As a member of this Online Book Club, you are expected to post to the book blog at least once per week between now and July 11 -- that's six weeks. You should finish your book before then, and you will meet during the Institute in your groups to extend the discussion and plan how to present the book to the others in the Institute.

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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Chapter 6 - Teacher as Designer

Last but not least, the fun stuff!  Teacher as designer is a pose I can already see myself growing into.  I am constantly taking notes of classroom set-up ideas and decorations that can make a classroom feel more like home.

My favorite example in the chapter was about the students who turned first their library and then their empty warehouse-like space into engaging, comfortable, and safe classroom spaces.  It is inspiring to see examples of teachers making the best of what are not so uncommon situations teachers face across the country.

Things I would like to implement in my classroom next school year after reading this chapter are, student art work and quotes, comfortable sitting spaces, music, and snacks.

Please share how you have implemented the teacher as designer pose in your classroom because I would love some more ideas!

Chapter 5 - Curating the Curriculum

Of all the chapters, Chapter 5 is the most challenging to the individual teacher.  This pose asks a teacher to do extensive research and to build a library that is relevant, inspiring, and challenging for students.  More than any pose, curating the curriculum would be most successful through teacher collaboration.

"In ELA departments and districts, the process of selecting texts that teachers will teach so so routine that we often forget that it is also deeply political. The books available in your school's book room, for example, constrain your student's reading choices in school." (PFW pg. 90)

Curating the curriculum is so important because teachers are entrusted with a power that they may not even understand and have a responsibility to provide students with thought provoking and varied literature.  If teachers continue to allow the canonical literature that has circulated for decades to dominate education, we will have uninvested, uninterested, non critical thinking students.  This responsible is big and should be advocated for department wide.  It seems obvious to me that many teachers are not currently curating the text because they are either provided with curriculum and don't know how to challenge it, or they are given curriculum and wouldn't dream of adding more work to the crazy load they already have if they don't need to.  The willingness to go above and beyond is what separates the good from the great, and students recognize that.

Another frustration of curating is finding the appropriate level for hundreds of students.  "Regardless of formation (i.e., digital, multimodal,, or print), texts can also provoke frustration if students find them too difficult to parse meaning from without teacher-supported scaffolding or, conversely, too easy compared to student's developmental level." (PFW 102)  This is just another support for my argument that this should be done collaboratively.

Lastly, I think curation is important because, as the authors touch on, it taps into the true expertise of teachers. "more than half of U.S. teachers hold master's degrees and yet teacher expertise is largely ignored in schools." (PWF 105)  Teacher morale is low in the schools I have been in and talking with other colleagues in different schools, they would echo that sentiment.  The pose of teacher as curator benefits students as well as teachers.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Chapter 4 - Teacher as Writer

Like many, I have never considered myself a writer and only since graduating college have I discovered a true love for reading and actually consider myself a reader.  The most important concept I took from Chapter for is changing the picture of writing.  In the opening part of the chapter the authors discuss the difference between a google search of reading and writing.  I have never loved writing but I have always been successful in academic writing.  I love to speak and I have always seen the natural connection between speaking and writing that many students (and teachers) miss.  Despite that, I still, like many, have always seen writing as a chore.  However, there are a few stand out experiences where I found myself in a comfortable zone and felt inspired to write.  I would like to search for that place again and inspire that in my students.

I am still working out how I would like to better implement writing for me students the coming school year.  I see a lot of teachers making a large attempt to get students writing more frequently but it is through daily journals and students either blow them off or view them as a chore.  I do not want to continue the regimented forced writing.  Somehow I would like to see a weekly writers workshop time implemented into my lesson plans.  The greatest struggle that I see for student writers is the environment.  Currently, I am sitting on my couch with a blanket and the television on in the background.  I feel comfortable and free to think, write, and revise.  It will take great efforts to make a classroom conducive to genuine, joyful writing, which seems slightly ironic.

If anyone has any experience with writers workshops or encouraging their students to write more freely and genuinely, please share!

Chapter 3 - Teaching for Social Change

If we are not teaching for social change, what, then, are we really teaching for?  If not to inspire students to grow into engaged citizens, what are we doing?  Chapter 3 pushes teachers to strive for actual, productive civic engagement from students.  The authors point out that civics isn't just for social studies teachers and they discuss how English teachers can incorporate civic engagement aligned with state standards in the classroom. Most significantly, it is noted that, "our civic pathways are stifled if we do not know how to articulate our social needs or are silent."  We have a responsibility to prepare our students to function productively in society and that entails the area of civic engagement.

I love this pose and I think it is a crucial stepping stone in the bigger picture of education reform and creating a system that benefits all students instead of a few.  The key here is genuine exchange.  I constantly hear students complaining that their schoolwork is not relevant to their lives. While sometimes they are unable to see the bigger picture of how something will fit, often times, I can't disagree with them.  Teaching literacy as civic action is a win-win-win.  Teachers, students, and the community all benefit when we focus education on the real world and stop treating the classroom as a daycare.  As the text points out teacher must, "foster a classroom environment where students feel challenged, but safe to voice divergent opinions and bring forward new civic topics for consideration and critique.

I wonder if anyone can contribute examples of this pose in their own classroom.  My only concern here is how to foster an engagement in the political topics that come with these assignments.  Many students are seemingly more interested in popular culture than civic engagement and I would love some feedback on how others have overcome this issue.

Additionally, the chapter goes on to discuss social media activism.  Students already have access to a platform of activism and I am also curious if anyone here has used that in the classroom.  My biggest concern is the distraction of social media in large classrooms.  Its impossible for one teacher to monitor 30 students using social media and I fear it is way too distracting and seriously compromises the "safe space" that a classroom should be.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Thoughts on Chapter 4

I participated in the EMWP in 2010, and I’ve read several books about writing with students (one that I love is called Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle), so this chapter didn’t provide a whole lot of new information for me. I can say that my experiences of writing with students have been profound. By demonstrating my “wobbles” as a writer, students can see that writing isn’t some magic thing that certain people can do easily. They see that even their teacher struggles and re-starts and re-writes and makes grammar and spelling errors just like the rest of them. The students absolutely love fixing my mistakes and giving me suggestions for improvement. It empowers them and motivates them.

The only real struggle is finding the time to write. Writing beside them is not always possible, because I am also the teacher and students require help as they write. I often have to spend time writing before class so I have something ready – which isn’t always easy.

I have always wanted to try NaNoWriMo. I’ve signed up with them, but since it takes place in November, and I’m usually exhausted in November, I never follow through. Have any of you tried NaNoWriMo? I know one retired teacher who used that time to start a novel, which he eventually published!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Chapter 2 Teacher as Hacker

Vulnerability is a scary thing but the PWF authors consistently remind readers of its necessity.  Three key things grabbed me in this chapter.  First, the silent discussion used by the authors in a real experience, then, a place to struggle, and lastly, student as maker.

First and foremost, I am in love with the idea of the silent discussion. A silent discussion is a simple activity in which students are able to respond anonymously in writing before having a full class discussion.  I loved this idea for a couple of reasons.  First, it is an opportunity to practice ALL FOUR language domains (reading, writing, listening, speaking), which as an ESL teacher makes it an ideal activity.  More importantly, it allows ALL students to participate.  Ginormous class sizes makes it nearly impossible to allow all students to productively participate in real conversation, ultimately leading to disengagement and frustration all around.  In this model of discussion, all students can have their voice heard.  A silent conversation pushes everyone to contribute and grow.

Next, as the authors of PWF point out, "Everyone needs a place to struggle...You're also going to school to be a better human being, so if the adults around you do not permit you to do that, then that's a problem, right?" (Garcia, O'Donnel-Allen pg. 41). Does anybody enjoy struggling?  I can't think of anyone who does.  But I also don't know of anyone who would disagree that struggling is a crucial part of becoming a successful person.  Teachers (and parents) cannot be afraid of allowing students to fail.  Where better than a controlled and safe environment?  Again, it all goes back to being vulnerable.

Lastly, English teachers have a unique opportunity to get students invested in their own learning and be successful "makers."  Makers are "motivated by internal goals, not extrinsic rewards."  I believe there MUST be a shift from bribing students to learn to raising children who love learning and desire to use their knowledge to create change.  Many schools implement PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports) or something similar but what happens when they leave the school building and they don't get a reward every time they do something good?  If English teachers lead the way in creating makes who collaborate, solve problems and have a stake in their own learning, we will begin to solve bigger picture issues.