Category Archives: Instruction

Learner or Teacher?

 

man working on a laptop
credit: smart-elearning.eu

The other day, while reading¬†fellow blogger and author Carrie Rubin’s¬†post about authors, gender, standards, and profanity/violence,¬†I replied with my perspective as¬†a teacher who worked with middle and high school students for many years. As a reading specialist and as a writer myself, I¬†required¬†lots of writing from my students and taught them that¬†reading and writing go hand-in-hand.

My reply to her post: ¬†Characters¬†need to be believable and readers need to decide what’s appropriate for themselves (or with a parent, if the reader is a preteen/adolescent); a rating system isn’t necessary. I¬†didn’t give my response¬†a second thought when I hit Send…..¬†I naturally define my thinking from a teacher’s perspective.

Or do I?

When Carrie thanked me for the ‘teacher perspective,’ I kind of chuckled and thought, “You’re welcome.¬†There it is! My¬†‘teacher-filter’ is in full-swing again!”

But I got to thinking…..

How we learn is a big part of who I am as both learner and educator. When I had my own classes, I was constantly analyzing my instructional delivery:

  • Is it on-point?
  • Is it fun?
  • Am I being concise enough, while still including key¬†information?
  • Am I being verbose,¬†boring them to tears?
  • Am I¬†talking over their heads?
  • Is it interesting to them?¬†Can they connect what they know with what I’m teaching? (value leads to ownership: What’s in it for me?)
  • Are they getting it?¬†How do I know? How¬†do they know?

And all of this chatter was happening in my head while I was in the middle of instruction. Every. Day. All. The. Time. Holy cow!!

Now, as an instructional coach, I have this internal dialogue when I facilitate professional development sessions or do demonstration lessons. I also often walk into classrooms and think, “Wow! So many ways this could be taught!”

So, as I¬†write this post, I’m thinking to myself (as I often do when I write): So what?¬†Why am I¬†sharing these particular thoughts?¬†

And in this instance, I realize this:¬† My¬†perspective isn’t that of a teacher as much as it is of a learner.

I want someone to teach me who:

  • is on-point & funny/engaging/approachable
  • gives key¬†details, but asks lots of questions to engage my thinking – often referred to as Socratic Teaching… I just call it ‘giving¬†the learner¬†a chance to think’!
  • speaks a language I understand – this has nothing to do with linguistics and everything to do with understanding ‘audience’
  • connects the information he or she is¬†teaching with something in my¬†life – a hook that pulls me in
  • a good story-teller¬†who practices brevity
  • notices if I’m getting it or not… acknowledges when I’m struggling and puts the empowerment of struggle in its rightful place

I love learning. I love awesome teaching just as much….. whether it’s an author who makes characters ‘real’ through believable words and actions, a presenter who makes a tough subject relatable, or a parent that helps a child understand (and appreciate) diverse thinking and opinions.

little girl studying in school
credit: businessinsider.com

I used to tell my high school students that if I didn’t learn something new each day, then it was a wasted day. That may sound like a bit of a stretch, but to sell the idea of learning for life’s sake (not for a test) to kiddos was a big part of my ‘mission’ you might say. Plant the seed. Lay the foundation. Whether five or fifty, learning is for life.

plant growing in soil
credit: wealthenthusiast.com

 
Learner or teacher?

Learner, first!  Always.

 

From Every Book…. Learning the Pleasures of Being Literate {Slice of Life}

I wonder:    Who taught you the pleasures of reading and writing?  Did you discover them in high school? Earlier? Later?

High school student writing at his desk

In my high school¬†Intensive Reading/Critical Thinking class, it takes a while to get students to ‘buy into’ reading for pleasure.¬† It’s not uncommon to hear, “You want us to read???”¬†followed by: ¬†Do we get a grade??

My classes are a mix of¬†AP and Honors students who don’t use¬†strategies (because they ‘know how to read’) and are insulted¬†that they’re in my class,¬†thinking they most certainly do not need to be, and¬†struggling and reluctant readers who haven’t read¬†for pleasure in years and have limited knowledge and nearly no use¬†of reading skills and strategies or critical thinking.¬† They’re¬†also insulted, because¬†in spite of their limited skills and strategies, they’ll tell you they can read just fine and WILL graduate.

You can imagine how much fun the first six Рnine weeks of each school year are for me.

Call me persistent.¬†I plug away at showing them¬†how ‘normal’ reading and writing really are.

I demonstrate the ‘naturalness’ of reading and writing¬†every day. I share how I stumble on to new words in most things I read, I talk about current writing projects, and I find ways to tie the two together.¬† I tell them, “We’re¬†always¬†readers and writers. This is not about school. This is about life.”

I am Chief Learner, right beside them, never assuming to know it all,¬†willing to show what I don’t know, and genuinely excited to learn new stuff……

This seems to alleviate some anxiety for some¬†students, once they trust me.¬† But it’s¬†a slooooow process.

Trust me.    Really.Slow.

In August, my reluctant and struggling juniors and seniors look at me like I’ve lost my mind, have three heads,¬†am¬†speaking a foreign language. Their eyebrows furrow, their arms cross defiantly across their chest, and an unknown power seems to pull some of them¬†lower and lower and lower¬†in the chair ~ as if swallowing them up so they don’t have to hear this nonsense.

You can almost hear inside some of their heads, (but thankfully, not!), “What is up with this lady? Has she lost her mind, talking about reading and writing like it’s something people do, something she expects US to do!?”

The¬†AP and Honors students typically take out a book to read the first opportunity they get.¬†¬†They seem to be thinking, “This might be the one saving grace to this class!”¬† The reluctant and struggling readers find this odd or just plain stupid.

Then September arrives. A few more books and magazines are evident on Wednesdays.

By October, most students have found something to read, even if it’s ONLY for the 30 minutes each week.

 

Girl on desk, reading
I encourage my HS readers to get comfortable…..

Sometime after October,¬†though, the¬†magic begins……

  • Mrs. Kyle, I’ve got a book on my phone. Is that okay?
  • Mrs. Kyle, I got a new magazine. Can I bring it Wednesday?
  • Mrs. Kyle, my friend told me about a book. Can I go pick it up from the Media Center?
  • Mrs. Kyle, can I borrow this book to take home and read?
  • Mrs. Kyle, I brought my e-Reader. Check out this book!

Finally, even the¬†most reluctant readers¬†find that treasure that makes me them sit still and just…. disappear for 30 minutes…..

Reluctant reader settles in for independent reading

With¬†little time to read for pleasure and wanting so much for my kiddos to find that pleasure, I’m thrilled when all students, even the reluctant ones, find the¬†sweet spot… that book or magazine that works just.for.them.

No longer do I have to babysit or ‘police’ Wednesday Reading.¬† I can actually sit back,¬†enjoy my own books (while keeping half an eye on kiddos… just in case), and model my own¬†love of reading, my own literacy. I often notice kids glancing up at me, as if to see if I’m really reading, too.

During a recent Wednesday Reading Day,¬†as fifth period was coming to an end¬†(and I closed my fifth book ~ I’m a¬†grazing nonfiction reader)¬†this thought popped into my head for Six-Word Wednesday….

 

Six Word: From Every Book....

 

I quickly jotted it down and in the last eight minutes of class, I shared it on the doc cam/screen.

I¬†showed my kiddos¬†where this thought came from:¬† the five books I had sampled that day ~ two books¬†on my iPad/Kindle¬†and¬†three print books I brought to school, telling¬†students, “When¬†I get bored or distracted or interested in some other topic,¬†I change books.”

Puzzled faces.

I often tell¬†them, “As a¬†nonfiction reader, it’s okay to close one¬†(book, Web tab, magazine, etc….) and open another when things get…… well, boring.¬† “And, as a writer, I’m always finding interesting things in everything¬†I read.”

I showed my Kindle library on the¬†big screen and held up the three books I had been reading/annotating, flipping through pages so the highlights and margin notes were evident.¬† I explained that, as a writer examining other writers’ work,¬†I liked the content of one, but not the writer’s voice and that I liked the layout of another, but not the content.¬† Students listened intently.

I pointed to my reading motto on the wall:   Life is too short to read boring stuff.   Read.Good.Stuff!  

A¬†senior then asked, “Is Kindle free? How do you get it?”¬†while another asked, “What’s the difference between fiction and nonfiction?”

Me {in my head}:¬†¬†I’ve talked about – and demonstrated – the difference several times this school year, but apparently, you¬†weren’t ready to hear the message. Today is your¬†Need to Know Day.¬† Welcome to the Literacy Club.

Aloud, I once again briefly mention the differences.

“Thanks!” he¬†cheerfully replies. “That helps.”

It’s amazing what¬†we learn when we don’t assume what kids know and¬†we teach them¬†the pleasure¬†of reading and writing…¬†even when they’re 18 and 19 years old.

Join us every Tuesday and share a slice of your life at TWT.

Of Aqua Net and Apologies…. {Slice of Life}

Slice of Life logo
Source: http://bit.ly/1FcxMni

Recently, while hurrying through our teacher workroom before sunrise, a fellow teacher stopped me.

We worked together in Career & Technical Education a few years ago. She was a tech center instructor, while I served as an instructional coach, bringing pedagogy to CTE instructors.

Now, we both teach at the local high school.

“I owe you an apology,” she declared.

I quickly sifted¬†through my¬†not-yet-awake brain, but couldn’t think of a single reason. “No, I can’t imagine you do,” I answered.

“Oh, but I do,” she insisted.

Now she had my attention.

“Remember when you came out to XYZ¬† Tech (protecting the innocent) …¬† and tried to do¬†training?”

I smiled, remembering in clear detail, the training sessions at her tech center. I listened. And kept smiling.

“Well….”¬†she went on, apologetically, “…. we weren’t very nice to you.”

I was stunned.

Like angry waters pushing through a yielding floodgate, her words¬†rushed¬†through my head. “We were rude to you.¬†We¬†acted like snobs. We¬†didn’t see how what you were teaching us had anything to do with us and our adult students at a tech center. We thought what you shared was for¬†K-12 teachers, so we ignored you.”

Me {thinking}:   Never mind the tech center campus provides classes for adult and high school students, and effective learning strategies are effective learning strategies. Period.

I kept smiling, insisting that no, they weren’t rude.

Finally! I had¬†answers to¬†questions that bugged me back then (about four years ago)… Why did¬†some of the participants¬†write¬†snarky, personal comments in their feedback?¬† Why was the mood¬†so hostile?

I had never experienced such an uncomfortable training environment, one that required three training sessions over a few months and one that was in stark contrast¬†to similar sessions happening at a fellow tech center campus, in which participants were¬†collaborating on¬†ways to build¬†newly-learned strategies into their instruction, sharing how they’d tried strategies with their high school and adult students,¬†and¬†inviting me¬†to visit their classes and see them in action. *Westside Tech, you were The Best to work with!! Thank you for your enthusiasm.¬† ūüôā

She¬†pressed on….

“I had no idea what was in store for me …..¬†that a year later, I’d be here,¬†teaching¬†high school kids.¬† I struggle every day.”

After offering my colleague support¬†in her current teaching assignment,¬†we¬†hugged as I shared,¬†“Thank you.¬†You helped me understand some things I¬†wondered about for a while.”

As the first bell rang, teenagers pushed past us. We were caught up in the flood of feet heading to first period.

Aqua Net lingered on my clothing the rest of the day, reminding me that sometimes, an unexpected apology¬†can¬†put things in perspective….

I'm Sorry Sticky Note

Tell Us About Yourself: Sending an Introvert Into a Tailspin

Freaked out at the thought of having to introduce yourself to strangers?

 

Quiet Book Cover
Source: http://bit.ly/1wZT1oc

Several months ago I blogged about my BIG¬†discovery¬†{here}, after reading¬†Susan Cain’s, Quiet: The Power of Introverts, last December.¬† What a great read!¬† In it,¬†she discusses introverts in our society and society’s response to them.¬† She writes, “The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.”

 

 

 

You can see her TED Talk here:

If you’re an introvert, you know she’s singing the gospel… Now, if everyone would just get quiet and listen….!! Right?

What was particularly enlightening to me ~ other than discovering I’m really an introvert camouflaged in¬†an extrovert’s body ~ (light bulb moment!) was to learn why my¬†instructional style is¬†so challenging for some of my students…. You know, the¬†ones who are also introverts, but not masquerading as an extrovert.

These guys and gals¬†take quiet and attentive (qualities a teacher appreciates)¬†to a much higher level, often¬†edging closer to¬†a referral for what appears to be open defiance because they¬†will refuse to¬†participate than¬†have to talk with¬†peers (and/or me).¬† Yes, it happens!¬† Maybe you were one of those kids? Maybe you’re raising one?¬† If so, might be helpful to give your kiddos’ teachers a little insight.¬† *Not taught in teacher-school.

Turns out,¬†my collaborative¬†classroom approach overwhelms introverted¬†kiddos ~ as probably happens in many classrooms (fellow teacher-types,¬†take note from this slow learner!).¬† This was a HUGE a-ha! moment for me… during my 20th year in the classroom.¬† As I read her book, I found myself saying, “That explains a LOT!”

When I reflected on how some of my classes are markedly different from others, it occurred to me:

Those classes that require me to cajole students to talk to one another and/or me {and they still refuse} are the classes in which introverts rule.  They are silently in control! 

When classes¬†resumed after winter vacation last January, I was ready! Armed with this epiphany, I¬†greeted my 2nd period class and told them what I finally understood.¬†Poor kids.¬† They¬†were visibly relieved. It was as if you could hear them whispering, “Finally, she gets us!¬†Took her long enough!”¬† ūüėČ

HUGE difference between first and second semesters,¬†as I gave my students¬†latitude in how they would interact with their peers (and me), balancing the need to teach¬†effective collaboration skills with giving students a ‘comfortable, safe’ learning environment that worked for everyone.

Electronic communication turned out to be a¬†helpful way to get introverted students to interact.¬† Much has been written about the interface, including this article for Time by Cain. I have seen it first-hand, having students who didn’t utter¬†a word for an entire¬†semester, become involved in peer and student/teacher discussions when they could interact behind the safety of a keyboard.¬† Win-win!

Things were much calmer for¬†me, too.¬† It was nice to have one class a day in which¬†the kids weren’t swinging from the rafters a quiet disposition was expected and appreciated by my students. I didn’t have to be ‘on stage’ to get my point across.¬† Now if I could just get my other classes to try out this calmer, more focused presence….¬† Bliss, it would be pure bliss.

I’m kidding. It would be boring as all get-out!

*Interesting side note:¬† My ‘introverted’ class has been period 2 for three years running. Entirely different groups of kids from year to year, yet it’s consistently 2nd period.¬† Wonder why?¬†¬† I smell an action research project lurking in the shadows….¬†

Fast-forward eleven months.

Last week,¬†I read a¬†blog post from¬†doc-turned-author Carrie Rubin {here} about her own embarrassing moment with introversion, and her¬†advice for those of us who develop trainings or meetings for others.¬†¬†As a presenter/PD facilitator/instructional literacy coach, I hadn’t ever considered how introverts¬†might feel in my sessions.¬†But once again, it sure explained a LOT about some participants’¬†sudden trips to the restroom or to ‘take a call’¬†when introductions¬†begin.

According to¬†Carrie, introverts are¬†terrified to hear¬†“Tell us about yourself…”¬† Wow!¬† This was an eye-opener for me… but makes perfect sense.¬†¬†Now, when I’m plan¬†sessions, I’ll¬†remember to give participants a heads-up¬†with plenty of ‘think time’¬†~ to collect their thoughts and plan their words. Thanks, Carrie!

How about you?

Introvert? Extrovert?

Incognito??

Raising one (or two, or three ….)???

When Dads Walk Away…. {Slice of Life}

 

Slice of Life hosted at Two Writing Teachers. Join in and share a slice of your life.

What happens when dads walk away?

As a ‘dad-less’ daughter, I know¬†kids are left behind to wonder¬†why.¬†Why did he go? Why didn’t he want me? What did I do wrong? Why didn’t he¬†want to be around?¬†What could I have done differently to make him stay?

Or, worse yet,¬†kids left behind think mom pushed¬†dad away, and surely, if mom had done things differently, then dad would’ve stayed. It’s her fault.

As a teacher, I see the fall-out, too. Sometimes it’s¬†subtle,¬†sometimes blatant. Always painful.

Last month, I asked my juniors and seniors to develop a written piece for National Day On Writing (#NDOW).  I provided three photos and asked students to choose one (or more) and write about it/them. The piece could be fiction or nonfiction, personal or not, metaphorical or literal.  As always, my kiddos did not disappoint!  Heads dropped. Pens and pencils began moving. The room was silent. The feeling, intense.

They wrote with focused purpose until the bell rang. They came back the next day and insisted we continue without interruption. We revised and edited (this was tougher to get them to do, but required).

By day three, we shared at our own comfort level. If a piece was too personal, a student did not have to share the content, but everyone had to discuss the process with his/her partners.  What an amazing three days!

Students DiscussingNDOW_Discussions2

 
During the writing process, emotions were raw for several students.

One young man, an accomplished football player and struggling student, was stuck during¬†the¬†first day of writing. When I asked¬†him how I could help, he was speechless.¬†I ventured¬†carefully, asking which photo he chose. The dark, stormy one. I wasn’t surprised, based on his expression. Then I suggested he create a bubble map to organize his thoughts.¬†Several students were creating their own that day:

 

Graphic Organizer

 

Tears began to fill his dark eyes. He hastily brushed them away. I backed off.

A few minutes later, when I came back around, I noticed a few words on his paper:  dad, confused, success, failure. He looked up, met my eyes, and said nothing. I quietly moved on and left him to reflect and write.

By the third day (sharing day), my student had written a brief piece and discussed the process with his partners. His content was his.¬† His process, he was ready to discuss … mostly.

Fast-forward a month, to this past week. 

My students have been honing¬†their ability to identify and¬†interpret¬†figurative language and author’s tone¬†in print and non-print text,¬†and assess the impact of each on a reader/viewer.¬†¬† As I worked with small groups, various students had interesting, funny, and thoughtful ideas, examples, and questions¬†to share.¬†Then came the group with the young writer.

As we finished our small-group discussion and began¬†to clean up before the bell, my young football player-turned-writer said, “Mrs. Kyle, I want to show you something,” as he took out his phone. I get a kick out of this line from students, because I never know what I’m about to see! ūüėČ

As he swiped through his phone and found what he wanted to share with me, he mentioned Will Smith, and said, “I have this video clip that you just reminded me of, when we were talking about tone.¬† Watch all of the emotions Will Smith goes through and how his tone changes.”¬† With that, he hit play. The¬†video clip¬†was in his SAVED YouTube list.

As we watched the clip together, leaned¬†in over his phone at the¬†conference table in our classroom – his back to his classmates –¬†I could feel other students looking on, but no one interrupted. My young writer watched my face for reaction as we watched the clip together. Tears filled my eyes. I looked up and saw they filled his, too.

 

As the clip ended, he said softly,¬†“This makes me cry every time I watch it.”

I replied quietly, “It made me cry, too. My dad left when I was very little. I always wondered why. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

He nodded and the bell rang.