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.
First, 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:
- heard a Holocaust survivor speak of his experiences in three death camps,
- used Skype to speak with the senior editor of Philadelphia Stories and Philadelphia Stories, Jr., Ms. Christine Weiser, about what editors look for in creative writing pieces seeking publication,
- virtually connected with Ms. Leah Nicholson of the Jenkins Publishing Group to learn about ghost writing,
- Skyped with founder and senior editor of Teen Ink, Ms. Stephanie Meyer, to get some advice for submitting our work for publication,
- invited three talented YA authors - E.C. Myers, Marie Lamba, and Ellen Jensen Abbott - to come to our school to speak with us about their inspiration and advice for writing stories,
learned with a local psychologist about psychoanalytic theory, the
divided self, and repression which we applied to our reading of The Kite Runner,
- chatted with musician, actor, and novelist Dave Patten about what it takes to "make it" in a creative field, and
- used Twitter and blogs to connect with students and experts all of the world as we researched our #HavPassion projects.
And the next four months look equally as packed with connections! We will be hosting:
- poet Cameron Conaway, author of Malaria Poems, who will be speaking with my creative writing students about his inspiration and writing craft,
- Elise Juska, author of The Blessings,
- Christopher McDougall, best-selling author of Born to Run,
- Zachariah OHora, children's book author and illustrator,
- Judy Schachner, children's book author and illustrator of Skippyjon Jones,
- Donna Aviles, presenter and author on the United States Orphan Train Movement, and
- Christina Baker Kline, One Book One Philadelphia author of Orphan Train.
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.|
So, I'm overwhelmed...but in a good way.