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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