The First Month

It’s been a quite a while–maybe about two weeks or more–since I last posted anything. I wrote a lot during those two weeks, but everything was in my writer’s notebook. Skimming back over my notebook, I thought I’d share what stuck out to me:

1. I’m still reading, but not as much. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read six books since the school year started, but September is not the summer. There are other priorities (spending time with my husband and children, grades, lesson plans, creating activities and writing samples, etc.) that I have to remember along with reading; however, the books I have read so far have been amazing! I finally got to read Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, and I am already trying to figure out how to work excerpts into my lessons. I want my students to study Woodson’s structure and word choices. I want them to write their own poetry. What a perfect mentor text for so many different mini-lessons! Another book I truly enjoyed, and cried throughout, was Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s One for the Murphys. I am so glad I was introduced to her writing, and I cannot wait for Fish In a Tree to come out next year. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart was another timeless piece of literature I could not be pulled away from. I finished it within two days. I love stories that surprise me, and this one did. I’m proud to say I tried another nonfiction title, The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell. I knew about the murders of these three young men, but Mitchell made me feel like I lived it. Thanks to Twitter family for recommending such amazing books!

2. My new students are reading, and so are my former students! I know IR works, for my current students are starting the year better than previous classes have. Each year, more and more former students return to my room to borrow books from my classroom library. Currently, 26 sophomores have books checked out, and that isn’t even counting the ones they may have checked out from the school library. Many juniors, seniors, and even former graduates are still borrowing books from me. IR is no longer required after they have me in 9th grade, so I smile every time I think about this.

3. The Common Core is here to stay (for now). My mother always told me not to use the word “hate,” for it’s such a strong word. Well, I hate the Common Core. I hate that it makes other educators feel that they have to teach a certain way. I hate that those same people feel so much pressure to make sure their teachers teach to the standards, and, dare I say, even to the tests. I hate that I do not have the freedom that I once did. My students suffer from this, and that is why I use the word hate. I know what my students need to be successful, and I hate that the Department of Education and the New York State Education Department don’t seem to trust their teachers anymore. For now, I am doing all that I can, but on some days I hang my head when I have to abide by certain rules and make my students take a “pre-assessment” or complete a “parallel task.” When will it end?

4. I’m trying to figure out the purpose of block schedules. Instead of seeing my students every day for 40 minutes, I now see them four out of six days for 60 minutes. I love the longer period of time I have with them, but I don’t know if I love much else. I love my current group of students as much as any other year, but I don’t feel as strong of a connection with them as I’ve had by this point in years past. Is that because I do not see them on a daily basis? I also see some of my students with learning disabilities floundering. My co-teacher and I do the best we can, but trying to remember a six-day schedule is difficult for these students. I want to know why this block schedule is the right schedule for my small school. I was never told why. 

5. I can’t wait for my first whole-class novel! At the end of the month, I will finally begin my first whole-class novel. I had hoped to begin Speak at the beginning of this month, but seeing students four out of six days has changed everything. I have, however, incorporated the “three ways of thinking” into our first units, and I am pleased with the results. I see more than just literal thoughts on paper, and that’s showing me my students are thinking!

6. There can never be enough writing. My students write every day. Even though it’s only one month into school, I think they understand this by now. They might write notes, journals, sentences, paragraphs, essays, or lists, but they are writing every day. My first writing unit is based off of Maureen Auman’s Step Up to Writing program, for my students’ writing is very unorganized and elementary. I put my own spin on this program, but using the colors of a traffic signal to help them organize short answer responses and essays IS working. I’ve never been a fan of programs, but I have seen a lot of success with this one. By starting with a structured writing unit like this, teachers in other subject areas can use the same language and organizational strategies in their classrooms. I do, however, look forward to my personal narrative unit in December.

7. I’m still struggling with incorporating vocabulary. I know, as an English teacher, I need to teach my students new words. With my independent reading program, I know my students are learning new words every day. I also have been told that IR is not enough. I just graded the first “vocabulary packet” I gave out, and the grades were not what I would have liked. However, it is my hope that with using these words in their writing, and hearing me use them, that they will remember them and use them too. I am still looking for better ways to help my students learn new words, for I have not found the “perfect” method yet.

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