Discussing Tom Robinson's Trial...
Today, my students are using the iceberg approach to discuss why Tom Robinson received a guilty verdict in TKAM. They're working in small groups & getting so animated about their discussion. I'm a proud peacock teacher today, that's for sure. Here are some of the truly awesome & intelligent things I've overheard today:
"It's only a fair trial if you're fair skinned."
S1: "Imagine if this happened today." S2: "Ever heard of Ferguson, MO?"
"If she doesn't know what love is, why does she think Tom would love her?"
"Bob Ewell was a drunk and probably raped his own daughter. Why would any jury believe him?"
"[Mayella] doesn't fit in anywhere. She was too privileged & white to fit in with blacks, she was too poor to be white."
"The Cunninghams are not as white trash as they seem -- he did hold out in favor of doing the right thing. He just gave in to too much pressure from the other racists on the jury."
"Well, imagine if both of these people were white and white trash. That would be a totally different story."
"I don't think Aunt Alexandra is racist. I think she is so worried about being popular she can't be who she wants to be."
Across the great state of Iowa, many teachers participate in WRURW - What RU Reading Wednesday with their students. I have always known the importance of silent sustained reading, but Kelly Gallagher's book Readicide taught me to practice what I preach and put that viewpoint into my classroom. This year, I've transitioned to a new school, a new role, and a new grade level. I've changed so many of my practices and learned so much about standards based reporting and standard aligned grading. I've learned about toxic grading practices and changed some of my views regarding teaching practices. I haven't changed the way I encourage and celebrate readers, though.
Wednesdays are my favorite day of the week. Students come in and are treated to 20 minutes of reading in their outside reading books. Then, the last 15 minutes of class they can blog, work on missing work, or continue reading silently. I call it our sacred time and it feels like it. I take time to read with them because I believe it is important to set an example. I want them to read something they enjoy, so I also tell them to ditch books they hate. I remind them teachers will require them to read all kinds of stuff they don't like, so choice reading shouldn't feel like a chore, it should feel like a gift. I plan to revamp some of my expectations for WRURW next year, but I will not let it go away. Students can, and should, always have something they enjoy to read.
A couple of weeks ago, my students read an article titled "Making Graduation Meaningful: A Real Qualifications System for U.S. Students" by Marc Tucker, published on Education Week. The article outlines a system of high school with more emphasis on career skills and an opportunity to earn various types of diplomas. The article also highlights the disadvantage faced by students who have uneducated or undereducated parents.
A student's response made me smile -- she allowed me to share it here:
"The kids won't learn if they don't want to. I relate this to the light bulb/therapist joke. How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but it has to want to change first. Imagine this with students and teachers. How many teachers does it take to teach a class? One, but the kids have to want to learn. You see what I'm saying? Maybe one of those lightbulbs is eco-friendly, one is a standard yellow, and one is green, but the teacher is still going to do the exact same thing to all of them."
This student, an introvert who is generally wise beyond her years, argued throughout her response that it is her responsibility to learn and she cannot blame anyone else if she does not.
That level of reflection & responsibility makes her a joy to teach. It's also refreshing to see and so many times I fall into the trap of focusing my energy and time on students who aren't taking responsibility instead of celebrating, teaching, and enjoying students who don't do that. This week I'm going to focus more energy on students who "get it" and want to learn instead of spending all of my positive vibes on those who don't.
Recently Dr. Alan Zimmerman provided a group of schools in NEIA with a workshop in leadership. His words were exactly what I needed to hear during a dreary winter in a new job where I sometimes feel very lonely. Since he provided such an engaging and meaningful workshop, I decided to sign up for his Tuesday Tips. These weekly emails are short, quick reads that remind me to engage in effective and active leadership in my classroom.
This week's tip was right up my alley: Leadership Lessons Learned from Downton Abbey. For those who don't know, I'm not a big TV watcher. The TV is always on, but I'm rarely paying attention unless it's one of "my shows." There are some shows that the characters, drama, and settings pull me in. While I've had a few favorite shows over the years, none have captivated me as much as Downton Abbey. In addition to it being a historical piece about my favorite time period (1900-1930), the storyline takes place in England, including London. The Lords and Ladies are a sassy bunch, with much drama coming between them. I love the depth of the characters, and have a few characters who I really hate. It's like reading a good book, but all of the work of visualizing is done for me. Plus, the costume, set, and hair/make-up people have won several well-deserved awards for their time & attention to detail.
Another reason I love Downton so much is the way it brings people together. PBS has always been my favorite channel, but I've rarely watched their Sunday night line-up. In the past 6 seasons, however, I have not missed a Sunday night. Before I got married & moved, my friends & I spent every Sunday during Downton season together watching, laughing, occasionally crying, and always enjoying a wide spread of food and fellowship. After many of us left Dubuque, we kept up the tradition via social media (our Facebook conversations are intense!), but it didn't have the same feel. It did, however, provide great Sunday night entertainment and a check-in with people I care about.
So, Dr. Zimmerman was playing right into my hand with this week's Tuesday Tip. His lessons in leadership, learned from a very Carson-like woman, are interesting & engaging. I will speak about 2 of them that I need to be more cognizant of in my classroom, however.
Tip #1: As a leader, teach your people how to do things and then expect them to do it … right.
As a teacher, I set high expectations for my students (that's why I'm so "mean" in the hallways). I teach students how to do something, then expect them to do it. I keep reminding them until they get it right. I know I often sound like a broken record (seriously, how many times can one human say "Use complete sentences!" or "First thing: put your name on the top!" or "Work time is a gift -- use it accordingly!"), but I want my students to know that fair and consistent expectations are something they can expect in the world of school and the world of work. It is not hard to write in complete sentences when attempting formal writing. Putting your name on your work is a given. Yet, these reminders, among others, serve to remind my students that my expectations of quality do not decrease. If I've taught you to do it, I expect you to do it.
Tip #3: As a leader, teach your people that tasks trump titles.
My least favorite phrase in education is "that's not my job." My usual response is: "Is it good for kids?" or "Does it make our school environment better?" If so, leaders in education, it is your job. Yes, teachers have tough jobs. Yes, we have high expectations placed on us by the state, parents, administrators, and students. Tough luck. Sometimes we need to pull up our sleeves and do things that are not our job but make our lives and the lives of those around us better. Until we admit that, we will never be effective leaders.
So, Dr. Zimmerman. thanks for the reminders. And to the cast, crew, writers, and lovers of Downton: Thanks for the memories. May your legacy carry on.
What's my favorite thing as a teacher? When my students apply their learning outside of the classroom. Here's a sample from a conversation I just had with a student:
Sawyer: "Ms Gossling, I have a weird example of an antihero. Mace Windu from Star Wars."
Me: "Oh yeah? Why do you say that?"
Sawyer: "Well, to carry the purple lightsaber you have to know the Sith ways but use them for good."
Me: "That's an interesting analysis."
It's one of those months. You know what I mean. The kind where I try to uphold the rules and get called things like "dictator" and "out to get kids." One of those. Those frustrated feelings, coupled with a facebook post by a fellow teacher who is feeling much the same, lead me on a journey to search for positivity and to focus on what I love about teaching.
As usual, the kids delivered.
This morning, first hour was reading Macbeth. We're at the fun part -- where the whole story starts to unravel. Today we heard from Lennox, the Witches, Donalbain's sons, and discussed some geography (nobody knew where Scotland was in relation to England!). We read aloud. We laughed. We made and missed connections to the text. We laughed some more. Yeah, Macbeth is hard, but my first hour kids were handling it like champions and taking me along for the ride. They asked questions. They accused the witches of being tricky. We talked about the allusion to the "double, double toil and trouble" speech in Hocus Pocus. We did everything that makes teaching literature to students fun. I went to do hallway duty between classes with a huge grin on my face because those kiddos reminded me exactly why I love teaching.
Also, some of my juniors who I've been privileged to know for the past 3 years through scholastic bowl as well as my classroom delivered this to me today before second period:
As usual, the kids knew what I needed without me having to ask. I love working with students.
I finally figured out how to embed a widget to show when various pages on this site were last updated! It took me about 15 minutes to copy and paste the code on to each page & now this site will be a more accurate representation of what I'm teaching & when for visitors. It will also let my students know when I haven't updated the page for a new year. The fix was easier than I suspected (I just kept googling and watching Youtube videos until I figured it out), and now one more thing that has been plaguing me is off my list! YAY! Check it out at the bottom of most classroom pages.
And, if you have another idea that is better-suited for this (or you want to teach me better code!) let me know. I'm always open to new ideas!
My ELA 11 students have been PARCC Testing for the last week. I'm excited for the testing to be over. I'm also disappointed I will not see the results of this test until next fall -- when I will no longer have most of the students in class. Either way, I think we're all looking forward to being finished with PARCC testing & getting back to our regular classroom lives.
Today I discovered an awesome website: http://www.litcharts.com/
These charts are created by the original editors of SparkNotes (a site I still see the merit to, even though my students use it incorrectly). The Lit Charts put all of the review information into a handy PDF guide for each text. So far I've downloaded The Great Gatsby, Macbeth, and The Awakening.
I haven't decided exactly how I will be using them, but I do know that it will be fun!
Today I participated in two hashtag discussions on twitter.
First, I participated in NPR Education's #sceretteachers, which is seeking to document all of the cool things teachers do outside of school, whether it be second jobs, time consuming hobbies or pastimes, or schooling. I was even retweeted by NPR_ed!
Then, I knew my plans for College English would yield 20 minutes of time at the end of the hour. I found out #ScaryStoriesin5Words was trending on Twitter today. The kiddos read some via Google (not on Twitter, which is blocked at school -- but maybe we bent the rules to use cell phones...) and then each student wrote 3 of his/her own.
Here are a few gems from today:
iPhone is broken; no iCloud
Mom added me on Snapchat
TSwift's new album drops today
woke in coffin: not alone
15% of your data left
Ten percent battery; no charger
We don't have wifi here
There's a spider on you
Pretty fun Halloween afternoon. We talked a bit about the role of creative writing and participating in a global writing community.
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Kari teaches English I to 9th graders (!) and other electives in rural Iowa. Her husband is also an English teacher, and their friends have sworn to never help them move again because "even libraries don't have that many books."