Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Something old/new/borrowed/blue

The #sunchatbloggers are a loose affiliation of reflective educators and, yesterday, one of them (Marilyn) suggested devoting blog space to musing about the school year's end. I'm going to combine her inspiration with the weekly Two Writing Teachers invitation and one old-saw structure to package four slices in one.

Old - I'm an avid reader who, for a long time, has aimed to champion choice reading with the middle-school students I teach. The recently concluded school year was the second in a row that I made a concerted effort to bolster what I value with time. Students started each class reading something they chose for at least 10 minutes, making for a pleasant soft opening to the period and affording me the chance to check in with a few readers each day. In year-end feedback, many students told me they value this time, too.

New - I took cues from several in my professional learning network and experimented with new grading/feedback dynamics in 2016-17. Rather than following a more conventional rhythm of tests and writing assignments within prescribed units, students continually updated an electronic portfolio in which they justified their mastery of course standards. Students could draw on our work together as proof and also from reading, writing, speaking efforts they made in other classes. My responses involved confirming their mastery evidence, coaching them singly or in groups toward needed next steps, or planning whole-class follow-up when warranted. Grades were derived quarterly from the ratio of standards mastered and confirmed. This likely counted as one of my riskiest endeavors as an educator, and it proved an uncomfortable leap for many--me included! By March, feedback from some students, parents, and the principal necessitated that we navigate back to more familiar ground. That, too, was a new experience.

Borrowed - Students and I cribbed several gamification moves this school year, playing Breakout EDU in actual and digital forms. These days palpably lifted the classroom energy. I appreciate Breakout's open-source ethos that encourages borrowing and fosters creativity.

Blue - I've been fortunate to have my own classroom for the past two-plus years. It's a space with one blue wall, the rest being cream colored. In May, I learned that I will need to vacate the space in 2017-18 to facilitate other needed changes in who works where and why. The upshot is I'll migrate between two rooms (and perhaps one office). Anticipating feeling like an interloper in colleagues' spaces initially made me a little blue. Now, though, I'm starting to see opportunities in the change. The clouds are parting; increasingly, the blue I'm noticing is the open summer sky.


  1. I love the idea of students keeping a portfolio from all classes...but the parent & student feedback is food for thought. I spent a year as a push in writing co-teacher. It was fabulous. I planned with the three classroom teacher and had a desk in one of their rooms. I felt a part of a team, and I knew every kid on the team. I hope your new endeavor is as rewarding.

  2. I love all the risks and leaps you take, all in the name of student centered literacy learning. I'm curious about why you had to shift your grading system. I love how the soft opening started your day. How do you think sharing a classroom will work out? I'm changing my room next year- same room, but getting rid of student desks and my teacher desk. Working towards flexible seating... feels risky but exciting!