As teachers, we usually go into the first weeks of school assuming full responsibility for building the learning space. But what happens if we put some of that responsibility in our students’ hands instead? Our new students come to us full of ideas, stories, expertise, and curiosity. These are the essential materials for a strong classroom community. Here are a few ideas for how to put those raw materials to use:
Our Classroom: Writing an Owner’s Manual
Students write an owner’s manual that helps them get to know their classroom, provides them with a sense of ownership, and lets others know about their classroom.
Now that Labor Day has passed, it’s time to think about back to school resources. Here are a few things I am planning to do to get a head start now to help to make this a fabulous school year!
Creating/Maintaining a Classroom Library
To help my students get motivated to read, I try to have timeless favorites in my classroom library as well as add new titles. ReadWriteThink.org has two podcast series that provide book suggestions. Several NCTE journals also review new texts in every issue.
Staying Current with Trends in Education
By reading other’s posts and participating in discussions on the NCTE Connected Community and on the Literacy & NCTE blog, I feel like I can gain easy access to each other’s best ideas.
Finding or Become a Mentor
Being provided with a mentor as a teacher is a wonderful benefit. Sometimes, teachers may need to find their own mentor or teacher with whom they can work and learn. The English Journal column “Mentoring Matters” has a focus on effective ways to support new English teachers and student teachers and is a great resource to all teachers. Check out this column!
Plan for Professional Development
Now would be a good time to register for the NCTE Annual Convention! Join thousands of educators, experts, authors, administrators, publishers, and others in St. Louis, Missouri, for the 2017 NCTE Annual Convention! November 16-19, 2017
What else are you doing to plan for the upcoming semester?
Join our NCTE Lead Ambassadors and members of #NCTEvillage tomorrow, Sunday, August 20, at 8 p.m. ET for a Twitter conversation around “Starting the Year with Our Village.”
Lead Ambassadors are advocates who represent NCTE in the social space, as well as on the ground in their local regions. They do everything from engage with fellow NCTE members online to gathering stories to hosting offline events in their communities. The 2017-2018 Lead Ambassadors are:
Oh, the wonderful world of writing policy briefs. This week was spent working on a piece for the National Council of Teachers of English. We are trying to uncover who is teaching English and how these educators feel about a range of topics. There is data on teachers in general, but not a lot on teachers of English specifically. As an organization, we wanted to learn about this critical group of educators. Here are some questions that arose during my research:
What might the race and gender of our teachers tell us about the ways we connect with our students?
Why is it important to look at the levels of education a teacher has achieved?
In a post–Common Core world, have levels of job satisfaction changed?
What are the professional learning needs of teachers of English?
The most glaring fact so far has been the lack of current research on teachers. The U.S. Department of Education is set to release the next set of data end of summer/beginning of fall.
You know what they say about assessment …
I took a break from writing and research to meet with Miah Daughtery, the Director of English Language Arts and Literacy at Achieve. A fellow Wolverine, Miah and I discussed everything from ideas for getting kids to read—The Reading Minute by Kelly Gallagher—was new to me! to understanding why standardized assessments are so long (if you don’t know what a psychometrician is, then you probably don’t know the answer). One thing that was suggested in my district was that we write our own district-wide benchmarks. It was such a casual comment to our little department of 10 teachers that it seemed like a simple idea. Miah and I discussed how complicated writing assessment is, especially if it is assessment that you are going to use to make claims about student achievement. Miah has a presentation called “The Top 25 Ways a Test Item Can Be Flawed.” There are more than 25? The moral of the story is, folks, we need to revisit our benchmark plan. Miah suggested checking out the assessments from Achieve the Core, so I’m going to start there.
Oh and I’m back in the classroom on Monday
When my eyes got tired of looking at data, I turned my attention to my classroom. I have 6th and 8th graders reporting to me, excited yet sleepy, Monday. As most teachers do, I have grand plans for the year. These include, but are not limited to
infusing global education in all of my units, and building a website for my students to interact with me while I am on my study abroad, probably on Facebook or a page on my personal site
getting my kids to enjoy reading (also, getting them to actually read)—this means getting my classroom library in order, which terrifies me
doing daily read-alouds and maybe the Reading Minute
pairing contemporary texts with my mandated curriculum
If you listen closely, you can hear it. That big, deep breath before we plunge into the cold lake of back-to-school. I present back-to-school workshops for teachers, and these workshops are often when teachers are dipping their toe in, testing the waters of a new school year. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get it right. To start well, I use the same strategies I use as a college professor and used as a high school English teacher. These strategies are grounded in my beliefs, and NCTE’s beliefs, about what it means to teach writing well.
Write as soon as possible, if not first. If the teachers and I start by writing, then that’s what our time together is about. I get it, there’s a great temptation (sometimes a mandate) to start with the schedule or norms or rules or assessments or forms or . . . or . . . or . . . . But I want my time with teachers or students to be about writing, so we start there. Usually quickly and sometimes short, we write—without a prompt—whatever words need to be on the paper.
From the start, I write with the people in the room—teachers or students. My fellow writers can see my pen tapping and me staring off into space and they know that all writers get stuck sometimes. I can show them my writing on a document camera and struggle to not apologize because it is too short and I crossed stuff out, so they can see that all writers start with drafty drafts. And they can see when I get lost in writing and forget to stop us or when I’m proud of a sentence or turn of phrase.
We talk about our writing from the beginning. We talk around our still-unformed creations—these texts we build out of words and experience and memory and other texts and paper and pens and notebooks. By talking, we build our relationships with one another out of our own and one another’s words. These relationships are the way we get through the moments when the writing gets hard or the revision is not working. Or when we figure it out and just have to share how good it sounds.
Admittedly, these strategies are not original, but good things never go out of style. Whether I’m working with teachers or students, the pressure to cover content or standards often pushes aside these habits of mind that are, after all, at the heart of our discipline. So, whenever I want to start well with a new group of teachers or students, we write and talk together, building a community of writers who can explore the world together through words.
Dr. Ann D. David is an assistant professor of education at the University of the Incarnate Word, and a co-director of the San Antonio Writing Project. She’s been a writer since before memory and currently blogs at anndavid.org.