My first semester of teaching is winding down, and it's been one heck of a ride! I'm proud of my accomplishments. I feel like I have a good relationship with each of my students, have covered my standards well, and have expanded my students' knowledge and creativity.
But it hasn't all be wonderful. There are plenty of things that I'm hoping to change next semester.
I'm a floater in my school, which means that I have an office instead of a classroom. I "borrow" classrooms from other teachers during the day. This is nice for me (no classroom to keep organized), but it also causes a big problem in having openers and bell-ringers at the start of class. There are days that I get to class after my students because of elevator traffic.
Next semester, though, I am set on having a ritual at the beginning of class. I read Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer in college for my class on adolescent literature and just finished her newest book Reading in the Wild. Miller teaches 6th grade and has her students read 40 books independently per year. I have to beg my high school students to read 4 books independently per year! Her secret is giving students time each and every day to fall in love with reading in her classroom. She has reading conferences with students each day to check their progress and is constantly helping students find books to suit their interests in her enormous classroom library.
I've decided that next semester on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays we will read for at least 10 minutes at the beginning of class (Tuesdays and Thursdays we will write). Students should use this time to read independent readings books, newspapers, or educational magazines. Anything to get them to read. One of the things that I've noticed this semester is that students just don't read. They don't read their assigned work and they don't read outside of class for pleasure. So, instead of complaining about the epidemic, I'm going to try to do something about it instead. Kelly Gallagher wrote a fantastic book titled Reading Reasons, which offers mini-lessons on showing the importance of reading to students. As we begin the semester, in order to inspire my students to read, I will implement some of these mini-lessons.
The second big change that I'm going to put into place is a big one: The Passion Project.
I read about this on Catlin Tucker's blog a while back and have been thinking about it ever since. It's one of those ideas that has kept me up at night considering how to use it with my students.
I'm going to have my students blog. The kicker is that they can blog about anything that they are passionate about. I began this blog as a mentor text for them in a way, to show them what a blog can look like when somebody cares enough about something to write about it. I love to teach. I love education. It's what I'm passionate about, so in a sense, this is my Passion Project.
Every 2 weeks for the semester, my students will be required to write a blog entry on Blogger. They are to have research ready on every other Friday that they will put into their blog. They are to write in grammatically correct English and in a formal manner. Students will be allowed to write these blogs anonymously if they wish. However, students will be required to present a Status of my Blog twice during the semester. They must present what their topic is, what they have learned about their topic, and how people are responding to their blog (if at all).
Once the blogs are created, I will post links to each of their blogs here. I want my students to understand that they won't always be writing for just me. Writing will be out there in the world, and they need to be proud of what they write. I want to encourage them to put forth the utmost effort because others will be viewing their blogs.
Another big change that I will be implementing is noredink.com.
This website was mentioned to me by another English teacher here at HHS in my PLC. She has used it a few times with much success. It's basically a website that has students working on their grammar and mechanics skills in a personalized, differentiated manner.
The 11th grade standards in the Common Core don't focus on grammar and mechanics much at all. My curriculum focuses on grammar and mechanics only in essay writing.
This week, my students are writing an essay for The Great Gatsby. Looking over some of their outlines yesterday, I was appalled at the amount of errors I saw! How had I not noticed until now how poor many of my students' grammar is?
I've decided that students will be required to complete lessons and quizzes on noredink.com in order to strengthen the areas in which they suffer greatest. Students don't have to listen to me repeatedly hammer them bout commas if they are using them correctly, and instead these students can work on areas that they need help with!
The last change that I'm considering is the article of the week.
I read about this idea in one of Kelly Gallagher's books. You can read about it more in depth on his website here: http://kellygallagher.org/resources/articles.html.
Basically, students will be welcomed into the real world once a week with the article of the week. I will urge students to consider how the world around them affects them. This is a great way for teachers to implement more nonfiction reading into the classroom as well.
All in all, yes I'm proud of what I've done this semester. It's been tough, and I know that I will continue to make mistakes and change things as necessary. However, I also know that I'm ready to change whatever necessary in order to help my students succeed.
I'll let you know how it goes! :)