I started the year with a plan that ignored confusing district curriculum documents that are in draft format and simply ineffective. I started the year with a plan that held tightly to my core beliefs as a teacher. I started the year with a plan to teach effectively.
Then the year got rolling.
All of a sudden, on top of Common Core State Standards and less than clear and attainable district curriculum directives, our building admin (thank you, Ms. Danielson) started piling on new mandates. Include a higher order thinking question in your written lesson plan every day. Make sure students are generating their own questions at multiple levels of difficulty every day. Spend a good deal of time daily allowing students to participate in discussion. Make sure every student participates. Oh, and students should be leading those discussions without intervention from you. Every day, for every lesson, include deconstructed learning targets tied to the Common Core State Standards and a formative that can be completed within today’s class period (before after and/or in between questioning and discussion). Have all of this written out and on the right hand corner of your desk in case we decide to pick up our clipboards and walk our black name tags into your room to find evidence of your shortcomings.
It was not long before I realized my plan wasn’t serving me (or my students) well. I couldn’t navigate where my beliefs about effective teaching fit in with all of the tasks being thrown on top. I longed for the reset button that a semester transition would represent. I longed for the regrouping a winter break would allow me to do.
After days filled with long hours of researching and planning over winter break, I headed into second semester with a new plan—a perfect blend of standards, mandates, and heart.
This plan meant taking off in a new direction. I had pressed my own reset button over break, but I realized I would need a way to get students to reset themselves as well. So, I decided to remind them why they are here, why we read and write. Not just why we read and write as students, but why we read and write as humans.
I asked my students, “What is the best subject?”
They looked at me, not sure if it was a trick question. I like to keep them guessing, so I didn’t let them off the hook and waited to see who would risk answering.
I was done watching them squirm, “You don’t have to say this class. I want to know which subject you like best, not which class is best, but truly what subject you like best.”
After a few minutes of this, I explained that although everyone has their own idea of what subject is best, and, like them, there is a reason I chose to teach language arts. I explained that I wanted to share what makes language arts the best subject to me.
They sat forward in their seats. I could tell I had them hooked. They were genuinely wondering why anyone would pick language arts over other, more interesting information or problem based subjects.
I began with some quotes and images about reading I’ve encountered via Pinterest, articles, and blogs. I asked questions and invited casual chatter with each one. What does this mean? Is it true? How can this be true? In what cases is this true?
The recognition of some of these quotes and images as the backgrounds they have on their phones, or images they recognize from tumblr and Pinterest added a personal connection that helped draw them in even further. I fully expected some argument against these ideas, maybe that reading doesn’t make you better. Or reading couldn’t possibly show you how to die. However, being second semester, none of my students needed further convincing. They were jumping in, eager to point out examples (Dally thinking he died gallantly in The Outsiders when he really just died unnecessarily).
I could tell this was one of those lessons where everything falls together. In fact, it was more than a lesson. It was a teaching moment.
To solidify their connection to these ideas about the power of reading in our lives, I included a couple quotes from my current students’ semester one reading finals:
Reading has changed the way I feel about myself.How can reading change the way we feel about ourselves?Reading choice matters because it shapes who you are.Does what we choose to read really shape who we are? How so?
I ended with my favorite clip from my favorite movie: the part in Dead Poets’ Society where Keating makes the students huddle up so he can tell them why we read and write poetry. [fun fact: the audio of this is used in an iPad Air commercial that I came across the weekend after I had shared the clip in class]
We don't read and write poetry because it's cute.We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.And the human race is filled with passion.And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life.But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.What will your verse be?
At the end of class, right before the bell rang, a student approached me with a serious look on his face, “Mrs. Rush, that was really powerful. I mean, wow. I am not gonna lie, I am tearing up right now. I’ve never teared up over a lesson before. That was amazing.”
I started second semester with a plan. A perfect blend of standards, mandates, and heart. I think it just might be effective.