Thursday, October 20, 2016

Saturday, September 17, 2016

An Experiment in Writing

In graduate school, I read a few articles and essays from Stanley Fish on college composition. I remember that he created a real world audience for his students by creating periodical publications that he would self-publish university-wide. In this same line of thought, I have been thinking of a way to apply this idea in the project based learning, high school, humanities classroom.

I have many students who can write well already and need the pressure and excitement of a real audience. I have students who have a good understanding of writing and need help to find voice and coherence in writing. And I have a few students who need some elementary grammar and composition mistakes that have never really been addressed. At all levels, the dynamic of writing for an authentic audience and having their work on the internet or in a bound text will help them to see another purpose than writing for only the teacher’s eyes.

The project will include a blog and a self-published journal of writings from students. I want to allow the students to choose the genre and content of their texts, but I will encourage them to keep it non-fiction or fiction based on their perspectives as juniors at New Tech High @ Coppell. The vision for the blog and the publication is to show the many perspectives from this junior class. The students will have a digital and print collection of writing that they create and will have their names in the by-lines. (Truth be told; I am trying to be the type of teacher that I wish I had growing up. While I have had many great teachers in literature and a few great composition professors, I want to give my students the opportunity to make something they can be proud of and something they can set out into the world on the sea of information and perspectives.)

I want this project to run parallel to the project work that we do throughout the year, and I want it to be ungraded. My hope is that the lack of grade will remove unwanted, educational pressure and free up the students to take risks. I also want to work with a total of between 4-6 students each week across all of my classes so that I can give individual attention to students without feeling the rush of getting through everyone in a timely manner. This will also give me a chance to grow a professional relationship with my students outside of what I am doing with every student every day. (I re-wrote that last sentence about three times because I don’t want my students to read that and feel like I am trying to manipulate a relationship when my desire is to foster my relationships with them apart from the content. I never want students to feel as if I don’t actually care about them outside of the class and curriculum because that is untrue.)

The blog will be set up here, and I hope to publish the first edition of the book/journal by the end of April 2017.

Saturday, July 30, 2016


Next month, I will start my eighth year of teaching in public schools and my second year teaching at a project based school (New Tech). I teach American Studies as part of a team taught humanities course. I am responsible for the Honors English III and AP English Language and Composition curriculum. Every year I try and set some goals for myself, so here is my list for this year.

1.     STRONG CO-TEACHER RELATIONSHIP:  I am teaching with a new co-teach this year and the dynamic between us will be different from last year. From what I have determined, Mr. H and I are both strong minded, type-A personalities. Therefore, I will need to give a little more than I had to last year. Mr. H seems very confident in his content and the social studies skills. This means we will have to learn to trust each other and build a relationship that feeds off of one another.

2.     ULTIMATE LEARNER CHOICE:  I determined at the end of last year that I wanted to have more learner choice in products for their projects. This requires more grading, prep, and scaffolding, but it allows the learner to tap into their greatest motivators thereby giving them the opportunity to learn and retain more skills and information. I need to encourage learners to seek challenges and to think outside of the project box. I also need to plan projects in such a way that lets learners have maximum choice while still staying true to the College Board standards and TEKS

3.     PARENT COMMUNICATION:  This is always on my mind and it is so hard to do sometimes. I want the learners to take charge of their own learning and not rely on the facilitator-parent relationship to keep them on track. However, I do need to keep parents updated with happenings in class and when their learner is not performing well. Maybe I will set up a regular mass email with parents to open the line of communication

4.     MORE IN PROJECT ASSESSMENT: As an English teacher, I am always grading and assessing final products (usually essays). I have been learning to assess mid-product and allow learners to improve and adjust throughout the project. If I grade at the end, there is no motivation for growth from the comments and assessment. One of the problems with grading this way is that learners and parents do not always understand when the majority of the grade is not given for the final product. This is something I will have to help them both understand

5.     MORE UNASSESSED READING AND WRITING:  Part of becoming a mature reader and writer is by constant practice in multiple mediums. Learners need a push into reading all types of texts and writing well for multiple aims, but they do not always take it seriously when there is no accountability.  I am thinking of grading their “Agency” twice a six-weeks, where they are required to show evidence of growth, motivation, and personal responsibility. This will be an ongoing log where they prove that their “Agency” is proficient or advanced

6.     WRITING FOR AUTHENTIC AUDIENCES: I want to help students write for real audiences, not just for me. They need to write for each other, for experts, and for all different communities. I am not sure how I am going to do this one, but I will be researching and looking for good writing audiences as we move through the semester.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Extending the Writing Deadline

In class, we are working on a Civil Rights research essay.  Learners have been placed into groups of three to four and are tasked with exploring a specific aspect of the Civil Rights movement through research, writing, art, and an explanation of the art.  We began the project three weeks ago and have been learning about the major events and ideas of the movement. 

For the writing, the learners have worked through their topic, research question, thesis, quality sources, and have been working through their outlines. Many of the learners have not begun writing because they have not been researching well enough to have much to say, yet. 

Writing and researching is different for everyone.  Some research quickly and write slowly, some research slowly and write quickly, and others are somewhere in-between.  I do not want to rush learners too much because I do not want them to simply check boxes to get the work done.  However, the due date on the polished draft for the essay is a week away and many have not started writing.

Here is my problem. Should I push the due date out until the next week, giving the learners about ten days instead of five?  If I do this, it gives the learners more time to write, revise, and consult with me.  The learning happens in the trenches of writing the paper and revising for clarity, purpose, voice, and strength of argument.  I am hesitant to allow more time because I do not want the learners who are prone to procrastination to have more time to procrastinate and waste the extra time.

I am going to allow for three more days on the polished draft, but I am going to be more diligent to check in with the majority of learners and their progress every day.  I will reflect on this process as I go and let you in on my thoughts.  See ya Monday.

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Monday, March 14, 2016

"I did my best."

I hear the phrase, "I did my best," often during the day.  What does that mean?  What does it really mean for one to do their best, and if a person really does their best, why do they feel the need to exclaim it like the bookend of a performance that they know was sub-par?

I complain to myself, my wife, and other facilitators that an internal drive and sense of urgency seems to be lacking from many learners.  Where is the desire to exceed expectation and to do a quality job on any and every project?  My wife and I come from families where we (and our siblings) did well in school and did not give up for anything.  I don't remember my mother or father ever having to give us a pep talk or cheer us to the completion of a task.  Completion was a given and extra effort was expected.  We did not work just for the satisfaction of exceeding expectations, but because we would not be internally satisfied without exceeding expectations.

When a person says, "I did my best," what they are really saying is, "I want you to think that I tried when, in reality, it was not important enough for me to try any harder than I did."  In an age of patting everyone on the back for participating, we are raising a generation that "did their best."

It's a lie.  Doing one's best is not about going through the motions and checking a box.  As a former athlete, I used to say and hear phrases like:

"Leave it all on the field,"
"Go balls to the walls,"
"You can rest when you're dead,"
"Get it done. No excuses," and
"Pain is just weakness leaving the body."

While I do not condone child abuse by pushing anyone beyond their physical and mental threshold, I believe that we are setting the bar altogether too low.  We accept crap as long as it is wrapped in the pretty paper of "I did my best." No! You didn't do your best.  You cut corners and you took the path of least resistance.  I am all for working smarter and not harder, but refusing to stretch yourself beyond your own pre-set limitations is unacceptable.

Not every learner, child, or young adult in this generation are lumped into this pit of self-deception. Neither is every adult an internally motivated person.  I am simply noticing that many in the current generation fail to perform at even half of their potential, and the adults are letting them use childish and selfish reasons to justify their laziness and self-deception.

What can be done, you ask? We need to stop accepting their pitiful excuses, including "I did my best," and "That's all I know how to do."

Help me hold the youth of this generation to a higher and nobler standard.  Help me call out the lies and self-deception that they tout when the task is too difficult to be Googled or made into a video game.

It is not uncommon for me to believe that I was born in the wrong generation.  I see other time periods and think that their work ethic and drive are more in tune to mine.  However, when I honestly evaluate the situation, many in this generation have a drive and a work ethic with which I feel more comfortable. We need to teach the youth to appreciate and value integrity and hard work even when the task seems insurmountable.

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Evaluating As-You-Go Essays

Thoughts about evaluating as-you-go essays:

  • ·      Some learners took advantage of my availability during class and came to me with their writings regularly.  Those learners thrived and ended up writing essays, scripts, and columns of which any high school learner would be proud.

  • ·      Some learners took too much advantage of my availability during class and came to me with their writings after every sentence.  That may be a stretch, but it sure felt like it.  These learners wanted me to hold their hands, but I had to limit their time with me so that they could write in their own voice.  Giving into the constant check-ins would have made me a co-author, not a facilitator of learning and writing.

  • ·      A few learners always had an excuse about why they did not have much writing done.  These learners were looking for every excuse not to have me read their writing.  They were afraid that I would evaluate and grade their writings poorly.  I guess they would rather stall, stall, stall, until the final paper is due.  Therefore, they could rip off the Band-Aid with one poor grade instead of hearing it multiple times.  They never understood that I was trying to help them improve their writing, not give them a grade each time we met.

  • ·      A few other learners stalled because they never really cared to write or do the work.  Every class has these learners.  By asking and checking in (even though they didn’t have much writing) I was able to learn a little more about the reasons for the lack of motivation.

At the end of the assignment, every learner turned in their assignments. No learner was surprised with their grade and the final product was a breeze to evaluate.

I plan on using this method again and have already started with the next project.  Learners are writing a group research essay on a specific argument involving the Civil Rights Movement.

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