Tag Archives: collaboration

Back on the Case: On Being Named a #hfellows Heinemann Fellow

I’ve written about how this year has been difficult largely because I’ve not felt as intellectually challenged as I have in previous years. As a teacher-scholar that has always found something to think deeply about, work on, or consider, that I had to grapple with that issue was one that made me think seriously about the reasons why many of us both choose teaching and choose to pursue lives beyond teaching.

Then, though, a series of events happened. The first was that I collaborated with colleagues to produce a wildly successful Educators of Color Conference that convened so many amazing educators of color sharing their work, celebrating excellence, and simply exhaling together.

The next was being named one of 11 educators from across the nation as a Heinemann Fellow. A primary undertaking over the next two years of this fellowship is to conduct an action research project. Essentially, I get to think deeply about what has been happening in my classroom and focus on a question I’d like to set about investigating. I’d been taking lots of notes during our initial meeting last week, but when our leader, Ellin Keene, began explaining why it’s important to follow our hunches and to think about what is most curious or most troubling about our teaching, I felt my gears start to shift into motion again. 

I have hunches all the time. I ask questions all the time. I write them on Post-Its and in notebooks that I rediscover randomly. For the most part, though, I’ve not spent any meaningful time thinking about how to answer them because of a host of reasons. Largely, though, I’d venture that I’ve not felt compelled to pursue them because I’ve had neither the time nor the compunction to do so on my own. Such a realization is a huge one for me, as when I began teaching I was largely a lone wolf, content to work on my own (for better or for worse). It was only once I got my teaching sea legs that I realized how much more powerful (for myself and for my students) it has been when I go with others. And here I should add that the reason I have been able to remain intellectually engaged over the last two years has been because I have a fantastic colleague that refuses to let me do things alone. Refuses.

Now, though. NOW, THOUGH. Two of my strongest academic experiences were shaped with the help of other people. In graduate school, there was the Dissertation Support Group (the DSG), comprised of three of us working on our Ph.D.s We met often, pushed each other through completion of classes, exams, dissertations, and now, tenure for one of us. Then, there was the Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color (CNV) for NCTE. I was part of a larger cohort of 10 of us that were defending dissertations, applying for tenure-track jobs, figuring out where they fit: in a secondary classroom or in academe (me). In both of these experiences, I was a part of something greater. I was a member of a family. And man, I got some incredible work done!

As a Heinemann Fellow, I am part of a cohort again, and they are some of the most interesting educators I have met in a long time: dedicated, smart, doing great work with young folks. And we’re all doing the work together. TOGETHER. 

Getting back to the research: I had two of the best qualitative methods professors I’ve ever had and I remember both of them talking about hunches and then setting out to see where the data takes you. That, to paraphrase Anne Haas Dyson, is what it means to be “on the case.” I remember being vaguely terrified because, well, that meant that hunches might or might not pan out and what then?!

I’ve come to realize that the what then is actually where the magic happens. That, as one begins to listen, to think deeply, and to simply be willing to be open to what one sees, truth reveals itself. That truth is oftentimes nothing close to what was initially anticipated, but that is okay. Being brave enough to ask the questions is what starts this entire amazing process.

Being named a Heinemann Fellow has reminded me to be brave enough to ask the questions again, and to follow where the case leads. I am beyond excited about this next part of my journey.

 

 

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Heinemann Fellows, Professional Development, Teachers as Scholars

What Happened When We Asked Students to Think: Part II

After we took the leap of faith into the two-week inquiry unit, there were certainly moments of uncertainty (mine and theirs), frustration (same, though I think theirs might have surpassed mine at some moments), and lots of encouragement. There was also one distinctive moment where I turned to my co-teacher and said something along the lines of “Oh my goodness. This is a disaster.” Said moment of perceived disaster came after we had students think of what they thought our current school needed. Their ideas ranged from later school start times, to longer passing times, to daily nap times, to all-school snack machines. Right?! These are the issues that matter to them. I’m here for it.

Then, though, they had to spend some time finding research to help situate their issue within a larger milieu. That was the day I wanted to poke my eyes out because my kids were overwhelmed. And, since I was one step ahead of them, I wasn’t proficient in all the ways to help them, hadn’t trouble shot the issue enough. I kept telling myself: be a model. Grow with them. I told them why they had to do the research, and we guided them through, but it was difficult to help them see the why of the project. Oh, and they had to find out who in the school was an expert and draft a letter with some questions to that person. What I now understand is that hesitation, that annoyance, was really growth mindset in action. That step in the process was hard, and they could either get frustrated and give up, or attempt to work through that frustration to get to the other side.

The next step beyond the research was to design a solution. If I were charting their energy on a graph, this moment would correspond with a trend upward. In the meantime, students also had to interview their peers for insight as they continued to create their solution. We had two design days. During that time, students created a prototype of some aspect of their solution in preparation for presenting their idea to members of the administration.

All it takes is one: one student or group of students to create something that is beyond what his/her peers think is possible, to set them all off, and that’s exactly what happened. For students who wanted to change the schedule, they created an entirely new schedule, basing their decisions off interviews with peers, the principal and their research about adolescent needs. For another group, they went on a scavenger hunt and found cardboard boxes, which they used to create their idea of a classroom snack dispenser. From that moment, the other students took the project much more seriously. Also true to fashion, the kids who won’t work until they’re up against a hard deadline began to pull together their projects, too.

The presentations were definitely works in progress. Some groups didn’t even get around to explaining their solutions, while others had time to spare, while still others were somewhere in between. It was messy, messy, messy, but the panelists who gave their time to watch the presentations asked probing, thoughtful questions. The students responded equally as thoughtfully. They took it seriously, indicating their in-depth knowledge of their ideas. They owned it, demonstrating that the inquiry process is powerful and vital.

Finally, in the next post, I’ll offer some reflections on this process, what I learned, what the kids learned and why students in ELA classes need the opportunity to become makers (while we are also opening the conversation to diversify #makered).

1 Comment

Filed under Collaboration, Reflective Practice

What Happened That Time We Asked Students to Think: Part I

The greatest reason I’m having an intellectually stimulating year is because of my colleague, Ms. L. We tend to have similar big picture ways of thinking: we like to dwell in the so what, I’d say. What makes this collaboration work, most importantly, is that Ms. L is concerned with the details. I love big ideas but tend to be less interested in the day-to-day, which is why sometimes, for me, planning on the daily can be draining. Ms. L, though, LOVES the details. I mean, loves them so much that when she says she’ll spend some time working on a project, I know that when she’s done, it will include so many aspects of that plan that she’ll have accounted for contingencies B-Z, and they’ll all be amazing.

5762454084_3a14f6631f_z

How lucky am I? Her desire to work together and her endless ability to step out of the present moment to remember the WHY of what we’re doing has made a year that I was dreading actually into one that excites me to work with kids and with teachers who want to do hard things. I also appreciate her honesty to tell me when I’m way off base, or her willingness to make suggestions. I’ve found that in the best working relationships I have, my collaborators speak honestly and are less concerned with hurting my feelings. I’m tough. I can take it. And oftentimes I’m so caught up in my own ideas that I need someone to give me different ways of thinking and doing something.

We launched two successful projects. The first was from this incredible website, Moving Writers that used a photo book of essays called It’s Complicated: The American Teenager. Daily, we shared what was happening in her Honors classroom and my College Prep one. We modified the Moving Writers’ work and kept everything in a folder on Google Drive. To say that the final portraits exceeded our expectations was an understatement.

Buoyed by that success, we then decided that we’d revise my earlier work I’ve done in years past based on Carol Dweck’s work with growth and fixed mindsets. This is where Ms. L is even more amazing: she suggested we have students experience learning through principles of design theory. Design theory was all new to me. What I realized, though, was what better way was there to learn and model the processes of learning than to do something that might, indeed, not be as successful as I’d hoped? Wasn’t that the beauty of a growth mindset? If it bombed (and it didn’t, but you’ll have to read the next post for the nitty gritty–you should, too; spoiler: it’s amazing!), that would be okay, because I would have learned something about practice during the process. And while I was most concerned that I’d be failing the kids, what I’ve come to realize is that the failure would be in if I just kept teaching the GM unit like I’d done in the past. If I wasn’t willing to challenge myself and to grow, then, seriously, how could I expect my students to do the same?

Coming next: what happened when we asked students to get comfortable with failure…

1 Comment

Filed under Collaboration, New School Chronicles, Reflective Practice

The Day When the Kids Ran the Show: Student-Generated Rubrics

There’s the school of thought that encourages teachers to turn over creation of a classroom rubric to students. I’ve known about that school, but have always regarded it as entirely too time-consuming: brainstorming? Discussion? Consensus? Couldn’t I just do that with other assignments? Better still, couldn’t I just use my trusty rubric and move around some of the categories if I was doing something different?

Chalk this one up to always learning (me as teacher as much as them as students).

We have about two weeks left in school and my students have been writing a series of processing papers (called Inquiry Papers) guided by their own questions as they read Frankenstein. I generally don’t grade them until the end; rather, I just look over the questions, give them completion credit, and make broad comments about themes I see across the papers. Now, though, it’s time to grade their best work. Thus, it also seemed an appropriate time to try out something new (I’ve been working on not rolling out too many new ideas, but instead being thoughtful about what the kids need at the time, what I need and ultimately by what is most important for them and what we’ve set out to do): student-generated rubrics!

I began by asking them to do a brain dump of the qualities for an Inquiry Paper that meets expectations. From there, they brainstormed all the skills one would need to be able to write such a paper, which then became criteria that was then grouped into categories. My directions to students were broad: after they’d done the brainstorm, they then had to figure out what it made sense to be evaluated on and they had to reach consensus. Thus, I was going to observe their process to make sure everyone was involved–no one could sit and watch. Then I pretended to busy myself doing something else, but I could hear them and make covert observations.

What did I see? First, the discussion of everything we’ve been working on skill wise: “the question has to be a HOTS-one” (from Bloom’s taxonomy); “I think the quality of the question is really important”; “yeah, but you better analyze it”; “no hit and run quotes”; “the analysis has to be thorough”; “I don’t think you should put a formula in there [re: number of paragraphs]; she doesn’t care about how many paragraphs you have, she cares more about what you have to say and how you say it” (I almost collapsed with joy on that one, btw), and on and on they went.

A student from each class volunteered to type up the rubric and we looked it over the next day for any revisions (there were few). Now, students have a few days to evaluate their papers against the rubric, pick their very best inquiry paper, make any necessary revisions, and submit that paper for a grade.

I know those papers will be of the best they’ll write all year. I just know it.

Next year, I’m going to start the year with this exercise: students will have a few analytical papers that we’ll read (and practice our close reading skills, for sure), then we’ll do the same process. Thus, they’ll know what is expected from the beginning, and what it looks like, in their own language, but we’ll also constantly revise the rubric (well, they will and I’ll use what we come up with) as they develop more mastery with the content and  become more sophisticated writers (I have to give credit to my co-worker who made this suggestion about how to extend this process).

The theory met the practice when they created the rubrics, and the result was, as usual, fantastic.

You just have to let them be great, and you just have to go along for the ride.

Here you go if you want to see for yourself English Rubric 4th block

1 Comment

Filed under New School Chronicles, Student Interactions

New School Chronicles: Looking for Opportunities to “Bump Up”

Image

My Room With a View

Someone has this concept of “bumping up” in respect to collaboration and space allocation. Essentially, if you put people together, say, in an office, then chances are they’re going to talk to each other, share ideas (hopefully), and improve their practice, in the case of schools. Two heads are always better than one, yes?

I’ve been getting oriented to my new school for the last couple of days. While this is not my first orientation, it somehow feels the most exhausting, but I think that’s attributable to other major life events that are happening to me. I have what might be the best room I’ve ever been fortunate to teach in. In my life. Seriously. See the picture for yourself. 

Today, I sat at a desk, sketching a layout, daydreaming out the window, thinking about what it is going to be like to be energized by young people. I lost all track of time. My room is on the fifth floor; it’s a reward: you climb to the top and you get to sit and talk about ideas, about reading, about writing, in what I hope to create as a warm, welcoming space.

But not today. I am so very tired that I feel my creative juices are drained. I need to recharge, go out in nature, perhaps, or just check into a hotel for a day or so and re-energize before it’s go time.

In my haste to leave my former position, I think I took something for granted (I love reflection–it’s how I actually learn stuff): I had fantastic, brilliant colleagues, who were so generous with their knowledge, so supportive, so…I don’t know, awesome in many respects. Many were the teachers I strive to be. And in the design of the school, we bumped up against each other.

All the time.

If I was thinking of a way to teach vocabulary, I could just wheel around in my chair and ask my colleague. Or, I could walk around our shared space and discuss a short story, or a literary device, how to teach something…with all of us in close proximity, there was a frequent, steady supply of discussion about practice.

My new place also stresses collaboration, and I’m excited to work with my new colleagues. The opportunities for bumping up, though, will be quite different. The school is so spread out and teachers spend most of their time in their classrooms. What I think–and I’ve only been there for a couple of days, so I’m still in the discovery phase–is that time together becomes much more rushed and intentional, more of the interactions are done via technology. That’s just my sense. There are shared spaces, within the school, though, so I’ll be curious to understand how they’re used.

What I began to understand much more saliently, though, was how much of what I learned about practice came, again, during those unstructured moments that bumping up afforded us all. Now, with the possibility of letting my classroom become my primary space (and I know that I’m not going to be gung-ho for running out of the building once it gets colder), I have to be much more intentional about interactions. I don’t want to be that teacher who just closes her door and teaches. I’ve come too far and have too much respect for how improved my teaching becomes from working with others.

I just want to take a minute to slow clap for my progress as an educator. Again, ten years ago, I never would have been able to say that.

I had that instance, today, though, where I wished MK was there to lift my spirits, suggest a great poem to teach, laugh…bump up.

Leave a comment

Filed under New School Chronicles