Skip to main content

MCTE Musings

I always look forward to the last Friday in October. Since my junior year in college, I don't think I've missed a fall conference of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English--and I certainly don't plan on it any time soon. Just as I could feel the stress building this past week, I knew that MCTE, just like other quality days of professional development like summer institutes of the National Writing Project, would be a panacea for so many job-related frustrations and would provide answers for questions I've been wrestling with for months.

Like always, I left with my head spinning--and that's a sign of quality professional development. You leave knowing that there's so much more to be accomplished. Your work, despite all the long hours and years of practice, is really only beginning to unfold in front of you.

Yesterday, Penny Kittle spoke about how every student is on a personal learning journey, and I'm thinking about how my classroom reflects that. I've been working hard to ensure that every student (re)discovers the love of reading this year. Reading moves us, but there are far too many readers (I think every student is a reader; they just don't all know it yet!) in my school that have gotten lost along the way. They don't need to all make uniform turns to arrive at the destination of appreciating reading and writing, but we still have an obligation to help each student read, write, and think better every day that they enter our rooms. Like Penny suggested, every student is on a journey. They have somewhere to go. We just have to figure out how to get them there.

A lot of my work this year has been supported by the Book Love Foundation, which generously donated a classroom library to me this year of nearly 500 titles. If you haven't donated to them, please do now! I can't tell you how many past students have commented on the importance of classroom libraries. Past students return and complain that they don't have access to books anymore. We can't expect kids to read or even attempt to create lifelong readers if they aren't in close proximity to books, if they don't feel comfortable in the school library, if they don't have choice, or if they don't have teachers that read voraciously and share the love of reading with their students. I implore you to support Penny's work. It has been a godsend in every way imaginable this year. 

And after hearing Penny speak, I started to think about the "problem" students in my classes. I thought about the students that don't yet share the same passion I do for reading and writing. I think about the students that haven't found connections to the work we are doing, and I think about the students that actively resist the complex texts we are tackling. I'm picturing so many of my students that have endured unimaginable things and have overcome the insurmountable.

How can I foster the energy to create and the passion to care in the classroom? How can I undo or repair years of reading and writing malnourishment?

And I posed this idea to a colleague yesterday: If the majority of my students are resisting a text, do I have the problem or do they?

I'm heading to my classes on Monday with Penny's question in mind: Does the beauty and energy to create still live inside this boy? And I'm determined to work even harder because of that. 




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Targets and Time

I just finished Cris Tovani and Elizabeth Birr Moje's No More Telling as Teaching: Less Lecture, More Engaged Learning from Heinemann's Not This But That series edited by Ellin Oliver Keene and Nell Duke.

Needless to say, I pick up anything that's by Tovani and Moje because of Tovani's belief in the workshop model and Moje's extensive work in both disciplinary and out of school literacies.

After finishing this quick read, I've been thinking a lot about two things.

First, how we spend our time matters. I get less than 60 minutes with students each hour. Time is a hot commodity! Because of that, I am constantly looking at ways to maximize instruction. If I pass papers back this way or if I move this to this point in time, I can gain another minute. And those minutes add up! Sometimes, however, it feels like there is just never enough time. All teachers know that. In fact, I've yet to meet a teacher admit that she or he has too much time with students, especia…

Stop Ignoring Research

I just finished Kylene Beers and Robert Probst's Disrupting Thinking. I keep thinking about page 103 in the text, where they discuss the idea of "research-based practices" and how many of us "are willing to ignore what we know from research." They mention teaching grammar in isolation, spelling lists, lack of conferring in writing classrooms, monologic talk, prescribing novels without choice--the list goes on and on. I get frustrated because I hear from other teachers often excuses for why they do these things. And even I have felt forced to resort to some of these practices at times because it's what kids have been conditioned to expect at school. It is amazing how quiet a classroom can be when you give every student a worksheet. And if compliance is our end goal, then a worksheet works. But if we want students to undertake meaningful work that's often the work supported by best practices, we're going to have to be willing to get a whole lot more u…

Kids Wielding Critical Thinking

I first heard Cornelius Minor speak at NCTE’s convention last fall, and I was instantly impressed. He very quickly had dozens of adults moving around the room, jumping rope, making lists—learning in some of the most engaged ways.
I recently subscribed to the Heinemann Podcast and I found myself devouring the series of episodes featuring Minor. Trust me. You don’t want to miss these.The episode on “The Over-Engaged Student” is one of them. Through the story of “Prez,” a nickname given to one particular student, Minor explores ways that he is able to “turn the volume down” “but respect his enthusiasm” on the type of student that we have all encountered. You know, the one who always seems to have a comment or contribution to make, even if, at times, it might not seem relevant. And that’s when Minor says this: “One of the things that we never want to do is silence kids.” That made me stop and think about all the times that I’ve asked kids to “hold that thought” and then never returned to …