Category Archives: Teaching

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Teaching for Responsibility and Independence

Terry Thompson @TerryTreads leads an #NCTEchat on Teaching for Responsibility and IndependenceJoin Terry Thompson @TerryTreads this Sunday for a conversation around “Teaching for Responsibility and Independence.”

Terry is an author, teacher, and consultant living in San Antonio, Texas. He provides staff development for teachers of readers and writers in grades K–8. Currently a reading interventionist, Terry has served as a classroom teacher, basic skills teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, and literacy coach. His most recent book is The Construction Zone: Building Scaffolds for Readers and Writers.

Here’s what we’ll discuss during the chat:

Q1: What challenges do you face when it comes to shifting students toward independence in literacy?

Q2: What evidence do you look for that show students are reaching independence? What assessment practices seem most valuable?

Q3: Despite our best intentions, how might we get in the way of students working at optimal levels of responsibility and how can we monitor for this?

Q4: What are some ways we can invite our students to share the responsibility for learning and to move toward independence?

Q5: How can our feedback help students take responsibility for their own learning?

Q6: After reflecting on tonight’s discussion, how will you be more mindful of teaching for student responsibility and independence tomorrow morning?

No Homework…Beneficial?

This is a guest post written by Katie Cassavaugh. 

katiecassavaughHomework as defined by Merriam-Webster means “preparatory reading or research (as for a discussion or a debate).” When I was a student, it meant hours of stress and hair pulling after having having already spent eight hours cramming knowledge into my head. It was also a point of tension in my house as I who lacked math skills tried to get help from my parents who were not hip to the new methods. And my brother didn’t want to read anything other than sports magazines. Not only was homework a painful time for me, it was more than exhausting for my parents, who had a full work day followed by making dinner only to then battle us for homework.

That is why when I started this year as a student teacher in a fifth-grade classroom at Orchard Elementary, I was overjoyed to learn that the school had instituted a no-homework policy. I, along with some of the other teachers, immediately became worried that our already jammed schedules would become more cramped, but after the first two or three weeks, that concern faded away and we got into a steady rhythm. We found ways to fit all the subjects into the school day and knew that whatever we did not finish, we could do tomorrow.

Now, no homework does not mean no reading; the stipulation is that students are still always working on becoming lifelong readers. We expect them to read their “just right books” for 20–30 minutes a night and do not consider a book they are choosing to read out of interest to be homework. This is learning to enjoy reading rather than dreading it,  which would have been perfect for my brother who only read magazines. And, along with choice reading, we expect students to spend more time playing and not sitting in front of a screen!

As a student teacher, I was excited to see this policy in play. Earlier in my school career, I had interned in a first-grade classroom. The students there had only one math sheet for homework every night, but this was enough to cause them stress. Not getting it done and missing morning meeting to complete it made them sad. The school and students were great, but if one worksheet made children this stressed, I could only imagine what 30 to 60 minutes of work would do!

Of course, we cannot forget the benefits of homework, such as helping those who struggle to get extra practice and holding students accountable for all their work. One drawback to to  a no-homework policy is that students do not have any accountability for their work. Before, if students fooled around and did not finish their work, they would have to finish it at home. Now with the new policy, teachers either let go of the assignment and move on or have to carve out more time during the school day for the students to finish.

Overall, I support a no-homework policy. Students are so scheduled between school, sports, musical instruments, and other extracurricular activities and chores. Taking away one thing such as homework can free the students to be kids again. It can give them an extra one to three hours to play and be free. They already spend so much time studying and learning new information; they should have the opportunity to leave their work behind for the day and relax. When kids hit sixth grade and beyond, they will once again have homework. From age 5 to 10, they need to focus on being kids, growing their creativity, and learning through play!

Katie Cassavaugh is a senior at Champlain College. She currently interns at Orchard Elementary and works at Kids and Fitness in Burlington, Vermont.

Part 2: How I Stayed in Teaching

This post (the second of two parts) is written by member Lorena Germán. You can read the first part here

lorena-german-2-2-2After teaching at my alma mater for several years, I was exhausted. I was exhausted with the oppressive structure and the feeling of powerlessness as I watched mistreatment of students occur at the hands of teachers, administrators, and the overall system. I saw teachers abuse students verbally and even straddle the “physical abuse” fence. I saw decisions made that were not at all in the best interests of the student. I saw adults blindly follow rules and policies because we all felt powerless to a certain extent. There were days when I felt a part of the problem and not a part of the solution. I watched co-workers leave year after year; the turnover was probably the only constant considering new trends, new curricula, new school leaders, and new projects.

In my last year at that school, I learned about NCTE’s Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Award, but I hesitated to apply. I was unsure if I would get it and if it would be beneficial. Ultimately, I applied and then forgot about it until June, when I was at graduate school and received a notice that I was one of the six cohort members that year. Beyond being excited, I felt acknowledged and respected. Acceptance into this program was an affirmation that my passion was being recognized and appreciated.

My mentor, Anna J. Roseboro, was a great mentor and she helped me that year when I was home and pregnant and strongly reconsidering returning to the classroom. I couldn’t go back and deal with that intensity or the oppressive system anymore. Through our conversations and her support, she helped me remember my passion for teaching. She didn’t know what I was thinking or feeling, but her comments kept reminding me of my love for the craft.

The project I took on with my cohort was meaningful, and I really enjoyed synthesizing all of our research and ideas. We presented at the 2015 NCTE Annual Convention in Minneapolis on redefining texts and identifying multicultural texts for use in the classroom. Our presentation was strong and our work was important. It was such a powerful experience for me, and it came at the right time. I’ll always be grateful to the people I met through this experience who continue to be mentors in some way: Anna J. Roseboro, Dr. Mila Fuller, Dr. Isabel Baca, Dr. Tonya Perry, and my cohort members. Through this award, I have expanded my professional network, found a sustained motivation for my career, and acquired the drive to grow and think big.

Lorena Germán is a twelfth-year Dominican American educator working with young people in Austin, Texas. She has been published by NCTE, ASCD, EdWeek, and others and is an active member of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network. An NCTE Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Award recipient, Lorena is a wife, mami, teacher, and writer.   Follow her on Twitter @nenagerman.  

Part I: How I Marched into Teaching

This post is written by member Lorena Germán. This is the first of two parts. 

lorena-german-2-2-2Sometimes we fall into careers as we search for ourselves. Other times we fall into careers in search of answers. I was drawn to teaching against my will, I say, because of racist and oppressive educational experiences.

I was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a seven-square-mile immigrant city bustling with people from Caribbean and Central American nations. While the majority of the student population is Latinx, immigrant, and Spanish speaking, most teachers are white women. This imbalance caused cultural and language tensions in the classroom.

Here is an example: I can remember sitting in class while one of my peers read a paragraph aloud. He was moving slowly, I guess, but I cannot say I had noticed. The teacher, from the front of the room, said, “My goodness, Jose. If you could only read as fast as you move on the court!” Bravely, Jose finished that paragraph. That was in seventh grade, but I still remember that moment. I cannot imagine that Jose does not. I also cannot remember if Jose ever read aloud again. The teacher’s reference to the basketball court, in concert with other remarks like those directed at other boys of color, demonstrated a pattern. Most of those boys of color either did not pass her class or were consistently struggling with discipline issues.

I remember another teacher, in high school, who stopped speaking to me for about a semester, because I was vocal about my concerns and disapproval of the city’s school committee practices. I remember getting dirty looks from teachers and under-their-breath mumbled remarks while I was walking past them. I was ready to graduate, leave Lawrence for college, and never set foot in those schools again.

It impossible to think about my educational experience and not notice the ethnic and cultural disconnect between the teachers and the students and cite that as one of the roots of the problem. It is also impossible for me to blame students for a system they do not control or have a say in, to this day. My anger was deep and my frustration with education was wide. However, as a first-generation immigrant, I was determined to go to college, take full advantage of our family’s sacrifice, and achieve the American Dream everyone was talking about.

While at college, I discovered I had a passion for working with young people like others and myself who reminded me of my neglected peers. I thought I would dedicate myself to working in nonprofits and extracurricular youth work. I did that for several years and always noticed that my role incorporated teaching and/or education somehow. One year, when I was working as a sales representative at a women’s gym, a co-worker asked me to tutor her daughter in Spanish. This student exclaimed how well I was teaching her and how she was finally understanding Spanish. So one Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m., while sitting with this girl, I realized I was indeed going to be a teacher.

I packed up all of my belongings and headed back to Massachusetts. I had some healing to do—for both my future students and myself. I was not returning to be anyone’s savior. I was not returning with big dreams of massive impact. I was realistic and very clear on the fact that I was willingly taking on institutionalized racism. My goal was simple: I would work hard to be the teacher I never had.

Lorena Germán is a twelfth-year Dominican American educator working with young people in Austin, Texas. She has been published by NCTE, ASCD, EdWeek, and others and is an active member of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network. An NCTE Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Award recipient, Lorena is a wife, mami, teacher, and writer.   Follow her on Twitter @nenagerman.  

Beware the Ides of March!

0315-ides-of-march_full_600In Julius Caesar, a soothsayer warns Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March.” Caesar ignores the warning and is, in fact, murdered on March 15, called “the Ides” on the Roman calendar. Over time, the date has become associated with doom and momentous events – particularly ones with disastrous effects. The following resources from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org offer solutions for bringing Julius Caesar to life for all students.

Shakespeare in the elementary school? The Primary Voices article “”Creative Drama through Scaffolded Plays in the Language Arts Classroom“” chronicles how the author first used creative drama in a summer reading program with first graders, and then over the years, developed a much broader understanding of drama as an important teaching tool. She also describes writing “scaffolded” plays with sixth-grade students and illustrates their annual thematic dinner theater.

The ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan “”Book Report Alternative: Characters for Hire! Studying Character in Drama“” asks students to create a resume for one of the characters in a drama. Students select a character from the play to focus on and jot down notes about that character. Next, they search for historical background information and then explore the play again, looking for both direct and implied information about their characters and noting the location of supporting details. Finally, students draft resumes for their characters and search a job listing site for a job for which their character is qualified.

Julius Caesar, with its themes of loyalty, ambition, and deception, still resonates with high school students and remains a favorite text in classrooms everywhere. Through differentiated instruction, the NCTE text Teaching Julius Caesar: A Differentiated Approach offers solutions for bringing the play to life for all students – those with various interests, readiness levels, and learning styles. Discover more by reading the sample chapter.

An Introduction to Julius Caesar Using Multiple-Perspective Universal Theme Analysis” from ReadWriteThink.org is an introduction to William Shakespeare’s tragic play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, through the study of universal themes using multiple-perspective investigations of betrayal scenarios.

How can students build new connections with the poetic details of Shakespeare’s plays? In this digital movie project, “Connecting Students with Shakespeare’s Poetry: Digital Creations of Close Reading” students explore close reading and thoughtful selection of imagery to create deeper understanding.

What ideas do you have for Julius Caesar in the classroom?