Posted in Food for Thought, Regular Update

Updating and Pondering

First, a simple update. I have finished grad school! My certification paperwork is in the works. I am moving into the next chapter of life, and I am very excited about all of that. I am currently substitute teaching and looking for jobs. I am also very excited about the holidays and everything the future holds.

Now to move onto the pondering. I have a journal where I keep notes for this blog, teaching ideas, teaching resources, professional development notes, and all sorts of other job related things. This journal goes to work with me every day. And sometimes when I’m at work I just sit and think. Today I started thinking about technology and the classroom and how the two relate and all sorts of other related things. And as I thought I came up with a list of questions. I thought that here would be a great place to share those questions and see what all of you thought.

  • What are good ways to use cell phones in the classroom?
  • What are good ways to bring technology into the classroom?
  • How can technology be used for differentiation?
  • How can social media connect to English class?
  • How can students connect with English class?
  • How can writing be made fun and accessible?
  • What are ways students can connect with older/classic texts?
  • What are students reading and how can that be brought into the classroom?
  • How can grammar be fun?
  • How can I get my students to read on their own and on a regular basis?
  • How can I make a great class library?
  • What are good ways to connect texts to today’s world?
  • How can I make reading and writing relevant?

I’m sure that with time I’ll add more questions to the list. And please feel free to share your own questions with me or give me your thoughts on my questions.

BB

Posted in Classroom Ideas, Food for Thought, Teaching Techniques

Writer’s Workshops

I think that writer’s workshops are very important. I also think that there are a variety of ways to implement¬† writer’s workshops into the classroom and that writer’s workshops need to be implemented correctly or so much chaos could ensue.

First I want to talk a little bit about why I feel writer’s workshops are so important. I’m fairly certain that not everyone likes or will like them. And that’s OK. But hear me out before rushing towards an opinion. Writing is and of itself a very solitary activity. It’s possible to write in groups and whatnot but basically it’s the person writing, the paper, and the pen. It’s not a partying activity. But in writer’s workshops, you get to interact with people. You hear feedback and opinions and get a fresh perspective. You get to talk to people. It’s really kind of a big deal. Plus, your writing grows and develops and gets better because of everything you’re hearing.

So now that I’ve explained why I think writer’s workshops are so fabulous, I want to talk about how I think one should be run. This isn’t a time for absolute chaos or for a free for all or to just talk about anything. Writer’s workshops are about discussing writing, your writing, and how to make it better.

There are a couple of ways I think a writer’s workshop could be run. You the teacher can work individually with students while the rest of the class works independently. You can work individually with students and have the rest of the class work in partners or small groups. You can have the class work in pairs or small groups and you can float around the classroom. Any of these methods will work, depending on the makeup of your classroom, your own personal style, and the goal you are working towards.

Go forth and try something new. Maybe it’ll work and maybe it won’t. But at least you would have been bold and tried.

BB

Posted in Classroom Ideas, Teaching Techniques

Memory Vocab

I have a confession. I like vocabulary. It’s always been easy for me. I’ve always made vocab note cards. I love making note cards. I love making note cards probably more than is normal. So, unsurprisingly, my favorite study method is to make note cards.

But I’ve seen the memory vocab method in action before, and not only does in include note cards (!) it’s a really fun way to study vocab. Memory vocab can be played individually or with partners. To play, you need 2 note cards for every 1 word (so 10 vocab words equals 20 note cards, etc.) On one note card you write a vocab word. On another note card you write the definition of the word. And repeat for all vocab words. When all note cards are made, flip them over and play memory – match up the words and definitions.

There are a few reasons why I love this method. I like that the students are writing out the words and definitions. I like that this method is more “fun” because students are playing a game. I like that it incorporates note cards. I want to one day use this method in my classroom and see how it works with my students. I have high hopes for it.

BB

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!

BB

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.

BB

Posted in Food for Thought, Teaching Techniques

Bringing Social Media Into the Classroom

In my experiences, social media is one of those tricky things. It’s everywhere right now. Everyone has social media accounts – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr – especially students. Students have social media. Students understand social media. They know the formats and how to use it. It’s a major part of their lives. Social media isn’t something that’s going to go away any time soon; we as teachers should see if we can find ways to embrace social media and use its powers for good.

I know this might sound crazy. Generally we’re trying to keep social media out of the classroom. It’s one of those teenage evils like cell phones and the internet (depending on whom you talk to.) But I’m not talking about letting students go on their social media accounts during class time. That’s really the last thing I’m advocating. Allowing students to do that would most likely end badly. I’m talking about finding ways to build lessons around social media and the text being read in class.

Yes. This is something that can be done with some creativity and ingenuity. It’s something I’ve done before, and it works well. I think that using social media in the ways I’m about to explain is a great thing to do because it’s something that students can connect with, even if they aren’t necessarily connecting to the text being read.

What I’ve done with social media has students going nothing with computers or their phones or technology in any manner, shape or form. Unless, that is, you give them permission to do so.

What the wonderful world of Pinterest has provided me with is social media worksheets. Yes, they are a real thing, and I think they’re pretty fabulous. And there’s a lot of them. They have them for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’ve also found them for cell phones (smart phones) and iPads. These are all things that students are familiar with. And now they can be used in a fantastic way in the classroom.

I’ve used these worksheets for characterization, and I’ve only done one or two activities with them. (I have lots of plans though.) I think that these worksheets are great for characterization, and I also think that they would work really well for plot sequencing and creative writing activities. The truth of the matter is, though, the possibilities are probably endless. You’re only limited by you.

BB

Posted in Classroom Ideas, Food for Thought, Teaching Techniques

The 5 Paragraph Essay and a Complicated Relationship

I have a love/hate relationship with the 5 paragraph essay. Before I continue, you have to know that it wasn’t always this way. I used to give the 5 paragraph essay about zero thoughts. It was what I had always known, always used, and it worked well. It was, and still is, a great basic format to use when writing a literature analysis essay. It’s a great first essay structure to teach students who are just learning about writing essays and need a solid form to work with. Even though my thoughts on the 5 paragraph are more complicated now, these basic facts haven’t changed, and I doubt they ever will.

My thoughts on the 5 paragraph essay changed slowly and all at once. Remember, for about 12 years it was all I had really known. Then my last semester of undergrad I took a class called “Advanced Expository Writing.” I wasn’t sure what to expect from the class, but it turned out to be a great class. It was taught by a professor who became one of my favorite professors, and it was absolutely a class I learned a lot from. And on the first day of class my professor told us that we wouldn’t be writing 5 paragraph essays.

This was a class that was all about writing essays. And we weren’t supposed to use the 5 paragraph essay format.

I almost cried. There was definitely a shock factor involved. I really wanted to curl up and give up. I’m not a quitter by any means, but how is one supposed to write an essay and not use the 5 paragraph format? All I knew was the 5 paragraph essay format. I thought that was the only essay format, and that it was just modified depending on how many things I wanted to say in my essay. I love to write, and I hate unexpected change.¬† I wasn’t sure what kind of combination this scenario was.

But I’m not a quitter. Especially when it comes to writing. Writing is a big part of who I am; I’m not about to walk away from a challenge. So in the beginning I struggled. I wrote some really bad drafts for my first essay. I got a lot of good feedback. But then I began to find my style, which turns out isn’t really a 5 paragraph style. It’s more of a vignette, put the puzzle pieces together, style. Writing got better and writing these “nontraditional” essays became a lot easier.

The point of this anecdote isn’t to ramble on about undergrad. I learned a lot from that class. It taught me more than I could have imagined about writing and about myself. (I find that I can learn a lot about myself through writing.) I learned that the 5 paragraph essay isn’t the only way to structure an essay. I learned that it isn’t always the right way to write an essay. This is information that I want to be able to teach my students so that they can go forth and determine for themselves how they might want to write some of their essays. Because remember, sometimes the 5 paragraph essay is best.

BB