentation, that we “live forever” in the hearts of our students and their experiences. We make a difference, not just because we were smart enough to be involved with SI, but because of our sense that we “leave a mark that can’t erase – neither space nor time” in the lives of our students and colleagues — and that we were smart enough to come to SI {okay, for me, it’s because I finally got ACCEPTED!! haha).

Because I love the whole Harry Potter saga, I have to give voice to the most spectacular educator in that series, Professor MacGonagall (who, amazingly, never cowered in the face of change or student distractions). She was talking about the final exams that all wizards take, the O.W.L.S., and said to the class:

“You cannot pass an O.W.L….without serious application, practice and study. I see no reason why everybody in the class should not achieve an OWL in Transfiguration as long as they put in the work…even you, Mr. Longbottom. There’s nothing wrong with your work except a lack of confidence.”

So, there’s nothing wrong with OUR work — we (meaning, me!) need to build up our confidence that we are “like diamonds in the sun/and diamonds are forever.”

P.S. I couldn’t put the Jay-Z song up because he cusses…and I know how much you don’t like that! heehee….Here’s the link, though…Forever Young.


Posted by on July 15, 2011 in SI reflection, Uncategorized


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SI — Day 7 Reflection

Whew! Lots o’ learnin’ goin’ on today!! The two demos we had — Carrie S’s & Katie’s — helped me think more about digital learning and online spaces. In Carrie’s, I was thinking about what kind of persona I have in the different spaces I’m part of. For some, I’m more vocal (Twitter), but others (EC Ning), I’m more of a lurker. A taker-in-er, if you will. I do give my opinion about some topics on that site and ask questions and participate in the webinars, but for the most part, I’m just listening in digitally. Sort of like I do in face-to-face classes I take! I appreciated the link for the fake Facebook because, like I told Sally, I want to have my students create a page for those poor homonyms that they keep misinterpreting.

Katie’s demo gave me more resources to help my students think about research. I think I’d like to pair this with my research proposal activity that I did last semester. My students had to give a 3 minute pitch for their topic, and the class voted via PollEverywhere whether the team presenting had done enough “pre-search” to move forward. The sites that Katie showed would definitely provide a good resource about sociological issues that many of my students were interested in.

I found that I was most fascinated by Lil’s presentation on grammar in context. Grammar and poetry are my “bad” areas, and I never feel like I give either of them enoug space in my instruction. My English Ed graduate project was on the topic of grammar, but I don’t think I had enough guidance to narrow it down to a manageable I’ve-got-this sort of study. If, however, I’d have had some of Lil’s strategies, I’m sure that the study would have gone better, but I’d also have actually learned something. I wonder if she’s published other strategies or ideas that I could read about and incorporate? Need to look that up!

Anyway, I’m working on a short time frame here….No power at my house & limited Internet access at Barnes & Noble (I’m at my favorite one this time, though!!). Trying to get my video done for the Day in the Life for today. I had to start over sort of when I found out that both Jessie and I were Storifiying the day! Oops! ((crossing fingers that Mac’s battery holds out while I’m working….the two smelly guys hogging the electrical outlets don’t look like they’re into sharing anything except something only medication could clear up!)).


Posted by on July 13, 2011 in SI reflection, test-writing


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Inquiry Ramblings….

So…I’m sitting here in a (mostly) quiet corner of my (not) favorite Barnes & Noble (the one NOT in Hickory!!). As of now, I have six tabs open in Firefox and two journals open –one on the (too small) table, the other on the chair beside me. I’m not sure what to think yet about my inquiry. In fact, I’m not particularly sure I’ve even settled on a topic–not truly. (Which is obviously why I have so many tabs open!!)

At first, I wanted to investigate writer’s workshop. Then I became very interested in digital writing. And THEN, I became intrigued with creative nonfiction after an especially Ah-ha moment during SI last week (we were talking about poetry & responding to it being overwhelming & Lil says, fairly innocently, “Why? Is all writing not creative?” And I just have to say: “Why Lil??? Why do you have to make me do this hard thinking work??? haha…)

Anyway, so I’ve already said in class that Common Core pushes nonfiction…and the state writing test (for the last year) will require my students to write to a prompt either definition or cause/effect. So I know I need to incorporate more NF in class. I’m wiling to do that. I read a ton of NF –just not as much as Fiction, however. But my students don’t. And I have to teach them to write it (NF). But they can’t write what they don’t read, right?

So, I thought that I’d just jot a few quotes down here–maybe add a few pics– to show my journey of what I’m thinking. For this particular entry, I’m focusing on the creative nonfiction aspect of my inquiry(ies).

First of all, this screencast is from a live webinar I’m “listening” to on the EC Ning site. Some teachers are talking about how to pair classic texts with young adult lit, and the conversation is drifting to Common Core Standards:

“How much ‘creativity’ is acceptable before it’s not nonfiction” just resonates with me for some reason. In one of the articles I’m reading, (The Place of Creative Writing in Composition Studies, by Douglas Hesse) Hesse reiterates this idea through this quote: “Content with growing on its own terms, creative writing in all but rare cases performs no service role, aspires to no across the curriculum infiltration of chemistry or sociology,  and worries little about assessment….The corporate university values creative writing precisely as it produces figures of freedom for the business-oriented, skilled laborers of the captive new class that it trains. We are thus figureheads, beings of leisure, of no real use at all….” (32-33). I think this is why there’s so much emphasis on NF in CCS — creative writing is seen as “lazy” and only for the people who don’t work (didn’t some famous 19th century author say something similar?)

Anyway, for the purposes of this post, I storified “teaching creative nonfiction” and “creative nonfiction” — I just wanted some links that I could go back and read later, when I feel like I have a little more time:

Teaching Creative Nonfiction on Storify

There are several videos that I want to watch…and there’s one SlideShare that has several different kinds of creative nonfiction examples from real world writing. For now, though, I’m changing my definition of “creative writing” — there’s a “story” in just about everything we compose, right? So most, if not all, writing/composing is a creation that our minds thought up or we personally have experienced. Rashid talked about it in his demo today (7/12) that even historical events have story elements, Jessie showed it in her poetry demo (7/8) by trying to get us to tell the story of our mission statement, and I certainly tried to emphasis that when I demoed the Storify site. We’re surrounded by story: characters, events, themes, settings, conflict, etc.

The trick’s going to be whether I can convince my students that an “essay” is just a story in a different form. Maybe I can show them my Harry Potter essay that I wrote for a local contest (even though I flipping lost!). What’s the story in that piece?

(elements of my creative nonfiction ramblings most days!)



SI — Day 6 Reflection

A community of learners is never easy to step away from or give up. I found this to be true when I went to the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) –now defunct thanks to the “wonderful” NC legislatures. So the bonding that the group does in just a short amount of time really begins to function like a family–or at least some very close friends.

That’s how I’m feeling after today’s session. I mean, Aileen made flower pins for our hair, Jen made cookies, Rashid had us think about revolutions, Ashley showed us ways to incorporate critical thinking digitally, and Megan asked us to revise our definition (add to) of who we are as writers. Those things combined with the morning improvs/warm ups, have created, for me, a genuine space for creating my learning, not just passively taking it in!

I seriously hope I’ll be able to teach next year! haha…I mean that there’s just so much to take in, what if I can’t focus or streamline exactly what my students need?

That’s my job or focus for my portfolio/reflection, I think.


Posted by on July 12, 2011 in SI reflection