It’s June. My students will leave my classroom this week. They hope they will be successful on their exams. I hope they will take their writer’s notebooks with them and not leave them in my room, or in a locker or, God forbid, in a nearby trashcan.
As I look back on this school year, I realize that I have never done more experimenting in my own classroom. Nor have I ever engaged in such large-scale, all-consuming, every-day professional development — through NCTE, through my reading, through blogging, through Twitter. Coincidence? I think not.
I have begun to see my class as not just the faces staring back at me during a given class period but also as a fertile ground for constant, stimulating research.
Back in December, I made some goals for the new semester awaiting me. I succeeded better in some areas than others. Here’s how it went:
Goal #1: To fill my classroom with more words
Inspired by Penny Kittle, my goal was to build up the word culture of my classroom by incorporating a whole-clsas read aloud to my ninth graders and to begin class periods with a poem.
I failed on the poetry front. I did this for about six weeks before I just … stopped. I’m not sure why. Laziness. Fear of the awkward moment between the poem’s conclusion and transitioning into the next lesson. My students didn’t immediately latch on to this routine, and, rather than pushing them, I gave in and gave up. I’m not proud. I think I’ll try this again next year from the very beginning of school and eventually passing the torch on to the students.
I did read Charlotte’s Web aloud to my ninth grade students, some who loved the throwback-to-fourth grade nostalgia more than others. One class in particular begged me to read every day. I am going to ask what they learned about writing from listening to E.B. White as a bonus question on their final exam. I am anxious and very curious to see if any gems come out of that question!
I will definitely read aloud next year. Like the poetry, I will be more consistent (isn’t that almost always the beginning of the problem? Our lack of consistency?). I plan to start with Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg.
Goal #2: To use media as an entry point for pushing thinking and writing forward
After using Pixar short films to review Beer’s and Probst’s Notice and Note signposts, I continued to incorporate music, advertisements, and short films into my instruction based on the work of Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts in Falling in Love with Close Reading.
(Side note: these two books have done more to improve my reading instruction during this school year than anything else I have ever used or studied!)
Students really responded to this method. It made the thinking they were meant to do during reading much more tangible for them and, let’s be honest, much more fun for all of us.
I used this momentum in their 7th workshop of the year in which they chose a Pixar film to analyze. This was a precursor to our more “serious” poetry analysis workshop and a segue into the academic writing they will be doing in tenth grade. Many students reported that they never knew animated movies could be so deep and that doing this kind of writing made them feel smart. Of all my experiments this year, this might be the one I am happiest with. Our learning was enlivened, but it also gave them a very positive entry point into the world of critical analysis, something I think we all struggle to get students excited about.
Next year I would like to expand this even more. Perhaps an analysis of a Pixar film and then another piece of culture before diving into literary analysis: analysis of a song? a TV show? a non-animated film?
Goal #3: To give the QuickWrite a facelift
This was another good, good decision. By incorporating sentence study, raw data to play with, an occasional poem, students no longer groaned for the first five minutes of class. We had some great conversations and I heard insights from students who were usually silent. It became something we ALL looked forward to as a true form of play.
Next year, I want to be much more explicit about tying these moments of inspiration and insight to future pieces of writing.
Bonus! Goal #4: To revamp writing assessment
I’ve written a longer post on this topic, but even though I didn’t begin the semester with this goal, I am proud of it as it’s probably the most radical change I’ve made this year. It has been scary. And imperfect. Still, I think this might be the best thing I have done in my class this year, and I’m happy to I just took the leap.
Next year, I will be thinking about this in even bigger, broader terms as I work to incorporate a standards-based writing portfolio that will replace that grades on individual assignments and give students opportunities over time to demonstrate mastery in all areas of writing.
What happened to your goals this school year? Which turned out to be great successes? Which turn out to be less-successful? What would you scrap entirely? What would you try again? What are your goals for the summer? Respond in the comments below or find us on Twitter @rebekahodell1 and @allisonmarchett.