Thanksgiving: a celebration of gratitude

Thanksgiving is full of rich learning experiences. This year my high school ELL class sat in the cozy, colorful elementary school section of the library.  Some even dared to relax on the carpet.

“Are you sitting comfortably”? asked Ms Ilana as she showed us the cover of The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper.  I , meanwhile, experienced a flashback to the welcoming, warm opening of the BBC’s ‘Listen With Mother’…

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The students settled into a quiet, listening mode as our narrator told of the grandfather who explained to his grandson the universal meaning of kindness.  We did not discuss the message, but held on to our thoughts as we completed thanksgiving cutouts on what we are thankful for.

On our way out, we stapled our gratitude to the thankful  tree.

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The idea for the next part of the lesson  came from McGill’s timely post ‘An Open Mind’

I asked each student where she or he is from and as  I teach in an international school the replies were diverse.  While viewing  ‘The DNA Journey’, the students jotted down ideas on an index card to help them articulate ideas for the discussion and written response.

My ELLs were shocked and intrigued; pointing out that we are so quick to define our differences rather than our similarities.

As one student responded:

“Just by spiting in a tube you can know where you are REALLY from.”

 

The end of something: a reflection on retirement

It didn’t take long for Al Pacino’s definition of retirement: “death with benefits” (Righteous Kill) to put me off the word.   It is not an action verb as far as I’m concerned.  I prefer to think of the following quote by F.Rogers via Time Ferris’ The 4 Hour Work Week

“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else”.

However, as a pessimist, this is not easy for me.  But I am trying  hard to believe.

Last month I handed in my notice after over 30 years of teaching.  I am fortunate that I am not burned out.  I have decided to leave because I feel it is the right time both professionally and more importantly, personally. A very dear friend once told me to leave with a smile on my face, and that is just what I’m going to do.

The desire to learn from others, keep up with my YA reading and integrate new activities into my lessons are as strong as ever.

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In my posts, I will continue to reflect on my teaching learning until next June.  However, I will sprinkle the posts with some musings and wishes in preparation for the new beginnings.

I know the transition from the school schedule to my own will be hard.  However, almost everyone I know who has left the classroom is enjoying their new freedom.  As a wise friend who began his retirement by reading War and Peace wrote to me, “I don’t know how anyone has time for work.” I wish that feeling for myself.

 

Ready Steady Write #2

The final resource to help me upgrade my ELL Writer’s Workshop has arrived

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The first quarter has been spent on short, personal narratives and poems.  We will now focus on the more formal persuasive writing,  and I noticed that Chapter 4 (p.97) is devoted to those writing moves.

I look forward to providing feedback other than “How can you develop this idea?”

Ready, Steady, Write: 4 assignments to begin the year.

Very often, some of my students are in ELL Reading and Writing  for 3 semesters.  This means that I must build a repertoire of engaging texts as well as writing assignments.

This year I have added a few exciting resources to help me upgrade my Writing Workshop: Texts and Lessons for Content-Area Writing by Nancy Steineke and Harvey Smokey Daniels, the latest edition of Nancy Atwell’s In The Middle and Linda Rief’s Read Write Teach. In addition, I am following a great new blog: Two Writing Teachers.  There is one more resource on the way.  But more of that when it arrives.

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We always break open our new composition books with lists of topics the students are interested in exploring and writing about – Atwell’s writing territories.  However, this year they wrote their first list on a territory map – a place that has become their own, personal space: bedroom, basketball court, beach and book shelves

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For the first couple of assignments, to get the ideas flowing and build confidence, the students chose topics from their territories.  I now call these assignments A Slice of Life which is a delightful idea I read about in Two Writing Teachers’ blog.  We even display an anchor chart so the students can easily refer to the expectations of this assignment.

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I then looked to Steineke and Daniels for ideas on first writing assignments.

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A getting to know you interview (p.26).  This was a timely assignment since we had just discussed how asking high level questions deepens thinking, discussion and understanding complex texts.  This was a perfect assignment to begin generating interesting, high level questions.

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Students charted their own identity maps (p.32) and even managed to surprise each other with some of their personality traits.

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Finally, they  wrote a random autobiography.

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How do you awaken the writing muse?

Test Prep and a Rubber Duck

I always embed study strategies and skills into my ELL Reading and Writing courses.

One of the best ways to consolidate reviewing for tests etc. is to explain the material to a younger person.  Well, thanks to Daniel Pink, I upgraded this strategy.  After listening to his PInkcast on how talking to a simple bath toy can help you solve problems; I rushed out to buy miniature rubber ducks.

In class we viewed the Pinkcast and discussed the benefits of thinking aloud to a duck when there are no younger siblings around.  I then handed out the bath toys.

Needless to say we all had to listen to the Rubber Duck Symphony for a few minutes before moving on with the lesson.

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Chat Stations

This is a gallery walk of chat; a great activity to deepen understanding of a text, or as Kelly Gallagher would say, ‘2nd draft reading’.  In addition, this task promotes group discussions

I got the idea from Jennifer Gonzalez from the Cult of Pegadogy, a direct approach to student engagement.

My ELLs are in the midst of our ‘text tour’ of a unit on survival.  One of the texts is on the survival skills of the cockroach (an idea I got from Jeff Wilhelm).  To deepen their understanding of this complex article, I generated a few questions. By the way, I copied several questions from this excellent blog post.

We then reviewed the protocols for respectful group discussions.  (I have written about this in more detail in a previous post).

I then simply followed Gonzalez’ clear directions.

Next time, after learning about generating high level questions, the students will come up with their own questions.

3 Activities for the begining of the Year: setting the tone, building confidence

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Rather than hand out rubrics for expected student behaviors, the students themselves create a list of habits that make a good class.

Activity #1 Setting the tone of the class.

A few years ago I came across a handout with an important purpose question:  What makes a good class?  (Unfortunately,  I have no idea where I got this from).  The students complete this from two perspectives: theirs and the teacher’s. In order to help the students clarify their ideas they list  3-5 things a teacher and student must be, say or do to create a safe environment for students to succeed.  They worked in pairs and then in groups of four.  One student from each group reported out.  After listing the behaviors, we analyzed what habits a teacher and student share.

This is the anchor paper that is strategically placed in my class.

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The final step of this activity  is to complete the analogy:

A good class is like …

Here are some of the answers.

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I love the idea of a good class is like

a restaurant: you enter hungry and leave full or

a tree with many branches that grow of the teacher.

 

Activity #2 What the learners can expect to be doing in class.

Although I am obliged to read through and discuss the course guidelines with the students, they are not engaged.  However, I simplify a lesson plan created by Jim Burke  which gets them thinking, generating questions and discussing.

We look at the image of Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich.

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The students note where he is, what he is doing, and the details/objects in the image.  We then discuss how the wanderer reflects the beginning of their 9th grade journey; their hopes and fears.

Activity #3 What is success?  What does it look like?  Does it matter?

Each student drew the symbols of success on small whiteboards.  Then they read  (a jigsaw activity) an article on the habits of champions,  identified the big ideas and created a slide show.

Finally, as an exit note, they created a frozen statue of success.

This was as far as I was willing to let them go.

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Back to School and Setting Up

The orders arrived well on time this year, and it was exciting to unpack the boxes and set up  new titles for our class library.

I had read over the summer about unusual ways to cover bulletin boards.  Luckily there is a scrapbook shop near where I live so I stocked up on some fabric and duct tape with the trending pineapple motif.

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I randomly chose 3 small posters to greet my students as they open the door to the classroom.  On looking at the photo I took of the door, I realized that the notices reflected my mission as an educator:

the joy and importance of reading

honoring, encouraging and learning from risk takers

expressing gratitude

celebrating learning

and birthdays, of course

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I think that says it all, don’t you?

I am looking forward to another year – always so different from previous ones.