Think Harder

I teach middle-schoolers, so I know how tempting it can be to want to just tell students to “Think harder” when they tell me that they can’t think of anything to write. I jest, I don’t want to tell them that…(right?)

I actually found it more frustrating when I worked in the private sector and felt like I wanted to tell some of my teammates to think harder and brainstorm more!

But, I do genuinely want to help my students learn how to think and how to communicate those thoughts. I think we all do. But how do we do that?

For starters, I can’t really say my students aren’t thinking unless I ask them to write something they want to write. Judging a student’s answer to a book I forced them to read and an essay I forced them to write doesn’t seem fair. So, I wanted to see if they could think and write about things that are important to them.

I gave them two minutes and asked them to make an argument for one of the following:

  1. YouTube or NetFlix
  2. Scheduled Tests or Pop Quizzes
  3. Six-Day school and no homework or Five-Day school with homework

Set your timer for two minutes, make your argument, and tune in on Monday to see what some of my students wrote! Happy Friday 🙂

xo

By the way, many thanks to Amrit and Cindy who shared lines from their stories and/or their stories!

Here are some of my students’ responses:

When that laugh echoed down the hall, I felt a weird emptiness, and little did I know, that was just the beginning. – greta

My evil loofah started shaking and sped to the door. It just kept on jumping and jumping, and over my fence it went! – joss

Once upon a time I played first base. – liam

At the sanctuary, it was night time and the sunset was the most beautiful thing that I had seen in years. It was the perfect night, the elephants safe and healthy, eating lettuce, and my vanilla ice cream with hot fudge filling my tastebuds with delicious creamy and sweet flavors. – susanna

Her family left her behind at a county fair where only one boy was present. Observing her loneliness, he came up to talk to her. -sophie

I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a long eel on the floor! How did it  get in? How had I not noticed!? – Nikash

(Lost, falling, elephant). Peanuts was walking around one day with his herd when he saw a red marking next to a cliff, and as he walked over, he tripped, sending him down into the ravine. – Matthew

By the way, this exercise can be done with any age group! Because they are coming up with the words and the story, it is easily accessible to all.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide if these responses show that my students are thinking. You know what I am going to say 🙂

The Writing Process: Important? Or Not So Much?

As I mentioned, I am working on project and it has me reflecting on my teaching practice and specifically my writing teaching practice. Hmmm, that seemed like a mouthful…and wrong. But, we soldier on anyway!

See? I think that was part of the writing process in action! I drafted, then I took a second look, and I thought about revising (but I didn’t HAHAHA!). No, I actually didn’t revise that sentence because I am still drafting. I am using this blog as a way to write every day and sometimes I might come back to a topic and sometimes I won’t. But I don’t really have to worry about that until I think I want to publish something and when that happens, I will enlist in the help of an editor (or my sister –I’m looking at you, Amrit; it depends how serious we are here 🙂 )

A small part of each of my classes is dedicated to ideation (a word? not a word? jargon?) and the drafting process, which I think is the most important part of writing. We start every day with two minutes of writing to a particular type of prompt. And, we share a few lines of our thinking. Some have asked me how valuable this is if students are not going to turn those bursts of writing into polished pieces. My answer, and the answer of many out there who teach writing, is this: writing is about communicating ideas, so first students need a space to come up with ideas, without judgment. They need to think and draft and draft and think. Wash, rinse, repeat.

But, how do we come up with ideas? We gotta get creative.

But how do we just become creative all of a sudden? Or what if “creative” is not my department? Well, we practice. Because the days of something not being “my department” are over. We are in a time when everyone needs to know how to be creative. I mean how else are we going to survive for weeks on end confined in our New York City apartments…?!?

Let’s practice. Set a timer for two minutes.

  1. Quickly write down a word that starts with the letter L, a word that starts with the letter F, and a word that starts with the letter E.
  2. Now, draft a quick story that includes all three of those words!

Choose the best line from your story and paste it into the comments below! Tomorrow, I will share some of the lines my students shared from their stories!

xo

Gratitude for the days that DO work

I’m writing again. Well, I’m trying to write again. I wish I had kept it up. I wish I had started when I found out we were going to be doing remote teaching. I should have written every day.

Ok. Now that I have let all of my wisha, coulda, shoulda, wouldas out, I am going to forgive myself for all of those and move on to where we are now. I am working on a new project about writing. So, I am going to start writing 🙂

I am on my seventh week of teaching at home. I will point out the distinction someone made on social media (I need to be better at remembering where I see and read things so that I can credit them…!) many weeks ago: “We are not working or teaching or learning FROM home; we are working or teaching or learning AT home while there is a crazy situation going on.” So, if we are not properly prepared, there is a legitimate reason for it.

Remote teaching was going pretty well for me because I have been lucky enough to have access to computers and tablets and a pretty reliable WIFI connection. However, I would see many of my students jumping in and out of my online classroom because their connections were spotty. And, I would see how hard they would work to try to follow along and keep up with what was happening. I empathized with them because my first week of teaching was like that until our internet service provider upped their game.

But, today, the Google Meet grid view that I had become so reliant on wasn’t working. And I had planned a seminar in groups! I needed to be able to “see” everyone in the group. I started to feel warm and click away feverishly at things on the screen to try to make it work and I was immediately dropped into the shoes of some of my students and it reminded me of why I am so impressed with them everyday. They have been handling technical glitches like this often and they are still coming to class and doing their work.

Today also made me grateful for all of the days in the past weeks that my technology has aided me almost flawlessly. So, today was a day of gratitude. And I am going to focus on finding something to be grateful for every day.

Thanks for reading 🙂

FOMO Lesson Planning

FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out
Millennials know this as the feeling they get seeing something cool posted on a friend’s page that they are not part of;

My four-month-of niece knows this as the crying she does in her crib when she doesn’t want to nap because she knows we are all FaceTiming;

I (and perhaps other non-type-A teachers) know this as the feeling of trepidation I get when starting a new unit and committing to some lessons months before I am going to teach it.

Let me explain.

I used to think I was a terrible teacher because I didn’t have my lessons planned out months in advance, and I would often be planning tomorrow’s lesson the night before and basing it on what happened in class today. And then I had a student teacher who said to me, “Wow, you really use your information from your formative assessments.” Huh? Oh! That’s right! Yes, that’s exactly what I am doing, and I totally planned it that way…haha.

Turns out that using the data you have on how students did with today’s activity or lesson and using it to plan what to do in the classroom tomorrow is exactly what I should have been doing! See, Dad? I told you procrastination would pay off somewhere, somehow 🙂

I did this with the Romeo and Juliet unit when my colleague brought in her Royal Shakespeare Company book of lessons (which I then started calling the big Bible; “Omg, where is the big Bible, I need a lesson for tomorrow!”).

I did this with the poetry anthology project when I solidfied my mini-lesson ideas only after meeting with my beyond-smart friend who teaches AP English in Pennsylvania, 12 hours before my first lesson.

I did this with  when I reached out to one of our diversity coordinators who taught the book last year and begged him to guest teach my class for one period, and he was so amazing that I had ideas for my next four lessons!

My point with this post is what I learned. Sometimes I and we get things done and don’t want to change them because the plan is made. But the best parts of the day, lesson, life could be the very parts we hadn’t over planned. My other point is that it is never too late to change something when you find out something new. If I want my students to go back and change their thesis based on what they actually end up writing, then I have to be willing to do the same thing.

Go ahead, change your plans, do something unexpected, and share on how it goes!

Xo

2014-07-16-procrastinator

Those who can’t do…

…teach, right? I’m sure we have all heard that. But I have found myself DOING more in my role as a teacher than I would have otherwise.

For example, my students are in the middle of what I think is a cool poetry anthology project, and I am writing right alongside with them. The assignment asks them to find five published poems connected to a theme and write a short analysis of each one. Then, they write five original poems that could be but don’t have to be related to their theme (it felt more authentic to let them write about anything since it is our first foray into writing poetry).

Every day or so, I have been introducing a different type of poem and then asking them to write a draft. We recently looked at narrative poetry, and I challenged myself to write one as well (another challenge you say?!) It had to be at least five stanzas, tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and have some sort of rhyme scheme or rhyming pattern. I tried for six-line stanzas, about 10-syllables per line, and rhyming lines 2, 4, 5, and 6 (except for the last stanza when it all comes together).

It’s a draft, but here is what I came up with:

Little Susie Q

Little Susie Q was always a help
bedroom, the kitchen; twas all spick and span
Her sitter would smile, her parents were proud
Be it siblings or friends, she lent a hand
When others thought not, Susie Q said I can!
And she wouldn’t stop, once she began

Fast forward five years, Susie Q is in school
Here’s a book, here’s some paint, leave the math to the boys
That’s too messy, that’s too hard she was told
If that’s not for me, then what was the plan?
Would things be the same if my name was Stan?
But she wouldn’t stop, once she began

Fast forward five years, Susie Q sits in class
She has answers and questions that no one will hear
Here’s a book, here’s some paint, leave the thoughts to the boys
If that’s not for me, then what was the plan?
Would things be the same if my name was Stan?
But she wouldn’t stop, once she began

Fast forward five years, Susie Q sees a need
To rebuild the houses, to land on the moon
Here’s a book, here’s some paint, leave the work to the boys
If that’s not for me, then what was the plan?
Would things be the same if my name was Stan?
But she wouldn’t stop, once she began

Fast forward five years, Suzie Q gets a job
Coffee and filing, taking notes, asking questions
Her boss likes her work, her ideas, and suggestions
So much that he takes them without even a mention
But Susie Q finds her voice and stands up to the man
Because she wouldn’t stop once she began.

xo

 

Feedback and Collaboration

I’m baaaaaaack!!! Well, at least on Tuesdays, at least for now, haha 🙂

The Slice of Life challenge continues on Tuesdays at twowritingteachers.org, and I think I might try to see how long I can keep at it.

My mom and niece left today, and I thought I was going to blog about that, but honestly, every time I try to write about it, I get a lump in my throat and my eyes well with tears. I can’t write about it because I can’t think about it because when I do, I see my mom drinking her warm water first thing in the in the morning on the couch by the window or my niece handing me a deck of cards and asking me to shuffle and deal to play “War,” or the smell of tomatoes and onions cooking off to become a masala, or, ok, see, tears, I have to stop.

So, I will write about how an email this morning from my department chair made my day. I’ll explain.

I am a middle child and thus have always been massively defensive of all of my ideas and stubbornly would die on the mountain for many of them. But at some point, early in my adult life luckily for me, someone told me that being defensive hinders growth and improvement. I wish I could remember who said that to me because I owe them enormous debt and gratitude as it has changed my outlook on feedback at work. I learned how to say, “I don’t know” and “Can you help me figure out how to…?” and it has made me a better teacher.

My chair emailed me to let me know she wanted to stop by my first-period class because she was intrigued by the poetry assignment I had posted on Google Classroom. She watched my lesson on Found Poetry (I had already taught it twice the day before, and it rocked if I do say so myself) and then we chatted about the poetry unit she was teaching in 7th grade.

And then the magic happened. I said, “Laurie, shocker, I haven’t planned out my whole unit yet, and I am looking for some mini-lessons on poetic devices that the students might not be so familiar with (they know things like simile and metaphor), things like assonance and consonance.”

And she said, “Oh, I used to use these two great poems, ‘A Jelly-Fish’ and ‘The Eagle’ for just that purpose.” Boom. Mic drop. Magic. Those poems would achieve just what I was looking for, and all I did was be a little confident in being vulnerable (if that’s a thing if it’s not then I am making it a thing) and ask for help. That’s it. And it was awesome.

Be vulnerable. Ask for help. Share how it goes!

xo and help (haha)

Namaste, Adieu, and Thank You

31 posts
715 views
166 visitors
99 comments
15 followers
11 images
5 poems
1 tribute

I wrote and published every day in March. Phew! I made it! We made it!

My first journalism professor told me “Your mother is the only person who will ever read everything you pen, and that’s if you’re lucky.” She has, and she did.

But I also owe an enormous amount of gratitude to all of my family, friends (and student!), former teachers, and fellow bloggers who read, followed, and commented because when the writing got tough, it was your support that kept me typing.

So, what have I learned? I have learned how to be vulnerable and take risks (poetry!), how to be more observant and more active, how to slow down and appreciate. You have seen slices of my classroom, school field trips, and family visits.

What do I feel? I feel a sense of relief and achievement, and I wonder how I might keep my writing going. I might post once a week, I might write every day for myself, I might use the Five Minute Journal, but whatever I do, I hope to keep up the writing habit so that I am ready for next March!

with heartfelt thanks,
Sharan

The Sounds of the Day

The lull of morning prayers,
“I made some chai if anyone wants it.”
The roar of the subway,
“Christopher Street next stop.”
How far is Masi’s house?
It’s on the next block. But look, this place won Cupcake Wars on the Food Network, should we go in?”
Yes! This is the best cake pop I have ever had!
How many flights are we walking up?
Five. Go ahead of me; I’m slow 🙂
You made it! Hi guys. Where shall we eat?
Horchata, tacos, rice, and beans.
Oh no, it’s raining! I know a place with board games.
Chocolate chip cookie dough, blueberry cheesecake, and chocolate chocolate cupcakes, Sorry, and Connect Four.
Uh oh, I think you have sugar overload; let’s go to the playground and run around.
Swing with me, slide with me, jump with me!
The ping of a text: What time are you guys coming home?
I think it’s time to go.
Masi’s friend is in the village? With a car? We can get a ride home!
The clink of glasses, plates, and flatware.
Mom’s been cooking all day.
Cheers, laughs, slurps.
Who could ask for anything more?

xoxo

Slowing Down

This post will not be news to any of you who are already parents 🙂

I knew my days of getting to places in the nick of time would one day come to an end, and today was the day. Today, I learned what “kid” time was.

We all planned to go to the Museum of Natural History, and I am no early riser, so I figured we would leave around noon and spend a couple of hours there and then grab a bite to eat before heading over to Central Park. My niece was on the same page with me and yet somehow eating breakfast, doing hair, and getting dressed all took until 1:30…! Our 15-minute walk to the subway took 25 minutes because we stopped to look at storefronts and chat. Then two blocks before the museum, we stopped for a chocolate croissant because, well, do you really need a reason to stop for a chocolate anything?

We did finally make it to the museum, checked out a few of the halls, and then headed to an early Italian dinner.

At the end of the day, I laughed to myself and realized that as much as we think we are “in control” of planning things, we are not. We did some of the things we had planned, and some things we hadn’t planned, and, to quote my niece, “it was awesome!”

Shortcuts

If nine-year-old me knew that I would one day crave Indian food and have to have it at least once a week, she would laugh and cry and totally not believe me.

I grew up eating a lot of Indian food, and my mom’s food is delicious, so it set the bar pretty high. When I went away to college and then lived on my own, I quickly realized how most Indian restaurant food just wasn’t going to cut it for me. But, I also wasn’t ready, willing, or able to spend hours in the kitchen, so I ate as much as I could when I went home to visit and then talked my dad into sending me care packages (which, truth be told, that loving, caring man still does to this day!)

Over the years, I did eventually learn to make a few things that I often craved (daal, chana, masala eggplant), but my life changed when my dad called me to let me know that Trader Joe’s Garlic Naan and Palak Paneer were close to Mom’s home cooking! I mean, if it’s Dad-approved, it’s fine by me! And, I do buy it all the time and feel no guilt. But, my mom just shakes her head at it and at most frozen food or prepared foods. Until today.

Yesterday, we went to an Indian grocery store in Edison, NJ and I saw par-cooked roti (tortillas). I felt like I just hit the lottery. Have you ever tried to make 20 perfectly round rotis under pressure? Or not under pressure? Either way, it’s not fun. So any shortcut for those would be sent from above. But, my mom shook her head as if the world was ending the day that ladies stop making fresh bread for the table…

But we had them tonight, and they were AMAZING! Mom couldn’t believe it! They perfectly puffed up and were not full of random ingredients. She was sold. And so was I 🙂 Roti shortcut, here I come!

xo and happy eating

PS In case you are interested, they are made by Phulka Fresh. I am still looking for where I can buy them online!