Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

Curriculum Camp

This past weekend I had the opportunity to present a paper I had written at a graduate student led conference at LSU called Curriculum Camp.  I spoke on using dystopian literature with adolescents to explore concepts of giftedness.

It was unlike any conference I had ever been to.  It was small and intimate, filled with graduate students and their ideas. Graduate students shared papers they had written, research they were doing, and ideas from their dissertations. Just about each session tackled thought-provoking and challenging issues. I took a lot of notes of thoughts, questions, and ideas I walked away with.  I have a large list of curriculum theorists and their ideas I want to read more about.

One of the themes I caught throughout the conference was this idea of being comfortable with the uncomfortable.  We live in a world that is surrounded by the politically correct.  We spend hours molding ourselves into boxes, trying to be so many things at once.  I joke about it, but one of things I am highly uncomfortable with is other people's emotions.  I am not even comfortable with my own emotions, so I am highly uncomfortable with other people's emotions.  This is why I have to teach above grade 4.  Grade 3 and below includes way too many tears.  Tears terrify me. I can relate to the quote below. I usually refused to give in to expressing emotion because I felt I had to be strong.

Source: Pinterest

This idea of being comfortable with the uncomfortable is a theme in my life I have been wrestling with all year.  You can see where I blogged about this at Balancing the Backpack in September. It also got me thinking about my students.  How do I help them embrace ambiguity?  We need to inspire students to be creative and critical thinkers.  However, we often frame their learning experiences around questions that have right and wrong answers.  How do we open them to the possibilities?  How do we help them to see how big the world is?  How many ways of seeing there are...

I was reviewing through some old lesson plans and I found one of my weekly reading responses from a World Literature class I took during my Masters.  The themes matched up well to my current thoughts.

Thoughts on Ambiguity from 2010

How does one become comfortable with ambiguity in a text? Should ambiguity just be defined as the act of being uncertain and unclear? What other elements exist in the concept of ambiguity? If the path is unclear, do we stand at the edge of the unknown and gaze upon it waiting for clarity to strike us? Or is it better to venture forth into uncertainty with confidence? We have to decide if our goal is to reach the destination, or if we really just want to experience the journey. In asking myself how I become comfortable with ambiguity, I feel the need to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of ambiguity, essentially wanting to make the notion of ambiguity less ambiguous. Maybe becoming comfortable with ambiguity is not the idea of understanding ambiguity but embracing it. Does everything in life need to be broken down and categorized? At the same time, it is the nature of the ambiguous that makes it so intriguing and makes us want to analyze it deeper. Are we inherently attracted to things that are ambiguous, and it is the events and duties of our everyday life that have forced us to try and compartmentalize the world into easily understood categories? 

As an elementary teacher, I find it fascinating to see how children view the world. They abhor the monotonous and thrive on creativity, anything that stimulates their imagination. I have seen firsthand the difference age makes on the acceptance of uncertainty. You can give a prompt to a fourth or fifth grader and while they may still seek to ensure that they understand the directions or the questions asked, they will enter into the assignment with confidence of their own ability to analyze and imagine. They are sure of their world and their ability to perceive it. Many of my sixth grade students will hesitate to finish an assignment or answer a question unless someone can provide them confirmation that is accurate and complete. I am finding the need to instill in my older students what seems to come naturally to my students only a year younger, that they need to trust their own ability to analyze and verbalize their thoughts. If younger children can embrace the ambiguous, what along the way has caused us to create our own roadblocks? Is it as simple as wanting others to like us, being afraid of making a mistake, a reinforced need to be correct, overwhelming availability of possible answers to every question, or just the pressures of everyday life? If we are to become comfortable with ambiguity in an ever-increasingly complex world, we need to shed our adult-learned hesitations and approach the uncertain with the imagination and confidence of a child. We can make sense of the uncertain path only by jumping into it with the confidence that we may never find all the answers.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Form for Checking and Reflection on Grades - Freebie

We all can dispute the value of grading and what to grade and how to grade and when to grade. At the end of the day though, most of us take grades and hand out report cards or progress reports on some regular basis.  Many schools use some type of online system to track grades, and often parents and students have a way to check their grades.  I have used Engrade the last couple years. It is fairly easy to use and students and parents can have access to check grades. I have been reminding students and parents the last few weeks to check student grades and check to see if they have any missing assignments to get turned in since our grading period ends soon.  With my students being 7th and 8th graders, I think they are old enough to find out what they missed if they were sick and to remember to turn assignments in when they are done.

I decided to make a form they all are going to have to fill out this week.  Despite my reminders, many of my students have not checked their grades and are going to be surprised if their grades are lower than they realized. This time of the year it is easy to have a lot of students with various missing assignments due to cold and flue season. So I am going to make them fill out a form to record their current grade and whether they have any missing assignments.  They also will have to fill out a separate form to track any missing assignments for any class for which they had missing assignments.

You can get a free copy HERE. How do you help hold your students responsible for taking ownership of their grades and getting everything turned in.

Monday, February 16, 2015

It's Monday. What are you reading? #imwayr 2/16/15

I got the flu for Valentine's Day.  What did you get?

I don't recommend the flu, but it did give me an excuse to alternate between sleeping, reading, and watching movies this weekend.  Anyone else admit to watching the Twilight marathon? #notashamed
I did squeeze in some necessary homework as well.  It comes with the territory of being a graduate student.

Today is Monday, so I am going to link up with Book Journeys and Unleashing Readers to share what I have been reading lately.

Adult Fiction Reads

This weekend I finished Dragonfly in Amber and started Voyager.

So far I am enjoying the Outlander series.  I have always loved historical fiction.  I will say I enjoy the series, but at times the books do seem overly long.  Some parts of the plot feel unnecessary or feel like they drag on a bit longer than they should, but overall still entertaining.

Audio Books I am Reading

I spend way too much time in the car, so audio books help keep me sane.  Audible is my friend. This past week, I started Scarlet after finishing Cinder.

I love the idea of a fractured fairy tale for teens.  I felt so inspired by the idea of a science fiction fairy tale that my 8th graders are writing their own version of a fairy tale set in a science fiction setting in class. We just finished Ender's Game, so science fiction has been on the brain.

Teen Fiction I am Reading on My Own

I have been reading The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place.

It is a lovely satire that will make you laugh out loud.  Some girls at a a girl's finishing school find themselves in a predicament when their headmistress and her brother fall over dead at dinner.  They decide to hide the deaths, so they don't have to be sent home.  Still reading it currently, but I intend to read parts of it to my students later in the year before we read Taming of the Shrew.  I think it will make for a fun discussion of satire.

Read Alouds to My Students

We read the first few chapters of Ruby Red and my students were loving it. Ruby Red is very funny, so it really does translate very well to audio or as a read aloud.  I considered reading the whole book, but I really want to introduce them to different books every couple weeks. I want to expose them to different books to hopefully get them to want to pick up some books on their own to read for pleasure.

This past week we just started The Testing.  The Testing is a great dystopian teen fiction read that is not as well known yet, so not many have read it yet.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

You might be a Teacher and a Graduate Student If...

You might be a Teacher and a Graduate Student If...

Source: Pinterest

  1. You can't remember the day of the week.
  1. Your alarm is an evil monster who hates you.
  1. You ask your students what day of the week it is instead of the other way around.
  1. Your best work comes when you are too tired to care.
  1. You have a different bag for each part of your life. 
  1. You make grocery lists in class in the margins of your notes to capitalize on your time. 
  1. You have favorite pens and pencils that are the only ones you will use.
  1. You spend way too much at Starbucks.
  1. Your barista knows your order without you saying anything or they comment "Ooooh, something new today" when you try something new. 
  1. Your favorite phrase to say throughout the day is "Sanity is overrated."

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Is what you are teaching or assigning useful?

Have you ever stopped to evaluate if the tasks you are assigning your students are meaningful? Are they useful?  It really is a good question.

Often as teachers we spend so much time trying to cover a scope and sequence that we do not always make time to really self-reflect.  I know I have been guilty of this.  There is always so much to much that feels important.  What do I leave in?  What do I take out?  I don't think this struggle will ever get easier.  Every year you have to evaluate your students needs and make decisions about what they need and how you long you need to spend on certain concepts and units.

This semester I am taking two graduate classes: a class on Creativity and a Curriculum class.  This past Thursday we had our first creativity class.  I am really excited about the discussions we will have.  I think studying the concept of creativity is such a fascinating one.  Like you often do in a college class on the first day, we reviewed the syllabus.  As we went through the expectations for the semester, I found myself appreciating the tasks we are being asked to do.  They all felt useful. Every assignment is given with a purpose - with a sense of how it will help us in future tasks as graduate students or scholars.

It reminded me that as teachers we need to stop and do the same thing.  I try to always give assignments with a greater purpose in mind.  At the same time,  I know that I occasionally need to be reminded to make more time to self-reflect.  The things I teach and the tasks I assign need to be done with deliberate intention.  We all need to ask questions like:  Is this meaningful? Is this going to be useful?  Sometimes we do something just because it will be fun.  And that is okay too on occasion.

What questions do you ask yourself as a teacher when you take time to self-reflect?

Friday, January 16, 2015

New books to accompany Wonder by RJ Palacio

Have you read Wonder?  Better yet, how could you not have read Wonder?  It is such a great book with such a great message.  Wonder has so much material in the story for great discussions with students.

Well, RJ Palacio has written two more books to accompany Wonder.  

365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Brown's Book of Precepts

In Wonder, Auggie's teacher, Mr. Brown, is always sharing quotes with his students (which he calls precepts) and asking his students to gather quotes as well. In 365 Days of Wonder, Mr. Brown explains some of his philosophies as a teacher in a section for each month of the year as well as reflecting on some of the events from Auggie's first year at Beecher Prep. Mr. Brown also gives a quote for each day of the year.  This book would make a great follow up to reading Wonder.  You could discuss Mr. Brown's point of view on events from Wonder.  You could discuss individual quotes and their meanings, as well as applications to the story and applications to your student's daily lives.

One of my favorite strategies for incorporating journal writing into my classroom is also to use quotes as writing inspiration.  Well, this book is amazing.  Now, you have a collection of 365 quotes that could easily be pulled into journal writing ideas or even put the book in a writing station/center for writing ideas.

Julian's Chapter

RJ Palacio has also written a short ebook called  The Julian Chapter.  It is the bully's point of view on Auggie's year at Beecher Prep.  This ebook would be such a great follow up to Wonder to discuss point of view, forgiveness, and even discussions of bullying in general.

Have you read them?  If not, you should!

Also, if you are interested please follow my personal blog where I am sharing about my experience and dinner ideas for the paleo diet and Whole 30 at Balancing the Backpack.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Teaching Inductive and Deductive Reasoning

Once a week I teach Speech and Debate.  Last semester we focused on Speech.  This semester I am going to introduce Debate.  I was the president of my Debate team in High School.  To this day, I still believe it was one of my most valuable experiences in school.  I learned so many thinking and speaking skills that translated to real life and other experiences.

This is my first time to teach Debate myself, so we are going to figure it out as we go (like so many other things in teaching).  I went ahead and registered my classroom with the National Forensic League.  We are a long way from competing, but if I am going to teach it I want to teach with the goal of eventually building a team that could compete.  The National Forensic League has a lot of great resources, so I am excited to check it all out.

Another resource I purchased this summer was the book Make Up Your Mind: A Classroom Guide to 10 Age Old Debates.

The book is broken into 10 chapters with each chapter focusing on a different topic.  It deals with philosophy, science, history, etc. and all of the topics require students to think critically about an issue and consider two sides of the issue.  There are topics such as nature versus nurture and discussions of American identity. I will definitely incorporate some of the other chapters into language arts because many of the chapters include writing tasks; however, you could easily incorporate a lot of the chapters into other subjects based on the topics. It actually would also make a good resource for taking discussions of point of view to the next level.

One of the chapters was on inductive and deductive reasoning, which turned out to be a perfect introduction to debate (in my opinion). We read about different types of inductive and deductive fallacies that are used in argumentation. We  then read an article about Bigfoot, claiming its legitimacy as a field of study.  They had to read through the article to find evidence of the different types of fallacy arguments.  It made for great discussion.

We easily could have followed up by looking for articles from current magazines and online sources to examine for the arguments.  As our closing activity, they had to write a letter to an editor of a newspaper making their own "ridiculous" claim and convince the editor why it is valid using the different inductive and deductive arguments. Here are a couple of the examples they did:

How do you teaching critical thinking and different types of reasoning in your classroom?  Do you incorporate debate or public speaking into your curriculum?

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