A Small Idea for More Choice in Our Curriculum

I *love* this idea for reviewing the standards while offering lots of student choice. I’m currently adapting it for the 5th grade reading standards and very much looking forward to using it in my classroom this year!

It never fails; spring break hits and all of a sudden it seems there is very little time left of the school year.  The students feel it as they grow more restless, eager to explore more, not as satisfied with the same old routine.  We feel it as educators, too.  We feel the sheer panic of not having done enough, not having taught enough, not being enough.

So I wanted to do a review of the standards we have covered.  I wanted to give the students way more choice.  While choice and student voice is huge component of what we do, it can sometimes feel lost in the background as we create projects together and try to dig deeper into our learning.  So I wanted to facilitate more small group and I wanted to be able to meet the needs of more students.  I wanted to be more for more…

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This Is Why I Have Cut Back on My Work Hours

This, exactly:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jp-fugler/its-time-to-stop-the-teacher-guilt_b_8808326.html

It’s time to stop the teacher guilt, indeed. It’s time to stop putting my life on hold until the next break. It’s time to stop feeling obligated to put in all those extra hours because that’s what teachers do.

We have a choice.

For me, it’s time to start limiting my work hours to 40 per week. It’s time to start realizing that I am still an effective teacher when I do this. It’s time to start prioritizing my family and my physical and mental health over my job.

I still love teaching, and I find that I have even more energy to put into it when I’m not exhausted from working so many hours. My working conditions are my students’ learning conditions. My students deserve a teacher with a balanced life who’s happy to be in the classroom every day.

DFTBA.

Genius Hour and Student Clubs? Hmm…

I had been meaning to introduce book clubs to my class, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it. This year I wanted them to be an option for students during independent reading time rather than formal literature circles, and I needed to plan.

On Monday, one of my students — a student I have been wanting to engage more fully in class — asked if she could start a book club. Are you kidding me? That’s awesome! Of course!

The next day, she spent most of her Genius Hour considering logistics and inviting classmates to join. She made a special point of trying to include everyone, especially students who aren’t usually that into reading. It. Was. Amazing.

And then I made a mistake. Another student asked if he could start a club too — a board game club. I said a board game club would be great to pursue after school, but during class we’d stick to Genius Hour and book clubs. Wow. Way to think inside the box. Because when students spontaneously want to share their enthusiasm with other, that’s something I should definitely put a stop to, right? What am I doing, channeling Professor Umbridge? 😐

So I’m rethinking. If I allow a board game club and others (there were whispers about a writing club — how awesome is that?), two issues come to mind right away:

  1. How to keep students accountable for learning
  2. When to give them time for meetings

Both problems can be solved if student clubs meet during Genius Hour and work toward completing Genius Hour projects. A club could do a joint project, or club meetings could be a time when students working on separate projects could support one another. For example, board game club members could meet and talk about the games they’re creating individually. The focus would be on learning something, making something, and teaching or benefitting others, keeping clubs aligned to our Genius Hour goals.

What do you think? If you’re a Genius Hour teacher, has this come up in your classroom? Would you be willing to try it? What parameters would you set?

Thanks for your input if you have it, and DFTBA!

5th Graders Reflect on NaNoWriMo

Once again, NaNoWriMo was a highlight of our year and the best writing activity ever invented. Here’s what my students had to say about their experience:

NaNoWriMo was amazing, because before I thought I was bad at writing and now I believe that I can write.

I couldn’t really stick to my original plot as it was too plain and I had to make the plot up as I went, only this one was far more exciting and adventurous.

I liked how (my main character) grew emotionally and physically during my story.

I learned new words. I learned the correct spelling for a lot of words.

I could write more than usual. It made me love writing.

Don’t be nervous even if you don’t like writing. NaNoWriMo is the funnest thing on Earth.

What I’ve learned from NaNoWriMo is how to manage my time.

I wrote more than I expected. I just got ideas while I was writing.

NaNoWriMo has expanded my imagination. I think of better ideas than I used to.

I wrote more words than I expected. Typing fast was difficult for me at the beginning because I did not have a lot of typing skills. I got too many plot bunnies and I did not have enough time to write some of them down. Now I type much faster than I used to.

It was fun to imagine all the things in my story and not have to do nonfiction writing. It have me a chance to use my imagination. I had freedom to write whatever came into my mind.

One thing that was difficult about NaNoWriMo was that I had so many ideas and only a month to write.

What I would do again next year: Use the papers that you fill out about your character.

If I could do NaNoWriMo again next year I would start off not introducing the characters but going right into the action.

I’m considering writing a sequel.

I am more into writing now, and I learned that keeping a goal is harder than it seems. I learned how to set time aside for important things.

Don’t think too much about your writing. Just get your ideas on paper. You can edit later.

Something that went well for me in NaNoWriMo is that I wrote every free second I had.

I used everyday experiences and put them in my story. I also added details and put in things to make my story more interesting and make it harder for my characters to get what they want.

I accidentally added some things to my story that I regretted at first but then I figured out how to make my story more interesting using that.

I wish we had WAY more time to write.

I have learned that I can write a NOVEL! I also thought (before NaNoWriMo) that writing was just for school and because the teacher said so. But then I found out that maybe it was for fun! It was “PUT ALL YOUR IMAGINATION ON PAPER!!!”

It has also made me feel like a writer and it makes me feel like I know what plot is.

The story came flowing to me as I was typing, and there was never a point when I didn’t have an idea that would last me a few thousand words. The story was just talking, and I was writing without stopping. (from a 3rd-time WriMo)

NaNoWriMo gave me more confidence as if I were walking down the street and I can just say, “I am a novelist!” and be proud of it.

I made the end perfectly like I wanted. I became WAY smarter in writing. I know how to make big stories. I know how to describe better or make better sentences. (from an English learner)

I can write a novel.

Write a story that will make you satisfied.

Some ideas changed into better ideas while I wrote.

I loved writing the story and I enjoyed making up all kinds of different characters. I liked using my imagination to come up with a plot that I liked.

Even if you want to give up, keep trying. You can do this.

Don’t let your inner editor get to you, okay?

NaNoWriMo changed the way I wrote. NaNoWriMo makes me put more effort and details into my writing.

I learned to be more responsible and take care of everything that I need to do. It has also taught me to be self-confident and happy about your work, but it has also taught me to not be overconfident and cocky about NaNo, because it’ll turn around and bite you in the butt. If you’re not careful you could be in the dungeon of despair from the happiness of Heaven. NaNo is unpredictable.

You know it’s going to be a great year when this happens.

Me: Allons-y!
Student #1: What does that mean?
Student #2: It’s from Doctor Who. 

YES! They’re only in fifth grade, but they’re off to an excellent nerdy start in life.

Two weeks later during science:

Me: Running water is water that moves, like a river or a stream. Standing water just stands there, like a lake or a pond. But not like Amy and Rory. (A few students get it.) Ooh, there’s a River in Doctor Who as well!
Student: Isn’t she the one in the astronaut suit?
Me: Spoilers!

😉

Can Harry Potter Change the World?

Of course! It already has, according to this wonderful opinion piece in The New York Times. It shows respect for millennials as readers and as thinking citizens of the world. It shows respect for Harry Potter as literature and as a social movement.

So I have one question:

Why, when considering whether Harry Potter should “be introduced to official school curriculum,” would the professor quoted in the article say “I will leave that to political philosophers,” when we really should leave it to professional educators, i.e. to teachers?

Why leave educational decisions to the Cornelius Fudges and Dolores Umbridges of the world? Remus Lupin wasn’t a policymaker or a Ministry puppet. Remus Lupin was a TEACHER. He knew what he was doing and provided a quality education for all his students, setting up not only Harry but also Neville for success. Does a political philosopher know how to do that?

I didn’t think so.

NaNoWriMo Is Coming!

NaNoWriMo teachers: The 2014 classroom noveling kits are here! If you haven’t tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) with your students yet, I highly recommend it! It is the most empowering, exhilarating, motivating activity you could possibly dream of bringing to the classroom. I have done it for four years with my fourth through sixth grade students, and I look forward to it with excitement every November. It comes with free lesson plans and support for teachers, but it is flexible enough to fit in with your own teaching style. Visit the Young Writers Program website for more information. As they say, the world needs your stories!

Nerds of a Feather

One week to go before school begins! Today I spent a wonderful afternoon discussing Reading Workshop with colleagues. Some of us are trying it for the first time. Others shared their experiences and resources. This was not official professional development but every bit as valuable — maybe more so, since it came from a common interest and a genuine desire to improve our teaching in ways that feel right to us. Choice and authenticity… sound familiar, Reading Workshop teachers?

Being nerds, the conversation often turned to other important matters, including The Dresden Files, Doctor Who, Outlander, Homestuck, manga, anime, writing, cosplay, RPGs, and Nerdfighteria. I am so fortunate to have found kindred spirits whose enthusiasm for life and for teaching reaffirm that I am in the right place. DFTBA!

Work-Life Balance for Teachers (File Under: Fantasy)

Teaching is among the professions that consume one’s mind and soul. Even when we’re up-to-date on grading (hey, it could happen!), we spend personal time and energy researching, planning, and finding new ways to reach students. Random lightning strikes of inspiration hit us when we least expect them. (Great ideas in the shower, anyone? Yeah, I thought so.) There is always more to do, and with 30 students who will never have another chance to be in fifth grade, it’s hard to know when to say “I’ve done enough for today.”

While I love my job, like, jump-up-and-down-can’t-control-myself love it, sometimes I need to pull myself away. I need to remember that my life outside school is important too. I have a wonderful family who deserve my attention and my cooking skills*. I am helping develop two amazing organizations: Omar’s Dream Foundation and Nerdscouting. Those things matter.

I also need to block out time in my calendar for my own pursuits. This may sound selfish. It feels selfish. But I think it will help me take better control of my time and (I hope) not feel so overwhelmed by everything I have to do. Continue reading

Our Reading Workshop Is Approaching the Launch Pad

Thanks to some wonderful resources (The CAFE Book, Notebook Connections, and Reading in the Wild), and ultimately inspired by Donalyn Miller‘s life-altering The Book Whisperer and some amazing colleagues, I have outlined a plan for this year’s Readers Workshop. Key components:
1. Reading Notebooks, where students will record books and genres read, books for future reading, goals, strategies, reading notes, interesting words, and drafts of blog posts.
2. A Pensieve (teacher’s notebook – name borrowed from The CAFE Book and Albus Dumbledore) for recording assessments, student conferences, and strategy group work.
3. A rough idea of what our workshop will look like, with time for read aloud, whole class mini-lessons, individual conferences, strategy groups, and lots of independent reading, note taking, research, and writing and talking about books. I’ll introduce these gradually so students are clear about their options during Reading Workshop. Continue reading