Posts Tagged 'education'

Adding it up: Writing another semester

It has been so long since I shared on this blog!  The second half of the semester has been hectic.  I’ve started my on-site dissertation research, which is exciting and will figure in to future posts. I’ve also been busy enjoying my daughter’s first lacrosse season, track season, some task force work, and various other obligations both personal and professional.

But, for the moment, I am thinking about the courses I taught this semester. I had the privilege of teaching two groups of college seniors at the University of Georgia (59 in all), all on their way to certification in teaching elementary aged students. I taught two sections of Language and Literacy P-5, where we explore our ideas about writing and language arts and develop a vision for writing pedagogy.  One of the key parts of the class is, unsurprisingly, a LOT of writing.  We write all kinds of things in this course, in large amounts.  As a way of wrapping up this semester, I wanted to do a rough calculation of the massive amount of writing these students created since January.

472 blog posts (plus quite a few extras)

59 narratives, both imaginative and personal

108 maps to fuel our ideas (heart maps, place maps, and so on)

22 piclits

59 persuasive pieces, from commercials to letters to essays

40 (or more) wordles and tagxedos

59 informational pieces, about everything from vacation spots to the history of M&Ms

25 recipes

50 concrete poems

177 lesson plans

59 stories of our writing identities

40 sets of writing mentor texts

108 reflection papers

180 genres for our multigenre project, including everything from collages to diary entries, stories to brochures, birth announcements to wall maps, menus to videos, tickets to medical bracelets, paintings to poetry

countless drafts on the way to final pieces

endless to do lists (that have now, finally, ended!)

scores of emails

and more!

This accounting is all the more impressive given that many of these students walked into class fearing, hating, or feeling downright bad at writing.  They each challenged themselves and accomplished wonderful things. I am honored to have read every word of their work. I feel as if, as the semester added up, my own teaching and gratitude multiplied many-fold.

So, as I wrap up this semester, I just wanted to publicly share this wonderful experience. It is especially bittersweet because about a week ago I learned that I will not be teaching next year as I had planned. In an unexpected turn of events, I received a Dissertation Completion Award which allows me to focus my attention on completing my research and my degree.  Although it is a wonderful honor, and a gift for a researcher to have this devoted time, I confess I was a bit sad when I thought about not teaching again.  I have to think of it as a brief break from formal teaching, knowing that I will be back working with and learning from students very soon.

Hopefully I’ll be back to blogging a bit more regularly in the coming weeks.  I want to share the latest batch of multigenre projects, a bit about my research, and a whole list of other things I’ve been thinking about.  Thanks for staying tuned. Congrats to all my students!  You give me hope that the future will be better and brighter. Take care, be well, keep writing, and keep in touch.


Some Good News About Teachers (For a Change)

The past few weeks have been tough on the teaching profession. From Oprah to NBC’s Education Nation to the rollout of Waiting for Superman, talk of American education’s problems pervade popular discourse.  Placed at the root of many of these problems are “bad teachers” (and the unions that protect them).  I am working on a longer response to all of this which will be posted soon. But in the mean time, I felt compelled to share something that happened yesterday.

When I got home from all my regular running around, I picked up the mail, as usual. Unlike my childhood days, when I held out hope for the occasional hand written letter, these days I’ve pretty much given up on much “personal mail” coming in the mailbox. (It seemed a sad milestone this week when, for my birthday, I did not get a single mailed card – a first!)  I was flipping through the bills, periodicals, ads, and Netflix, when something caught my eye.  It was a postcard, hand written! I was sure it couldn’t be for me, but it was – and it wasn’t an ad, someone telling about an event I needed to attend, a political diatribe, or anything else of the sort.  It was something I really wanted to read – a postcard from my 6th grade daughter’s teachers, just telling me that she is doing well, with a few personal details. Could I have been more proud or pleased?  And all it took was a few personal sentences and a stamp.

I take (or am reminded of) several lessons from this small experience:

Kids are more than test scores, and no matter how hard policy tries to convince them otherwise, smart teachers know this. In a data-driven era, when we seem to be always worried about what a student doesn’t know, this postcard was a recognition of the good things my daughter is doing. Teachers can write these about every child in our classrooms! As a parent, it means a great deal to me that the people my daughter spends so much time with know her and see the good in her.

It feels great to hear good news from school. I have had years when most of the communications I have gotten from my children’s teachers were about problems with my child.  This does not bother me, because I want to help and be a partner to the teacher in any way I can. Plus, teachers are very very busy and they can’t contact me every time something positive happens. Still, sometimes the “no news is good news” approach could use a boost from some positive, unexpected comments. Since my daughter’s school only conducts conferences “as needed” this postcard was also a good way to get a quick update and feel connected to her teachers.

Paper and handwriting can get people’s attention. I’m a techie, it’s clear.  Maybe that is why it means so much to me to get a handwritten postcard.  Emails have become “something to manage” in my life.  I might have glazed over this note a bit more if it had come through my inbox instead of my mailbox.

Good news take time to convey, but the investment pays off. As I think about recommending something like writing out-of-the-blue postcards to my own students (future teachers) I will tell them that emails are ok (for parents who have email accounts) but taking a few minutes a day over a few weeks to write personal postcards is a worthwhile investment.  I also think that, when times get hard or pressures get overwhelming, sitting down to write something positive about each of our students can remind us of all the worthwhile things they bring to our classrooms.

Good news is worth sharing. This is perhaps the biggest lesson I take from the postcard. When students are doing good things, it is worth sharing with all kinds of audiences. We can share good work with parents through postcards or phone calls. We can share good work with the community through public displays. We can share good work with administrators through whatever form of communication would reach them best. We can share good work with other teachers through our learning networks, or through professional conferences. Take these opportunities to share and shout about the great things happening in schools.

We have heard so much BAD “news” about schools and teachers lately.  And yes, there are definitely problems regarding education that everyone in our country needs to help with (not just teachers). But lately, any positives happening in schools (especially local public schools, which my children attend) have been getting lost in an increasingly adversarial public dialogue. I fear that the conversation is being hijacked and educators are going to be further and further excluded.

Many have called for the sharing of GOOD news as an antidote to this poison press.  I am going to take a lesson from my daughter’s teachers and sit down to write a postcard to Arne Duncan this week (and a few others) to tell him about the good teachers my children have and the learning my kids are doing. I know that all teachers are not great (myself definitely included), and some will say this post is too sunny, but I wonder…if we can try to change the dialogue and resist the wave of negative and dehumanizing energy in education, might we see fewer great teachers broken?

I hope you will take a few minutes and join me in sharing something good that you see happening in schools. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Arne’s mailbox filled with postcards?

A Selection of Blogs for Reading, Literature, and Writing Teachers

During my first classes of the semester with my preservice teachers, I was upfront: they would not leave my class knowing everything there was to know about literacy education. After their astonishment wore off, I explained that, in my mind, a big part of being a teacher is being an ongoing and insatiable learner. So, I told my students that one of my goals for this semester was to help them develop ways to continue their learning that would last far beyond the semester’s end.

With that in mind, this week I took the plunge and started talking about RSS. All semester I’ve been sharing and using resources that came to me through blogs and twitter, but this week students started developing new spaces and pathways for connecting on their own.

About an hour into my classes, I showed the RSS in Plain English video from Common Craft, then talked through some blogs to start with. Many students were surprised that, as google account holders, they had not known about google reader before. There was some excitement as well as some skepticism, which is to be expected.

The big question for me was, which blogs should I choose?  I follow many literacy-related blogs, but wanted them to start with just a handful. I asked my twitter network for their suggestions a couple of weeks ago, and many in my PLN responded with great ideas. I was also asked to share my lists once they were complete. So, my starter blogs for Language Arts, Kindergarten through 8th grade, are listed below.

Note: This list doesn’t even begin to cover all the great blogs out there.  I chose some blogs that seemed to best reflect the principles of literacy education we’ve discussed this semester. I also included some technology-focused blogs, and blogs by classroom teachers. In class, I talked about how important it is to read blogs that are provocative and even opposed to your own perspective, just to keep you thinking. I need to keep working on this last point.

Writing Workshop by David Stoner

Two Writing Teachers

The Book Whisperer

The English Teacher’s Companion

In For Good

Free Technology for Teachers


Larry Ferlazzo

Grammar Girl

Teri Lesesne – ProfessorNana

The tempered radical

The Reading Zone

A Geekymomma’s Blog

Welcome to NCS-Tech

30 poets 30 days at Gottabook

Raising readers and writers



Miss Rumphius Effect

A year of Reading

We will talk in the next couple of weeks about what learning this way is like, and how it might (or might not) be useful. I’ll share their thoughts soon after.

In the mean time, do you have any other favorites that I missed?

What’s the Big Idea?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  I’ve been caught up in evaluating the other group of multigenre projects.  I do have more to share about those, and will post examples soon. But in the mean time, classes have been coming along and I wanted to share a few thoughts about what we’ve been doing.

I can’t believe it is only a month until semester’s end. Even though my two classes come from different programs (elementary and middle grades are separate programs in our college), they are both approaching an “end” of sorts.  For my middle school Language Arts group, they are coming to the end of their main semesters studying literacy. Last semester they studied middle grades literature, and this semester they’ve had content area literacy and my writing pedagogy course. As far as required literacy core courses, that is it. Next semester they are back to spending a lot of time in the schools.

My elementary school class is coming into their last month of coursework before student teaching. They’ve had two courses in reading, my language arts course, and children’s literature.

As you might imagine, these endings, along with the hectic rush of this time in the semester, bring up a lot of emotions in the classes – some of them conflicting.  The students seem excited about the end of the semester, but there is also a palpable weariness. They are overwhelmed by all the different approaches and strategies they’ve learned – this is only compacted by the impending awareness that soon they’ll be implementing many of these ideas daily with students. Even though they are overwhelmed by what they’ve learned, they also seem to feel anxious about not knowing enough. I hear, over and over again, “how am I going to DO all this???”

Through all of these emotions and a fair amount of exhaustion, I try to keep the students learning and thinking. A couple of weeks ago, it felt like the right time to start telescoping back out to try to focus on some of their “big ideas” for literacy teaching.  I was inspired by this post about simplicity at Two Writing Teachers. I invited my students to start trying to think about how they will begin their lives as literacy educators. I asked them: What are the simple principles that form the core of your vision for literacy teaching?  How does the way you plan to organize your time and space reflect that vision?  We’ve worked on timelines, maps, and other exercises to try and get the vision to begin to come together on paper.

One reason for this process of developing a vision is to give them a place to start when they get into their classrooms.  But, I admit, there is another reason, too. Sometimes I worry about the future of these young teachers – so bright and full of energy, ideas, and fire. With class sizes growing, resources disappearing, and, most troubling, the thunder of emphasis on test scores and standards, I fear that what we’ve worked on in our courses will quickly be swallowed, perhaps even smothered by the onslaught of the structure of schooling.  So, we are taking a little time to try to develop their vision. I hope they keep their core principles posted somewhere near their desks, as touchstones to refer to and expand upon as they continue to develop as teachers.

As my students thought and wrote, I also took the time to articulate my vision for literacy classrooms. Of course, it is a work in progress, and has changed a lot this year.  I thought I’d share it here, along with this wonder: what “big ideas” you return to again and again as a teacher?

Beth’s Vision for the Literacy Classroom

My students will know that I care about them.
I will know them and their lives and what matters to them.
I believe that my students have important things to say and I value their voices.
I am committed to helping them find ways to express themselves and their insights in a manner that allows them to be heard and understood by others.
I encourage my students to take risks and make mistakes in my classroom and in the world at large. I believe this is one of the main ways that we learn. I strive to model risk taking, and reflecting, rethinking, redoing, and renewing practice in my role as a teacher/co-learner.
I want my students to love reading and writing (broadly defined) and learning, and to know that engaging in reading, writing, and learning can enable them to grow as teachers and as people.

Beth Friese – 4.1.10

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