Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Who Are These College Students?

Working in a college-preparatory independent school, one that also has a 1:1 laptop program, I think a lot about what it means to really prepare a student for college in the 21st century. It certainly is not the same as it was when I was being prepared by my teachers for college. My tech coordintaor shared this resource with me, and if you have 15 or 30 minutes of free time (ha! at the end of the year?? okay, just take a break from all of that grading ...), please spend it here. These are videos from the Faculty Academy run each year by the University of Mary Washington. The videos I found most intriguing as an English teacher in a laptop classroom are "Teaching Writing to First Year Students" and "Instructional Technology and First Year Students."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Reflections on Ending the Year

I have my last day with my AP Lit students today -- always bittersweet. I have spent the last week pushing them to reflect and reflect some more -- to process their life in high school as best they can before they head off to college. They have written short letters about their favorite readings so teachers next year can use the letters to spark extra interest in their new students. They have written poems about their memories (modeled on Walt Whitman's "There Was a Child Went Forth") from their whole life, and one of my favorite moments today is when I give them back to them -- printed in color with a pretty layout of course but, more importantly, attached to a poem I wrote about their class this year and each of them. Finally, they have written letters to their future selves that they will find in their mailboxes one day in the coming years ... (truth be told: I always mail last year's packets on the day the current seniors start their packets just so I don't forget, but I don't need to give away all my secrets to them ...).

And I am now heading into my own summer where I hope to achieve at least a part of the reflection I have asked my students to do. Elaine Plybon wrote so truthfully about the reality of a teacher's summer, so I wonder what I will have actually achieved by summer's end. But I have spent this school year really thinking about my teaching, something the luxury of years of old lessons at my fingertips has allowed me not to always do. And reflection is to me the single most important piece of being a good teacher. None of us are perfect, and no lesson is perfect, no matter how well it goes. We ask our students to learn and grow, and we must do the same.

So, here are my goals for my reflection this summer:
  • I will revisit lesson planning by reading Understanding by Design
  • I will figure out how to add The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to my AP class to add some reading level challenge that I think is lacking
  • I will read 2 novels about other cultures (still deciding what these are!)
  • I will research the writing approach, 6 Traits of Writing
  • I will keep my blog current and keep up with everyone on Twitter

Now that I have written them down, I have to do them! What are your reflection goals for the summer?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Collaborating Across Educational Borders

My mind is still spinning from an amazing morning I had yesterday. I met with an education professor from the University of Mary Washington, Dr. Wendy Atwell-Vassey. She specializes in the teaching of high school English, and I had contacted her to see if I could make some connections between my school and college. One aspect of my school's mission is to prepare students for college, yet even though I have taught upper school English at this school for 14 years, I had never talked to a college professor about just what it meant to be prepared for college English and writing.

Why we don't make those connections across this educational divide is a blog for another day. Instead, I just want to encourage every teacher to reach out and ask. That is all I did. I contacted Wendy with an email asking her if she would be willing to meet with me to explore ways I could work with her and/or her students. She was immediately enthusiastic about meeting with me, but not just for me to learn from her. She had ideas for things she could learn from me. I have to admit that I was surprised (and delighted!) by this. Me, a high school teacher? How could I offer something to a college professor?

We talked for an hour and a half. Our conversation ranged from curriculum design to great books to read about teaching to the expectations of college professors in literature and writing to how pre-service teachers could learn from my students to how a small school like mine could be a great place to affect positive change. I am now researching "Understanding By Design," a planning method that seems to take the best of the many ideas I learned in college and my masters program and combine them, and the "Six Traits of Writing," something that might help our writing program find a cohesive focus from K to 12. Wendy is awaiting receving essays my students are writing this week so that she can learn from them to add to her research on composition and education. She is also excited to work with my students next spring with her pre-service teachers.

Wendy and I could have kept teaching effectively and enthusiastically without these ideas we generated. But we have built a bridge together, one that will help high school students be the best prepared for college that they can be and one that will help future teachers become the best teachers they can be.

So, make the call or send the email. I hope you find someone as excited to work with you as I did. If you are on the high school side, I recommend you start with an education professor who specializes in your content area. They are already thinking about teaching and learning, so they will be, as a group, the most receptive. If you are on the college side, just call a teacher. It does not have to be a department chair -- any teacher who is teaching something you are interested in will be happy that you called them because it validates what they do (yes, we as teachers teach because we gain validation in more intangible ways, but it sure is nice when someone "higher up" validates us too!). They may say no to working with you, but you will have given them that validation -- and they will probably recommend someone who will say yes.