Monday, August 24, 2009

Summer as Prewriting

This week President Barack Obama is starting his family vacation in Martha's Vineyard, just a week after we finished our own little family vacation on the Cape. And, while it was pretty impressive to see the Secret Service helicopters cruising down Route 28, it made me imagine that just like us teachers, the President is never really "on vacation." If you're the one of the most powerful leaders in the world, can you seriously take a break and tune out? I know that when I'm away from my classroom, I never really stop thinking about it. I can only imagine what it's like for the President.

As always, this summer for me has been about thinking, planning, and brainstorming -- even though some would say that I've just been on vacation. Just like we tell our students to make time to activate their thinking before a project or a writing, we teachers need to set aside time to assess the previous year and contemplate how to adjust for the upcoming year. It's an ongoing process, but one that is necessary to improve our instruction.

Aside from reading a whole bunch of YA novels, attending a training or two, keeping up with my PLN, reading a lot of professional articles and blogs, and crunching some student data, here are five things I've been thinking about this summer:

Using Student Blogging as a Regular Activity -- One theme that will be guiding much of the work in our building this year is to help students reach an audience greater than themselves. Blogging seems like a natural path to this end. Allowing students to write for each other and for people outside of their classroom community seems much more important and authentic than just writing for me or for themselves. My concern is how to manage and provide guidance and feedback for 100 student blogs. I'd like to think it's no different from a stack of papers, but I know differently.

Getting Students to Read More -- It's been a long time coming, but I'm finally getting around to losing the idea that I have to direct everything that students read in class. Giving students choices and helping them make informed decisions about what they read seems a lot more appealing lately. Ultimately, this is about differentiating instruction to meet each student's individual needs, but the reality is that I need to read a whole lot more in order to be a more effective guide to learning.

Helping Other Content Area Teachers Incorporate More Writing Activities and Projects -- It drives me crazy when a student's writing in my class looks vastly different than in someone else's class. We should all be on the same page -- teachers and students included. A student shouldn't expect to write differently in a science class, and a science teacher shouldn't accept lower standards. "This isn't English" and "I'm not a writing teacher" aren't excuses.

Working With Half the Time -- This year will be the first time in eight years that I won't be teaching a double block. I admit it will be quite a challenge to work in just 50 minutes, and I'm a little worried that I'll lose a lot of that one-to-one time that I have with individual students and groups during an activity. And, what about that buffer time to troubleshoot when technology goes awry...

Empowering Students -- I've never been one for doling out classroom "jobs," but I'm thinking that this year will be different. I've read a lot about using social media to open up the classroom to the outside world this summer, and I think that there is a lot of great learning potential there. So, my "baby step" into this is to develop at least two classroom jobs. One student will be the classroom blogger, who will summarize the day's lesson and post it to the classroom blog. The other job will be a classroom microblogger, who will be responsible for posting live updates of the class to Twitter. With hope, these will take off and provide students, parents, and other teachers, additional resources to their learning.

Of course, these are only a few of the things that are swirling around in my head right now. Still, they are the ones that are rising to prominence. And, like any good prewriting session, I know that the next step, the first draft, means to jump in and get messy. Throughout the year I'll continue to revise and edit, and in June I'm sure I'll have a more perfect draft.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steve,
    I'm having my 4th graders blog too. Maybe your students can come and give my kids some tips.