Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bringing the Outside In

I have been incredibly fortunate this school year to host a number of speakers and writers in my classroom. The opportunity for students to meet with published authors, with poets, and with a Holocaust survivor have enlarged the conversations we have about history, about writing, about identity, and how about we connect through the stories we tell.  "Stories," as novelist Madeleine L'Engle stated, "make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving."

Check out all the speakers and authors who have visited with my classes during the 2014-2015 school year (so far):

Click on the images below to watch each presentation.

Elise Juska, author of the recent fiction novel The Blessings, visited on January 15, 2015
  • The Philadelipia Inquirer described Ms. Juska's book, The Blessings as a "bighearted novel... Juska's moving, multifaceted portrait of the Blessing family." Join our creative writing class as we listen to the author and question her about her process.

Cameron Conaway, mixed martial arts fighter and poet, spoke with students on January 13, 2015
  • Cameron Conaway, author of The Malaria Poems, shares his experiences and process, including mindfulness, with students from our creative writing and 10th grade English classes.

Dave Patten, singer/song writer, novelist, actor, and Haverford High alum, met with students on December 22, 2014.
  • Dave Patten, author of the recently published Run of the Mill, spoke with creative writing and 10th grade English students about what it takes to succeed in creative fields and shared some advice for aspiring creative types.

Three young adult novelists speak with students on November 6, 2014.
  • Young adult (YA) genre authors, E.C. Myers, Ellen Jensen Abbott and Marie Lamba introduce their new work, discuss their writing process and answer questions from high school creative writing classes.

Holocaust survivor Mr. Michael Herskovitz speaks with students about his experiences in three death camps on September 29, 2014.
  • Michael Herskovitz was born in Czechoslovakia in 1929 to hard working parents and a happy family. In March 1944 he noticed German soldiers in the village and learned that Germany had invaded his country. Mr. Herskovitz shares experiences inside Auschwitz and other "work camps", through to liberation and finally realizing a successful family life and business in the USA. An earlier recording of his presentation can be found here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Anything? Really? Really!

When I first describe our #HavPassion research project to students, I get this quizzical look. "I can research anything? Really?" Really!

For the last eight weeks, my tenth grade students have delved into the origins of the word passion, explored what it means to have grit and persevere through initial stumbles and failures, and ultimately share their passion with readers and audiences outside of the classroom.

Today after school, I listened in as Skylar interviewed someone form the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education in order to learn about how one gets into this field of study. Earlier in the day, TJ pulled up curriculum outlines for computer programming language courses and computer science classes taught at a high school in Washington. He mentioned that he was going to try contacting a principal from the school to help with his current research. He thought he was just going to be building a computer from scratch (which he did), but then he asked the question, "Why don't students have the opportunity to do this is school?" So this weekend, he put together a course proposal and research curriculum guidelines and state teaching regulations which he plans to share with our principal and hopefully the school board. Jillian connected with Duckworth Labs and with professors to learn more about growth mindset and its impact on student success in the classroom. Juliet was excited when her free book arrived after she connected with Ed Lebetikin, store owner and teacher at The Woodwright's School (if you are a fan of PBS, you might be familiar with this show). We tweeted best-selling author of Born to Run and running advocate Christopher McDougall when Abigail started to research how to prevent running injuries. He's making a visit to our school next month! Students have been taking cake decorating classes, shadowing landscape business owners, composing scores for orchestration, conducting and teaching middle school band students, and so much more. And all the while students have been blogging, sharing their research and their reflections with students both around the country, as well as those around the block.

As my tenth graders selected their topics and looked for mentor texts and experts to interview, we also connected with fifth grade students in our district completing a very similar inquiry project. Using Google Hangouts, elementary library Christina Brennan and I connected our students, encouraged them to share their inquiry interests, and then we connected our learners further using collaborative Google docs.  My high schools students read through her students' initial questions and research findings and commented back to the fifth grade students, sharing research strategies and connections. My students moved from finding mentors to being mentors.

We have come to our final week for our #HavPassion inquiry projects. When I shared this with students on Monday, I had groans. But they were not groans complaining about having a week to work on research. Instead, they were groans hoping for more time. Students want to do more, read more, blog more, connect more. Now they are saying, "We can research anything! Really!"

Next weekend, some of my students will be joining Christina and me as we present at EduCon on the mentorship relationship forged between our two groups of students. My students aren't being graded for their presentations. In fact, they are joining me after our class together has come to a close. But this is what passion-based learning inspires. Student and teachers building a community of learning that extends well beyond our physical classrooms and beyond the boundaries of one particular class.

Please check out their blogs. This week they are adding up their final reflection posts and we will be celebrating their accomplishments in class on Friday. I would love to share any words of encouragement that you might have, so use the comments section below to share!


Interested in bringing this to your classroom?

Feel free to adapt my student materials to suit your student needs! Here's a link to my student materials:

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Overwhelmed...but in a good way

I have too many blog posts in me! So right off the bat, know that this post is almost more of a reminder to me of all the things that I want to write more in depth about in the coming weeks. It has been an overwhelming semester, filled with a classroom makeover, presentations, author visits, and so much more.   I look forward to sharing these developments with you in the new year.

Feature on Classroom CribsFirst, I need to share a bit more about my classroom redesign.  I shared some of the early steps in my classroom makeover in September, but I need to post my more recent learning space redesigns. My initial steps to create a more student-focused, student-driven classroom have lead to even more changes. As I spent time reflecting on my educational philosophy, I realized I needed to make a few more changes to my classroom space so that my philosophy was mirrored in my physical  classroom space. My classroom is open, with flexible seating in the form of stools, pillows, ottomans (which double as book storage), and a couch.  And I'm also happy to share that our classroom is featured as part of the #ClassroomCribs challenge. If you are looking for inspiration for your own classroom makeover, be sure to check out the work of Erin Klein, Ben Gilpin, and A.J. Juliani over at ClassroomCribs.com.

UPDATE: Shortly after posting this I learned that I am one of the Grand Finalists in the ClassroomCribs Challenge!

Click to enlarge our four essential questions.
In addition to redesigning my physical classroom, my curriculum got a big makeover this semester too. For the last decade, our tenth grade English class has focused on world literatures, connecting with the writers of the non-western world.  However this semester, our department took a more thematic approach to our tenth grade curriculum, focusing on four essential questions to guide our new thematic focus on "Perspectives of the Individual." And although initially a bit apprehensive about this change, it has afforded me an opportunity to reimagine my curriculum. I revisited the work of my language arts gurus to help me rethink what was possible. Kelly Gallagher helped me think through how I provide writing feedback (students should write four times more than you can grade) and how I teach close reading (Articles of the Week). Chris Lehman helped me think through possibilities for teaching analytic reading. And so many more mentors than I could name helped inspire my renewed focus on cultivating a student-driven classroom with students doing, speaking, and sharing more than I do. And in addition to adding new core texts, I figured now was the time to make some other big changes, the most significant of which is the move to a 100% paperless classroom. Now, four months into it, I can't imagine teaching any other way.  Going paperless has meant finding better, more collaborative ways of working with students and with working with readers and writers outside of the classroom.

Although I have been pushing my emerging writers to connect with audiences outside the classroom for a number of years now, this semester I have witnessed the pinnacle success of that focus.  My students and I used social media to connect with and invite in a number of writers from a variety of genres into our classroom.  In the last four months we have:

And the next four months look equally as packed with connections! We will be hosting:
So many of these connections have come as a result of my students and I reaching out on social media and asking.  This has been a big take-away that I need to explore more in the coming months.  In talking with Teen Ink's founder Stephanie Meyers when we first connected my students with her via Skype, she graciously showed us virtually around her office and said, "No one has ever asked me to do this, and I love it!"  In putting myself out there and asking anyone and everyone to come into my classroom - fellow teachers, writers, parents, other students - whether it is done in person or virtually, I have opened up opportunities for my students to connect with real audiences. Very little of their written work is seen by only me. We blog using Blogger and respond to classrooms around the country. Students post their work in online portfolios which can easily be shared with fellow teachers, students, and even parents.  And in talking with my students about these opportunities, I have also encouraged them to ask.  They are reaching out through their blogs and through Twitter in order to build their own personal learning network (PLN). I hope to share more of this particular adventure both here and in some upcoming presentations.

Yup, that's me presenting.
Speaking of which, wow! I need to share more of the presentations I've been doing! In the last few months I have had the opportunity to present at the Pennsylvania Council for Teachers of English Language Arts (PCTELA) as well as at the Michigan Google Summit. I was honored as an Emerging Leader at the recent PASCD conference. In a few short weeks, I'll be presenting at the upcoming EduCon conference in Philly with Christina Brennan on "Mentoring Passion" about how we connected my high school students with her elementary students through passion-based learning. And I need to share more about what I have learned from these fantastic organizations and connections.

So, I'm overwhelmed...but in a good way.

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