3 Ways to Work With Newby Teachers

Notes from the Classroom

I was walking out of school the other day with my colleague Emily, and as we passed a newer teacher, I said, “Man, everybody seems so young around here these days.” She laughed ruefully and said, “Yup. We’re the Old Guard now.”  

When I started teaching, “Old Guard” meant the teachers who had been there long enough to have it all figured out. They were the ones who made the decisions while the rest of us followed their lead.

I certainly don’t have everything all figured out, and I’m not really comfortable with this whole “getting older” thing, so here are a few ways I’m trying to hang with the newbies:

1. Learn with (and from) Younger Teachers

One of the things I love most about my colleagues is our teacher-led book studies.

Right now we are doing a study on The Teenage Brain, and at our last meeting, one of my favorite parts was hearing from Kaitlyn, a second-year Spanish teacher. She described how she’s slowing down her instruction so that she gives her students time to process.

I know kids need processing time. I’ve heard about wait time for years. But listening to her describe how it was working in her classroom was the reminder I needed. The next day, I could hear her voice in my head as I was rushing through a class discussion. Slow down, give them time to process. I did. And it worked.  

2. Let Younger Teachers Take the Reigns

I’m a bit bossy (bit is not the right word at all). I like to lead. So, naturally, when two new teachers started teaching AP Language with me, I was quick to tell them how we do things.

We were clipping right along when Gina started offering suggestions. Maybe we should change the order of how we introduce the writing tasks, she suggested. Insert horrified face from Hattie. What we’re doing is working so well, I thought. But–her reasoning was sound. Her idea was a good one. We tried it, and I’m happy to report that she was right. It wasn’t easy for me to give up what I knew had always worked, but it was good to push myself to try a different approach that might be better.

3. Listen to Their Questions

I’m lucky to be part of an awesome group of AP Lang teachers who share ideas on Voxer, a messaging app. This year an experienced AP Lit teacher who is teaching Lang for the first time joined our group.

A few weeks ago, she asked how we explain exigence to our students. Her followup questions, and the discussion she sparked, made me realize I’ve been explaining it poorly for awhile. It helped me think about why I was doing what I was doing, and pushed me to think about teaching it from a new angle.

Others’ questions, then, help me think about why I do what I do, which in turn helps me rethink my teaching.

Younger Teachers Keep us Fresh

It’s easy to settle into a professional identity based on experience. But pushing myself to connect with newer teachers is a way to keep myself fresh.

Don’t worry–I won’t go too far. I’m still good for teasing the pesky millennial history teacher for his strange hipster ways. But after I run him over with my walker, I might just pick his brain a little, too.

Hattie Maguire (@teacherhattie) hit a milestone in her career this year: she realized she’s been teaching longer than her students have been alive (17 years!). She is spending that 17th year at Novi High School, teaching AP English Language and AP Seminar for half of her day, and spending the other half working as an MTSS literacy student support coach. When she’s not at school, she spends her time trying to wrangle the special people in her life: her 8-year-old son, who recently channeled Ponyboy in his school picture by rolling up his sleeves and flexing; her 5-year-old daughter, who has discovered the word apparently and uses it to provide biting commentary on the world around her; and her 40-year-old husband, whom she holds responsible for the other two.

Using the Early Literacy Grant

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

interventions-that-workQuickly introduced to the intricacies of my new job, I was handed a well-developed grant plan to execute. The grant is known as the Early Literacy Grant and the funds must be used to enhance K-2 literacy instruction. From county-level conversations, I know that districts are using these funds in many ways, such as summer-school programs, purchasing formative assessment modules, and extended-school-day stipends. The plan in my district, written by my predecessors, has two components for 1st grade students and teachers:  

  1. Targeted intervention groups
  2. Enhanced professional learning for teachers

This blog is about our journey so far.

Targeted Intervention Groups

The targeted intervention groups include children with the lowest achievement on the Observation Survey, a series of six literacy observations including letter identification, word tests, concepts about print, writing vocabulary, hearing and recording sounds, and running records on leveled text. An Observation Survey of Early Literacy, by Marie Clay, is also one of the approved measures of achievement for the 3rd Grade Reading Law.

Most of the grant money is being used to pay substitute teachers to enhance this targeted intervention. With the assistance of a 1st grade assigned substitute, each 1st grade teacher has 45 minutes daily to run interventions with this group of children, for 90 days. The intervention typically runs for 20-30 minutes with the additional time used by teachers for formative assessments (progress monitoring) to set goals and next steps for the individual students.  

Using consistent data sets, like running records and checklists from Interventions That Work, by Dorn and Soffos, the teachers know if a student is progressing toward grade-level independence–or possibly if they have reached independence with the intervention. In this way, the groups are malleable. Students may remain in the group or move out to the general classroom groups.  

In December reflections, following 18-32 days of intervention (dependent on substitute start date), teachers observed that students were growing in their literacy skills, based on common assessments. Many teachers reflected on the wish for this opportunity with children whom they had last year. I always assure them that we can only be our best that day and we can always hope to grow, which most would say that we’ve done with this program.  

Enhanced Teacher Professional Learning

Other important uses of this grant money are days of professional learning, because the best way to enhance achievement in a district is to increase the professional capacity of the teachers. We conducted three days of learning for each teacher throughout September and October, so that teachers could start this practice in a common way. Teachers have remarked that the learning days were valuable and something that they look forward to. One teacher notes, “Leaving kids at the beginning of the year was hard, but the rewards are there; learning new practice and implementing the learning has had the biggest impact. I am happy to have been trained and been able to use that to impact students.”

Additionally, in conversations across buildings on our learning days, teachers see the value in common practice and the common language of practice while having professional dialogue, and they hope to increase that capacity among their kindergarten and 2nd grade colleagues in the coming years. The topics that we have covered so far include observation surveys, progress monitoring, and specific training on Assisted Writing and Guided Reading Plus intervention groups from the Comprehensive Intervention Model portfolio (Center for Literacy UALR). As we continue with the year, I will continue to reflect with teachers, and we will have additional learning days. I’ll let you know how the story turns out, but so far the journey is powerful.

pic 2Amy Gurney (@agurney_amy) is an ELA and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator for Walled Lake Schools. She has a Master’s degree from Michigan State University in Educational Administration and is currently pursuing an Education Specialist in Educational Leadership at Oakland University. She is a current Galileo Leader. She worked on the MAISA units of study and has studied reading and writing workshop practice and conducted action research.

 

Reflect. Reinvent. Renew.

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

daybook-titleMy daughter is turning three and my house is a disaster area. There is papier mâché residue on the carpet and ceiling from the piñata we decided to make today. The sink is piled high with half-filled milk cups I haven’t gotten around to emptying.

I look around and wonder if this is the best environment for a three-year-old to live in, considering we have decided to keep her home from pre-school next year. And that’s when I realize: I’m reflecting, and it feels good.

Reflect for Yourself

One of my favorite things I used as a teacher was Jim Burke Teacher’s Daybook Personal and Professional Workshops. Burke is a trusted English high school teacher who helps teachers try to balance their work and home lives. I tried to make a habit of doing his Beginning of the School Year Workshop–which was easy. But I didn’t always make it to the End of the School Year Reflections. I was too busy closing up my room or grading finals or just plain exhausted from the year.

What I know is that I always felt better, and had more closure maybe, in the years when I made the time to reflect.

Reinvent One Area of Your Teaching Life

I’ve adapted to my role as mom, as my daughter has grown. In the beginning, I was basically a source of nourishment and comfort. Now I’m that, but I’m also a disciplinarian, a television and internet censor, a teacher, a nutritionist, a coach, a problem solver, a storyteller, a fort builder, and a small toy detective.

OWP logo copySomething I miss from my teaching years is the opportunity each new school year afforded me to try something new. Maybe it was something small, like a new desk arrangement. Maybe it was something big, like the Oakland Writing Project, seeping into my teaching and changing the way I would look at myself as a teacher and writer. But each year, I could decide to change, and I would get a new batch of students to adjust with.

Some questions to reflect upon: What will you change next year? What worked this year? What flopped and why do you think it did?

Renew Your Love Affair with Teaching

My daughter loves hearing stories about herself. We started a bedtime tradition of reading a book and then telling a story about the day, or the last trip we were on together, or the time we went to a favorite place. I was just starting to tire of the same old stories about the zoo and the bookstore. Then last week, genius struck, and we retold the story of the day she was born. And we all were excited to remember.

Do you remember why you got into teaching in the first place? Do you still hold the passion you did when you first started?

Spend some time reflecting on the first-year teacher you were and the teacher you are now. What has changed? What hasn’t? What do you wish you still had? What do you wish you could leave behind?

You are probably already signed up for a workshop or a course this summer. If not, you probably have plans to grow and change in some area of your teaching. Maybe this is the summer you figure out how Twitter can expand your professional reach. Maybe you decide to research UDL and find out what it stands for.

Or maybe you could start to explore MiPlace and all that it has to offer. What about joining Camp NaNoWriMo this July and deciding to get your students involved in November? You might take the entire summer just to be with your family, and promise yourself you will only go back in the fall on the day that the school requires you to be back to set up your classroom.

If you’d like to spend time with deliberate reflection, you might try a Thinking Routine like “I used to think…but now I think…” Or you could check out what this guy from Edutopia has to offer.

Whatever you need to do–to renew your teaching life or your personal life–make sure you do it this summer!

File_000Caroline Thompson (@TeacherThompson) taught middle school ELA for twelve years in Lake Orion before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She supports AARI teachers for Oakland Schools as an independent literacy consultant in the areas of digital media, professional development, and non-fiction resources. Caroline is a Reading and Writing Workshop advocate, a 2008 Oakland Writing Project Teacher Consultant, and a 2009 Oakland County Outstanding Teacher of the Year Nominee. She has a BA in English from Michigan State University and a Masters in the Art of Teaching Reading from Oakland University.  She lives in Berkley with her husband and their two year old daughter.

More Than One Way To Skin a Cat

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_240744010My mom always used to say, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

I’d never really thought about that disgusting idiom until I used it in class one day and the kids were rightly horrified. It’s awful, but it addresses a core principle of good teaching and learning: there is more than one way to do something well.

For the past seven years or so, our English department at Novi High School has been on a journey through that principle. As we have attempted to align to the Common Core State Standards, we have moved toward an aligned curriculum with shared texts and common assessments.

This has prompted a debate about the difference between common experiences and common assignments. Must we be lock step, or can we skin cats however we choose? Okay, that’s gross. I’ll stop.

This year, my professional learning community has finally hit its stride and figured out how to preserve teacher autonomy while still providing a CCSS-aligned curriculum for all 500+ tenth graders at Novi High School. How’d we do it? Skills based, aligned common assessments.  

As we head into summer and start thinking about changes for next year, perhaps our model can give you some ideas for how you can better align with your colleagues but still maintain your autonomy.

Before A Unit Begins

This is a key to success. Prior to starting the unit, everyone needs to know where you’re going so you can get there however you’d like. We look at our district curriculum in Atlasand we revisit the five to six very specific learning goals for the unit. Then we make sure our assessments are measuring the students’ abilities with those skills.

For example, in the third unit for the year, we worked on five learning goals:

  1. reading info texts critically
  2. analyzing dramatic structure
  3. maintaining argumentative claims
  4. presenting effectively
  5. using varied syntax

Our PLC talked about what proficiency in each of those standards looks like, and started imagining how students could show us that proficiency. For each standard, we decided on one common skill-based assessment that we’d give to our students. We made samples of what the proficient work would look like, and agreed to use formative assessments with each standard to help students monitor their learning. That’s it. We all agreed on the end point and then went our separate ways.

During the Unit

This is where the freedom came in.

Some of us started with informational reading, while others jumped right into the unit’s anchor text (a play). We shared things informally as we moved through the unit, but the pressure to do the same things and move in lock step was off completely. At our PLC meetings, we shared what was going well, where we were struggling, and worked together to come up with solutions.

After the Unit

shutterstock_410136730This was the most important part, I think. After the unit, we shared our different approaches and what had gone well.

The language standard, for example, was a bit of a mess. Some of us had tried to give students formative assessments in a writers’ workshop with writers’ notebook checks, and quickly found ourselves overwhelmed. Other people had done one-on-one conferences and liked them, but struggled to squeeze all the kids in.

One teacher, on the other hand, had developed a short-answer written formative assessment that had worked well for her and seemed very manageable. For the next unit, we all decided to use her method.

Wait, you’re thinking. I thought this post was about more than one way to do something well!

It is! I promise. Good teaching is about experimenting and testing and figuring things out. That’s what this new structure has allowed us to do. We all tried different ways to teach the language standard and, after that experimentation, we found a way that works best. Had we not had that freedom to experiment, though, we might have never landed on the best way at all.

With some of the other standards, we found that we all did things very differently, we were all happy with with what we’d done, and our kids performed the same on the common assessment. The key is that this structure has given us a way to stay aligned to what’s important–clearly defined standards and assessments–without shackling us to agreed upon daily lessons.

As you go into the summer and think about everything you’d like to change next year, I’d encourage you to consider where you and your colleagues can make agreements about being the same, and where can you leave yourself a little room for creativity. I think you will find that agreeing to give each other a little space to experiment will ultimately help you see that there are many ways to…um..do things well.

Hattie profileHattie Maguire is an English teacher and Content Area Leader at Novi High School. She is spending her fifteenth year in the classroom teaching AP English Language and Composition and English 10. She is a National Board Certified Teacher who earned her BS in English and MA in Curriculum and Teaching from Michigan State University.

Executive Function Skills for Success in the Classroom: Recommended Resources

 The term ‘Executive Function’ is used to describe the skill set required for setting goals, carrying out organized steps, and modifying a plan to complete a task successfully, all of which are vital for academic and social success in elementary and middle school classrooms.  Strategies can be implemented in the classroom to improve the executive functioning of all students for task completion.  These strategies help students:
  • Increase their awareness and tune in to what is happening around them so they can understand how information, events and their actions will impact their goals and objectives, both now and in the near future.
  • Develop a memory for the future so that they can set personal goals and  use self-initiated organizational strategies to achieve those goals.
  • Improve self-awareness skills so they can “read a room” and use higher-order reasoning skills to “stop, think and create” an appropriate action plan with anticipated possible outcomes.
  • See and sense the passage of time so that they can accurately and effortlessly estimate how long tasks will take, change or maintain their pace, and carry out routines and tasks within allotted time frames.
  • Organize their homework space and personal belongings so they can create and use strategies to track and organize their materials.

 

Recommended Readings, Videos and Tools:

Smartbutscattered

Read a sample chapter by clicking HERE.

FallDown

Recommended Reading

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Poster

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 Recommended Reading

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Video Brief

Video for Kids

Recommended Video

Recommended Video

 

Sarah Ward Resources:

Sarah Ward, MS, CCC-SLP, is a practicing speech-language pathologist and national speaker on developing and supporting executive functioning skills. Sarah has facilitated multiple educator sessions and a parent session at Oakland Schools to provide practical, hands-on strategies to build executive function skills for success in the classroom. This web page is designed to connect educators and parents with resources that support the strategies Sarah has shared in our county.

 

To hear Sarah describe some of her strategies for supporting executive functioning in students, check out these short video clips:


Strategies for Students

Tools for Middle and High School Students

Parent Tips

Resources for Parents

 

Oakland Schools Consultant Contacts: 

 

“Hacking” School Culture

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project Professional Learning

imgresLike most teachers in Michigan, last week I spent two days proctoring the state’s SAT and ACT Work Keys tests. I collected the box of tests, read from the script, made sure there were no errant marks, and was generally absolutely bored.

The students, on the other hand, were completely stressed out by the experience, and walked away from the testing center looking like Walking Dead extras.

After spending this first day in SAT-land, I attended a workshop hosted by School Retool. School Retool is a professional development fellowship the helps school leaders redesign their school culture, using what they call “hacks.”

A colleague and I drove to the Wayne State University campus to meet a group of educators from across the state—there were two teachers from Grand Rapids—who had fled the confines of standardized testing to talk about how to change school culture.

The folks at School Retool say it’s about “hacks.” Hacks, according to them, are “small scrappy experiments” that help redesign school culture. Instead of being intimidated by the “big picture” and the things beyond my power, like standardized testing, hacking asks me to look at the levers I have in front of me, the small, scrappy changes I can make.

Don’t like the culture of my classroom? Then do something, a small thing. Pull a lever!

Changing Culture with Small Steps

Like most of the teachers at the workshop, I’ve been hacking in my classroom for some time, but I didn’t have a name for it. 

shutterstock_320401619My earliest “hacks” came when I moved the focus away from the teacher, me, as the primary audience for students’ writing, and went looking for an authentic audience. I ditched the five-paragraph essay. I replaced tests with Harkness-style discussions, and let students read whatever they wanted. I’ve tinkered with curriculum and “required reading,” while looking for more effective ways to help my students become better writers. 

These are all small experiments, scrappy ones to be sure. But they’ve changed and continue to change the culture of my classroom and my department.

My takeaway from the event was a challenge I’ve been wrestling with for awhile now. What levers do I have that I can push to affect my school’s culture? 

I walked into the workshop feeling, as I usually do during Test Week, exhausted and small. But listening to what other teachers were doing, or thinking about doing, started to work its magic on me. I felt my own culture and attitude changing.

Isn’t this what professional development is supposed to feel like? What am I going to hack next? What are we all?

RICKRick Kreinbring teaches English at Avondale High School in Auburn Hills, Michigan. His current assignments include teaching AP Language and Composition and AP Literature and Composition. He is a member of a statewide research project through the Michigan Teachers as Researchers Collaborative partnered with the MSU Writing in Digital Environments Program, which concentrates on improving student writing and peer feedback. Rick has presented at the National Advanced Placement Convention and the National Council of Teachers of English Conference. He is in his twenty-third year of teaching and makes his home in Huntington Woods.

Mentor Texts: Reading Like Writers

Book Reviews Common Core Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_151419089Secondary teachers continue to switch from old units designed around novels, to new Common Core State Standards units focused on skills and genres. As they do so, an instructional method that can support this shift is the use of mentor texts to “read like a writer.”

When a class reads like a writer, the teacher takes a descriptive approach, rather than a prescriptive approach, to instruction. It might help to think of this as an inquiry-based lesson. Instead of a teacher saying to her students, “Your essay must contain a thesis statement that sounds like this,” she might guide her students as they read another text, asking questions like, “When in this paragraph does this writer tell us what claim he’s making? How does he do it?”

It is clear that the secondary ELA world is catching on to this instructional method. It’s deeply rooted in our Common Core State Standards. Rather than requiring just the comprehension of texts, our anchor standards require students to analyze texts for word choice, structure, or “how purpose shapes the content and style of a text” (R.6). This analytical reading goes hand-in-hand with the descriptive approach taken when classes are reading like writers.

As our state makes the switch from ACT to SAT, the focus on analysis is even more apparent. The Teacher Implementation Guide produced by the College Board includes in its recommended instructional strategies the direction to “ask students to investigate the ways authors use word choice, structure, and other techniques….” Likewise, the new SAT essay does not simply ask that students be able to write their own persuasive essays; it requires that they analyze another writer’s argument.

A Book Focused on High School

It’s clear that this inquiry-based approach to reading and writing is profoundly important to secondary teachers. This is an enormous instructional shift for many teachers, especially for those in high schools. As they tackle new units and new assessments, they’ll need support. Some of our go-to mentors like Kelly Gallagher and Jeff Anderson have been writing about this instructional method, but the vast majority of writing that’s been done around mentor texts has focused on elementary classes.

41dIMvzIynL._SX395_BO1,204,203,200_That’s why it’s so exciting to see the recent publication of Writing with Mentors, by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell. So many other great mentor-text resources have left secondary teachers like myself to adapt the work for my high school students. But this book is written by two teachers with a decidedly high-school lens.

As the authors put it in their introduction, “This book was written to help you understand the potential that writing with mentors has for your students.” The book starts with the writers’ understanding of the use of mentor texts. Throughout the subsequent chapters, the book transitions to students’ understanding, use, and ownership of mentor texts.

The first two chapters offer the most foundational support for high school teachers who are making the paradigm shift, from prescriptive instruction to reading like a writer. These early chapters outline the classroom essentials needed to foster this instructional approach. The authors describe creating conditions, space, and time for reading and writing, as well as the concept of choice.

The second chapter digs into how teachers should approach the planning and internalization of this method, or as the authors call it, “Developing a Mentor Text Habit of Mind.” This chapter offers concrete suggestions for the finding and building of mentor-text collections, as well as for storage, organization, and planning. It is essential reading for secondary teachers who are just starting to get their toes wet in this kind of analytical reading and writing.

A Book for Novices and Veterans

The subsequent chapters focus on how to use mentor texts throughout the writing process, from planning to publishing. Throughout the book, the authors include plenty of resources to support teachers at all levels of understanding. Included in these resources are examples of texts that the authors have used as mentors for various genres and purposes. These texts are explained throughout the chapters and again collected in an appendix, complete with URLs and QR codes for quick access.

I’ve only had this book since its publication this fall, but with all of my highlighting, markings in the margins, and sticky notes, it’s already looking pretty well loved. It seems like every time I turn around, I’m recommending it to someone new.

That’s because whether you’re a teacher who has been using mentor texts for years, or one who is just starting to grapple with the new units and standards, this book offers valuable support for a trusted instructional approach, one that’s guaranteed to help our students grow as analytical readers and writers.

Resources

Gallagher, K. (2011). Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling & Mentor Texts. Portland: Stenhouse.

Gallagher, K. (2014). Making the Most of Mentor Texts. ASCD , 28-33.

Marchetti, A., & O’Dell, R. (2015). Writing with Mentors: How to Reach Every Writer in the Room Using Current, Engaging Mentor Texts. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Ray, K. W. (1999). Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English.

MKortlandt2Megan Kortlandt (@megankortlandt) is a secondary ELA consultant and reading specialist for the Waterford School District. In the mornings, she teaches AARI and literacy intervention classes at Waterford Mott High School, and in the afternoons, she works with all of Waterford’s middle and high school teachers and students in the Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment department. Additionally, Megan works with Oakland Schools as an instructional coach for AARI. She has presented at various conferences including the Michigan Council for Teachers of English and Michigan Reading Association annual conferences.

Collaboration with Design Thinking

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project Professional Learning

At the start of December, I attended a workshop at the Detroit Port Authority Lofts, which, it turns out, is an event space, not a place where ships check in. I’ve lived in southeast Michigan my entire life, and spent many, many hours in the city. But I didn’t know this place was there. I thought, The city of Detroit is like teachers: there’s so much good stuff happening, but no one knows about it, or the ones who do know treat the information like it’s secret.

Teachers are terrible networkers. We don’t collaborate very well, and we tend to keep ideas to ourselves, especially the really effective ones. It’s not all our fault, though, and it doesn’t have to stay like this. But we do have to make more of an effort to reach one another, to build relationships—professional and personal.

Professional development can help. Take the event I attended in Detroit, which was cohosted by the Henry Ford Learning Institute and Teacher2Teacher. The event introduced teachers to the principles of Design Thinking. We ate and talked and were lead through what is called a “rapid cycle design challenge.” That’s a short activity that introduces the elements of Design Thinking in an interactive way. Participants use Design Thinking principles (Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype/Feedback, Reflect) to redesign something for their partners. We talked to one another, worked together, and learned how Design Thinking works.

Considering the Audience

Design Thinking is a set of moves developed at the Design School at Stanford to solve problems and to design products. At first blush, it sounds like it would be limited to an academic setting. But as I’ve worked with it over the past few years and seen it in action, I’ve discovered how well it fits with other effective teaching practices, like feedback, formative assessment, and audience-driven writing.

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Members of the Avondale English department talking to students about the logos they designed in Mrs. Schupbach’s Geometry class.

One of my colleagues, Dawn Schupbach, a math and science teacher, came away from the professional-development session with some great ideas. She took what she learned at this event back to her classroom, where she turned her Honors Algebra 2 students loose on a challenge: to use Design Thinking and conics to redesign logos for the different departments in Avondale High School.

In the past she’d had the students design logos for businesses. But one of her takeaways from the professional development was the importance of audience, empathy, and feedback. It’s important to know that those are key moves that my colleagues in ELA have been working with over the past few years. 

With the idea that everything needs to be designed with a user—in ELA we say audience—she sent her students out to find what the members of the departments (the users/audience) thought about their respective disciplines—not what they wanted in a logo, or what they thought about themselves as a department. This is called Empathy in Design Thinking, and it’s vital. How can you design or write for someone you don’t understand?

Teaching Across Disciplines

Math students—let me say that again, math students—came to English and science and foreign language teachers, in order to talk about design. Look at all the cross curricular connections being made, all of the opportunities for teachers to talk to students about their disciplines. I know it sounds like a joke. “A math student walks into an ELA classroom to talk about design . . . .” But it’s really a model for what we ought be trying to build into our curricula. I want to teach writing and reading in ways that make students better at math and science and art. And I want my students to take what they learned from Mrs. Schupbach’s Geometry class into my writing class.

In the end, her students took the feedback back to their math classroom and combined it with what theyIMG_2324 were learning about conics. With that, they created logos for us to vote on. Most of my department picked the logo shown on the right. It reflected our desire to have a design that opened a conversation, by provoking a person to ask about the logo. The shapes are meant to represent aspects of our discipline and practice. We didn’t want books or pens or apples. Too cliché.

Everything that’s great about the project—collaboration, Design Thinking, cross-disciplinary work—these things happened because a good teacher had the chance (and the drive—she attended the workshop on her own time) to learn from other teachers. She not only took what she’d learned about Design Thinking back to her class. She took the way she learned it—collaboratively, interactively, cross disciplinarily—and created a rich experience for her students and, I’d argue, the whole school. That’s what happens when you put teachers together and give them time and space to learn.

RICKRick Kreinbring teaches English at Avondale High School in Auburn Hills, Michigan. His current assignments include teaching AP Language and Composition and AP Literature and Composition. He is a member of a statewide research project through the Michigan Teachers as Researchers Collaborative partnered with the MSU Writing in Digital Environments Program, which concentrates on improving student writing and peer feedback. Rick has presented at the National Advanced Placement Convention and the National Council of Teachers of English Conference. He is in his twenty-third year of teaching and makes his home in Huntington Woods.

Literacy Outside ELA

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project Professional Learning

shutterstock_171031157Recently I had the pleasure to conduct professional learning sessions on literacy with three separate groups of teachers. The teachers spanned every discipline, which is understandable, given the trends in education throughout the country.

Ever since the adoption of college and career-ready academic standards in Michigan, and throughout the country, more emphasis has been placed on nonfiction reading’s important role in all disciplines. All learners benefit when science teachers, social studies teachers, and math teachers take the time to deconstruct their texts, which helps students understand how to read them. This is true for both traditional print resources and online resources.

To this extent, content-area teachers have realized that they must also become teachers of reading. This realization helps students best access course content and achieve greater understanding.

Real Reading at Hamtramck High

In our professional learning sessions, we emphasized the Reading Apprenticeship approach to teaching reading.

The approach was developed by WestEd, an educational research and services agency. As the agency describes it:

Teachers using the Reading Apprenticeship framework regularly model disciplinary-specific literacy skills, help students build high-level comprehension strategies, engage students in building knowledge by making connections to background knowledge they already have, and provide ample guided, collaborative, and individual practice as an integral part of teaching their subject area curriculum.

This approach helps educators appreciate their important role in teaching students to read and comprehend course content, whether in a traditional English class, a physics class, or physical education.

lab

Hamtramck students in a lab

The approach is useful for a school like Hamtramck High School. Hamtramck is a haven for students whose families hail from all over the world. One of two small municipalities located entirely within the city of Detroit, Hamtramck has a sizable number of students from Yemen and Bangladesh.

For these students, educators realize the need to make esoteric academic language comprehensible. During the professional learning sessions, I clearly saw that these teachers not only had a passion for helping their students learn; they also had a willingness to embrace the approaches of the Reading Apprenticeship model.

Metacognitive Conversation’s Benefits

In the sessions, we explored metacognitive conversation and the four dimensions of literacy–social, personal, cognitive, and knowledge-building. And through this, the teachers came to understand their critical influence over students’ attitudes toward reading.

The metacognitive approach–which largely centers on “making thinking visible”–enables educators to demystify their thought processes as they read and engage with a text. As a teacher explains what is going on in his or her head while reading, students are able to understand the thinking, and gain easier access to course content. This demystification of content also clarifies how information is acquired and why it matters.

So, when educators consciously engage in self-talk during a lesson, students benefit. Furthermore, these skills are very transferable. Students realize that they can apply these newly acquired content-area reading strategies in other disciplines.

This can having lasting effects. Teachers who engage in metacognitive strategies truly help their students, creating a future where the power of reading is enshrined as a lifelong value.

rick josephRick Joseph is a National Board Certified Teacher and has taught 5/6 grade at Covington School in the Birmingham Public School district since 2003. Prior, he served as a bilingual educator and trainer for nine years in the Chicago Public Schools. Rick is thrilled to serve as the 2016 Michigan Teacher of the Year. Through Superhero Training Academy, Rick’s students have created a superhero identity to uplift the communities where they learn and live.

Mississippi: The Most Southern Place

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project Professional Learning

This blog was written before the recent horrible events at Delta State University. My thoughts are with the community and its many warm and kind people. 

shutterstock_80645992A few years back I recognized that I was getting stale—not bad, just not good—and that I was becoming calcified in my self-assurance. I don’t remember an exact moment when I noticed it. In any case, I didn’t want to become the teacher who boasts 20 years of experience, when he really means two years of experience repeated 10 times. I looked around until I found a seminar given by Columbia University and Theater for a New Audience, on teaching Shakespeare. I applied and was lucky enough to get in.

That first experience took me apart. It changed everything about me and how I teach, and I’ve been addicted to seminars ever since. In the years since then, I’ve been all over the country, attending just about anything that’ll let me in. The results have varied from transformative to “at least I got a free poster.” I like it best when I come away changed, when I feel like the ground has shifted under my feet and I need to rebuild. For me, that’s the marker of effective professional development.

PD’s Broader Purpose

Sometimes, though, a seminar isn’t as much about learning a new approach or finding something to build into my own practice. It’s about the landscape and the people I meet. It’s about changing the way I think about myself, as a teacher, a student, and a human being.

I find that being around really good teachers—smart, inspired, creative, risk-taking teachers—is what changes me. I like being in the “learning chair”: the worst teacher in the room, the least informed person in the seminar. It means I’ll be learning.

IMG_0514This year found me at Delta State University in Mississippi, “the most Southern place on Earth.” There, among outstanding teachers from all over the country, I spent an exhausting week working through everything that the Delta has to offer.

The Delta is a place of conflicted history and rich culture. Teachers and caretakers there are charged with the task of tending a dying region, while parceling out the memory to everyone they meet. And so this seminar fell into the category of ground shaking and attitude changing. It forced us to think about places almost none of us had visited, from an old cemetery for Chinese immigrants, to an aging Jewish synagogue, to Po’ Monkey’s Juke Joint, perhaps the last “true” juke joint in the Delta, and a place where people dance with abandon as the night grows late.

Rediscovering Mockingbird, in the Courtroom

One afternoon, my classmates and I were able to participate in a panel discussion on the Emmett Till case. On the panel were the last people, other than his murderers, to see Till alive: his uncle and an FBI agent who reopened that case in 2004. The discussion took place in the actual courtroom where the original miscarriage of justice occurred.

Those of us in the language arts huddled afterward to talk about the connections to To Kill a Mockingbird. Being in the place makes the emotions of the novel more real. The ghosts are real and the voices seem to seep in from the gallery, and I feel closer to the truth of the books I’ve taught for years.

Keeping Traditions Alive in the Classroom

IMG_0649On our last day in the Delta, I made a mojo, a little pouch that contains bits and pieces of the places you visited, people you met, and sites you want to return to someday. You display it somewhere people will see it and ask about it, and every time you talk about it, the magic of the mojo gets stronger.

Like that mojo, Mississippi offered a strange mix for me. I didn’t walk away with a notebook full of new techniques—I did get some, though. But when I see a guest lecturer pick up a diddley bow—a guitar made out of a cigar box, broomstick, and a single string—and pull so much emotion out it while he teaches a class of rapt students about the history of the blues in the Delta, I understand how important passion is to teaching. I see how being able to demonstrate something, and let students try it themselves, makes learning so much richer.

Even though so much of what I saw showed me something that was slipping away, or already gone, I wasn’t sad. It’s another of those weird paradoxes of this place. All of the people I met have a sense of duty, to the past but also to the future. They tell stories to us, teachers from all over the United States, trusting that we will carry them back with us and teach them to our students, so that the sound of the blues, that heartbeat rhythm, won’t disappear.

RICKRick Kreinbring teaches English at Avondale High School in Auburn Hills, Michigan. His current assignments include teaching AP Language and Composition and AP Literature and Composition. He is a member of a statewide research project through the Michigan Teachers as Researchers Collaborative partnered with the MSU Writing in Digital Environments Program, which concentrates on improving student writing and peer feedback. Rick has presented at the National Advanced Placement Convention and the National Council of Teachers of English Conference. He is in his twenty-third year of teaching and makes his home in Huntington Woods.