Tuesday, September 22, 2015

September Summer Sun in a Small Town on Sunday #SOL15

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for sponsoring the Slice of Life Challenge each Tuesday. Head over to the TWT blog and enjoy some more stories from others' lives. 

Sunday afternoons for English teachers often loom as a time for lesson planning and paper grading. Succumbing to the temptation to get out and about instead, my husband and I headed to the brand new Portneuf Wellness Facility near our home Sunday afternoon to enjoy the end of summer sun with our pups, Puck and Snug and to fill our hearts with gratitude for this new state-of-the-art facility that graces our small town. 

Situated at the corner of Chubbuck Road and Bench Road where the road turns sharply to the south, the Portneuf Wellness Facility boasts a beautiful, high-tech amphitheater and other amenities, including a jogging track and stocked reservoir that's fed by a mountain artisan stream. To the south of the center is a lush pastoral row of soccer fields, a vestige from the past. The Bannock County fairgrounds still peep from the western horizon beyond the wellness center. 

Lately, for many reasons, I've been thinking about the poetry of Walt Whitman, particularly "Leaves of Grass" and its implications for and echoes of so much of life: 

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.It is not far. It is within reach.Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. Perhaps it is everywhere - on water and land.” ― Walt WhitmanLeaves of Grass

I snapped a few pics of this idyllic corner of our community that offers a glimpse of its bounty. However, since the amphitheater wasn't in use Sunday, I could only photograph the back side. We did attend the first concert  in the facility a few weeks ago and lounged on the lawn like teenagers as we listened to a couple of geezer groups: The Beach Boys and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Somehow this throwback to the past seems appropriate for a facility designed to bring the community together in theis beautiful mountain valley of southeast Idaho. 
Looking west at the reservoir and swimming beach. 
The reservoir offers several fishing piers and rocks that pose as seats awaiting anglers of all ages.  
Ken, Snug, and Puck stop for a rest on the bridge over the mountain stream. 

The source of the artisan stream that feeds the reservoir. 
 As we walked along the stream, we paused to observe a rainbow trout meandering in the water.
Enjoy the sunny disposition of these sunflowers against the blue sky.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

In Which I Reflect on My Journey through the NEA Better Lesson Master Teacher Project: #SOL15

It's Tuesday and time to slice! Thank you, Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting Slice of Life each Tuesday. Head over and check out today's slices.

Two years ago I embarked on a professional journey that has had a profound impact on my professional life and is arguably the most grueling PD I've experienced. I, along with a cadre of K-12 teachers, was hired to create a ELA course that other teachers could access FREE for use in their professional development and in their classes.

The National Education Association (NEA) Master Teacher Project (MTP) was (is) designed to give educators a glimpse into the classrooms of other teachers. Yes, union membership was (is) a criteria for being a NEA MT.

During the year I worked on my English 12 course, I had the guidance of a wonderful mentor who has become a dear friend and the collegiality of three other teachers; one of our team members was forced to drop out of the program.

Although my employment with Better Lesson, the Boston startup that manages the website hosting MT courses, ended a year ago, the NEA BL MTP remains a significant part of my life. I feel its impact each week when I receive a report indicating how often resources on my page have been downloaded. Last week I had 172 downloads. My work in the MTP impacts all the teachers--for better, I hope--who visit my page and download the resources there.

I've thought about my BL page frequently the past few days as I've followed conversations about Teachers Pay Teachers, a website I've never used. I want to offer this post as a public service announcement to those looking for resources for English, Math, Science, and Blended Learning. You can find lots of free lesson plans, all complete with videos, student work samples, handouts, narratives about how to implement the lessons, time frames, images, and reflections on the BL website. All of these are FREE!

Even if you don't teach senior English, know that the materials on my page are grounded in pedagogy adaptable for many works of literature. In my course, you'll find 113 lesson plans in 14 units. None of these lessons exist in a vacuum. All are part of many collaborations I've had for over thirty years. I could not have done the work without the many from whom I've learned so much.

As one teacher to another, feel free to toddle over to the BL website and see what teachers in the MTP are paying teachers.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Hanging In, Hanging Out, and Hanging On: A Collaboration Begins #SOL15

Dana in the big square; me in the little one!
During the summer I learned that my friend and colleague Dana Huff, who blogs at Huff English and whom I met through the Folger Shakespeare Library, would be teaching English Literature and Composition for the first time next year. As I will also be teaching English Lit and Comp for the first time, Dana and I decided to meet up via Google Hangouts and discuss the course and our plans. 

For more than 1:45, Dana and I talked, but we didn't confer about AP only. Nope. We chatted about the challenges of HANGING IN for the long haul in our maligned profession. We visited about HANGING ON in the face of reductive, pseudo education reforms that run antithetical to our notions about pedagogical excellence. Of course, we spoke about HANGING OUT throughout the school year and offering support to one another in our AP Lit and Comp journey as we share best practices. 

For our first Google Hangout, here are some of the things we discussed: 

*First day plan: Dana shared her plan to seek input about student goals and obstacles they face. At one point she made a comment that reminded me of the ONE SENTENCE project I used for a MACBETH lesson. This has inspired me to change the lesson to one about universal themes in literature by having students write about and share their life theme. 

*Assessment and Revision: Dana reminded me that the College Board wants to see a plan for student revision built into the required audit syllabus. I like Dana's suggestion for requiring students to revise essays that fall below a 5 on the AP nine-point scale and offering all students an opportunity to revise. 

*Whether to teach the course thematically or by genre: I shared my AP by the Sea facilitator's thoughts about a thematic course and how I changed my mind about teaching the course as separate genre studies. 

*Dana told me about the acronym TWIST, which refers to tone, word, image, style, and theme. We also talked about TP-CAST and the various other AP acronyms. We both realize we have the AP Vertical Teams book with these resources that we can use. 

*Dana had a great idea about having her course go full circle by revisiting the questions she began with at the end of the year. 

*Class size challenges: Dana teaches in a private school that promises to keep class size low, and I am in a public school. Dana's two sections of AP are below 15, and I have one section of AP w/ 19 students. (Many of our seniors take dual enrollment English through ISU.)

*Books we're teaching: Both Dana and I received complimentary copies of Carol Jago's Literature & Composition: Reading, Writing, Thinking (Bedford/St. Martin) book, and I also received a copy on Perrine's Literature: Structure, Sound & Sense, Twelfth Edition (Johnson and Arp, eds. (Cengage Learning). We chatted about the merits of both books and like both. Additionally, we talked about some of the major works we're teaching and the challenges of teaching new books and those our predecessors taught. We both have visions for the class that align more with our constructivist philosophy of learning. 

*My facilitator shared a huge file of materials with participants in the workshop I attended. I shared this with Dana, as well as the syllabus I composed for the audit. Dana is sharing her documents with me, too, but she has the unenviable task of retyping many since she did not get a digitized copy of the resources. 

Finally, before ending our visit and waving goodbye, I suggested that Dana and I keep notes about our collaboration during the year and consider writing about it together next summer. I asked Dana if she had ever seen a book about or read an article about sustaining and making a collaboration such as ours work. We both see this as a gap in the professional literature. 

Near the end of the hangout, I snapped the screenshot above and later posted it to FB where another friend from the Folger saw it and commented: "Hey, I'm teaching AP Lit and Comp for the first time next year, too." Dana and  I invited Julie Bowerman to join us, and we later added one more to our merry band, one of Dana's friends from the Kenyon Writer's Workshop. 

Now we are four newbie AP Lit and Comp teachers ready to read, write, reflect, and rehash the challenges and rewards of our new teaching experiences. We're ready to HANG IN, HANG OUT, and HANG ON together! 

*It's Tuesday and time for the Tuesday Slice of Life challenge presented every week by the merry band of teachers at Two Writing Teachers. Head on over to TWT for more slices. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Last Kid Chosen: Slice of Life Tuesday #SOL15

Slice of Life happens each Tuesday through the hard work and dedication of the team at Two Writing Teachers. Check out other slices here

"You need a partner."

I dread hearing those words. My stomach tightens. My feet rivet themselves to the floor. I turn my head but not my torso and scan the room for someone--anyone--standing alone. Since I'm at the front, seeing poses difficulty.

I'm transported back to grade school. Reliving those cringe-worthy days. Again, I'm the last one chosen. I'm 56, fairly accomplished and confident. I'm a failure in this moment. The diplomas, degrees, accolades of my academic life no longer matter. Only this moment in this class at this gym possesses meaning. Even the old ladies--like me--have found a partner.

The instructor motions a middle-aged man over to me. I recognize the mortification on my face in her reaction to mine.

We had just finished the 5X5 kettle bell rotation and move on to floor exercises, which is why we need a partner. I'm required to hold the man's ankles and he mine in one exercise. I'm uncomfortable standing by his head with his hands grasping my shoes to avoid touching the bare skin of my lower leg.

During my turn, he tells me, "You can quit."

"I never quit," I retort.

And I don't. I endured the rotation.

The instructor informs me at the conclusion of the next 5X5 that I "can find a new partner" if I'm uncomfortable. Tears seep from my eyelids. I try to speak but can't locate the words I need to tell her that looking for a new partner when everyone else already has one would draw attention to my plight and cause me more duress. Only tears speak my anguish.

At the next floor rotation, the instructor motions another instructor attending the class to partner with me. This means that she'll have to give up her partnership with a strong male for one lesser than. Her original partner, a young man in his 20s, is assigned a somewhat geriatric, flabby man in his 50s.

I am incompetent. I am rejected. That's how I felt. That's how I feel.

The change takes another route. A gracious woman of my generation approaches me and says she's partnering with me because she can't keep up with her first partner. We give one another an understanding look that says, "We may be old, but we're not dead, and we're doing the best we can do."

The class proceeds with my new partner taking a restroom break during one floor rotation.

There's a deja vu quality to this class, both in terms of its internal structure on this day--five kettle bell exercises repeated five times with the 5X5 rotation repeated five times after each floor rotation, which are all different--and its ability to transport me back to my childhood where I relive being the last kid on the playground picked for all team sports.

At the end of class, the instructor approached me: "Thanks for sticking it out. How did it end up working out for you?"

"I almost didn't," I respond. "It was like being back in grade school."

"Well, I'm sorry. I really am." She walked away. I followed both her departure and her pained expression through my own tears.

*Side Note: Last week I read a professor's post on FB about her son's AR reading program and the way it marginalizes some readers. I thought about the pain children experience when we turn reading into a playground competition that chooses some kids and leaves others standing alone. Then Friday I attended kettle bell (my favorite class w/ my favorite instructor, BTW) and had the experience I wrote about today.

As I return to school next week and greet students August 26, I want to remember that no kid deserves to be the last one standing and searching for someone with whom to learn and talk and share.