Teach Students the Why

This weekend I spent a lot of time reflecting on what the students know and what they don’t know yet. On Friday they took a quiz and, along with a couple of assignments, I realized that I did not do an adequate job preparing them to read a non-fiction text. This was especially troubling, because we were already half-way through one.

I had to regroup, so I made a list of all of the things that were the most vital for understanding the text and the one that stood out to me the most is something that has been a theme of mine all year. I didn’t tell them the why.

Image result for freedom walkers

We are currently reading Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman. It’s a great text about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Many of the students know who Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks are, but they don’t know the details of their story. To them these are two figures from a long time ago that we talk about in school.

Today I decided to focus on the why. I started by asking them, “why did I choose this book out of all of the books I could have selected?” They had some great answers along with some superficial but still true responses. We talked about the physical book: the font is bigger, fewer words per page, and there are pictures on almost every page. We also talked about the importance of the Civil Rights movement in history. Several of the students brought up the importance of learning about history so we don’t repeat it. Finally, several students brought up comparisons of things that happened during the movement and how they relate to the world today.

Overall, it was a great foundation that I should have started with at the beginning of the unit. The next thing I asked them was, “how would you have ended segregation if you grew up in the 1940’s and 1950’s?” They struggled with this question like I knew they would. After a couple of minutes, instead of asking them for their answers I asked them how difficult it was to decide on a strategy that would end this massive problem. Then we talked about having a laser-like focus on a problem. We talked about how the bus boycott was meant to end segregation on buses, but their hope was that it would lead to more progress. We talked about taking small steps toward a bigger goal.

I’m hoping this moment to regroup will set them up for success later on. The hope is that in a few weeks they will decide on their own challenges, their own movements they want to start to make the world a better place.

 

*This is a post that I wrote while I was still setting up my new website. It’s a couple weeks old but still pertinent.

My first attempt at Facebook for the classroom

Social media is an ingrained part of most of our lives. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, it’s hard to keep up. Adding to the challenge, as a middle school teacher I have to balance the effectiveness of social media for students, colleagues and parents. Each group has their preferred social media outlets.
Last year I started a classroom Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat account for my classroom activities. I posted pictures of the students actively engaged in amazing activities and shared about upcoming events.
Twitter was great for sharing my activities to other teachers and school personnel. But students and parents weren’t very active in this space. I already use it for my professional activities and this tied in nicely with that.
Instagram was great for engaging with students and sharing their hard work with their peers. Many of the students interacted in this space, sharing positive comments when students won awards and enjoyed reliving some of the craziness that is room 502.
I couldn’t get into Snapchat. The students are in that space and enjoyed my posts, but when I post something I want it to be more permanent than Snapchat which disappears after 24 hours.
This year my goal is to dive into Facebook for my classroom. I’m hoping more parents will be engaged in this space. Personally, I spend more time than I should checking my Facebook feed, and I think there are plenty of parents that feel the same way.
I created two Facebook pages, not accounts but pages. I made the mistake of creating a new account at first but realized this wouldn’t accomplish the right goals. A page allows you to control what people see and doesn’t give access to your personal Facebook account. I don’t care if parents see my personal account, but most of them are more interested in what’s happening in the classroom and less interested in the pictures of my adorable children I’m constantly sharing.
One page is a professional account for me to share my blog posts, interesting articles I come across and share the same awesome classroom photos that I share on my Instagram and Twitter accounts. In a future post I’ll share how I post to multiple platforms at once. I’ll probably share this Facebook page in more professional settings with other educators, when I present at conferences, etc. However, I’d gladly welcome any parent who would like to see my teaching philosophy.
The second page I created is a classroom page. On this page I’ll share the same Instagram photos from the other account. I’ll also post event information, announcements, etc. I’m debating posting some parenting articles I find too, but I don’t want it to come across as too preachy. The goal of those articles would be to encourage parents to read with their kids and keep them up-to-date on the technology their kids are using.
We’ll see how this goes. I’m hoping it will help me reach more educators, parents and students. If you’ve used Facebook for your own classroom, please share any tips or tricks to help make it successful.

Kicking off a new school year…

Tomorrow I will begin my ninth year of teaching.  This is my 9th year of preservice trainings.  My 9th year of new initiatives and new ideas for transforming our classrooms.  My 9th year of detailed explanations about why my assessment data should be better.
It’s easy to drown in all the minutia of school, the directives and new pedagogy that will revolutionize teaching.  Sometimes it’s important to reflect and remember why we do what we do.
I don’t teach because I want to transform my students into test taking masters.  I don’t teach because I relish the thought of torturing my students with stories they won’t care about.  I teach because I know that I can help guide my students toward a better understanding of who they are.
This year my grade level counterparts and I are focusing on three themes in Language Arts: survival, identity, and hope.  I want my kids to read and write in my class, not solely to become prolific readers and writers.  I want my kids to read and write in my class to discover who they are and to realize that who they are MATTERS.  I teach world changers.  I teach kids who can move mountains and innovate.  I’m teaching the generation that will find peace in the chaos.  I teach so that my students will see the good in the world, to show them that there is hope for the future.  I teach them so that I can remind MYSELF that there is hope in the world.
Tomorrow I will walk through those doors and look into the eyes of my students, and I will be happy knowing that the future is in their hands.
As you go about your school year, I wish you all the best and hope that you take some time to reflect.  Remember that it’s not about a test, or a reading score, or a grade.  It’s not about instituting the correct lesson plan format or the correct note-taking strategy.  It’s about ensuring that your students walk out of your classroom a better person than when they entered it, that they are more prepared for their future, and most importantly that they are ready to make the world a better place.