Monday, October 9, 2017

Writing to Learn

In class this past week we began reading “The Freedom Writers” by the teacher Erin Gruwell and her students. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s compilation of journal entries from the teacher and her struggling students documenting their growth both academically, personally, and communally. Throughout the book, you are able to see the how the students’ feelings towards themselves and their peers change from hate and doubt to acceptance and belief. One of the key facilitators in this growth is the act of writing.
When we write, we open ourselves to self-reflection concerning our opinions and experiences. It is important to allow students to write what they want without the fear of being judged, graded, or punished. In the book, Gruwell allowed her students to write deep accounts of violence, drug abuse, and hatred. By getting their feelings onto the paper they were able to critically think about their beliefs. Many students began to question why they were in gangs, why they hated one another, and what was wrong with their community. Because of this, they began to strive to be more empathetic and participate in school. More constructively, students were able to document their growth and understanding in class; by the end of the semester and school year, they saw just how far they had come in their writing, comprehension, and critical thinking skills.  
Because of these opportunities to reflect and see one’s growth, it’s important that we have our students keep journals. Autonomy is the key here, but it can also be helpful to give prompts that spark creative thought. Another positive to journaling is that it gets the students writing. Though grammar and spelling should not be graded or enforced here, simply the act of writing helps students hone the craft and develop their voices. Reading over their journals, they can see the power they have to share their thoughts and the progress of their writing skills.

Journaling doesn’t have to take a lot of time, simply spare five or ten minutes at the beginning or end of class for writing. Many teachers already use this chunk as free reading time, so swapping in writing every once in a while would be a good change of pace and help hone those writing skills in tandem with their reading. But if your class schedule is still too tight, perhaps have in-class journaling once a week and encourage them to continue writing outside of class.  

Friday, September 29, 2017

"I Am From"

Today at Carver we worked with eighth graders on “I Am From” projects. This is a popular  activity that challenges students to learn more about their past, city, family, and self. During the project, students reflect on how these relationships and experiences have impacted their lives, and are given the opportunity to share these discoveries with the class. The Carver students will be creating videos to showcase their experiences and research, but there are many different formats classes can use based on students’ skill, interest, and resources such as poems, narratives, or presentations.
            Beginning the project, I got the opportunity to work with three students today. I helped them understand the questions they are to reflect on and brainstorm ideas. This was an amazing education experience. These students went from giving me nervous answers and feeling they had nothing interesting to say, to telling me about how they lived in a different country for six years! I got the chance to help them reflect on their lives, to think about what experiences have shaped them into who they are today. Helping them to make these connections and unlock their stories was very special. Their eyes lit up at the prospect of making videos about themselves, and they are beginning to understand how we are constantly shaped by (and shaping) those around us.

For this weekend I challenged them to do some research about their hometowns, interview friends and family, and to start taking pictures and videos. Each of their stories were unique—they have already been through so much at the young age of fourteen. I made sure they felt proud of their history, of their family and culture. These experiences should be celebrated, and the “I Am From” project gives them each a chance to shine.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Motivation to Read

This past week I got the opportunity to work with a seventh grader at Carver to create a reading profile. The goal of the profile is to figure out why middle school students are losing interest and motivation to read, whether in the class room or for leisure. My peers and I asked questions like, “what do you like to do in your free time”, “what are your favorite kinds of books”, and “do you enjoy reading”. Many of our responses were in the negative, that students DO NOT like reading and find it boring. They complained it takes too long, it’s hard to focus, and that there are not enough pictures. However, when asked what their favorite books were, we were surprised to find that they liked more advanced and even classic works, such as Where the Red Fern Grows. My student, who said reading is boring, really likes comic books and graphic novels. It is true these books have many pictures, but they still rely on words to explain the narrative.  What these books special, and why weren’t they boring? What motivated them to finish reading?

As a middle school student, I remember not enjoying my English classes; I thought they were “boring” and that the material we read was a waste of time. But I was also a student who would devour a series of novels within a few short weeks. I’m not sure how to solve this stereotype driven enigma, but perhaps the answer lies in autonomy. Maybe we should give students the choice over certain novel/short stories to read for class and then allow them to share what they learned, liked, and didn’t like with the rest of the class. Seeing their peers praising a book could motivate other students to read it for their selves, and to compare experiences and opinions about the novel with their friends.

We cannot convince students that reading is fun; only they can decide that. But perhaps with freedom of choice and positive literary environment, they may find their selves motivate to read. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Channeling Energy

Last week at Carver, my classmates and I had the opportunity to observe teachers teach a lesson to their eighth graders. During one of the periods, the kids were literally running around the classroom, jumping over desks, and having loud conversations with their friends during what was supposed to be a quiet journaling session. The teacher and two paras were unable to restore any order or quiet the class down, despite their attempts. As a preservice teacher, such an observation made me feel fear towards my profession, that I would be helpless in a classroom full of wild teenagers. Once again, the nagging thought that I’m not cut out for teaching tormented my mind, and I returned to our LitEd Content classroom sullenly.
That period, however, we talked about what we saw: in the nicest terms, “the kids have a lot of energy”. All of my peers seemed a bit overwhelmed, so the topic of energy took over our daily discussion. What can we, as teachers and schools, do to help direct students’ energy into positive, learning outcomes?
Our readings for that week were all about “Bodies in Motion”. We should not view energy as disobedience; kids are meant to be active. It is our responsibility to give them the physical space to move and grow. After all, studies show that the mind develops through movement. Because of this, we should not demand out students sit still and quietly for hours on end; instead we should channel their fidgeting and energy by giving them tools like flexible seating and moving chairs. Social interaction is important as well, so we should not separate and berate students for talking, but put them in desk pods and encourage activity led interaction.
My classmates and I came up with many projects that demonstrate learning through collaboration and movement. For example, you can use jigsaw activities where each students are placed in groups but assigned different roles. In order to complete the project, they must each do their part, then share what they learned with their groupmates, then collaborate in order to put the project together. Other examples are allowing them to demonstrate learning through presentations, making video, songs, or skits.

I learned a lot from our discussions this past week and will strive to not get angry when my students are chatty or rowdy—instead I will channel their energy through movement based activities. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Teaching Content: Post #1

Last week I began attending Carver Middle School through my LitEd course at UNI. The principal and staff met with us the first day and talked about the importance of building relationships with your students and how to make the school a community rather than just an institution.

In order to have a successful classroom, the principal explained, you need to show the students you care and want to truly know them. This means their interests, backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses. By getting to know their students, Carver teachers are able to engage their students interests, meet their needs, and challenge their skills. Struggling students know they can come to their teachers for help, whether about a homework assignment or trouble at home.

Spending time to build relationships based on respect and trust is vital to classroom success. Many students, myself included, have experienced classrooms that had a layer of fear and distrust clouding their learning. Many times I have refrained from asking questions about assignments or requesting to use the restroom because I genuinely feared my teacher. I didn't know her and felt very inept and inferior; I was unable to calculate her response and feared the worst. Students' learning suffers when they feel out of place and/or judged by their teacher; they have a right to ask questions, be comfortable, and own their learning. If their is no trust between teachers and students, no relationship, then students are not learning. They are being schooled.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Post 4: Thinglink and Education

Recently, I explored an educational social media website called Thinglink. This website allows users to upload photos and videos to turn them into interactive tools. For example, if I uploaded a video for my students to watch about the importance of recycling, Thinglink allows me to add in questions, comments, or external links that scroll across the video in order to help guide my students’ critical thinking and keep them engaged. With photographs, the creator can put interactive dots that create text boxes with information, website links, videos, or questions for the students to explore. Playing around with the site, I created an interactive tool about deforestation using specific pictures and icons on which I placed interactive buttons. For example, there is a picture with a panther; the interactive dots on this photo go to links about endangered animals affected by deforestation.

My interactive tool I made using Thinglink. 

allows me to compile links, questions, and videos to engage my students, spur research, and prompt them to own their learning. The site is also Google App friendly, allowing linkage to Google docs, maps, and forms. Looking at the social media side of the site, users can search and view other people’s creations if they do not have time to compile their own. A quick search of “panther” brings up a variety of interactive pictures displaying links, information, and videos to educate viewers about the animal. By simply clicking the heart icon, a user “touches” the photo, thus saving it to their Thinglink profile. By collecting tools this way, a user can effectively manage a variety of resources to share with their students or use to inspire their own interactive tool.

Thinglink has free and premium versions and is very user and classroom friendly. It allows teacher to sign into the account separately from their students, and features multiple channels to organize different units, classes, or groups. You can even use Thinglink in place of traditional projects by allowing students to compile research and make their own interactive tools rather than using markers and posters. Thinglink is a great tool that can be implemented into any classroom for it helps student engage in autonomous research, summarizing skills, and higher ordered thinking.   

Here is a link to the Thinglink education website:

Screenshot of Ms. Gorzney's Thinglink page

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Post 3: The Struggling Reader’s Ally

As an English pre-service teacher, I am always learning and researching about how to make my classroom universally designed. Recently in one of my special education courses, we came realized that we never go over the kinds of universal technology that help our readers and writers. I took it upon myself to find a resource that helps students who may be slow readers, have trouble pronouncing words, or have visual impairments or dyslexia. Here is what I found:

Learning Ally is nonprofit organization that provides a collection of over 80,000 human-narrated books to help readers improve comprehension, confidence, and performance. The content they offer is centered on the core-curriculum, featuring text along with the professional recordings. The program works on computers, tablets, and many mobile devices, making it easy to use and a personalized experience. There are two programs: 1) $49/quarterly for four audiobooks or 2) $119/year for unlimited audiobooks. The first program would fit nicely into any school unit, because the books for that semester’s curricular could be downloaded and used in class. The site features many success stories and celebrates readers from all backgrounds. However, the program is only licensed to those with a documented disability.

Like Learning Ally, many other programs and tablets have read aloud features that can help struggling readers. The great thing about tablet readers are that the benefit and are open to ALL students rather than just accommodating for those with diagnosed disabilities. By giving every student the choice to use assistive tech, no one will feel different, disabled, or given unfair advantages. 

Here is a link to the Learning Ally website: Learning Ally 

Below is a descriptive video featured on LEarning Ally's website and YouTube channel:

Photo by Brian Moore, "Using more iPod Book" on Flickr