Monday, February 16, 2015

Discussion Protocols In the Classroom

Huddled in groups of three or four sprinkled around the room, books and highlighters in hand, students discuss last night's reading assignment. 

But the conversation isn't the free flowing, back and forth talk you'd expect in a discussion. It's a bit more scripted. 

One student, let's call her "Victim #1" reads a quote she identified prior to joining her group. She has sixty seconds to read the quote and to explain why she chose it: what makes her selection significant, how it relates to the text's theme, or what makes the sentence craft or form remarkable. The trick? No one can else but Victim #1 can speak during her turn. Everyone else listens.

"No one else is speaking! Just the one discussing the quote," I bark when I hear someone asking Victim #1 questions, thereby relieving her of the burden of thinking. "You've got still got fifteen seconds!" I'm a personal trainer or a drill sergeant. "She's got this. Let her feel the burn!"

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Renew & Reflect #5: Positivity (& SWCBlogger Challenge #5, too!)

I admit it. This post is a bit of a cheat. I'm answering the question, "How do I stay positive and share/encourage positivity with my students?" for two blog challenges: Teach Thought Online Community's Reflect and Renew and the SWC Blogger's challenges. My prerogative, since I chose the prompt for this week's SWC Bloggers!

I wish I had written the post my colleague Adjective's Noun from SWC Bloggers wrote. I nodded my head every paragraph, both out of recognition and not a little bit of guilt. As Adjective's Noun writes, my own positivity has everything to do with how balanced my life is and how truthful I am about the lack of balance. 

Indicted. And willing to make a change. So today, I gave myself an hour to listen to a fun podcast while I cleared out a room my husband and I have been meaning to make more livable On the face of it, tidying may not sound like a balancing practice, but truth is, it felt nice. I actually invested in making our space less cluttered, a place we can enjoy coming home to. And I got to crack a grin as I caught up on my favorite podcast. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Renew and Reflect #4: Teaching Development Plan

Movin' slow  . . . but moving! 

That's my typical reply to folks who ask me how I'm doing. That phrase describes my progress on the January Renew and Reflect Blog Challenge, moving, but oh, so slowly.  

The question: What is one area of my learning and teaching I want to develop this year?"

Glad it's just one. It's easy for me to make lists of what I need to improve. Questions like these force me to focus. Deep breath. 

My big teaching goal is to ratchet up my record keeping and paper work skills. This means keeping up with add/drop deadlines (made it) and census reports (blew it). Lemme do that right now. . . 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

MOOCs, Mentor Texts, and "Motivation Makes"

This blog showcases  students' work they did at the beginning of the semester. I wanted students to immediately create ("make") something textual. 

As it was our first lab session, I wanted to find a safe way for them to express themselves. I also wanted students, when they likely felt hyped about school, to find ways to keep themselves motivated when the going got tough. 

So I decided to hack the "make cycles" from The Writing Thief MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), a digital learning community devoted to investigating Ruth's Culham's The Writing Thief. Culham's text supports writing teachers who use mentor texts to model writing craft for their students. What better way to promote effective writing than to have developing writers observe, identify, and emulate the moves they encounter in the texts they read. 

The "make cycles"  are activities which . . . "encourage participants to interact with the text and with each other as we discuss and implement ideas for  'using mentor texts to teach the craft of writing'" (source). The digital sharing and feedback that comes from "MOOC-ing" also helps us experiment with "connected learning." 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Renew & Reflect #3: Extending the Challenge!

TeachThought's Reflect and Renew Blog Challenge asks us up the ante of this connected community - get colleagues involved to help create a community of practice. This prompt gives me a chance to brag about what me and the blogger behind Eat the Yolk  are experimenting with on our own campus. 

We both accepted last September's challenge and were immediately hooked - f0r all the good reasons that the TeachThought online community touts as benefits. We both agreed that reserving time to read and write blogs was personally and professionally rewarding. 

So we took a chance. We launched our own little connected community for our campus. Toward the end of the semester, we held a couple small workshops to promote the idea of using blogs to reflect on our practice and connect with each other. We decided on weekly challenges rather than daily. And instead of a single prompt per challenge, the group decided to have two options.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Picnic Paper Plates, M.K. Asante, & Mentor Texts?

I tried out an exercise I experienced at a San Diego Area Writing Project  study session, one on revision and mentor texts

In several classes, we are in the middle of a narrative project, and I wanted to see if I could use a mentor text to illustrate how solid story telling skills. I didn't use the process exactly as the facilitator did, but I did keep with the spirit of it.

After the requisite "beginning-of-class-throat-clearing-noises," I projected an image of a picnic scene to the class. I asked folks to chat in pairs about a favorite (or least favorite) outdoor meal they recently had. I told them we'd be doing a fluency exercise, to simply practice writing as quickly and clearly as we could. As they chatted, I passed around paper plates.

Then I directed students to write the best story they could about their best or worst experience at an outdoor meal - picnic, barbecue, party, whatevers - directly onto the paper plate. 

I loved this strategy when the SDAWP leader modeled the revision exercise - having writers compose not on standard paper but on a paper that matches the topic. For picnics, pass out paper plates. For a story about a trips, use old maps. For a holiday story, use the back of wrapping paper. Use old postcards for a remembered vacation. You get the idea. This move doesn't simply add novelty and a sense of play to the activity - it somehow signals we can be creative, experimental. Messy, even.