Wednesday, March 18, 2015

New Perspectives

We've been reading a new novel these past couple weeks in Language Arts. The name of the novel is Home of the Brave. The main character of the story is a young man named Kek. His story is very unique one, as he is a refugee who has come to America from Sudan.

Kek is a Lost Boy.

As a new person trying to adjust to America, we hear and see a lot through Kek's voice of the many struggles, unintended comedy, and small victories along the way. Something that really resonates every time I read this book with students is how many things are taken for granted as 'every day' pleasures, conveniences, and blessings.

For example, Kek shares a story of standing in line for 9 hours at the refugee camp for a handful or corn. When he first goes to the grocery store with a friend, he is overcome and has to leave. He cannot stop smiling when he gets his own desk at school, even though he first assumes he must pay for the furniture. Kek cannot believe the daily feast he receives at school lunch!

This is always such a good thing for the students to read; to realize that while life is tough, while things can be hard and annoying, and while in this country it always feels like the "Joneses" are staying ahead, we live in a land and time of plenty. This doesn't discount many daily struggles we all have; in fact, we all do. But it serves as a great point of clarity for my students that there are different realities out there for everybody.

At the end, this is why we strive to read literature and stories written by people who are different from us, and are about people who are different from us. The power of new perspectives will always help us see the world in new ways.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

We'll Be Right Back

Today we spent class having students showcase their group advertising projects. This is the culmination of a unit spent analyzing propaganda and persuasion techniques, and seeing how these tools are used in commercials and media.

The kids were very excited to share their work. Their task was to develop an ad campaign around an existing or not-yet-invented product. Beyond that, they could also create advertising for a Public Service Announcement (PSA)...e.g. wearing seat belts, texting while driving, animal adoption, etc. Groups created digital presentations to talk through, along with a video that would be their television or web commercial.

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Of course, what do we experience today? Some good old-fashioned technical difficulties! It really was a nice little mixed bag of stuff. Videos not loading properly, speakers not talking to the projector, etc. All in all, it really wasn't too bad. We forged through any temporary road block and enjoyed some really clever, great work from some of the groups. 

And that's the point. It doesn't really matter if there are some glitches every now and again. The benefits of what these kids can do with tech - when done intelligently and purposefully - greatly outweigh any temporary headaches. Every year there are new, fun tech tools, better video software, and more ways for students to express their learning and skills. To make that happen, I'll happy deal with a couple technical difficulties.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Of Open Sunday Nights

One of the greatest feelings is a Sunday evening with no work the next day. 

I typically don't mind Mondays, and certainly never have to deal with this:


But still, it is really quite awesome to be able to enjoy a Sunday evening...out and about, hanging at home with the family, doing pretty much whatever, without the 'worry' of the impending start to the work week.

So to everyone out there, enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Thoughts on the Grind...

We have officially reached the time of the school year when it becomes very apparent that many of my students are hitting a bit of a wall.

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Our first semester ended mid-January, and overall the students did a very nice job of finishing strong and doing their best to achieve goals they had set for themselves. When you take into consideration that this is their first year of “real” grades, this is something for them to be proud of and build upon.

Since the new semester began, however, I’ve seen some trends amongst students that would leave me to believe they are hitting a wall or experiencing a little ‘academic fatigue.’ This really isn’t too surprising. For one, these kids are going through their first round of semester grades; making the transition into middle school; navigating the tricky waters of school, social, and extracurricular responsibilities. On top of all that, they are also dealing with a definite uptick in the amount of work required of them…in all their classes.

Even though I’ve been doing this for 14 years, I have yet to come up with a magic bullet. I suppose that’s the point – there isn’t one. My best bet: continue to push yet be patient; keep expectations and standards high, while giving kids the support they need to get there; and continue finding ways to engage the students in the work and motivate them to push through the wall.

The winter doldrums don’t’ help matters, and usually things pick up with the calendar flipping to March. Once we’re full on into April and standardized testing has passed, we’re facing a whole new challenge…keeping the troops motivated and focused as the weather gets warmer!

It’s all part of the grind, and it’s all part of what keeps this gig interesting.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Positive Learning Spaces & Sharing Spaces

We had an interesting discussion at work today, and it centered around the type of learning environment that is created at our school, both as a whole and within individual classrooms. This conversation was held through the lens of Culturally Responsive Teaching, something we have been reading about and discussing as a staff over the past couple of school years. 

I work with many bright and talented people, who are passionate about what they do, so having these discussions is always pretty good. Today was no exception. Everybody brought their own unique point of view, shared their personal thoughts, and talked about what they think is important in creating a positive learning environment that invites and motivates all students to learn and be involved.

What makes a conversation like this difficult for me is that I don't have a space of "my own" anymore. I am currently in my third year of teaching on a cart. On the whole, I still really enjoy doing what I'm doing. My students still really do a great job of being engaged and passionate about the work we are doing, and the movement, variety, and adapting to new environments keeps me fresh.

The hard part, however, is that I do feel as though my students miss out on some of the benefits of coming to a classroom that can really be unique to my grade level and content area; that can be built up into a very language and image-rich classroom over the course of the school year. My colleagues who share "their" rooms with me do a tremendous job of sharing their space, making things available, and giving me the room I need to teach on a daily basis. That said, it is tricky to take a 9th grade Physics room and transform it into a language-rich 6th grade Language Arts room!

Something that would be very cool is to get to a point where maybe I'm not going to so many different rooms, but rather just a couple different rooms that are devoted to 6th grade Reading/Language Arts that a few teachers share throughout the day, almost like a department area that students can associate with reading, writing, media, and creativity! Perhaps as our school continues to grow and go through changes over time, something like this can happen. For now, I'll keep grinding it out.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Applying the Lessons

Well, it has definitely been forever since I've written anything in this space. In truth, there isn't a good, clear reason - let alone many reasons.

The crazy part is that this has been a school year where I've probably had more going on, doing more things with my classes, and engaging in more new & challenging things than I've done in a while. But with all of this movement, activity, and learning going on, I haven't taken the usual time to write and reflect on what's happening!

But today, the confluence of two different things propelled me into getting back on the horse, so to speak:

1. We started talking about SMART Goals today with our Advisory students, as we prepare for student-led conferences later this month.

2. I was straight-up called out by a tremendous colleague and mentor!

Basically, a guy I really respect - Mike Walker - challenged me to get back to blogging. This was important because it reminded me that sometimes people do read what you throw out there, and that this really can be a positive professional practice.

As for the SMART Goals, this was a perfect catalyst to take Mike's motivation and get me going. So, here's my blogging SMART Goal for the rest of this school year:

S - goal will be to blog 2-3 times each and every week.

M - measurable...I will be able to track my blog posts, views, and feedback.

A - achievable...I will be able to utilize prep time and time outside of the work day to reflect. Also, this is a pace I have been able to write at before.

R - relevant...this practice relates to and builds on what I do professionally.

T - time-oriented...I will be able to notice a difference by the end of the semester.

So here goes...let's try this again. This time with feeling!