Tag Archives: learning

Planning for Back to School

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?


Thoughts on Thinking

This is a guest post written by Ellen Shubich.

Ellen Shubich

I have been thinking about thinking.

It began when the Buckingham tutor asked my trainee, who had just given a “content class,” what she thought was most important for students to learn. During the exchange, the idea of thinking took the forefront.

We use the words critical thinking a great deal in education and agree that teachers should promote this, but many of us do not delve beyond open-ended questions or “Why did you say that?” We blame the lack of time or the fear of losing pace or the rest of the class’s interest. Yet, perhaps, another explanation exists: We may not know where to go after that initial attempt.

Our failure to dedicate more time to working on thinking intrigued me. And then Huffington Post sent me surfing into David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech. Wallace hooked me with his language, his humor, his ideas, his way of thinking. What did I take from his talk? The idea that we have to pay attention, see and think things from different perspectives, maybe not take things for granted.

I had already decided that the students who learn best are the ones who pay attention. And I know that teachers have to create and set up an environment that promotes learning, the details of which I will omit. I also think that many of us are not very observant. I humbly take the first-place prize. I once had a Doshinkan sensei whose intention was for us learn by observation. He rarely explained anything, even made us sit still for long periods of time, which I assumed was allotted so that we could think about what we observed. I didn’t.

Yet, we teachers spend little time on developing students’ observation skills.

Not just “What do you see in this image?” stuff, things like “What just happened and why?” or “What may have caused this?” or “Why didn’t that work?” or

“What does that mean?” or “How will that affect things?”

And then I discovered the free online book Good Thinking by Erik Palmer, and I realized that I know very little about logic and syllogisms and building arguments and the art of persuasion. I had been talking about critical thinking for a long time without the basic knowledge of what it truly is and how to develop it in my students.

Finally, I watched a Steve Jobs interview on Netflix. Once again, what caught my attention was his thinking, the process, the content, the clear verbalization of the thoughts. He was able to look back, analyze causes of what happened in his life, and work and look forward to where he thought the future of computers would go.

This has been my train of thought as my mind traveled, stopping along the way to consider each new idea. I am convinced that now, more than ever, faced with so much easily available information, propaganda, publicity, and the possible dangers that artificial intelligence presents, students must develop their thinking skills. To reach this objective, teachers must learn how to accomplish this and dedicate more time to the task.

Ellen Schubich was born and raised in the Bronx and moved to Mexico 48 years ago when she married. She has a B.S.N. degree from Cornell University-New York Hospital and a Masters Degree in Educational Administration from the Universidad La Salle. Ellen has held many different positions: nurse, gerontologist, teacher of nursing, English teacher, coordinator, principal (Elementary and Middle School), and English principal. She is married, has a son and daughter and three grandchildren. 


This is a guest post written by Ellen Shubich.

Ellen ShubichHaving retired a year ago after many years working as teacher, coordinator, and principal in private schools in Mexico City, I found that I was at a loss as to what to do with so much “free” time. I was 70 years old when I retired, still very energetic and restless, and I felt that so many years of experience should benefit someone somehow.

Luckily, I was reincorporated into the community life of the last school I had worked in when they asked me if I wanted to mentor a teacher who was doing a post-grad course. They also requested that I edit and revise their English publications. The combination of these part-time jobs and activities that I could now do (more exercise at the gym, biking, reading, visiting museums) filled this past year and kept me happy.

And then part-time became no time . . . with no one seemingly interested in my collaboration, no one knocking down my door seeking my educational wisdom (yes, thankfully, my sense of humor seems to be alive and well).

Enter those who would suggest.

Sir Ken Robinson might TED me that I should follow my passion. Educators might point out my strengths and encourage me to develop them. My Hey Bookies (members of our miraculously long-lasting Book Club) would probably tell me to stop reading so much because the books I have recently recommended don’t seem to have inspired them at all.

And then I surfed into a TED talk by John Green. He revealed how “left out of learning” he felt when he graduated from school and joined the real world. Aha! Something I have experienced since I no longer mingle with those in an educational environment. What reconnected him to the stimulation and curiosity and learning that good schooling provides was the discovery of blogging, the option of exchanging information with experts, and resources on the net. He became a fan of YouTube and the teaching/learning it offered, the opportunity to make comments that received responses. His intellect was reignited.

So I have taken his idea to both head and heart. During the past retired year I spent a great deal of time reading articles on education, watching webinars, attending talks. But though I have not been totally disconnected, it has been lonely. What has been lacking is the exchange of ideas, the involvement, the “belonging.” After all, much of learning is a social experience.

So here I am. Hopefully, reconnected.

Ellen Shubich was born and raised in the Bronx and moved to Mexico 48 years ago when she married. She has a B.S.N. degree from Cornell University-New York Hospital and a Masters Degree in Educational Administration from the Universidad La Salle. Ellen has held many different positions: nurse, gerontologist, teacher of nursing, English teacher, coordinator, principal (Elementary and Middle School), and English principal. She is married, has a son and daughter and three grandchildren. 

A Collaborative Effort

This post is written by NCTE member, Lauren Petri. 

LaurenPetriI have not spoken for almost ten entire minutes in my classroom, and it is both uncomfortable and humbling. They don’t need me today. My seventh hour is participating in their third Philosophical Chairs Debate, and buried underneath my anxiety is a well of pride bubbling over as my students create a deliberative discussion about the prosecution of child soldiers. While I certainly am not the facilitator of this conversation, I can see my thumbprints in their words. More specifically, I can hear the insight and language I gained in Teaching Deliberatively: Writing and Civic Literacy, a 2015 summer graduate class offered through the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa Writing Project, becoming part of my students’ academic and interpersonal interactions.

Many of my students are not tactful. They’re eighth graders and they’re nearly always ready to battle with their words. Their worlds revolve around hallway exchanges and social media sparring. When I started to delve into classroom discussions, I was abruptly met with an uphill battle. My students had plenty of disagreements, but few had the vocabulary to sort through their conflicts productively. So, I started small. I worked with one of my classes to create a list of “sentence starters” to use when in a discussion that involved conflict. We practiced, and practiced, and got better each week. A classroom initially fraught with haphazard comments slowly became one where words were chosen with care and purposeful thought. I began to trust them, and as their positive experiences in my classroom piled up, they began to trust me.

Following Teaching Deliberatively last summer, I was adamant that my classroom would nurture a climate of conversation. As I anxiously anticipated my first year of teaching, I envisioned lively discussions and intrinsically motivated students. However, that is not quite what reality placed in my lap. I was, and still am some days, frustrated with the lack of buy-in from my students. Developing those sentence starters with my class was a huge step toward creating a community of students who are willing to take risks. When my students became more willing to take academic risks, I started to see growth.

In the process of trying to create learners, I can easily forget that I am one as well. In the days following the Teaching Deliberatively course, I realized that I needed to be part of a community of learners if I ever hoped to create one. Follow-up sessions with other cohort members helped. The time I spent engaging in civic discourse with colleagues renewed my own sense of curiosity. So, instead of bulldozing through content, I always stop to ask my students what they think of a particular lesson or activity. Their input has become an essential component of my daily planning. They know that whether the lesson goes without a hitch or flops, we’ll discuss it together. I ask for honesty, and they are experts at being honest with me. We craft the kind of language we need to let us communicate in a way that propels us forward, and I am certain that I am a better teacher because of it.

Lauren Petri is a first year middle school Language Arts teacher in Des Moines, and is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa.

Families and Literacy Learning

Whether your summertime was leisurely, productive, or both, you’re probably joining the many children, families, and teachers making the mental and physical transition “back to school.”

As educators, one thing to be thinking about is how to keep families and caregivers in touch with students’ literacy learning throughout the school year.

Elementary Pupil Reading With Teacher In ClassroomWhat are the best ways to do this? It seems best to keep it simple. Better yet, our challenge is to show not tell as we involve families in the happenings within our schools on an ongoing basis.

Here are a few examples of educators who don’t need to tell families about the importance of the literacy learning taking place in their classrooms, because they are showing it:

  • Meet first-grade teacher, Jane Fung. She makes notebooking a regular part of her instructional practices. These notebooks will become a treasured part of each child’s school career long after first grade.
  • Julie Wollman, a ReadWriteThink.org and NCTE author, shows us how to get started with family message journals as a means for students to write to an authentic audience about their learning.
  • Because the ways we teach writing are often quite different from the ways most of our students’ parents learned to write, it is important to think about productive ways to get families involved as strong allies for excellent writing instruction. The authors of “Inviting Parents In: Expanding Our Community Base to Support Writing” describe workshops and other methods for getting parents productively involved in their children’s literacy development.
  • Watch as a parent who is in a Community of Practice with teachers shares what it means to learn, talk, and design activities as a full CoP member with teachers