Posted in Teaching Techniques

Word Walls

I envisioned having a more elegant title for this post, but I don’t.

Here’s the thing. I like words. I’ve always liked words. Words are powerful and beautiful and meaningful. Words and communication are what make the world go round. We as individuals needs to understand words to be a part of all that.

Sometimes words are easy to understand. We know them from the time we’re small. They have images associated with them. But then there are words which don’t fit into that category. They sound funny or are hard to say. We don’t picture what they mean. We’ve never heard them before.

That’s where a word wall comes in. Picture a wall covered in note cards. Each note card has two things written on it – a word and the word’s definition. The students have chosen these words, looked up the definitions, created the note cards. Students are directly creating vocabulary and classroom content.

Isn’t education just a little bit better when students get to play a role in what they’re learning?


Posted in Classroom Ideas, Food for Thought, Teaching Techniques

Homework Calendars

I like calendars a lot. I’ve always liked calendars. Everyone who knows me knows that I love school supplies; back to school shopping is one of my favorite times of year. I have my planners(s) and my wipeboard calendar, and not only do I use them, but I love them. I live by them. If it’s not in my planner, chances are I won’t be there. I’ll forget. I’ll schedule something else. I’m also really big on color coding. Different colors for birthdays, due dates, exam dates, etc. Calendars and organization are my jam.

Now that I’ve made myself out to be the true and giant dork that I am, I’m going to refocus this onto school and the purpose calendars serve there.

In the past, I’ve had teachers provide homework calendars. I’m not talking about the schedule that comes in a college syllabus, even though those are fabulous. I’m talking about an actual calendar (a monthly print out typically) with every step of a project planned out.

This might seem like a lot. It might seem like overkill. But I think that there are two scenarios where a homework calendar such as this would be great.

The first scenario is middle school where students are thrust into learning organization and time management. A homework calendar might really help them see how to break down a project and manage their time. Obviously we want students to be able to figure this out for themselves, and we want them to figure out what works for them. But especially that first year of middle school they might not know what that is. They need guidelines and guidance as they figure this next stage of life out. Over time I would want to transition students from a homework calendar all filled out to a homework calendar that they fill out, but they need to see that demonstrated for them first.

The second scenario could take place in any grade. The homework assignment in question might be a research paper, a debate, a TEDTalk. It would be a project that students haven’t necessarily done before, and it would be a project big enough to potentially be intimidating and overwhelming. I want to demonstrate to students what the stages of this project are and how to break these stages down into manageable pieces. I want to teach them the skills that they will need to succeed either as they further their education or as they enter the workforce where there are projects that need to be managed and deadlines that need to be met.

As a teacher I want my students to succeed. If I can help them do that by teaching them life skills and time management tips and tricks, I want to do that for them. I really think that sometimes homework calendars are the way to go.


Posted in Food for Thought, Teaching Techniques

More Thoughts on Close Reading

Lately I’ve written¬† about close reading. You can read my other post here. Since entering my internship close reading is something I’ve thought about a lot, and I have a lot of thoughts on the topic. That’s what happens when you really start to think about something – you realize just how many thoughts you have.

While my thoughts are varied and sometimes contradicting, I do believe that close reading is important. There’s a lot we can learn from close reading, and so long as we use close reading appropriately, it can be a valuable asset. But here’s my latest question on the topic.

Why do we call it close reading?

I ask because when I was thinking about it the other day, I realized that a better name might be active reading. We’re actively searching for information. We’re actively highlighting words and phrases that seem important to us. We’re actively asking questions. We’re actively thinking about what we’re reading and what it might mean.

So why not call it active reading?

I just think that if we did call it active reading, it might be a less intimidating concept, and a concept that’s more easily understood. Sometimes students get confused when we ask them to close read a passage because it’s a foreign concept and the name is a little abstract. I think that the title of active reading is more self explanatory for everyone involved.

Maybe it’s time to think about reconsidering what we call things. Maybe it’s OK to rename things if we think it might make more sense to our students. I think this is definitely something to really take some time and think about it.

Let me know what you think!


Posted in Food for Thought

My Thoughts on Close Reading

I have mixed feelings on close reading. There. I said it. First and foremost, I firmly believe that not every text should be close read. It’s important to read for pleasure. It’s important to sit down and read a book and love it for what it is. That’s important.

Now that I’ve super stressed the importance of reading for pleasure, here’s the thing. As important as it is to read for pleasure (because it is) it’s also really important to know how to close read a text. To be successful in further academic endeavors, and a lot of aspects of life in general, one has to know how to analyze a text. One has to be able to look beneath the surface. So many times there’s so much more to a text (or a play or a movie) than what lies on the surface.

The thing is, it’s really easy to read for pleasure. It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time or energy to read a book for the surface story. And the experience is often really enjoyable. I like reading for pleasure and taking in the surface story and not digging too deep. Why would I want to dig too deep? Wouldn’t that ruin the reading experience?

It might. I’m not going to lie. I find that there’s a wonderful pleasure in reading for the love of reading. But there’s a lot to be gained by digging deeper. There’s so much more of the story to explore when one looks at symbolism and theme and characterization. There’s so much to be gained from reading and re-reading and looking deeper. Even looking just a little bit deeper can be a big deal.

What’s important (in my opinion) is to find a balance. It’s important to know when it’s necessary to look beneath the surface and when to just read for the sake of reading. It’s important to do both. It’s important to be able to model both for our students. We might have a huge influence on their reading habits. I want to teach all my students about the importance of reading and all the different aspects and levels of reading that there are. I want them to love reading as much as I do. I also want them to be successful readers; I want them to know how to dig deep into a text and learn from it.