Learning to network

Networking is not my forte. AT. ALL. I go to professional development sessions or conferences on the district and national level and I get so wrapped up in my own head, thinking about how I will take this back to my students or school and I forget to talk to the people around me.

And in this way, teaching can be lonely.

But! I’ve recently gotten more involved in Twitter, especially after all of the time I freed up by giving up Facebook. This was my level of social networking proficiency, a few weeks ago:

And through Twitter I’m moving past this and instead learning to network productively and share thoughts about instructional practices or texts on a daily basis, instead of at the infrequent PD or conference. And tonight I engaged in my first #NCTEchat, about the Teacher as Writer, which was really my first Twitter chat … ever! It was exciting! (Here’s the archive, in case you missed it.) I honestly could have sat all night, communicating with educators across the world (including Mexico!), but my dogs were restless and needed a run to the dog park and the Hubbs needs help drafting a music review for his music appreciation class. Talk about writing! I love writing with my husband for his various classes. This is my favorite way to learn more about the way he thinks and to practice my questioning methods with my student writers (instead of just telling them how I would phrase things).

Before I had to tear myself away from the chat, I scribbled some highlights in my blog journal, that I mentioned here:

And here’s what that journal looks like, along with my messy work desk:

20140720-212636-77196974.jpg

And now I’ll make sense of those highlights:

  1. Writing with students: Writing with students is essential. Sadly, I did not do enough of this last year. I debriefed a lot about their writing, and they wrote together, but only a few times did I engage in writing with my students. This, I will change. There were some great suggestions as to how to do this: revising some of my written work on the overhead with them, using Google Docs to model writing as they write, using Google Docs to write and edit with them, or using Edmodo as a tool for writing collaboration with and among students. I vow to use a little bit of all of these ideas!
  2. Mentor texts: Using mentor texts to teach writing. At one point, I asked about using graphic organizers to teach writing. The resounding response seemed to be that graphic organizers should only be used early in the writing process/learning to write a new genre. I definitely don’t sit down and use graphic organizers when I sit down to write a blog or an article for publication. But how do we find these mentor texts? I say, in EVERYTHING! In grad school, one of my favorite professors brought to class Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit. In is, she describes her methods for collecting inspiration for dance. I don’t use this book as a mentor text in my classroom but instead as a framework for collecting my own inspiration.
  3. Sharing resources: Several teachers shared blogs but from clicking through several of them, I already have one favorite (which I already follow) Two Writing Teachers. I love, love, love Two Writing Teachers. I love the look/feel of their blog (which Catherine and I are trying to manage on our shared blog Not So Common) and their content. The topics are so diverse! And again, I found this resource weeks ago through Twitter and it has inspired many changes to my AP Literature curriculum. MANY CHANGES.

I feel invigorated, inspired and most of all, a part of community among English teachers. Now … how can we organize (or I can find an already existing) chat about Dual Language at the secondary level. What would the hashtag be? #DLHSchat (Dual Language High School chat)? But that looks like Schat. Which, when pronounced phonetically is slightly inappropriate!

In what ways do you network with other educators? Or what are your favorite Twitter chats?

If Tolkien says teaching is “depressing” …

After reading an article posted by a colleague from another content area, deriding the work high school English teachers do to teach writing and prompting me to give up Facebook, I found a pretty little hole in the ground.

In a letter to a friend, which was recently discovered, JRR Tolkien describes teaching as “exhausting and depressing.”

In fact, he was inspired by terrible student papers to write The Hobbit. In another letter to WH Auden, he explains that as he graded a set of student essays,

On the blank leaf I scrawled: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ I did not and do not know why.

How depressing, is right. Student writing as a hole in the ground?

I’ve been there before, a place in which writing teachers ask themselves, “Have you listened to anything I’ve said?”

And this is the question that I’ve been asking myself constantly: how can I ensure students are listening? But moreover, how can I ensure students see the benefit of what I’m saying and work hard to practice these skills in their writing?

How, indeed.

Here are three basic ways I hope to elevate my students’ writing this year:

  1. incorporating figurative language to describe concepts in their essays
  2. elevating the level of vocabulary in their writing
  3. varying sentence and paragraph structure (as to avoid this opening sentence: “In JRR Tolkien’s novel …”

Here are three new ways I might tackle these issues:

  1. Use bell ringers and quick writes to practice using figurative language, by giving them a metaphor triangle including only two sides: maybe the characteristics of a character, setting, action, etc. in what we have read, and the author’s meaning, requiring the student to fill in the characteristics of something to be compared, in order to achieve that meaning.
  2. Create a word wall with “Words we Love” and ask students to add their new words to the wall, as they encounter them (I haven’t quite decided another way to hold students accountable without stripping the joy of learning and experimenting with new words).
  3. Use bell ringers to revise previous student essays. I kept several student essays from last year, which I intend to use as opportunities to discuss what writers do well and what they should improve upon, in a non-threatening way before asking students to share their own writing.