Archive for the ‘Ramblings’ Category

Nonfiction Notions

I love reading literature! I love to teach literature, and writing narratives, and writing about our reading! I sometimes miss how much simpler my life was when my focus was entirely on history, but I would not trade the last six years of teaching an integrated class for anything. Language, and how we acquire it, grow in it, become skillful in it is both a fascinating puzzle and a real responsibility because reading and writing are as important to our students’ development as breath.

I do not love reading informational text. Given the choice between a biography and a novel, I will choose the novel. Every. Single. Time. We are all asked to teach things we don’t love though, for the betterment of our students. When I am faced with teaching something I am not naturally passionate about, I challenge myself to find the passion. I firmly believe that passion is necessary for teaching because it is hard to convince your students to care about a subject or skill if you don’t.

The first thing I do in this case is challenge my assumption about the topic. Do I really not love it? I say I don’t love informational text, but I do love my new InstantPot, and I’ve spent hours researching recipes, watching YouTube videos, and troubleshooting dishes.  I say I don’t love informational text, but I watch the news every night, and read articles from the paper and magazines about things happening in the world. I say I don’t love informational text, but I love reading books and blogs about teaching – researching strategies and testing them out to see if they work for my students and myself. Hmmmm.

If I were honest, I’d say I probably spend half of my reading time as an adult consuming informational text and enjoying it. So why am I convinced I don’t love it? Maybe what I really don’t love is inauthentic informational text. “Test prep” informational text. Keeping the definition to just text, when in reality we receive information from multimedia sources as well. Reading informational text not to solve a problem, to answer a question, or  to make a decision, but just to check off the requirement. There must be purpose for passion.


Once I have challenged my assumptions, I read, read, read. I’m reading an amazing book, Reading Nonfiction by Kylene Beers





Is a “classroom theme” a strategy?

I never really thought much about my classroom.

I work at what is now and intermediate school (5-8) and what used to be a middle school (6-8). We took the “high school” approach to our rooms. Set them up so that they are usable, relatively neat and organized. Make things cheery with a few posters and places for student work, and get on with the business of teaching.

Last year, when it was decided to add on the fifth grade, my administration decided we were going to have a theme. “A what?”, the faculty asked. Fifth and sixth would be “Dive into Learning” and seventh and eighth would be “Discover your treasure.” We were encourage to embrace the beach/ocean theme and that each room would have a reading corner.

Several of us went on a field trip to see a school of older children who had done this. Lots of pictures were taken and passed around. Then the strangest thing happenned . . .

People started to get excited about the idea. Suddenly, we were passing on “finds” to whoever would listen. “Hey, did you see those great chairs at Big Lots?” “The Dollar Tree has the cutest cut-outs, you should go check it out”. The laminator at the end of the school year was working overtime.

I have never worked so hard on what my room looked like in my teaching career. It also made me think through my organization, because after all that I didn’t want my room to get “junky”. You should see the school – it looks amazing. I’m not certain that this is really a “teaching strategy”, but it seems to have slowly spread and created a buzz, an energy if you will among the staff. We recently had open house and the parents and students were pleased and excited about their learning environment.

Will my students notice all the extra effort and thought that went into everything. Probably not – they are 10 and 11 years old. I expect that they’ll think it looks “cool” but other than that won’t give it much thought. However, when I walk into my room, I smile to see it. I can’t help but think that will positively impact my attitude as the year goes on, making me a better teacher for my students.

We already know more than we do.

I’m starting this blog to document and reflect on strategies I have used in my social studies classes. I would like this to eventually become a repository of ideas I’ve tried/would like to try/to get feedback on from other educators.

I went to a wonderful seminar this last summer where a statement has stayed with me. A presenter made the statement “We already know more than we do (i.e. actually put into practice).”

I think its true, at least in my case. So many strategies, so many ideas, so little time for reflection. My commitment to myself and my practice this year is to reflect. I want to re-examine and re-vamp my classroom.

I want to take my “golden oldies” as well as newer ideas including Web 2.0 tools and create a harmonious blend that will take my students further than I’ve been able to take them before.