Monday, September 1, 2014

Teacher practices that impact reading motivation

An article with the same title as this blog post gives me hope that I can influence reading motivation in my classroom, including practical ideas about reading choices, relevance, social interaction, and efficacy.

Best wishes for a fruitful year to all teachers and students!

Friday, August 22, 2014

What motivates anyone to work?

While planning for the upcoming school year, I've been thinking a lot about motivation. All summer long I marveled at my stay-at-home life of leisure: first, a 2-week vacation to Taiwan, followed by a full week of severe jet lag, and now I'm wrapping up 6 weeks of knitting about 10 hours a day for fun and supervising a mostly cooperative but somewhat lazy in a normal teenager way 13 year old daughter, plus occasional sprinkles of social outings with friends and family. Who wouldn't want to do this all the time?!

"Why work?" was a recurring theme last year, my first year teaching high school students. The most popular culture reference to answer this question is Drive by Daniel Pink who is not exactly my education guru (July 2013 post "What does Daniel Pink know about public education?") even though his book A Whole New Mind tried to assure me that I as a right brainer will rule the future. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose - I'll focus on Drive's Three Big Ideas and ignore Pink's inconsistent application of those Big Ideas to public education (and parenting) to help me shape this school year's instruction.

Here are my own Three Big Ideas for this school year:

First, intrinsically motivated learning is the collective goal (for adults and teens alike), the foundation of the entire school year, and the explicit theme for the first few months. I don't expect to fix anyone's motivation problems. I just want to communicate directly and clearly that students are in charge of their own personal growth, which includes intrinsic motivation to work, delay gratification, quit complaining, etc. Instruction will include reading excerpts of The Four Agreements, reading and annotating nonfiction/current events articles, reading workshop, and basic writing conventions (capitalization, punctuation, homonyms, sentence structure, seriously, I'm not lying).

The next two Big Ideas are instructional units that relate to course/content specific goals (and yes, common core learning standards, which I mention here to increase readership of this blog). One, literary analysis unit that will include reading classic literature such as Greek mythology, The Odyssey, and Lord of the Flies, study/review of literary terms, story development, writing workshop (you guessed it - paragraphing, definitely literary analysis, maybe creative writing, probably not NaNoWriMo). Two, a brand new (to me) argument/persuasion unit that will include more nonfiction texts, Julius Caesar, research, and writing workshop. I expect to enjoy flinging logos! ethos! pathos! all around me.

Extra note about writing workshop - I'd love to move lessons beyond boring basic rules (how many ways can you teach capitalization, apostrophe, homonyms???) to ... Style! Voice! Wit!

Irony aside, those Three Big Ideas in Drive motivate me to go back to work - autonomy, mastery, and purpose. #ILOVETEACHING

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I'm a struggling student

Yoga, running, and knitting help me think about students who struggle in my class. Knitting doesn't count as much as the first two because I've gained a lot of knitting skills in a short time, but yoga and running continue to kick my butt every single practice.

Practicing yoga in class with a great teacher is satisfying and humbling! There are always poses I can do much more readily than others in the room, and there are many poses that I see others achieve and feel only awe and think "I'm probably never going to do that". Some poses (usually involving lifting the body with hands/arms) make me laugh outright because I can't even believe the human body can do that right in front of my eyes! What I love best about good yoga practice and teaching is the idea that I can always do SOMETHING, a move or pose or even (especially) intention that will help me move closer to achieving that supposedly impossible pose and, most importantly, gain the benefits of that pose without actually achieving it (yet). In essence, every "impossible" pose is possible.

Yoga isn't a perfect analogy because my students don't choose to come to my class the same way I choose to go to yoga class. Even so, I think about my students when I practice the possible parts of the impossible poses. I think about being more patient with students who struggle, offering possible parts of impossible reading or writing tasks, emphasizing the learning process as change and growth, and acknowledging success at every stage of the process.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Balanced literacy and other controversies about my job

On the first day back from a two-week vacation in Taiwan, I read online a few articles about the Balanced Literacy debate in the New York City area schools. (Here are letters to the editor that reference the published articles.) A friend and fellow English teacher directed me to one Op-Ed article, then I found others, and pretty soon my jet-lagged brain cried, "Please! Let's move on to something that doesn't hurt, like shopping for yoga pants!"

In 2003, Balanced Literacy was the model I tried to follow for the next five years teaching 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts. Then I switched to be the Academic Intervention Services teacher the next five years, which shifted/narrowed my focus to reading comprehension, particularly in the standardized testing context. At the same time, I learned a great deal about the reading workshop models promoted by Donalyn Miller and Nancie Atwell, and I devoted time and effort to reading a wide range of literature for students and teaching students to become independent readers.

This blog has chronicled my development as an English teacher since 2007, sometimes intensely in the first few years of the blog, but it has tapered off to an occasional trickle in the last few years. One main reason why I stopped blogging is that I'm tired of jostling for position in the increasingly public debates about my profession. I'm the one working every day, planning, teaching, grading, reading, writing, calling, meeting, conferencing, repeat. Occasionally I'm flattered by the attention, the same way I'm glad many faculty meetings have been devoted to the standardized test scores of my students, because of course I think my subject is important. Usually the attention is annoying and frustrating, unproductive for my work and my students' learning, and barely deserves eye-rolls from me, eye-rolls that say, "You can talk and write all you want about English instruction, you can be lauded and criticized for research and models and results, but you don't know much about my work, my students, my classroom, so I'm moving on because I have work to do."

In the first few weeks of summer vacation, I tend to move on to personal interests like traveling, knitting, shopping, and some other things that were set aside during the school year. I don't know much, but I know I busted my butt last year and worked damn hard to plan, teach, grade, read, write, call, meet, conference, and a million other things that will never show up on the New York Times. This Monday I'm going to school to plan, evaluate, okay, maybe read more about the balanced literacy debate in New York City. But as I look at my "tentative" class lists for this coming school year, I know the value of public controversies and commentaries about my students' learning, and I will make my move.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

End in sight

Good news: I've learned so many new things this school year that I must be a genius right now! Here are units that I want to teach again next year in English 10:
- Greek mythology, The Odyssey
- Lord of the Flies
- Author research combined with independent reading books
- NaNoWriMo novel writing

Here are units/topics I didn't but want to teach next year in English 10:
- Shakespeare, not sure which play
- Night and other Holocaust literature

Speaking of genius, I'm reading John Green's An Abundance of Katherines right now and quite enjoying it, unlike the first time I tried to read it a few years ago. The only JG book left to read is Paper Towns, which my daughter (age 13 hurray) is reading. I'm a big JG fan - novels, vlogs, Instagram photos, all of it. Speaking of fan, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is next on my to-read list.

Oh wait - almost forgot the BEST NEWS! I met Laurie Halse Anderson at the Rochester Teen Book Festival last Saturday! I managed to take a picture with her before she started her talk about how and why she writes what she writes. I'm wholeheartedly inspired to write, and voila! (Also I ordered her latest book, The Impossible Knife of Memory and an earlier novel I never read, Twisted, which features a teen boy's point of view. She said she's currently writing Ashes, last book in the historical Chains trilogy.) She talked about her childhood, becoming a writer, hating high school English class and the books she was assigned to read but never did (yep, she named a few; Old Man and the Sea is all I remember; I kept chanting, please don't say Lord of the Flies, please don't say Lord of the Flies), later regretting she didn't listen to her English teachers about the writing process and revising.

The second best news is that I met another celebrity on Thursday (two in three days!) - Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, better known as the Yarn Harlot! She came to the local knitting guild to give a talk and knitting lessons. I knew she would be funny, and sure enough I almost fell out of my chair laughing, but I didn't expect her to inspire me to be even more loud and proud about knitting than I already have been. The icing on the cake was that I brought my first pair of knitted socks to show her, as I have seen from her blog that other fans do and even pose for pictures with them. After she and the ladies behind me in line commented on the different shapes of these two socks, I said they were made ten months apart, and everyone laughed. Most likely they were laughing at me, but I'm thrilled! I made the Yarn Harlot laugh! The icing on the icing on the cake is that she took our audience photo and just posted it on her blog today - we are totally famous!

WAIT! The absolute BEST ICING on top of all the icing was that, since Laurie Halse Anderson is an avid knitter, which I already knew from her Instagram pics, she was KNITTING at the book fair general assembly when all the authors introduced themselves by answering "truth or talent"!!! (She showed her talent of swearing in Danish!) BAM!