Total Eclipse of the… Start?
Bonnie Tyler’s infamous tune has been resonating for months and the national solar eclipse on August 21st has been overshadowing conversations about the first week of school for many this year.
Even though The Great American Solar Eclipse is helping science educators start the school year off with the NGSS phenomena of a lifetime, there’s no need to throw shade at your science coworkers. The solar eclipse has the potential to be a bright spot all across the curriculum, and one that students won’t soon forget.
Last spring, as I renewed my National Board Certification, I was struck by how much has changed in the landscape of public education since I was first certified ten years ago. In 2007, I passed the testing center components of the NBPTS process just fine, but I remember being concerned initially about the component related to teaching English Language Learners. As a regular classroom teacher, I taught EL students in my high school English classrooms, but I had no specific training for doing so. I reached out to colleagues for support and dove into any available resources in an era before Teaching Channel and other numerous resources now at our disposal.
The standards for National Board certification for ELA/AYA emphasize equity and fairness, and we understand that equitable and fair situations are those which ensure ALL students receive the support they need to be successful in the classroom. This includes instructional settings that promote rigorous learning for everyone. For me, this was one of the very reasons I pursued the NBCT process in the first place.
I want consistent equitable learning experiences for all students, as do most teachers I know. For those of us without specialized training for teaching ELLs, we rely on colleagues for co-teaching situations or for support in other settings. Jamie Ponce’s article about co-teaching led me to a slew of other Tchers’ Voice posts about how to meet the needs of EL Learners.
I read Lisa Kwong’s and Jacqueline Fix’s recent blog posts about how the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) approaches instruction for ELLs with intentionality district-wide, through the Five Essential Practices for teaching ELLs. I also watched a few videos in the accompanying playlists demonstrating elementary and secondary ELL strategies.
Curiosity prompted me to revisit an instructional unit created by colleagues for a project I’ve been involved with for the past several years to explore if/how the work we created meets the guidelines suggested by SFUSD.
This school year, I’ve been on a journey to put my students at the center of our learning. That means finding ways to make the learning meaningful to my students as people — that is, personalized. And it means being responsive to their needs as learners — in other words, customized.
Most of my efforts to meet this call have meant developing completely new units, and that’s been exhausting and won’t scale for teachers with multiple preps or those seeking life-balance. Moving into the fourth quarter of this school year, I sought support. I sat down with colleagues to learn how to work toward these ends from our existing curriculum for 10th grade English. The unit from which we worked had two summative assessments: a literary analysis essay on Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, and a multimedia presentation based on a social issue.
“Is poetry alone big enough to teach Language Arts?”
I posed this question to a room full of graduate students at the Notre Dame of Maryland University a few years ago. As a first-time college professor, I had never experienced a conversation so rich and generative, and it was all about poetry. My lesson, which focused on teaching poetry in the secondary classroom, was really on the form and function of poetry and how much students naturally gravitate to it. Then, the lesson took wings.
“I suppose it can. If you recall, poetry predates the novel and short story,” replied one of my students.
Our next installment of Tch Video Lounge is here, and we certainly have fun topics to talk about: middle school students and reading! 4th graders and fractions! Come on into the lounge where you’ll be able to watch, discuss, and learn with other educators. It’s a fun and easy way to deepen your viewing experience at Teaching Channel.
Here’s a startling statistic: 40% of high school students are chronically disengaged in school. There are enough reasons to go around, and I’d agree that many of them are outside of a teacher’s direct control. But some of them aren’t. As we pursue a set of skills, I have a great deal of control over how that happens in my classroom, so going into this school year I asked myself:
- How can student-interest and inquiry drive the learning?
- How can my teaching be more responsive to student needs?
- How do I help students realize their own agency and ability to effect change?
Out of these questions came my Getting Better Together project focused on pursuing personalized learning and customized instruction.
One of my favorite education books is The Courage to Teach. In that text, Parker Palmer explores teaching as a daily exercise in vulnerability. As teachers, we expose ourselves, and often the content we love, to an at-times unforgiving world. Difficult students, dud lessons, doubting colleagues, short-sighted initiatives, all exacerbated by the challenges of our lives outside the classroom, can eventually harden a teacher. And that skepticism can make it a lot harder to take the risks necessary to get better.
So finding the courage to continue to care deeply, to continue to seek feedback, can be challenging. But I’ve found, as scary as it may be, that student feedback has been an important catalyst for reflecting on and improving my practice. Hearing directly from students also aligns with my own deepest motivations. More than test scores, or my desire to introduce students to great novels and great questions, I teach so that students feel someone believes in them and they feel empowered to learn, grow, and succeed. Measuring success on that mission requires hearing directly from students.
So much of teaching is living in tension: giving more support vs. letting a student productively struggle. Following your own judgement vs. following the curriculum. Praise for good work vs. pushing for better.
And one tension I think about often is giving students my best vs. having more to give to future students. Burnout is a real risk in this profession. We have to find ways to do the job well and in a way that let’s us make it a career. As a teacher of high school English students and a father of a toddler, I feel this tension acutely. Fortunately, I’ve found some strategies to help make feedback more time-effective, without sacrificing the support and direction students need for their growth.
I have a love-hate relationship with giving feedback. I love how potent a tool it is to help students move their learning forward. I love the occasions when I can get the feedback to students “just for them, just in time, and just helping nudge forward” as John Hattie said, and see their skills blossom. I hate when I see an intimidating pile of student work. I hate when I feel I don’t have time to give ideal feedback. And I hate when I commit time to giving feedback, but it doesn’t help students.
So, I’m spending some time this year re-thinking feedback.
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on May 30, 2017
It’s that time of year when teachers start thinking about how to keep students reading and writing over the summer. To assign or not assign the summer reading or writing project? That is certainly the question.
As a middle school English teacher, I always struggled with how to encourage summer reading and writing without making it a chore. I remembered all too well the time my own English teacher assigned our class to read and reflect on 100 poems over the summer. With the first ten poems, I appreciated the fact that she had helped me go beyond my usual genres. But by the time I got to the 99th poem, I was done with poetry!
So, how do we encourage our students to continue their literacy skills without squashing their passions? I tossed this question out to the Teaching Channel community and got some great ideas.