By Janice Ewing
My grad class is small this term, a seminar-like community with lots of conversation and sharing of ideas and experiences. The comfort level among the group is a welcome respite at a time when everyone is striving to fulfill end-of-year requirements and scrambling to reach unmet goals, while keeping up with grad school and family obligations.
Recently, a few of the teachers shared experiences that were unexpectedly positive and rewarding. For example, Anne (names have been changed) teaches in an alternative high school for students who have previously dropped out or taken other detours from the traditional path to graduation. Most, if not all, have had struggles and negative experiences with reading, robbing them of the pleasurable experience of getting caught up in a book. By chance, Anne acquired a large enough collection of Walter Dean Myers’ Monster to accommodate her small class. She had not read the book, but had read reviews and commentaries and it seemed like a great fit for her students. She decided to jump in without reading it ahead, which was not her usual practice. Next issue: a well-meaning colleague pointed out that there were related “packets’ available, which would provide questions, prompts, discussion points, etc. An inner voice told her to forgo the packets, and she listened to it. Read more
by Brian Kelley
Over 5000 years ago, the Phoenicians discovered that Polaris, or the Polar Star, is positioned so that the entire Northern sky revolves around it. A reliable piece of data, the Phoenicians guarded this secret as long as they could and dominated sea navigation. While most ships and trade routes hugged coastlines, the Phoenicians ventured further into regions no one else dared.
Polaris, or what we know today as the North Star, inspired confidence. And that confidence and knowledge encouraged the Phoenicians to be risk-takers on the sea.
This scenario strikes me a bit like education. Read more
by Mark Overmeyer
Living in Denver means Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is on the front page of the paper more often than anyone else. One story that emerged this summer is about Manning’s work ethic – what teachers would undoubtedly call a “growth mindset.” Manning spends time every year with his former college football coach. He isn’t there to visit, but to learn. Manning says his college coach knows more about his throw than anyone else in his life, so he needs his advice in order to improve. Peyton Manning makes millions of dollars a year, but he knows he is never “done”: he understands the importance of feedback from someone who knows him well.
I often shy away from sports metaphors when thinking of effective instruction, but Manning’s story is a perfect fit with our work as teachers of writing. Manning’s coach knows him best. More than any other subject we teach, writing helps us to know our students in the same way Manning’s coach knows him. Read more
By Tricia Ebarvia
“What conference is it again?”
“Pic TELL ah,” I said more slowly.
“Really? That’s not a real conference,” my colleague teased.
All I could do was smile.
To the uninitiated, PCTELA―short for the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English Language Arts―might sound like something you would make up. Or, at the very least, just another one of the many educational acronyms in our lives: SAT, ACT, PVAAS, IEP, GIEP, RTI. I have to admit that until a few years ago, I had never heard of PCTELA either. In fact, when I first started teaching in 2001, I don’t think I had heard of many professional teacher organizations, if any. Or, if I did, they didn’t register with me. I was probably too busy just trying to stay afloat in the happy chaos of teaching.
Soon enough—and thankfully—other acronyms became part of my teaching life. NCTE, NWP, PAWLP—these were the acronyms that mattered. And now, of course, I can add PCTELA to that list. Read more
By Tricia Ebarvia
Although I’d been doing some form of independent reading for several years, with each year better than the one before, I came into last school year determined to commit in a way I hadn’t before. I wanted to find a way to make students’ independent reading a core component of their learning rather than something they did “on the side” or “in addition to” what we were doing in class.
Was I successful? I think so. Certainly there’s always room for improvement, but when I look back at last year, my 9th grade students together read more than 1000 books. That’s 1000 books in addition to the whole class novels they were assigned. That’s 1000 books I’m sure that would have gone unread had I not made the time in class for students to develop independent reading habits.
By Tricia Ebarvia
Glance at almost any education focused website, blog, or Twitter feed in mid-August and you’ll find no shortage of first-day-of-school activities. In one of my education-related Facebook groups, someone recently asked for suggestions on how to spend the first day in class. Others asked about how much time to spend on community building activities versus how soon to jump into the curriculum. Not surprisingly, opinions varied, as they should.
As for me, I’ve spent less time reviewing the syllabus each year and more time on doing things that will get us reading, writing, and talking more quickly. My goals for the first two few days of school, then, include the following:
- Give students a general overview of the course
- Set up the classroom environment
- Learn about student preferences and interests