Let the Class Tell You What to Teach

Last week we talked about what students need to know and how to get there. In some other classes, I’ve been told pre-assessments, such as quizzes before a unit, or studying the curriculum a class just completed are some of the best ways to gauge where your students’ learning is. I agree that these methods, and similar ones, could be useful. However, my mindset is more aligned with the quote Dr. Ellington wrote on the board:

“There is no curriculum more powerful than a close and careful study of your kids.”

~ A Mindset for Learning

Our eyes can do more work faster than any printed quiz ever will. By looking around your classroom during silent reading time you can see the basics; who likes to read, who is distracted, who is faking, who isn’t even trying. Then take a look at the covers. What do they like to read about? How advanced are they? I know this isn’t an accurate representation of their knowledge, most books I read are probably below my comprehension level so why should I expect my students to be reading at their highest level all the time? I don’t. So talk to them. Have a class discussion about what they know, what topics they are comfortable with and which they are unfimilar or struggling. IF the atmosphere is unwelcoming of this conversation, have them write it down for you to model the lessons. Being honest with your class, letting them know you are asking for their benefit, will hand you the most honest answers.

You have a record of where your students are on a topic, now what? Compare what they know to the unit plan you have created. The unit plan is a block of the building blocks we learned about. Their purpose is to organize your teaching over the course of the year, as seen in the image below.



I tried so hard to make a digital version of this, but, on the bright side, I have nice penmanship.


Now you can teach the students from a consensus starting point within the plans you have created. Units are the time-bound focused study of a topic. If a widely misunderstood subtopic needs to be reviewed (per discussion), a mini-lesson would be a swell idea, which could double as a daily lesson.

By simply understanding our students, we can personalize your yearly plans to fit their learning needs. I know this is probably easier said than done, but knowing the process now is better than having to create it my first or second year of teaching.



Learning vs. Education

Something important happened last week and I want to take the time right now to write about it. Right now, I am in my professional year with the classmates who have become sisters the past three years. It’s the time where we have already hit the ground running and we’re still running at full speed because we hadn’t thought to slow down yet; until we were given a task. We were asked to predict what our students would learn in a single day in our future classrooms. Not only that, we were tasked with estimating what percentage of our students would learn in a day. We stopped sprinting.



This is how I imagine we look running in our “teacher clothes”


Up until this year, I have felt more like an English major than an education major, despite what my diploma will say in May. Maybe it’s because I took almost all of my education courses online and absolutely all my English courses face-to-face. It could be that the homework ratio between the topics feels like a 1:6 most of the time. There’s a chance I hung to the “English” label a bit tighter because in a college full of future educators, English makes me feel just a little more special, a bit more noticeable, a tiny way to stand out. Either way, my college education has been comprised of literature, creativity, tears (from both stress and laughter) and learning how to express who I think I am on paper. The most challenging part was the latter. “What kind of grade am I going to get if I just write about how much I love books and cheerleading?”, my freshman mind thought. You read that right. I was afraid to be me because getting an ‘A’ was more important than being myself.

But I learned how to overcome that. No, my personality is not ‘A’ worthy all the time and my professors didn’t hand out 100s just cause I handed in an assignment. In fact, I did not earn a grade at all. My papers, my thoughts, would come back to me with comment-filled margins, question marks asking for clarification and smiley faces where I made a sassy comment or a thoughtful observation. There were no letter grades or numbered scores to be found, just a “pass” in the gradebook. Suddenly, I mattered more as a person than a score. This is how I learned how to write. I learned I could write just to put my thoughts in a physical state even if they didn’t make sense, my thoughts still existed. I learned I could write to find my voice and, not only that, my voice could truly be me, not some academic suck-up no could understand. I learned to write for content and thought, not to please a red pen. Eliminating the expectation lead me to fly past any expectations I had for myself.

Now let’s bring the storyline back to last week. My English nerds and I have learned to strive on critique and how to teach our future students the same way. How are we supposed to answer, “What will your students learn?”? My answer is simple: I don’t know. I don’t know when they will find themselves, or their new favorite book, or what it feels like to see your fuzzy thoughts in a blank document but be content with it because now you exist. I don’t know when comma usage or the value of lyricism will hit home with them. All I know is I will be in that classroom every day with an open mind and a guiding heart. What percentage of my kids will learn the objective today? 100%. Every day’s objective will be to learn through reading and writing.


I didn’t come to these conclusions on my own. After a wall was put up in our running path, my classmates and I rushed to our English corner and discussed how to climb the wall with a trusted professor. With her help, we boosted each other over with creativity and passion, but still playing by the rules. We are still running, as fast as our bags full of books will let us.


Images courtesy of Creative Commons.

How I Fell in Love the Second Week of 16th Grade

the-great-american-whatever-9781481404099_hrGuys, I just finished probably the best book I read this year so this blog is gonna start off with some book talkin. I picked up The Great American Whatever because of the review on the cover; “A Holden Caulfield for a new generation”, from the brains at Kirkus Reviews. Now anyone who has talked novels with me knows I have a have a crush on J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. (As of right now I am making it a thing to have a crush on a book. They’re better than most people and can’t reject you so it’s a win/win situation.) That would make The Great American Whatever like my crush’s cute, younger brother, right? A new crush that made me laugh, read paragraphs out loud to my boyfriend, and cry at least three times. (No worries, said boyfriend is totally aware of my literary love life.)

Tim Federle, one of my new favorite authors, lends his craft to the main character and narrator. Quinn is a sixteen-year-old boy with a disappeared, dead beat dad, a loving yet absent-minded mother and a dead older sister. Was that a little too blunt? I am just preparing you Quinn’s direct dialect. He is an aspiring screenwriter with a knack for dialogue and I loved both his and Federle’s voice through the whole novel. Allow me to give you a couple examples;

“…, dying, “instantly or nearly instantly,” as if the timing of somebody’s death matters. They’re dead. Roll the credits.” (page 25)

“Kennywood amusement park is one of the only two in the country that are registered as National Historic Landmarks, which is to say: These rides are old as f**k.” (page 97)

The story twists as it is revealed Quinn is gay, has one of those ride-or-die, here-for- life best friends, Geoff, and a real-life golden boy to look up to. I realize now it is hard to book talk this book now because there are so many turns and I don’t want to spoil them, but I do need you to know Quinn won’t turn on his phone because of an incident surviving Annabeth’s death, Geoff has a secret, too, and boys, even gay ones, can disappoint like none other. There are also a ton of parallels and facts about movies which I was totally into.



Author Tim Federle (in a theater, how fitting)


Looking back at class this week, I realize most of our discussions were a little self-centered. I don’t mean this in a negative way; we are learning how to teach in our own personalized methods. I think the listing our qualities as readers and writers was extremely helpful. I was able to see how my education formed my likes and dislikes about language arts. This means I can change the way I teach so someday if my students write this list they won’t have the same secondary educational scars.

Another educational scar was intensely discussed Thursday. How do we write objectives when we don’t really know what your students will learn that day? I would rather teach my students how to learn, not what to learn.

Week One and Done

I think the worst part about Special Methods is we had to wait this long to take it. So far, all the discussions, assignments and readings have been things I look forward to and I am pretty sure that trend will continue.

My biggest take away this week was during Tuesday’s class when Dr. Ellington asked us, “What do real people do when they finish a book?” If we want our students to become real-life readers, we need to lead them to real-life reading habits. Like we commented in class, no one draws a mind map or makes a diorama! Our ‘Visions and Values’ list needs to be filled with discussion and writing through all stages of reading. Think about the last time you read a good book. Like a really good book, a pounding-coffee-the-next-day book. Did you keep it to yourself? No. You found anyone willing to listen and told them all about it. We need to use our passions to inspire students.



My other high point of the week also came from class when we talked about how to handle required readings. Now I’m not sure how “required” some texts are to teach, but we learned how to pull out the basics and use sources other than the books to intense our readers. My only questions left in this area cannot really be answered until I know what administration I’ll be teaching under.

“Are the required books required by tradition or a set of standards from the district, state, ect?”

“What will the faculty/parent reaction be if I chose not to teach the required?”


One of our journal prompts was to write about a quote from our assigned readings and, oh boy, I had many highlighted and underlined statements to pick from. I enjoyed how these readings exposed us to more than the cliché sides of teaching; the internal struggles to find time for personal reading and writing, the fear of imperfection and the strength it takes to be human and vulnerable in front of a class. I also learned students will learn more from the writing process than they will from any perfect final copy.



Outside of class, I started reading Jim Burke’s Letters to a New Teacher, with Joy Krajicek. The book is a collection of letters from Burke to Krajicek her first year of teaching. In the forward, they explain Krajicek came to Burke asking for help and he asked her to record her in-depth questions on index cards. His responses came back pages long and in the end, created the book. I am only on the first letter right now so I’ll keep you guys updated, but I am really enjoying it so far. I borrowed the copy from Dr. Ellington’s collections so I can pass it on when I finish if anyone is interested!


All images courtesy of Creative Commons.


Summer Reading Plans

summer reading

My summer reading plan is one in the making. I don’t think I have ever approached reading with a plan, outside of school that is. I just sort of grab a book, open it, and get lost in the printed pages. This summer I have an extensive list of books to get lost in. Some of them are just titles on a notebook page, some old favorites and a few are ones I started that are still holding my place to come back to. Books and good friends are like that – timeless companions you can always come back to.

I enjoy reading romance novels classics, and, of course, YA novels. A few in my current line-up are; Salt of the Sea, The Rules of Civility, A Touch of Stardust and Lord of the Rings (to the satisfaction of my boyfriend).  I also have a few favorites I would like to reread (again) like Catcher in the Rye and The Lord of the Flies. The summer would not be complete if I did not read my favorite “Little House on the Prairie” as it is a tradition.

When I was younger, I was the kid who the library cut off after three reading logs because they thought I was in it for the dollar store prizes – what morons. Why would you tell a child they have read enough? Why would a library of all places tell a child to put books down after they reached a silly number? Even though I didn’t get to color in a new circle with each book I finished, I kept on reading because reading is worth so much more than a glittery, mom-hated sticky hand. Now I would probably be turned away from the program for age-related reasons, but that is not the sad part of this story. After this, I didn’t want anyone involved in my reading life. My reading was for me and my books. I prefer to read and think about my reading on my own so I have never actively searched out a book club back home for the simple reason that I do not wish to be in one. I know now that my perspective, ideas and even writing skills can and will improve with literary discussion. Knowing this, I can work on being more open-minded towards book clubs.

As for a reading challenge, I would like to make sure I am reading a sustainable amount at least once a day. I don’t want to set a book goal or a number to reach because I would rather read for enjoyment than under pressure during the summers.

What to Love about Kittle

There are some of Penny Kittle’s ideas I agree with and some I just can not see eye to eye with. I understand how she has become a revolutionary in the teaching world. No one gets to the top of any field by being completely loved and agreed upon by their peers; it is the competition that creates a “top” to get to in the first place.

Our differences and ability to respectfully disagree with our colleagues create a stronger force. I can see where Kittle is coming from when she says she would like to axe the Accelerated Reader program altogether. it puts en emphasis on on points instead of reading and gives books a material value instead of a literary one. But, she looks past one highly important factor; the way teacher present it. The points are emphasized in a way where they are all that seems important. In my eight years of AR reading, never did a teacher pump us up by explaining how we were going to get to go to different worlds, meet hundreds of new friends, go to any place in the world we wanted and learn about things curriculum skims over, leaving us wanting more. No, they told us how we could earn points that honestly didn’t mean anything except maybe a lame prize from a cardboard treasure box or a certificate printed in the teachers lounge on cardstock from Walgreen’s. I know these comparisons seem long and unnecessary, but that is a reflection of how the teachers explain the program. If points were not the emphasis in the program, it would work in a more efficient manner.

My favorite Penny Kittle moment/lesson of the year was the video we watched her class made about their reading experiences. I have read research articles, case studies, and ideas for changing your class’s perspective on reading, but this video was the eye-opener. Hearing it from the source and the first-hand experiences made everything we had read about it 350% more real. Any teacher can say they “changed a student’s life” or that their entire class “fell in love with reading”, but watching the proof was more relevant than anything else. The best part was there was no magic trick, she just told them to keep reading. Not the classics, not nonfiction, not textbooks, just whatever stories they wanted off the shelf.

It’s Monday! What are you reading?: Week 15

*I have done a IMWAYR blog each week, I’m not sure where my numbers got mixed up*

This weekend I went home for the holidays and celebrated by hanging out with my old shelf. Two of my favorites have always been Staring Sally J. Freeman as Herself and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margret, both by my girl Judy Blume. It has been a few years since I read these two so I decided to crack them open again. Now I am reading them as a
young woman who (somehow) survived puberty and adolescence and is working on an education degree, so my mindset is quite different to the preteen/teen who read them before. I also chose to reread these titles because they have both been challenged and banned before and have diverse themes.

Sally J. Freeman has an element of everything. Her home life includes her, her mom, brother and grandmother. Now don’t go thinking her dad is out of the picture or was left behind in a divorce – he lives in New Jersey while the rest of the family moves to Miami Beach due to his job. Blume sets this plot up in the late 1940s 186bhufp7spmsjpgwith tension of WWII still fresh in the air. The Freemans are a Jewish family in a very Christian community. This becomes clear to ten year old Sally in the most minor ways as she grows accustomed to her new school and apartment building. No other families are glared at the way the old lady upstairs glares at them and their family is always the last one to get to use the community telephone in the lobby. All the while Sally is learning to make more friends, competing with her brother for attention at home and all those fun changes we all get to experience during puberty. Anti-Semitism and racism are strategically built in to this story of a ten year old with dreams to dance on a stage.

Margret also hits at some religious topics in a big way, I mean it’s in the title after all. Like Sally, Margret and her family have just moved, but they move to New Jersey from New York City. Margret’s parents have raised her without a religion because they each have a separate faith and would rather let her choose once she is old, rather than making a decision for her. This wasare you there god never a problem until she is asked questions like, “Do you swim at the YMCA or the Jewish Community Center?” or “Will you be attending church or synagogue this holiday weekend?” All of a sudden she is lost in herself. Her teacher assigns everyone a personal project – to focus on something all year that will better themselves and report back periodically. Our heroine takes this chance to explore religions and form her own relationship with God. Not only that, but now Margret has to make new friends and twelve year old girls are particular about EVERYTHING. Luckily, she bonds with a few girls who help her through life as she goes to her first boy/girl party, buys a bra and learns boys can be more than just classmates. The characters and dialogue in this book always make me laugh and cry, I would recommend it to any teenage girl.