Monday, March 14, 2011

In Their Words

I haven't written about my Creative Writing class on here so far, so I figure it is time to do so! In addition to being able to silent read weekly I also get to teach a super laid back creative writing class twice a week. I've started letting the students pick the topic and today they chose to write a detailed description of something in this classroom. Here is a sample of what they wrote:

Blank. White. Full of opportunity. Somehow it commands the room, the focus of most lessons, the holder of the agenda (though not very often thought of on it's own.) Doodles, bullet points, sentences, everything mars its surface everyday. Orange, purple, green, black markers slash and dot away. They fill every inch with knowledge and fun. When it's through though, when all information has been shared, a simple swipe of the finger can be rid of it. A tissue can be enough to leave the cold smooth surface gleaming and blank. Not a trace of the former marks remain.

The lighting in the room was dim. Three bookshelves across the room on the wall, four posters hung above them. The lighting in the room hit the posters perfectly to make them look magical and alive. It looked as if you could walk right into the posters and be one with the characters and act along with them. It was the perfect place to go and lose yourself in a book, the only place to be alone and escape from the outside world.

Streaming through the windows, grey light blocks half of each scene on the glossy surf posters. The bright new spring sunshine seems to fill the room like an air of completion, a well needed dose of sunshine after our cold winter. Softly "ratatat" plays through the computer speakers. Melanie looks up and smiles, warming the room to summer-level.

The floor was worn and smashed up from the hundreds of feet that have walked and many chairs that have scratched and demolished when scooted away from the desk It is dark brown in some spots, light in others. Also here are many small indents and vertical lines where you can see the individual boards.

The floorboards are splintered; the varnish is rubbing off. Reminds me of my childhood house. I always got splinters in my toes from sliding in my socks. Always felt like sharp gravel on my bare feet and would turn to ice during winter and a hot plate in the summer.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Learning Happens in the Classroom?

If you are reading this blog, chances are you have been trained as an educator or closely associate with educators. (However, this is clearly an assumption). As you go through teacher training, you learn how to create a safe environment that encourages students to perform to their full potential and constantly learn, right?

But let me ask you, how often did you take a class that taught you to facilitate learning OUTSIDE the walls of your classroom?

I went to an incredible university that trained me well for my career, but I can't recall any mention of how to impact my students' lives once they left my classroom. Let me inform you: outside of the classroom is where I have watched my students learn in ways I could never have taught them inside my classroom.

For example, I've been participating in S.O.S. (Snowboard Outreach Society) for the past two weekends. Although I come home covered in bruises and more exhausted than I have been in recent history, I have the incredible opportunity to watch my students learn lessons on courage, integrity, discipline and perseverance that they may not have learned from reading a novel. I have seen kids frustrated to tears continue to try something that is very difficult. They keep pushing hour after hour to challenge themselves and learn that they are capable of far more than they thought they were.

Or where was the class that taught us the incredible value of coaching a sport? I learned as much from the girls I coached as I could have possibly taught them. They kept me laughing and feeling so alive I couldn't wait to slap that volleyball after school. They brought my favorite sport back to life for me and I have continued to play ever since. They learned to trust one another, to work together and that they could overcome anything.

If I really wanted to go off on a tangent I would question why our students are evaluated purely by what they do in the classroom when so much learning happens outside of it. Feel free to answer that question below as well. However, what I really want to ask is why don't we put much value on the learning outside the 4 walls of the square we call our classroom?

Friday, February 25, 2011


I have stumbled into a reading Utopia in my very own classroom! Feel free to be jealous that I spent my Friday sitting in the sunlight reading "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin while glancing over the top of my book regularly to find the bowed heads of 20 high schoolers pouring over their own novels.

Silent reading day is a chance for us all to escape: to climb K2, or experience the future or even be bitten by a vampire. These kids come to me daily, begging to take books home, and on the rare occasion that I say no (because too many other kids are reading the same book) they try to stash them away in their backpacks like they're contraband! They come bouncing back into my classroom on Monday exclaiming that they finished it and it was a-MAZE-ing!

I have found a new favorite pastime...recommending amazing books to kids with an insatiable appetite for good reads!

I know that if I had read this about a colleague's classroom I would be salivating right now. "How?!" would barely escape from my lips. Heck, I wrote my graduate school thesis on this very topic, gleaning every morsel of knowledge on this subject from countless sources. But, here's the part where I'm going to let you down...I don't have the perfect recipe for this utopia! These kids just LOVE to read. I mean, LOOOOVE it! They beg for more SSR time and complain that 45 minutes per week just isn't enough (and they're right). It could be that the planets just aligned and these kids got it.

But here's what I DO know.
1. Having hundreds of books is where it starts. My classroom is literally the school library. I have books on just about anything. And if I don't have a book about it, I'll help you find it.
2. I have taken the whole school on a field trip to the huge downtown library and gotten them all their very own beautiful library cards! That's the next step...they have to know where to find good reads.
3. I read constantly! I read books that I think sound wretched and breathtaking. I read about things I don't care about, but know my students will. And I tell them about what I'm reading constantly! I get pumped about books and it rubs off! I keep a log of what I've read posted on my wall with recommendations, post my books on, and encourage all of my colleagues to do the same.
4. I HAVE to dedicate time in the schedule every single week to read. No matter how painful it is to schedule my curriculum around it, it HAS to be a priority. I cannot take it away as a punishment either. Create the culture...this is what we do. All of us!
5. I have to model it. Let me rephrase that, I GET to model it. How wonderful would it be to read for three hours during the day, a book YOU chose (and don't have to read out loud four times in the same day). Yeah, it is as incredible as you are imagining right now!
5. I let kids sit, lay, hang wherever they want in order to get into their book. Well, I mean within safe parameters inside my classroom of course.
6. When it's SSR time, that's all we are doing. No, you cannot make up work for your other class, spoon with your girlfriend, text your BFF or skateboard in circles. We are READING. It is the expectation, always. Not only's the privilege and they see it as such. If a kid starts screwing around, the others let him know to knock it off.

These are just a few of the things that I've found work for my kids. Maybe they can work for your kids. Do your students read? Do you want them to? Respond below! I can't wait to hear what you have to say!

Happy Reading!

Friday, December 10, 2010


This is going to be a short post this time. I don't know if you have run into this at your school or place of employment, but our school has put up a firewall. It blocks any adverse information from coming in. It stops the big, bad, evil meanies from infecting us with viruses...right?

Freaking wrong! This is what I have found:
It blocks GLBTQ novel descriptions and ISBN #s
It blocks Huffington Post
It blocks the website for Banned Books Week

But it DOESN'T block:
Stupid Flash games
Instant Messaging

Hmmm...discuss amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


As I am absolutely sure you are aware, many kids have taken their lives in recent weeks as a direct result of bullying. The only question I have that surrounds this devastating loss is purely, "why?" We are EDUCATORS! Part of our job is to ensure that our classrooms and schools are a safe place to not only learn, but survive. We are their advocates, their cheerleaders and often their role models. So, why do so many kids still feel unloved and unappreciated...let's just face it...hated enough to take their lives?

I like to put myself and those around me in this lovely little setting of puppies and rainbows. I delude myself into thinking that because I love my students and do everything in my power to make sure they feel accepted, that everyone else does too. Sadly this is not the case. My classroom last year became all but a refugee camp for our GLBTQ students in a huge campus of intolerant individuals. These kids told tales of being called names, beaten up, looked down upon and told many of the same things as those who have recently taken their lives. They even told me of teachers looking at them with disgust in the hallways and turning a blind eye when they saw these atrocities happen to them.

I have to admit, I didn't believe them...about the teachers. I brought it up over lunch in a room of faculty. Choking up I explained what these kids had articulated about the adults on our campus. I was expecting matched rage with mine. I could not have been more wrong. One teacher quipped back, "Well, it's disgusting!" Another chimed in, "I don't want to see them making out in the hallways!" Still others echoed, "Well, if they choose to be 'out' at school, they have to expect that sort of treatment."

WHAAAAT?! I was TEACHERS! I mean, we don't take the Hippocratic Oath...but I have always felt that when I shook the dean's hand and accepted my teaching certificate that I swore to protect kids and educate them whatever the cost. Do no harm, right? So, why is it that the people our students are supposed to look up to are turning their backs? Why are we allowing this sort of behavior to happen from their classmates? Why is there no one these kids feel safe enough with to talk to them about the scary and deep stuff? Why as a society are we not screaming for justice?


Some links that may help continue this dialogue:

Friday, October 8, 2010

E for Effort?

I went to a teacher training today regarding the six-trait writing scoring guide. For those of you who are saying to yourself, "six whaaah?" let me explain. This is the form that is supposed to allow for teachers to grade student writing objectively. The six traits of writing are: ideas, organization, word choice, voice, sentence fluency and conventions. Stick with me non-teacher-folk. I promise to not continue in Teacherese!

Part of the training included us scoring three student samples to determine what samples of each score would look like. We then were asked to discuss our scores with a small group of other teachers. In my group, the comment was made, "Well, it would help to know the student. If this is the student's best work I would grade it higher than if this wasn't." I brought up my understanding that the scoring guide was to take the bias out of scoring this writing. This teacher continued that if a student's absolutely best work only brought him/her up to a C, then that should become an A.

Let me propose a scenario. A student works really hard to write a paper. He/she goes through the editing process and turns in a final product. Using the scoring guide, the student only scores a 3/5 (not proficient). However, you know this kid worked his/her tail off to turn this in. Do you give them an inflated grade for effort? What about when this kid goes to the next grade or college? The kid does the same caliber of work and gets the lower score. Is that fair? The kid has potential...but has the teacher provided the potential to be blindsided later?

So, my question is: Should students be graded on potential? Is the "E for effort" style of grading helping or hurting our students?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Wild World of Blogging!

So, I've started a multimedia elective at my school.

Woah, let me back up! For anyone who hasn't heard, I got the job I previously blogged about. Beating out over 200 applicants. Woot! Ok, back to my current topic...

Since we are definitely lacking in the technology department, we are improvising with the equipment we DO have...the internet. The kids have spent the last 3 classes planning out and starting their blog pages. I pretty much gave them the reigns and let them pick any topic they felt was important that others would be interested in. The topics range from skateboarding to piercing, crazy news to (shocking) medical marijuana legalization. These blogs are in their infancy, but I'm hoping that they will continue to develop as my students do.

So, why teach blogging? I've decided that every person has a voice, whether others think that voice is important or not. Teenagers in particular are victims to the "who cares what you think, kid?" mentality of our society. Therefore, I'm giving them their voices back. This is their time to talk about what is important. What others should know about them and what they can learn about themselves.

I think we will all have a lot to learn from this project.