Moving Toward the Common Core

Every day I read comments on facebook from teacher friends complaining about Common Core and the added requirements that we as educators are facing. I have switched schools twice in my career so I no longer work with the majority of these friends; as a result it is very interesting for me to observe (and take a part of) how differently districts are interpreting and enacting the new Common Core standards and adjusting to the new demands of PARCC.
Initially, I didn’t understand what so many people were upset about. I look at the new standards and like the fact that they require students to do more reading, analyzing, and writing. It also lets me, as the teacher, get more creative with how I do these things in order to help all students make growth.
Hard work? Definitely. But I don’t know many good teachers who don’t work hard and push their students toward growth. What I started to realize though, is that the negative comments are from teachers in districts who are not given the freedom to find creative ways to help all students grow. I don’t have to face a ton of common assessments or a prescribed curriculum. Those things take the fun (and challenge) out of the life of a teacher. It also makes it unfair to judge a teacher for the growth of their students. (Which we are all facing in the next few years.)
Overall, it makes me feel fortunate to be an educator in my district, where I am trusted and given the freedom to help my students learn.

The Introduction of Genius Hour

I have been working with a social studies teacher over the past week introducing a genius hour project to her students.  If you have never heard of genius hour it is a pretty awesome concept that the education world stole from google.  We stole the idea from a science teacher in another building who is starting one with her classes- don’t you LOVE collaboration!

Here’s the dirt and why you should think about starting a genius hour with your classes.  It’s a passion project.  We all know that our students do best when we really love what we are teaching about…unfortunately most of us don’t love everything we teach and that shows.  Now, if students learn more when we are passionate, just think about how much they can learn when they are truly passionate about a subject.

The teacher I teamed up with (Kerri)  is incredibly energetic and blunt with the students, so when she told her students what a cool opportunity she was opening up to them, they believed it.  Together Kerri and I planned a week long introduction to give the students time to process and think of topics.  Kerri made a Wonder Wall in the back of her room for students to post questions they were thinking about for their Genius Hour topics.  As the week went on we could talk about their question and what makes something true inquiry versus something you can quickly google.  We taught mini lessons each day on reading nonfiction, using graphic organizers, paraphrasing, and introducing noodle tools online.  Kerri also made up a formal project proposal which we put into a google form for students to fill out.

On Monday, Kerri was able to quickly review and approve students’ proposals on the google form and meet with other students to discuss and refine their ideas.  The process has been really stream lined and I have had a fantastic time working with Kerri’s classes.  I’m amazed by some of the ideas students have come  up with.  They are researching psychics, ghosts, and aliens, all the way to different drug interactions and how processed foods affect people.

I am incredibly excited to see what students do with their findings and how they present and share them out!  The best part of the project?  It isn’t for a grade.  The motivation is for students to learn something new that they are interested in and to teach others.  This might not work in all buildings or districts, but I have faith that most of our students will come up with something pretty excellent!

Readers Theater for Big Kids

I love reader’s theater- and so do my students.  Currently, I work in a middle school but I have taught high school as well.  My students have always loved reader’s theater.  I sell it to them as something fun to do on Fridays, sometimes as a reward for doing a task that is somewhat tedious…but it really is a great learning experience.

Here’s the thing, reader’s theater is an awesome way to practice fluency without kids even knowing that is what they are doing! We discuss what good readers do when performing- listen to each other, use expression, punctuation, good pacing.  We talk about how boring it is to listen to someone read in a monotone- I usually model that one so no one feels bad!

Then, I give some time to preview the text before we read it aloud and think about which part they would like to read.  This accomplishes three things; it is their first read through- think repeated readings, it also gives an opportunity to ask questions about unknown vocabulary, and finally it keeps them from reading ahead and losing their spot when we are “performing.”

Then we usually read the script aloud at least twice, the second time really focusing on getting into character and adding expression.  Many kids love doing silly voices, which I allow as long as I can understand what they are saying.  Depending on the amount of time I want to spend on a script we might also “perform it” for someone.  I’ll invite the principal or another adult in the building to come watch.

It kind of sounds hokey and I think a lot of secondary teachers think of reader’s theater as an elementary activity, but it is not!  Your students will have a blast and I’m sure you will have a few that will surprise you…I always do.

There are tons of scripts available for free on websites.  It is harder to find higher level ones, but they are out there.  Also, some amazing teachers will make their own adaptions of popular novels into scripts.  I encourage you to do this- then share the script with me so I can use it too!

The Joys of Teaching Reading: What I Do.

I teach several reading intervention classes to middle school students.  At that age all kids want is to fit in and belong.  So to be taken out of a fun class and placed into an extra reading class is not something they look forward to.   This fact adds to the intrigue of my job- not only do I have to improve the skill level of someone who typically does not like to read, I have to make it engaging and exciting to take away from the sting of missing music class.

I love my job, I really do.  My hope for blogging is that I can share my ideas for teaching reading and also that by writing about what I do I can reflect on my practice and improve it.

The other piece of my job is working with teachers.  This is definitely my biggest challenge and as I just had my annual review… my focus goal area.  I love collaborating and sharing ideas, and lately I have been getting tons off twitter, pinterest, and other teachers’ blogs.  As our world is becoming more global and I’m able to steal your great ideas hopefully I can offer you some of mine as well!

Happy reading!