Embracing New Ideas
I have a confession. I like trying new ideas in the classroom. I can’t help it.
Maybe the idea that is new to me is not new to others, but that is ok. There is so much being shared “out there” (for free) that one can’t help but grow and evolve as a teacher.
When a new idea works well for the students, I am excited to try it again next year…but then I find myself with different students with different needs as more ideas continue to sprout like mushrooms out of the professional texts I read, and I rarely go back to the exciting new approach that worked last year.
No longer recycling lessons year to year was initially difficult to rationalize because I was weened in a teaching culture of saving lessons, stuffed filing cabinets, and canned textbooks. True, there are some good resources in my filing cabinet. Our textbook also has some good resources. My point is, it was hard to rationalize embracing new ideas and change when I had learned to stick with what was already in place. Mentally, I was anchored and I did not grow like I should have. Somewhere in my experience, I had equated what is in “a curriculum” with how I teach “a curriculum.”
It took a good fifteen years, but I got over that. Today, I am used to changing. I expect to use new ideas. While I know what I am going to teach next month, I still do not know how I will teach it. I continue to learn to allow space for teaching and learning to be holistic. Yes, the curriculum is prescribed. Yet, who I am is not. My classroom is not. My students are not.
While I might like to, I can’t try every strategy or idea that comes my way…even if I really like it. I sketch note most professional books so that I might easily find an idea for a lesson. It makes it so much easier to flip back through my notebooks. Visually, a concept will catch my eye and then I know which book I need to pull from the shelf.
So, this leads me to another confession.
I sketch-noted several professional texts (such as Read, Write, Teach by Linda Rief and Notice and Note by Kylene Beers), yet I still have not employed any explicit strategies from them in my classroom…although, the generative influence of each cannot be denied. On the other hand, I have recently used ideas from Tom Newkirk’s Minds Made for Stories and Jennifer Fletcher’s Teaching Arguments…but I have not returned to those texts yet for the next new idea. I guess you might say I continue to build a book pile of ideas which I dip in and out of each week according to the needs of my students. In some ways, my professional book pile feels alive and responsive to where this group of students is today…and where I am today as their mentor.
Over the past few months, The Hyperdoc Handbook has been a text that introduced me to a concept that worked really well the first time and worked really well the second time. The book itself is thin and easy to read. The concept is easy to digest.
My first hyperdoc: The Diary of Anne Frank
My second attempt at a hyperdoc: The House of the Scorpion
On the surface, a hyperdoc is a Google Doc with links to other digital tools, images, videos, and text. If you know how to insert those core elements, you can build a hyperdoc. The Hyperdoc Handbook provided a few templates for designing a hyperdoc. I used the one which made the most sense for my needs.
Aside from my attempts, I am finding some enjoyment in seeing how other teachers imagine and utilize hyperdocs. Whether online or in person at conferences, I am starting to ask teachers if they use them. And if so, can I see how they imagine hyperdocs for their classrooms. Some create hyperdocs for a one or two-day lesson or a string of mini-lessons (imagine building activities around writing techniques, conventions, etc.). My attempts have been about augmenting our experiences with whole-class texts.
I don’t necessarily work through the hyperdoc each day of the unit. Sometimes the activities are done outside of the classroom, sometimes inside of the classroom. The strategy has allowed me to facilitate and guide students, yet in that respect, I want to echo the advice in The Hyperdoc Handbook–the hyperdoc is not a worksheet, so avoid turning it into one.
While I am building hyperdocs as the school year unwinds, I am looking forward to putting together a hyperdoc or two this summer. You can see that I dabbled in adding academic vocabulary into my Anne Frank hyperdoc…maybe I will design a hyperdoc built just around academic vocabulary. Or maybe I will build one around the “writerly” usage of punctuation, white space, and conventions. I would love to take the time to sit down and craft a hyperdoc that can be used throughout the year–as both a resource for young writers and as an explicit tool for minilessons. I am thinking students would be able to go back into the hyperdoc to relearn how writers use the dash or italics, et al.
Like I said, there are many models and possibilities for hyperdocs, and it seems likely that is one idea that is going to stick in my classroom.
At least until the next idea…
Brian Kelley is an 8th-grade teacher, co-chair of the middle school ELA department, as well as a co-director of the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project. His professional eportfolio can be found at brianjkelley.net. Follow him on Twitter @_briank_.