Meeting a Rock Star

A few years ago Eddie Vedder threw me his tambourine during a concert. I like to fantasize that he picked me out of the crowd because my praying mantis-like dance movements caught his eye; in reality I just out-jumped the people around me to snag it spinning in the air above our heads. Still, I felt connected to my musical idol in a way I never had before. (Humor me here.)  Continue reading “Meeting a Rock Star”

Linking the Known to the New

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I have a confession to make. Despite working in the curriculum department, despite quite a few years in this education field, and despite reading, researching, and hours of discussions with colleagues…I’m still trying to figure out what personalized learning is.

Good news, though, if you’re sitting next to me on the same gently rocking boat–it’s OK. We still have time. In my case, things became clearer when I listened to students.

Last Monday night I drove my two boys to Covington Middle School for their 6th grade orientation/showcase night. Wearing both my educator and dad hats, we toured familiar hallways (to me, at least; my 5th grader’s eyes bulged a bit at the rows of lockers and the open staircase in the entry, “Is this school really TWO WHOLE STORIES?”). I slyly introduced him to some 6th grade teachers, and embarrassed him in front of Mr. Gourde, the principal (“I can text him anytime, you know.”). Continue reading “Linking the Known to the New”

Let’s Teach Empathy

I’ve had the opportunity to meet Newsela founder and CEO Matt Gross a couple times and always walk away impressed with his vision for supporting classroom teachers with relevant, timely resources. Check out the text sets in Newsela, and then give his blog post a read below.

Newsela Blog

Colleagues,

Teachers do a lot of things they aren’t paid to do — like teaching empathy.

We live in fraught times. The discourse among political leaders, talking heads and even some community and family members has broken down. As adult Americans, we hold strong convictions, but we sometimes don’t seek to understand others. That trickles down to our children. Teachers hear it every day: a remark or a snicker about a child with autism; an American history class debate that culminates in shouting and finger-pointing; a Friday night football game that turns ugly with deportation threats.

Strong convictions aren’t enough. Children must learn empathy. You can’t really understand the feelings or experiences of others from a slogan or sound bite. Empathy isn’t learned 140 characters at a time.

Fortunately, teachers teach it every day.

That’s why we’ve launched the A Mile In Our Shoes reading initiative in partnership with Teaching…

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A Novel Idea?

One of my many regrets, as I look back on my former classroom teacher life, is that I never figured out how to teach a novel. I can distinctly remember wracking my brain and wringing my hands over the right novel to choose for my 8th graders–the one all of them would dearly love and without hesitation immerse themselves in for weeks. But then I would remember how diverse the interests were in my classes, how wide the gap was between my best readers and those who struggled, and, of course, coupled with the lack of class sets (or even literature circle sets) of books, my planning would end before it had even truly begun.

I remember bringing up this quandary with my instructional coach, a veteran middle school English teacher. She asked me a simple question: “What is your purpose for teaching a novel?” (I heard that purpose question quite a bit.) I managed to NOT say “because this is English class,” and instead mumbled something about plot and characters and theme…realizing as I said it that any old short story could do. So I didn’t teach novels (beyond read-alouds and student choice books), but always felt like I was depriving my students of something critical. Continue reading “A Novel Idea?”

Teaching Literacy in the “Age of Alternate Facts”

My colleague Ryan Theodoriches (eminent social studies specialist) and I have worked together for ten years now; during that time we’ve tried to support teachers and administrators with thinking about ELA and social studies as two content areas with huge overlap. Teaching critical literacy skills is an overriding priority when engaging students with the variety of texts, topics, and tasks that prepare them for a life as an informed and active citizen.

Forgive me as I gingerly tap dance around politics here–I think few would argue that our ELA and SS classes have plenty of “grist for the mill” provided by the lead-up to and aftermath of the presidential election. Teachers are certainly used to side-stepping their own political opinions to deftly present students with opportunities to think through all of the various current political perspectives warring for our nation’s attention, and connecting those perspectives to themes and concepts rooted in their ELA and SS units.

In particular, teaching students to express their ideas and opinions through argument using rhetoric and information literacy skills has never been more important. Teaching them to listen critically and avoid being blinded by their own biases helps build a solid foundation for actual discourse. While talking (screaming?) heads in the media can certainly provide endless entertainment and shock value, they are not models or paragons of civil discourse.

Sometimes (in my case, many times) others speak out far more eloquently on certain topics. Check out this essay, “Teaching Writing in a Post-Truth Era” published recently in the Seattle Times. It’s a call to action that, regardless of political stance, few teachers of ELA or SS can ignore…and most have been working toward long before this current administration was elected.

Thanks to Ryan for finding the article and for his efforts at always promoting civil discourse.

Exploring Resources for High School ELA

It has been a LONG time since high school ELA teachers have received a new adopted resource; we’re talking about five presidents, and for the pop-culturally aware, five Star Wars movies. While much of the literature students experience in high school could be considered “timeless,” this is perhaps going too far.

Evergreen’s high school English teachers are notoriously creative; they’ve persevered through this drought admirably, cobbling together more up-to-date texts and unit ideas using whatever resources, time, and opportunities for collaboration were available. So, now that we are able to support the district’s LIFT initiative with possible adoptions, what is the right resource (or set of resources) to inject into a well-established, teacher-created and curated curriculum?

For the past year, a representative team of teachers has piloted one possible option–Houghton Mifflin’s Collections. As we explored this resource (and eye others down the road), one critical evaluative criterion is “modularity” (we’re English teachers–we have license to make up words): How customizable is this–or any–resource? Can veteran teachers flexibly decouple units, lessons, assessments, and texts to merge them into existing proven unit plans? For newer teachers, will this resource serve as a “floor” for curriculum, providing their students access to sound, personalized learning experiences without requiring them to design lessons one day ahead of their students?

We are still collecting feedback. We are also exploring supplemental options that could provide digital libraries of leveled texts with scaffolded instructional support. If you haven’t heard of LightSail, Newsela, or Actively Learn, take a minute to check them out.

In the end, with teacher feedback and recommendations in hand, we will go to the Instructional Materials Committee this year to begin long-awaited adoptions to support our high school teachers and kids…before the next Star Wars movie comes out!

 

High School ELA Update

High School ELA teachers,

Examples and models of unit frameworks and assessments aligned to our Common Core State Standards are currently housed on the Its Learning page titled “HS ELA.”

In the future, additional resources will appear on this site, with announcements via this blog.

Look for an update about resource adoptions and current ELA pilot programs in the next post!