Tag Archives: Teaching-General

Tom Newkirk on Internalizing the “We Can do This” Voice

Book_Product photoNo one escapes embarrassment. Both students and teachers face it every day in school and its influence affects our willingness to take risks. How might our fear of failure, of not living up to expectations, be holding us back?  How can our fear of embarrassment affect how we learn, how we teach, and how we live?

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The Importance of Choosing the Right Book: Lucy Calkins Discusses the Classroom Libraries

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Lucy Calkins recently sat down to discuss the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s groundbreaking Classroom Libraries for grades K-8. Throughout this three-blog series, Lucy answers your most frequently asked questions about the TCRWP Classroom Libraries. In the following video Lucy talks about "What Inspired the TCRWP Classroom Libraries project?"  where she asserts that she and her TCRWP colleagues began the project with the conviction that,  “the particular book matters.” In other words, children are drawn to read more when they are enjoying the particular book they’re reading.

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The Challenges of Teaching Middle Schoolers

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Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts and Minds with Inquiry is a new book from Harvey “Smokey” Daniels (@smokeylit) and Sara Ahmed (@SaraKAhmed). Upstanders invites you into the classroom of Sara Ahmed to see her teaching in action. With Smokey Daniels as your guide you'll see exactly how Sara uses inquiry to turn required middle school curricular topics into questions so fascinating that young adolescents can't resist investigating them. In our Upstanders blog series, Sara and Smokey will highlight topics in the book related to middle school and helping kids go from bystanders to Upstanders.  This week, Sara and Smokey write about some of the challenges of teaching middle schoolers. 

The Teacher

Adapted from "Upstanders" by Sara K. Ahmed and Harvey “Smokey” Daniels

SMOKEY: If you mention to everyday civilians that you teach middle school, they usually express some kind of discomfort: they roll their eyes, shake their heads, offer condolences, or say things like, “Wow, that must be a rough job” or “You’re lucky you didn’t have me in your class, I was such a pain in the ass in middle school.” Sometimes they express gratitude, as if you were a first responder to the “hurricane of hormones” that middle schools are supposed to be. Sometimes they say, “Well, I certainly could never handle those kids.” And you think, right, you probably couldn’t.

SARA: The responses I get range from amusing (horrifying) personal stories about the “worst years of my life” to condolences (“God, I hated middle school, I’m sorry”). It’s always a wonder to me that people feel so bad about their early adolescence. My first response to these confessions is generally an awkward laugh, but I always try to pacify or sugarcoat their memories. I reassure them that I actually love middle schoolers and they are a really fun group of humans to learn alongside. It’s as though I need to convince people that adolescents are also real human beings, with normal feelings, who are trying to find a comfortable zone within their identity, just like everyone else. And really, they are funny, funnier—than any adult I’ve met.

SMOKEY: And that’s a serious point. I’ve had some colleagues who were angry at the kids a lot of the time, mostly for stuff that just comes with the territory, y’know? If these kids don’t amuse you, if you aren’t laughing with them a fair amount of the time, you might be working at the wrong grade level. We love these kids the way the youngest part of them needs us to.

SARA: If we practice a habit of perspective, we can try to understand why people respond so strongly to this age level. Sixth graders can enter your room at nine, ten, or eleven. They leave the middle school environment when they are fourteen or nearly there. The social, emotional, physical, and cognitive growth is rapid and ethereal. This can cause turbulence for parents and teachers, but mostly the middle schoolers themselves. Any and all relationships can be challenged during these years: parent vs. child, teacher vs. child, coach vs. child, peer vs. peer. There is no magic wand to fix this, no blog that has the right advice and tools. There is only compassion and empathy, and definitely, a good sense of humor.

Click here to learn more about Upstanders.

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Sara K. Ahmed has taught in urban, suburban, public, independent, and international schools. Harvey "Smokey" Daniels has been a city and suburban classroom teacher and college professor, and now works as a national consultant and author on literacy education.

Upstanders: What to Share with Your Students

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Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts and Minds with Inquiry is a new book from Harvey “Smokey” Daniels (@smokeylit) and Sara Ahmed (@SaraKAhmed). Upstanders invites you into the classroom of Sara Ahmed to see her teaching in action. With Smokey Daniels as your guide you'll see exactly how Sara uses inquiry to turn required middle school curricular topics into questions so fascinating that young adolescents can't resist investigating them. In our Upstanders blog series, Sara and Smokey will highlight topics in the book related to middle school and helping kids go from bystanders to upstanders. In this blog, Sara looks at what to share and what not to share with students. 

Identity Webs

by Harvey “Smokey” Daniels and Sara K. Ahmed

While there is merit to establishing a positive and respectful rapport with your students from the get-go, I always lean toward mutual respect and letting them know you are also a human being who doesn’t sleep under her desk at night. In his infinite wisdom, Donald Graves reminds us to always know our students in facts and actions; to really know who they are before we can teach them (1983). There should be an expectation that we are sharing our lives with the students the same way we are asking them to share their lives with us. We do this by sharing our reading lives and our writing lives in workshop lessons and book talks, and in those first weeks when we ask them to create “Me” projects that share pieces of their identity.

I introduce identity webs and create my own in front of the kids the first day or two of school. I talk about why I have National Geographic, Time for Kids, and Sports Illustrated for Kids bursting out of the baskets in the classroom. I am a reader, I love to travel, and I love sports. I notice what the kids are wearing and find ways to connect with them via jerseys or shoes, or by offering validation for a fashion risk they decided to take. There are some personality and style liberties that I take as well. I am a sports fanatic, I love fashion, and I would rather read YA and watch YA television and movies than anything else. My family and friends will tell you that I also have YA eating habits. I share these things in snippets and I ask questions to empower kids to reciprocate. I share how important my relationships with my family and friends in Chicago are to me. I have already lived middle school and I don’t plan on living vicariously through them, but I often talk about my middle school experience when it is appropriate. My favorite thing to tell is that my best girlfriends today became my best girlfriends when I was eleven, in middle school.

There is a balance between overexposure and opening a window into who you are.

I reveal personal information when it makes sense to strengthen a rapport or extend an olive branch, or if the kids simply ask. There is a balance between overexposure and opening a window into who you are. I work to find that place each day, a place where I gain a piece of them, and they have a takeaway of me. I am approachable, open, and friendly, but not their friend. Walking this fine line appropriately makes me available to them as a teacher, but also as an adult they can connect with on any given day. Being able to recommend great books or magazine and newspaper articles on the things we love in common is a plus.

Things I don’t share include any love stories, from middle school to present day, and in turn, I don’t ask about their budding romances either. And if they ask me for love advice, I let them know I have a little schema about this, but I don’t go any further than asking, “Well, would you rather continue talking to them and be friends, or say you are ‘going out’ and then pretend to ignore each other and act super weird when you are in the same room?” The kids laugh, but I have seen more teddy bears thrown in the garbage on Valentine’s Day than Gund would care to know about.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Sara K. Ahmed has taught in urban, suburban, public, independent, and international schools. Harvey "Smokey" Daniels has been a city and suburban classroom teacher and college professor, and now works as a national consultant and author on literacy education. 

Upstanders: Modeling Your Own Inquiry

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Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts and Minds with Inquiry is a new book from Harvey “Smokey” Daniels (@smokeylit) and Sara Ahmed (@SaraKAhmed). Upstanders invites you into the classroom of Sara Ahmed to see her teaching in action. With Smokey Daniels as your guide you'll see exactly how Sara uses inquiry to turn required middle school curricular topics into questions so fascinating that young adolescents can't resist investigating them. In our Upstanders blog series, Sara and Smokey will highlight topics in the book related to middle school and helping kids go from bystanders to upstanders. In this blog, Sara explains how sharing parts of your own life with kids creates a comfortable space where they can ask their own questions.

Yourself as a Learner

by Sara K. Ahmed

When I was fifteen, I sat through driver’s ed class and listened as my teacher, Coach D, gave us the Rules of the Road lecture each day. At this stage, we were the information receivers; we complied, skimmed and scanned for answers to literal questions, and filled in bubbles and blanks. We were able to retell the steps to changing lanes, backing around corners, and parking up a hill. As the class moved from classroom learning to on-the-road practice, we were able to sit in a real car and begin to merge our thinking with content by reacting to a re-created road route with real cones, railroad crossing signs, and plastic cutouts of families heading to school in a crosswalk. We could visualize and begin to infer the real road and start to acquire knowledge and see why things matter. We could learn, understand, and remember facts in this stage of the class.

Later, when my father took me out to practice, I felt the real learning begin. He would remind me of the literal information I needed to remember and check for some understanding, but he would really act as facilitator. He had been modeling driving for me since I was a little kid, of course, but now I looked at his driving much more intently. I watched his hands on the wheel and his feet on the pedals, I peeked at the speedometer, and I watched where his eyes went as he made decisions.

When I took the wheel, he was patient. He allowed me to make mistakes in a safe place, provided options for me to make choices (“You can try using the side mirrors for reversing as well”), questioned some of the decisions I made to push my thinking (“Why are you going over the speed limit?”), and let go of the control he naturally would have as a parent and driver (“Just think to yourself about that”). He allowed me to actively use knowledge that I had about the rules of the road and apply them in a real-life, everyday setting. He was the best teacher I could have asked for as I sprinted to the DMV the morning of my sixteenth birthday with confidence. I passed with ease, having my father’s voice in my head the entire time. He showed me. We did it together. Then I did it on my own.

As teachers, we have to model our own inquiry each day of our learning lives.

From our early days as learners, we wonder, we view, we learn to read, we wonder some more, read for answers, and ask questions. We expose ourselves to print and cultural information every day, and ask ever deeper and harder questions of the world. This does not cease as adults. As teachers, we have to model our own inquiry each day of our learning lives. We have to share, in a natural way, what we care about and why we care about it as curious, informed, and vigilant citizens in the community.

This is how we get our students ready for the driver’s seat. Sharing your curious life with kids opens for them a comfortable space where they can ask their own questions and feel safe about not knowing everything (for even the most precocious of kiddos). It also leads to a tremendous rapport with the students. When they know of your investigative passions, it opens up doors for them to connect with you and each other. It also demystifies you a bit as a teacher, and makes you more human to them. We want this to happen in its most organic, natural way.

What we said earlier about having your students know a little piece of who you are applies to your intellectual life as well. One of my favorite professional development moments was at an in-house session my first year at Burley. Michele Timble, a great mentor and friend of mine, stood up and shared what was on her “nightstand”: a YA novel she was reading along with a novel her sister, Debbie, recommended to her, a couple of professional texts to read over the summer, and an Us Weekly magazine. She quickly quipped about her personal life’s connection to each text. I was in love, not only with Michele, but with the way this immediately opened up her life to us a reader, a teacher, and a human being. In that very short lesson, she modeled being a learner, a mother, a sister, and someone who appreciates mindless news just as much as me. She was disarming and sincere, and gave us all the confidence to then turn to each other and do the same. And I still can’t cancel my subscriptions to mindless magazines to this day. Thanks, Michele.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Sara K. Ahmed has taught in urban, suburban, public, independent, and international schools. Harvey "Smokey" Daniels has been a city and suburban classroom teacher and college professor, and now works as a national consultant and author on literacy education. 

Writing Workshop: One District’s Journey

Writing workshop can seem a big mountain to climb when you’re just getting started. But in thousands of districts around the country, dedicated educators and instructional leaders just like you are making it happen—one step at a time. Jessie Miller is one such leader. Throughout her career as an educator, she’s been a strong believer in the power of effective writing instruction and the impact it can have on student achievement.

When Jessie became the curriculum coordinator for elementary English language arts and social studies for the Katy Independent School District, in Texas, writing instruction was one of the first areas she looked at—and she wasn’t satisfied with what she saw. Jessie observed that teachers were assigning writing, but they weren’t teaching writing. Now, after three years of hard work and intensive collaboration, she and her teachers have developed a district-wide focus on writing instruction that has been transformative for both teachers and students.

 Lucy Calkins and her colleagues at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project have worked with hundreds of thousands of educators over the years, providing research, curriculum, and professional development to support teachers as they help their students become avid and skilled readers, writers, and inquirers. The deep reservoir of knowledge and experience that Lucy and her colleagues bring to their work has made daunting goals achievable in school districts all over the world. Granted, the process is not easy, but with the right mindset, support, and tools, they have shown again and again that it can be done.