Wednesday, October 19, 2016

8 pARTS and Creative Writing with Research

Before I share today's 9th grade writing lesson with you all, I have to give a big, huge, ginormous SHOUT OUT to my edifying edu-buddy Cheryl Morris and the indomitable Jon Corippo. The evolution of this lesson and writing task begins with Corippo's 8 pARTS and Cheryl's sharing of her versions of said resources.


Here is a quick tour of Corippo's 8 pARTS: using imagery in art to teach grammar skills.




Great stuff, right?!  
I think so too!

But, I'm a bit of a stickler for visual design and the layout of paper (dare I say the dreaded word) worksheets, I adapted Corippo's design and created my own template that included a space for the picture and grouped the parts of speech to designate relationships visually.

Click here to access the Google Doc. Go to FILE, MAKE A COPY, to create an editable version.

The talented Cheryl Morris created a rubric for the writing task, and I snagged this too, tweaking it for my class.

Click HERE to access the Google Doc version. Go to FILE, MAKE A COPY to create an editable version. 


For our first repetition of this assignment a week ago, students focused on a picture that could relate to our reading of Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game." The students wrote their paragraph on paper and I conferenced with each individual student, going over the worksheet and rubric and providing narrative feedback on the paragraph. Notice the rubric focuses on the application of grammar concepts, not necessarily the creativity of the writing. Don't worry, that will get added in later. At the end of each conference, students were told to write down a list of ideas for revision based on our conversation-- don't actually start revising (yet), just down a plan to revise.

After all conferences were complete (this took a few days), students were directed to revise and type their scene based on the picture, relying on their revision list. I told them at this point to stop thinking like students and to start thinking like authors: the picture was a starting point, now go in any direction that makes sense, as long as dialogue and description was included in the writing. Some wrote a continuation scene of "The Most Dangerous Game," others capitalized on the theme of the story and wrote a fanfiction piece using characters from the Hunger Games. To "publish" their work, students added the link to their Digital Writing Portfolio (more on that in another post!).

For our second repetition of the 8pARTS task, which took place today, I added a bit of a twist. See if you can spot it in today's agenda posted to our Edmodo class group:





We started the task same as before: close read the image and jot down a list of examples of each part of speech in the picture -- a picture which was also a connection to our reading of James Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."




After our list was generated, I told the students this is a picture taken from real life, not a film, tv show, or one of Walter's daydreams, and I asked them what questions they had. Shouts of "How old is that plane?" "What kind of plane is that?"  "Did that come from the Bermuda Triangle?" "Is that Amelia Earhart's plane?" reverberated through the room.  

I replied, "I don't know. How about we try and find out?"

(Ok, so I really did know some things about this plane, but I learned so much MORE during the next step.)

Students grabbed their phones or borrowed a Chromebook. They started typing in keywords to search; I showed a few how to do a reverse Google Image search.

And an amazing thing started to happen: around the room, I heard exclamations of "I found it!"

Students visited the sites and started shouting out information: the plane is a FM-2 Wildcat; it was in Lake Michigan; it crashed during a training mission.

AND THEN they started digging deeper: they found the name of the pilot, the name of the ship the plane took off from, the story of the crash, how long it was underwater, what happened to the pilot, how many other planes are in Lake Michigan, how this plane was found and recovered, and where the plane is now.

As they found the information, the students were directed to keep a running list of notes in their composition book.

By the way, this whole research phase took less than 10 minutes. I didn't hammer them on sources and citations (yet) of their information. For now, I wanted them excited about what they found. Don't worry, we will cite our sources later.

Calling the class back together, we compiled our quick research and created a plot diagram of the story of this plane: The FM-2 Wildcat flown by Ensign William Forbes from the deck of the USS Sable that had engine trouble during a training mission and crashed into Lake Michigan. Forbes was rescued, and after 70 years, the plane was recovered where it was later transported to an aviation museum in Florida.

Students got a kick out of my puns, because there was literally rising action as the plane takes off, and literally falling action as the plane crashes.




And now comes the final (almost) step to this task.  I told my students to pick one event on this plot diagram and write the scene of this event. As if ripped from the pages of a larger novel, write the scene with characters, setting, dialogue, description pulled from the research, and (oh yeah, can't forget these) underlined and labeled examples of the 8 parts of speech.

Tomorrow, as I walk around the room quickly scoring their worksheet and draft completion using the same rubric above, I'll offer some narrative feedback, and they will type up their handwritten draft in Google Docs, publishing it by adding the link to their doc to their Digital Writing Portfolio (more on that in another post!). 

But seriously, I can't wait to read what they've written!

From one photograph, students practiced visual analysis, critical thinking, grammar, 8 parts of speech, research, and creative writing skills.

That in itself is a work of art.













Sunday, October 16, 2016

Blending Active Reading & Conversations with EDpuzzle

As I integrate technology into my classroom, I want to make sure that my students do not have their faces in a screen all the time. Also, I want to capitalize on creating opportunities for my students to practice listening and self-pacing skills. Blending paper with digital media and face to face interactions with digital learning, I created checkpoints in an EDpuzzle video lesson that would encourage students to close read a text and "Turn and Talk" to answer text-based questions accurately.


Building on previous teacher-centered lessons from our reading of Richard Peck's “Priscilla and the Wimps” and Richard Connell's “The Most Dangerous Game” in which we actively read texts together, students encountered a text for the first time in such as a way as to practice self-pacing skills during an in-class flipped lesson. In an effort to flip my reading instruction and to encourage students to actively read, I edited a preexisting audiobook video on YouTube to include the text of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber. I then uploaded the new version to EDpuzzle and embedded the checkpoint questions, tagging each with a NJ Learning Standard for ELA 9th grade (formerly known as Common Core Curriculum Standards).


Each student logged in to EDpuzzle on his/her class Chromebook, and then synchronizing with a partner, hit play and listened with personal headphones to the audiobook while reading along with a paper copy of the story.


As you can see from the EDpuzzle lesson below (go ahead, try!), at various points in the story, the video would pause and students were directed to mark up their paper copy of the text so that they could better understand the narrative structure, as well as answer comprehension questions. Students would turn and talk to their partner to discuss the directions and questions. I navigated around the room, listening to the partner conversations and seeing what students marked on their paper copy. It was immediately apparent if a student recognized the ellipsis or not, and I was able to quickly confirm or redirect as needed.


After marking up the paper text, students submitted their answers to the questions in EDpuzzle and were given immediate feedback on their accuracy, including an explanation as to why each answer was correct or wrong. I also tracked student progress in EDpuzzle and mark typed-in responses as correct/incorrect while students work through the video.


Despite the video being under 12 minutes, student conversations extended the lesson time. Those who talked too long or got off topic soon realized the consequence of not staying on task: Students who did not finish the lesson in class were instructed to complete the lesson prior to the next class meeting.






Even though the visual design of EDpuzzle’s site is different from PARCC or other online tests, the digital literacy skills students are using to answer standards-based questions will help prepare students for future digital standardized assessments. And by having students work synchronously with a partner, they are able to practice interpersonal, conversational skills.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Connecting with Colleagues at Flipcon16

While I couldn't be at Flipcon16 in Allen, Texas in person, I was able to converse with flipped learning pioneer Aaron Sams, Flipcon keynote speaker Tyler DeWitt, Flipped Learning Network Board Charman Ken Bauer, and flipped educator and author April Gudenrath via a Google Hangout about nonlinear learning in today's classroom.



Thursday, July 14, 2016

Literature, Travelogues, & Google Maps

Integrating geography concepts into the ELA classroom is easy to do when a story features characters undertaking a physical journey. Students and teachers can create collaborative Google Maps pinned with specific locations to practice digital literacy and research skills.

To enliven our study of Homer's Odyssey, students worked collaboratively to create a map of Odysseus' and Telemachus' journeys.  Using evidence from the text, students pinned a specific location on the map, selected an appropriate and symbolic icon for the pin, typed up a blurb about the location, inserted an image for the location, and attached a link to a source that would extend visitors' understanding of the location.

You can visit the map and click on pins. 


To facilitate the process, students were directed on the daily agenda posted to Edmodo to visit the Chrome Web Store and install the Google URL Shortener, Tab Scissors, and Tab Glue extensions.


The extensions allowed students to split their browser windows, placing them side by side for easier jumping between tabs, and the URL Shortener truncated the long links for inclusion in the pin description. Each pin's description can be color coded and enhanced with images, text, and links to other sources.






In addition to marking locations, students could map the travel routes, customizing the color and width of the line. Additionally, the style of the map can be changed as well.


Odysseus' journey from Ithaca to Troy and then to the Land of the Ciccones,  and the Lotus Eaters. I can quickly see that this class is starting to get off course as they have skipped the Cyclops Island. 

 Throughout this "fun" collaborative class activity, students demonstrated digital literacy skills that included typing, searching, using the trackpad, and jumping between browser windows all the while speaking to each other face to face as they divvied up tasks and reviewed the content.

Brainstorming other ways to incorporate Google Maps in the ELA classroom, students could....

  • Pin where they went during summer or school-year breaks. 
  • Research their heritage and pin locations where their families originated
  • Write a creative travel-themed short-story with pins of scene locations and the text of the scene in each pin's description
  • Compose poetry based on specific pinned locations.


How have you used Google Maps with your students?
What other ways could Google Maps be incorporated into your classroom?
Post a comment with your thoughts!





Sunday, April 10, 2016

Goldilocks and the 3 Bears of Productivity

Everyone knows the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. Goldilocks eats, sits and sleeps through the bears' house seeking what is "just right".

As I attempt to stay organized with being a mom, wife, teacher, presenter, and coach, I feel as if I am Goldilocks. This planner is too big. That bullet journal system is too long. This app is too complex. From Pinterest to Amazon to Google, I've searched for just the right organizational system that meets the needs of my Type B (but many times Type A) personality.


Planners, bullet journals, and productivity apps... Oh my!

I like the idea of a planner, but not the actual item. I don't want one more thing to carry, and I guarantee I won't always have it with me. A paper-based planner is also less appealing since I use Google Calendar and Outlook Calendar for personal and professional purposes,  both of which are synched together. I don't want to run the risk of forgetting something because either the planner or the digital calendars were not up to date.  I have multiple calendars in Google: two for lesson plans  (one for each level of my classes), another for family, and another for my events and tasks. School events listed in Outlook appear on my Google Calendar. And all of my bazillion calendars are synched to my Android phone where I can quickly view events listed on the month-view widget.

Akin to scrapbooks, bullet journals are visually appealing and can be a robust way to track everything from appointments to daily water intake to long-term goals. I also like the idea of a bullet journal, but I know I do not have the time nor personal diligence to follow through with using it proficiently.  I did spend numerous hours on Pinterest pinning bullet journal resources, so if you are interested, feel free to check out my board:




I've been poking around on Google Play searching productivity apps, but nothing seems to fit my needs just right: I don't need a complex app, I like to write lists, and I want simple, but appealing visual design. I also need something that is platform agnostic since I own both Android and iOS devices, Chromebooks, and Windows and Mac computers. I also want something fast that when a thought pops in my head, I can quickly locate where that thought needs to go for reference later. Google Keep has been the closest I've come to "just right."

If you, dear reader, have any recommendations for productivity apps, please leave a comment on this post!


Google Keep keeps me (mostly) organized.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE Google Keep for list writing, and while it fits most of my needs for organization, I am still tweaking my system.  I can create digital post-it notes and check-box lists in Google Keep. All notes can be tagged and color-coded. I can attach pictures and share notes with others. I can drag to reorder the notes and archive them as needed or even turn them into a Google Doc. If I think of something, I grab my phone and speak, type or draw a note in Google Keep.


I have two ongoing lists that I refer to everyday:

1. To Do
2. Grocery Shopping


My To-Do list is a running record of things that I should get done ASAP within the next few days. While I can prioritize by reordering the items, I can't categorize them individually. I could create separate lists by category, but I'm leery of having too many high-priority lists at the same time.



Grocery shopping is self explanatory.  I can't tell you how many times I wrote a list on paper only to forget it at home, or I forget to put numerous items on the list. I check and uncheck items on the master list as needed rather than deleting and retyping items. I also have this list shared with my husband in case he wants to add something--which he has yet to do digitally.




Organization can be a Bear.

Ultimately, the planner, journal, list or app itself won't make me more productive and organized. I must take action.  Productivity and effective organization can't just be a fairytale!

If you have a system or tips for organization that you'd like to share, please post a comment!



Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Google Voice Typing & 2nd grade Homework

My 2nd grade daughter is a whirling dervish.  She is sharp, intelligent, but she cannot sit still. Get her excited about something and she will talk... and talk.... and talk.... and talk about the topic. But I notice that when she is asked to write or type something, those quick thoughts fly away rather than travel down her arm on to the page.

When I reflect on why I like blogging, it has as much to do with my interest in the written word as it also does with the dexterity of my fingers and the voices in my head. My younger years of playing piano have transitioned from playing the ivory keys to flying over the QWERTY keyboard.  To be honest, I was never a virtuoso, but a very shy piano player, never truly confident in my abilities and reluctant to play for others. While I could play a classical piece of sheet music, I couldn't hear the music in my head if I was asked to improv for jazz band.  Relating this to writing, as my fingers fly over the keyboard, I can hear in my head the words I want to appear on the page. My thoughts quickly travel down my arm and out of my fingers on to the screen because I am a proficient typist.  My students are always wowed by this parlor trick:  I can type coherent sentences with correct punctuation and spelling without looking at the screen. It creeps them out when I'm looking at them as they talk to me, but typing something on the computer.

So last night, my 2nd grade daughter's homework included typing up a paragraph about rainforest
animals.  What could take me a few minutes to type up a paragraph would take my daughter eons to get on the screen.  What to do?  I wanted her to do the homework herself, rather than me typing it up for her, but her typing skills are not developed yet.  And as I'm trying to clean up dishes after a long day of school, it wasn't feasible to take the time for her to practice typing AND writing at the same time.  So using Google Voice Typing, we were able to separate the skills of typing and writing AND get the homework completed in a short amount of time.

Our Process:
  1. Open a new Google Document
  2. Go to TOOLS, select Voice Typing
  3. My daughter and I discussed the topic prior to hitting the record icon. Then when she knew what she wanted to say, she hit record.
  4. My daughter spoke her thoughts aloud and Google captured her words on the screen.
  5. Using the keyboard, my daughter edited her work, moved the cursor, hit record, and would clarify areas that needed revision. 
  6. When the paragraph was completed, she learned to use CONTROL-A to select all the text and chose a font to style her work.
Proud Mama captured the moments: 








When I think about my 9th grade ELA students who struggle with writing, I wonder if they have similar issues: their brains are working too quickly and their fingers can't write or type fast enough to capture the thoughts on the page. With Google Voice Typing on our class set of Chromebooks, students could record themselves or a partner answering an open-ended response question and once the words are on the page, they could work together to edit and revise the response. Due to time constraints, so much the writing process is condensed and by the time students get to high school they are expected to have proficient fine-motor skills to write or type quickly.  One look at any papers I may collect and you will be able to distinguish the proficient writers based on their penmanship and the words on the page. 

Google Voice Typing can help any fast-thinking, whirling dervish of a student to get his/her words on the page so that more time can be spent crafting their writing as opposed to recording it. 


Change that to "Click to Write!"


Friday, February 5, 2016

Snow Days & Stomach Bugs in the Paperless Classroom

You may have noticed that it has been a while since I last blogged... since November... which coincides with the start of swim season (look for a future post on what edtech stuff I'm doing with the swimteam).  Between practices, meets, and keeping up with the other day-to-day activities of teaching and family, I've neglected my blog, but today's surprise snow day offers up some "free" time to write.

Germs & Bugs
I've been wondering about the unintended effects of having a paperless classroom.  Up until this week, I've been fairly healthy this school year, but I was stricken with a stomach bug Tuesday morning, which just so happened to be the day after I collected a stack of department-mandated Quarterly exams from every one of my freshman English students on Monday.  Could this be a mere coincidence? Probably not, considering students have been absent for the same reason. So this begs the question, how germ-ridden are student papers? While grading papers may make some teachers metaphorically sick, I wonder if grading papers makes teachers literally sick due to germ and virus transmission.  I'm being serious!

I saw a post the other day on social media about the 23 things you'll understand when dating a teacher and thought back to the years when I started teaching and was sick with bronchitis, pneumonia, and strep or the years when my husband and I first started dating, and he was constantly coming down with something. Granted our immunity has improved over the course of my 17-year career, but in the past three years of bringing Chromebooks into the classroom and flipping my assessment techniques, I've seen a decrease in the frequency with which I've contracted an illness.

Less-Paper Assessment
So what am I doing differently with assessment?  How am I going paperless?  I still give my students papers (ask them about Baker's infamous packets), but the key is I don't collect them to assess them.  Since flipping my classroom, I am freed from the spotlight of the stage at the front of the room.  Structuring the period with student-centered learning activities, I can walk from desk to desk, ask students to show me their paper to read, ask them to flip the page over so I can continue reading, and then make quick marks and provide verbal feedback with my pen, never laying my actual finger on the paper. Plus, by speaking directly to the student face to face, the student has the opportunity to ask questions immediately.  I was always so frustrated when students would give a cursory glance to the comments I spent hours making on their papers back in the days I collected, scored, and redistributed their work.

Using Edmodo and Google Classroom, students are turning in their work electronically.  From submitting links to Edmodo discussion posts to turning in typed outlines on Google Docs, my students are generating an informal online portfolio of the work that can be accessed at anytime with a mobile device or computer.  Assignments are never misplaced in the bottom of a bookbag or lost after a folder has exploded in a crowded hall.

It has taken me a bit of trial and error, as well as help from online colleagues to figure out the most efficient ways to score online assignments.  Pairing Google Classroom assignments with the Doctopus and Goobric Add-ons seems to be the most efficient system I've come across:  few clicks to make, links and scores organized on a spreadsheet, rubrics pasted in to the Google Doc, scores emailed to students. I had tried out Doctopus prior to Google Classroom and it just didn't work for me, but NOW... holy moly guacamole!

Doctopus & Goobric Set-Up

  1. Create your rubric for an assignment on a Google Sheet.  The first column will be the focus areas of your rubric, while the first row will be for numeric values.  Type in your qualities for each focus area and score.                                                                                                   
  2. On a new, blank Google Sheet, go to the Add-on menu and select Get Add-ons, then locate Doctopus.                                                                                                                       
  3. Open Doctopus and follow the directions in the side panel, selecting "Ingest Google Classroom Assignment,"  then selecting your Classroom Class and Assignment, and then attaching a Goobric (your rubric that you made in Google Sheets).  The add-on will fill in all the information on the Google Sheet, listing students' names, email addresses, links to the scoring screen, and the student documents, as well as scores as you enter them in on the scoring sheet. I've purposely hidden student names and email addresses on the screenshot below.  You will need to enter in the SUM or similar formula to calculate the total scores in the Grade column. For those of you who do proficiency based scoring, you can use conditional formatting to color-code the scores in the spreadsheet (which I didn't do in this screenshot below).
  4. To score student work, click on the hyperlink in the Goobric Link column and the scoring screen will appear in a new tab.  
  5. On the scoring screen, you can see the rubric for entering scores, a dashboard for submitting and advancing to the next student, and the student's document where you can enter in comments as needed.                                                                                       
  6. After scores are submitted, the spreadsheet automatically updates and you can set it so that students are sent an email with the scores and the rubric is pasted at the bottom of the Doc with the appropriate cells highlighted to signify the scores.                      



So why do I like this system?  Well, after set-up, scoring takes place on one screen, and I have minimal clicking to get through the class set and students are immediately sent their scores.

If you'd like more information on setting up Doctopus and Goobric, take a look at this public Google Doc and make sure you send a thank you tweet to Andrew Stillman, the mastermind of Doctopus and Goobric.

Snow Day Papers
So here I am at home on a snow day, happily blogging.  But, I've also found another reason for going paperless.  Remember those department-mandated Quarterly Exams I collected on Monday?  Guess where they are sitting right now.  Yup, that's right... on my desk at school.

After being out on Tuesday and Wednesday, I was busy catching up on all the things from being absent and left them on my desk, thinking I will get to them on Friday.  Well, it looks that groundhog was wrong and the weather-folks underestimated this "brush" of a snow storm because here I am sitting home on a snow day without my stack of papers to grade.  Guess I'll have some catching up to do again....





Thursday, November 26, 2015

Crowdsourcing Book Recommendations #CEL15 #NCTE15

I am continuing to decompress from attending the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and Conference on English Leadership (CEL) events in Minneapolis, Minnesota where sessions, keynotes, and roundtables were brimming with resources and book recommendations.  Throughout Penny Kittle's book-loving CEL closing keynote, I live-tweeted many of her recommendations, but I know I was not able to tweet out them all.









Penny Kittle (as well as Jeff Wilhelm, Carol Jago, and all of the keynote speakers) are so inspiring (what an understatement!), and after 6 days of the NCTE and CEL conferences, I am struggling to retain all of what I learned. While I know I can go to Goodreads or Amazon to find books to read, I get overwhelmed with all of the choices and reviews.  In an effort to simplify the process and capitalize on crowdsourcing, I created a Google Form for Book Recommendations.


If you think a book is worth reading, complete the form.  Quick and simple.  Notice this form does not provide a place for 5-star ratings or reviews. As Penny Kittle pointed out when we recommend a specific book, we are imposing our own thoughts on the person to whom we are making the recommendation.



Transferring this same notion to general book recommendations (not just for students to read books in class), the books recommended via this Google Form will serve as our digital stack. The spreadsheet results can be filtered by fiction or nonfiction, alphabetized by author or title, and we can then venture to Amazon or Goodreads to find more information on the text. The form and spreadsheet are intended to serve as a starting point, a quick list of recommendations.


Even if you did not attend NCTE15 or CEL15, fill out the form!  Thank you!




Saturday, November 14, 2015

Flipping ELA-- More than Students Reading Books at Home


I had the wonderful privilege to present at the 2015 NJEA Convention in the Flipped Learning Theater with the pioneering Jon Bergmann and the ever-enthusiastic Marc Seigel. I presented two sessions:  Flipping the English Language Arts Classroom and Technology Tools for Flipped Reading.








My slide decks are below. I'm really proud of my visual design for these slides! Slide Carnival has some excellent templates that can be customized. Be sure to click on the hyperlinks within the slides for access to resources. Lots of goodies!


Speaking with Jon Bergmann at the convention for his BAM radio show, "The Flip Side," the question was broached, "Well, isn't English already flipped?  Read at home and come to class ready to apply?"  My answer is a resounding NO! For some students, reading is the difficult task, and I want to be present with my students for the difficult tasks. I can Flip 101 (aka replace live, direct instruction with video or tech tool) many things in the classroom, including reading, but I need to make sure that students are adept at the skills when we are face to face before I send them home with flipped tasks to complete.  The "face-to-face before do at home" time will vary depending on the content.  For some material, I need 5 minutes to make sure students are adept, but for other skills or content, my students may need multiple class periods to demonstrate that they are proficient independent learners.

I am a big fan of the "in-class" flip:  allow students to practice self-pacing and independent learning in class rather than at home.  Remember, the primary premise of Flipped Learning is to make the best use of face-to-face time with your students. So if this means they need guided, independent learning (I know, such an oxymoron) prior to unsupervised, independent learning (I know, redundant), then that is what I will do.  The flip at home will not be successful, and we will lose precious face-to-face time if I don't scaffold the process and gradually release control to the students.

The Flipping ELA Slide Deck features some activities and resources for how to Flip 101 and Mastery Flip an English Class. I've learned so much from my Flipped ELA peeps that I can not take credit for all the things in the slides. While I use what I share on the slides with my students, the original ideas may have come from one of the phenomenal flipping ELA teachers listed towards the end of the slide deck.



The Tech Tools for Flipping Reading will provide some examples of Flip 101 screencasts for modeling close reading, as well as edtech tools such as Booktrack Classroom and Curriculet for flipped reading instruction.  And make sure you listen to the interview with Jon Bergmann because I share how my students practice close reading using Google Docs as we Explore-Flip-Apply author's purpose and literary devices in texts.





Be sure to reply in the Comments to this post with your strategies for flipping your class or any questions you may have about how to flip!






Saturday, October 10, 2015

#WhyITeach #WhyILearn Reflective Thinking for Teachers, Students and Parents

At NJPAECET2 a photobooth area was set up where participants filled out speech bubbles to thank a teacher and answer the question, "Why do I teach?"  Pictures were taken, tweeted out with the hashtag #WhyITeach or #ThankATeacher, and all the speech bubbles were taped to the windows.






 This is a powerful visual and an easy method for triggering reflection.  Why do we teach?  What teachers am I grateful for?  In the age of assessment, it is easy to lose sight of the purpose of education and the people who matter when we are bogged down with mandates and methods of documenting accountability.  Notice, not anywhere on these speech bubbles does it say, "So, my students can get As on tests" or "Thank you to the teacher who helped me ace that exam."

Why do we teach?  Who are we grateful for?

I teach because I love learning and experiencing the world through a text.  I teach because I want to share my love of learning and cultivate the curiosity of my students. So much of what I do for students can be seen in small gestures -- creating an engaging classroom climate, awakening students' critical thinking skills, guiding the students' towards connected yet independent learning and self-sustainability. All of the small things add up over time to create a solid foundation for students as they journey towards graduation. To use another metaphor, in freshmen year I'm leading them to the path and giving them tools and resources to use, but the students are walking the path when they venture beyond my room. Through professional development opportunities, I'm sharing my strategies, engaging and collaborating with educators --which expands my reach: when I help another teacher, I am helping that teacher's students. Ultimately, I teach so I can help make the world a better place.

I'm grateful for my parents who are educators, my former teachers, and my colleagues near and far who have inspired me and shaped my teaching practices. I cannot be the teacher I am today without their influence.

With the start of the 2015-16 school year under way and having the largest cohort of freshmen Honors classes ever, the above questions also got me thinking about what would my students say if I asked them, "Why do you learn?"

Thanks to @Teacher2Teacher, who sent me a kit to replicate the #WhyITeach activity in my district, I adapted the directions to fit my students and we used the hashtag, #WhyILearn.  Students filled out their speech bubbles, and I hung them up around the classroom so that they could have a daily reminder of their responses as we get deeper in the course content.

Take a look at some of their responses...






Did you see if any of the responses had to do with testing or grades?  Me neither.

So many of the responses focus on the future and wanting to be successful.  But what is their definition of success? What does success really mean to my students?  How do we quantify success? These are important questions to answer.  The answers are also important to keep in mind as when the stress of school gets too overwhelming:  focus on the big picture; think about how this moment will lead to a better future.

Also at the beginning of the school year is Back to School Night, and the activity with my students got me thinking about what the students' parents would say if I asked them the question, "Why do you want your child to learn?"

Flipping Back to School Night, I recorded a screencast of my class expectations and procedures two weeks prior to the big night.  Students were given the assignment to watch the video WITH their parent and answer the corresponding questions using EDpuzzle before attending Back to School.



Since my parents already knew the procedures and expectations of my class, I didn't need to spend time on Back to School Night repeating the information and could do an activity in the 12 minute class period that would let them get a feel for my teaching style and how their student might feel being a member of the class.

After a quick introduction and recap of most important information, I posed questions to my parents, "Why do you want your child to learn? What is the point? What do you think is the purpose of learning?" They were tasked with writing their answers on yellow blocks of paper before running out the door to their next class.

Thinking of the parents' responses as building blocks, I taped them to the wall of my classroom.  Take a look...





#WhyIwantMyChildToLearn

Do you see any responses that include getting good grades or doing well on standardized assessments?  Me neither.

Besides being part of the decorations in the room, I wonder how else I can bring parents into the classroom so that we all keep our sights focused on the purpose of learning and how we can best meet the needs of the students. When it comes to education, everyone matters, parents, students, and teachers.

So as we venture further into the journey of this school year, continue reflecting on WHY we do what we do and how it fits into the greater scheme of our students' lives, remember the purpose of teaching and learning.


This is a panoramic shot of the walls of my classroom. In the comments here, please share why you teach and learn and how you remind parents, students, and other teachers about the purpose of education.