Friday, December 13, 2013

Robert Redford Made Me Think

Everywhere I go today my students tell me they are tired of school, there is too much work, they are burned out, they are stressed. I have stopped to help problem solve with some and let others go. The Friday before the last week of a major break is rough in a high school, but it also brings to light why we're all here in the first place: to learn.
In All Is Lost, Robert Redford plays an unnamed sailor, stranded at sea on a badly damaged yacht.
This morning on my way to school I listened to a really great interview with Robert Redford on Fresh Air. In it he discussed how he struggled in college and ended up being asked to leave. He said he moved to Paris to become a visual artist, but what he said afterward is what has stuck with me today, he said, " this is when my education truly began." He discussed how he traveled and experienced the world and different cultures and languages, and that this is what gave him meaning in his life.

The question this left me with is: how do I create lessons, projects, interactions where my students feel this same connection with the world? How do I help them branch out to see the world is worthy of their exploration, if they just give it a chance?

I am working at creating a more authentically connected classroom. It is a learning process. I want them to write and read authentically to create questions they want to answer. I want them to poke and prod and create a place where it is safe for them to do this. Having a connected classroom has helped my  students engage in places outside our walls. I want them to keep going.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What Matters

Today my daughter, Maya, competed in her school's spelling bee. On the way to school, she told me she really wanted to do well. Naturally, I understood, but I asked her why anyway, just to see what she would say. "Well, mom, it would help to prove that I'm a good student."

This made me think, does spelling count any more for our students in their quest for that badge of honor to be a "good student"? This comment caused me to pause, to contemplate, the kind of student I would like my own daughter to become.

"Maya, there are things other than spelling that impress me much more about your ability to learn." She wanted to know more. Of course she did, who do you know who would turn down a compliment? I thought for a moment and told her that her ability to ask questions, and then follow through to try to answer the questions she has is what impresses me most about her. I believe this quality is actually what makes her a strong student.

The next time I look at a student's paper and want to scream because of a misspelling, I will remember this conversation. It is the questioning, the content, that matters most in the scheme of becoming a strong student.

What do you do to help you remember what really matters in your classroom?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Mandela's passing has made me think through my own upbringing and that of the students I teach. I remember when he was freed from prison. The Colorado State Campus was a joyous place that day. Professors cried, people danced, even in little Ft. Collins, Colorado, so far away from South Africa.

Today, I am teaching the book, Malcolm X to my junior and senior level students. We talked about Mandela's life today. My students made the connection between him and Malcolm X like this: if Mandela hadn't been imprisoned, would he too have been assassinated? And if Malcolm X hadn't been assassinated, would he have ended up the same kind of peace maker Mandela turned out to be.

Big questions. Deep thinking. It gives me hope and makes me want to dance and sing.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Core Issue

I had a meeting recently where the coordinator for one of the departments in our school stated outright, "We're not tested on PARCC." Now, I have to admit that I have been working on the Common Core for what's coming up on three years, but I do not know everything about it.

But, my understanding is that we ALL teach literacy in our content areas...we are ALL responsible for what happens when the PARCC exam rolls out next year. While there is not a Social Studies or Science or Art section on the Common Core, aren't we ALL responsible for teaching reading and writing?

Why is this message not getting across to everyone?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

So Sweet

Today I introduced the Malcolm X remix assignment that I designed after doing the Mozilla Webmaker training at NWPs Annual Meeting last week. I was nervous about it because I kept it open ended so my students will have buy in to make it a relevant project for themselves. 

At the end of class a girl walked up to me and said, "did you think of this?" I told her I did. She winked at me and said,"Well, you did a good job on hit his one." 

It made my day! Thanks Mozilla and Laura Hilliger

Monday, December 2, 2013

Sunday Blues

Today is my first day back at work since attending the National Writing Project Annual Meeting and NCTE in Boston. I had so much energy and excitement about the people I was surrounded with and who I met and talked with about the things that really matter in our profession of teaching kids how to read and write. I have felt energized and excited since attending.

That is why I could not figure out last night why I had the Sunday blues so badly. It felt like a heavy load was held over me, the thought of work made me feel tired - like I just couldn't move on. I went to the grocery store and couldn't even motivate for what to cook for the week.

On my drive home the orange-red sunset over the mountains near my house shook me loose. I began to think to myself, "Self, you love your job. You love what you do. This is what you have chosen. This is your place. What's your problem?" And I was right, I do love what I do. I love to see my students learn and ponder and read and write. It's a fun job.

Last week Kathy Collins asked what is coming between me and my students when I confer. I am asking what is coming between me and my students enjoying the creation of learning. Why does it have to feel like drudgery? Why can't we put the fun back in learning? Who says it has to be a slog?

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Yes, I'm in. I want to commit to doing something for the next 50 days, including while I'm on my trip to Europe. I will commit to writing/posting SOMETHING on my blog every day. Now, I must use a caveat here though. While I'm in Europe, I may not have access to wifi each day, but I will post my writings when I can.

I'm excited for this because although I don't do it like I should, writing helps keep me grounded. I plan to write mostly about the new remix project my students are about to embark on. I've never done anything like this. Can't wait to jump in...

Friday, November 29, 2013

Hack, Remix, and Play

Hacking to most people conjures images of people like Andrew Snowden, people working behind closed doors and in secret to find out secrets, or worse yet, to destroy something another has made. And while this is one notion of hacking, there is another that I learned about last week.

This other notion of hacking involves the idea that we can take anything that has been already formulated and change it in order to remix it into something else, either more useful or simply more artistic. There is a whole culture forming softeware and encouraging people to hack, to remix, and to play. 

What's exciting about this maker movement is how energizing it can be to take something that's already wonderful and change it to make it useful for a different user or for a different purpose. 

I was introduced to the Mozilla maker apps this week and I had a blast! What was so fun for me is that I not only got to remix a web site, but I got to glimpse inside some wsites to see just How they are made. Using Mozilla's X Ray Goggles allowed me to glimpse at the blocks that piece websites together, while allowing capabilities to change the site so it doesn't ruin the site. Popcorn Maker allowed me to hack into a site and remix it, teaching me to change it using the same coding language website writers use. It was exhilarating.

It felt like true writing and creativity. It helped me take a look at the website design for how it is put together both technically, but also from an author's craft standpoint. This is the piece that feels exciting for my classroom. It seems a great way to use these tools that allow a glimpse at the coding of pages while also crafting a mode of writing to pull boys into the craft. 

I have struggled to bring boys wh oh I game especially into the craft of writing. I am hoping to take this new knowledge to leverage it for those boys in particular. I am going to hack and remix and play to breathe new life into my school year.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Stop yelling...will you?

It always ends the same. "Mom, it's hard for me to listen to you when you're squawking and yelling at me." Every argument I have with my daughter is the same: I ask her to do something, sometimes there's an eyeroll, I get annoyed because I don't feel like she's taking whatever I ask her to do seriously, then I begin with the lecture. It usually starts something like, "I'm feeling frustrated..." and then we progress from there. I end the argument with, "I'm not yelling; I am talking to you with hopes that something will change."

"But, mom, you ARE yelling."

And...this is the point where we agree to disagree.

But the truth is that I never see myself as yelling. I see myself as lecturing, yes, but yelling? Not so much.

I teach students who struggle with writing and every Friday I go to another teacher's room to do team building. We play games and then we talk about what happened during the game. Man, was I schooled last week.

One of the students pointed out that his team was successful because no one was yelling, people were giving directions, but not yelling. So I asked him the difference. This began a discussion about the way kids view yelling.

Apparently, and I did not know this, yelling is not necessarily just a raising of the voice any more. You see, when I was growing up, yelling was simply raising one's voice. This is no longer the case. Yelling now seems to be telling a person to do something where the person being told does not play a part in the decision-making process. They are simply told to do whatever it is.

Whereas, giving directions implies all of the stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process...or, at least, they feel like they are involved in the process.

This realization I made with this group of students last week has opened my eyes. It has helped me understand my daughter. It has helped me think of her words very differently. All because I took the time to listen.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Girlfriends Guide to...Blogging?

In the months before my daughter was born I read books about infancy until I got freaked out. I read What to Expect When You're Expecting from beginning to end. The Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy was recommended by one of my close girlfriends. I appreciated this book because it told the truth about the process in a humorous way. It made me laugh. But the other books...they just made me freak out. I'm talking about full-blown panic attacks.

This week I went through the same experience...only different. No friends, I didn't have a baby. So before you jump in the car to travel down to your local Babies R'Us hold your keys, put them down, and listen.

My students began their own blogs this week. And it's about time.

Before I started, I began reading advice from other teachers who have their students blog. It completely freaked me out. I almost backed out of the process. So instead of quitting, instead of simply walking away from the project, I went to my girlfriend, my mentor, the computer whiz at our school, Christine, who assured me all would be okay. She agreed to be with me in the birthing room...uh...I mean the computer the students started.

I have to say, much like giving birth, the reward of having my students blog is worth the heartache and fear I felt before. To hear my students walk into class after their first post, to log in to their blogs, and hear them shout out how many readers they've had is worth it's weight in gold. After all, why do we ask kids to write? Is it for a test? No, of course not. It is so they can participate in the conversations of our day. For this, I am excited to see what the birth of new writers will bring.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Not Forgotten

 Today is the one-year  anniversary of the day I found out about the death of one of my favorite students who graduated four years ago. Kenna Egbune was a light in my life. He was a shining beacon of justice and was an advocate for people to treat others more kindly.

In my AP Lang class today we talked about the paradox of cartography: the idea that when maps are created, they are merely a representation of the place; they are not the place itself. In order to create a perfect depiction of a place, one must include each blade of grass, each brick, etc.

The students asked, "What about memories? Aren't memories kind of like that?" I had to think before I answered. I thought of Kenna. The last time we met was for dinner in August 2012  with some other students from his class. He challenged one of the black girls at the table who said she would only date white men. Kenna pointed out to her how she was not comfortable in her own skin, in her own black skin. His directness caught everyone off guard, most of all the friend sitting across from him.

It is this directness, his fearlessness in the face of social justice that I most remember about Kenna. But this memory is not the man. I can remember his essence, his ability to fight for  GLBTQ rights, for people of color, his passion for justice, but this is not the man he was. This is merely the essence of this person who touched me so deeply.

The paradox though, sitting at the table that evening is that this memory, this point in time, will live forever through the people who were sitting with him that night. Kenna made all of us think. Kenna made all of us stop our lives in that moment and  wonder what it might be like if we were all happy in our own skin, what the world might be like.

This was the essence of who Kenna Egbune was. He changed me, and for that I am grateful.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Flood

Flood Damage
Last week in Colorado there was a huge storm that washed away roads and houses and the artifacts of peoples' lives in the course of just a few days. It was monumental and truly a force of nature to be reckoned with. It was shocking to watch. While I have lived in Colorado most of my life, I have never seen anything quite like this disaster that unfolded while I sat helplessly in the comfort of my high-rise condo.

There was one time the Big Thompson up north of Denver flooded all the way from the Continental Divide to Interstate 25 just outside of Longmont. But this flood was mostly due to a dam that broke in Rocky Mountain National Park. Those of us who remember this flood mostly remember it as a piece of Colorado legend, part of the mythology of our state. But this flood was different. This flood hit the entire Front Range north of Denver. While the damage was the worst in the canyons west of Boulder, it was widespread and continued to ooze and grow through the course of last weekend. The water created an oozing rushing brown wave of devastation and destruction in its path.

It washed everything away.

While I definitely don't want to minimize the sense of destruction the victims of this torrent face, the rebuilding effort and the years of memories lost, I would like us to take some time to think about floods in different forms.

Boulder's Four-Mile Canyon
The flood I am thinking about is the one billed as education reform. The flood of information, things to do, and testing in the name of making our education system stronger. Floods wash away everything, the good and the bad. This reform is beginning to do just that: wash away the good teaching along with the bad. Those of us who are committed to creating classrooms of inquiry and exploration are lumped in with those teachers who "drill and kill"- in the eyes of the media we are all the same: we teach for the summer vacation.

Yes. Let's wash this notion away. Let's begin to rebuild in the face of the disaster that has been the reform movement thus far. Let's rebuild a system that works for all kids. Let's rebuild a system for all people who come to the teaching profession wanting to help foster passion towards learning in kids.

Like the Colorado Floods, it will take time. And if we want it done right, we will work together.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


I lay awake in bed last night and thought to myself, "It's too early to be awake at 2 in the morning thinking about school." But there it was, my mental list. The email I needed to send to my colleague who will be teaching the class for below proficient writers for the first time, the lessons I wanted to share on google with my new student teacher, oh and how am I going to make sure she gets assimilated and confident in our went on like that for a good two hours before I finally gave up, and listened to my breath and finally fell back to sleep.

I don't know why I'm surprised. This happens every year. I try to keep it at bay as long as I can. Once I let it in it is like the blob, it overtakes my being with a dark sticky feeling to not let up until the following June. But the stress of the job is nothing compared to the joy I feel each day working with young minds just beginning to think deeply about the world. My to do list is never so long that I can't enjoy my life.

The key for me during the school year is to keep the blob a small tiny ball. I can't feed it. I can't let it animate and come to life. Otherwise, that is what becomes most important, whatever f ends the dark blob.

Sunlight, this year, will prevail and keep the blob at bay.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


I just listened to a discussion with Suzie Boss who wrote  Bringing Innovation to Schools about just that, how do we make our classrooms places for creative innovative thinking? She discusses how she has done some travel writing and how her book reads much as a travel log might read. It makes sense.

Each year we move through the school year as a new and different journey than the year before. If I begin to log it from the beginning I wonder if I might begin to see and help my students experience more opportunities for engagement. I wonder how that one shift might change my own thinking about innovation and what my students need. 

Boss talked about some practical ways to improve the chances for true innovation to occur. One of these very practical ideas is to have students design their ideal learning space. Think about what designs help them learn, what gets in the way of learning, and then trying out their ideas and revisiting them during the year. I love that because it says to kids that we will think through even the little things in this room, and that what you have to say matters.

It reminds me a lot of writing workshop. If we teachers give up just a tiny bit of control, our students will feel like they can actually engage in authentic tasks on a daily basis, It empowers them to think.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Retreating, but not pulling back

This weekend I had the opportunity to travel to New York, not the city, but a little retreat north of the city, to gather with other teachers for the finale eating of our Literacy in the Common Core initiative with the National Writing Project. I was excited to go because I have been on this sometimes-rocky journey with this group of teachers from all over the nation. I wanted a chance to not only finish the work, but to say good bye to these very special people as well.

I worked with a group of six teachers to jury modules that were made by our team. I felt overwhelmed by this task only because I felt I was in the presence of really wonderful and great teachers and I just didn't see how I would be able to make judgements about their work. As the weekend progressed, though, I discovered the process was not, and is not, about judgement, but about helping one another come to a deeper understanding about how to actually implement and pull off the common core in the best way possible.

 The questions that rose the top for me were: how do I create units that are coherent? How do I make certain I put literacy instruction first? And how do I continue to be this thoughtful in my practice even when the school year feels crazy? I want to hold on to the learning I have made and use it to propel myself and my students forward.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Peppy - not preppy

The American pep assembly is a right of passage, an element of high school that builds community and makes a mockery of staff and students alike. They are fun, they are obnoxious, but ultimately they build a common experience in a school of 2700 kids where there are not many common experiences to be had.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Consistency is King

I had back surgery two weeks ago. I have arthritis between my L-5 and S-1 vertabra that was impinging a nerve. The surgeon went in and scraped the arthritis out, took out a piece of bone, and aspirated a cyst that was sitting on the nerve. Sounds awful, right?

Although I was pretty much down for the count for a week, I have made steady progress towards recovery. This progress is due to walking each an every day not matter how I feel, not matter my pain level, walking has been the key.

Yesterday I woke up and felt discouraged because the day before I couldn't walk as well as the previous day and I ached I awoke. Nevertheless, I ventured on my morning walk and continued to feel better as the day wore on. Last evening I was able to take a one-and-a-half hour walk, the longest since my operation. Throughout the day, I thought about what I was able to do a week ago. We walked to a restaurant down the street from my house, and I was barely able to do it. My balance was off, I couldn't quite get the grounding I needed, my knee felt like it was using new muscles, and riding in the car was painful.

Making this realization, I came to see that I have, in fact, made progress towards recovery in the last week. This helped me not feel demoralized or unmotivated to continue; it did just the opposite. It helped me understand that although each step towards recovery is slow, those steps taken together create progress towards healing.

It is the same with education. When students feel discouraged, it is important for them to realized where they were when they started, when they began the journey with me. It can be difficult from day to day to see and feel progress, but when seen over a span of time it is remarkable.

Consistency is what allows this. Doing what needs to be done each and every day to move in the direction of learning, of healing, is the single most effective way to make progress. Consistency is king!

Thursday, April 4, 2013


Can we reform education and not treat all parties with respect? Can we create change while ignoring communities? What can we actually do to make improvement and give our communities what they deserve?

While I believe that we need reform, must we do it in a dehumanizing way? Can we do it through empowerment rather than humiliation?

I don't know the answers, but I do know that creating change through fear is not the answer.

Watch this in light of what is happening in Atlanta.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Humble Pie

This week I went to a tea to honor those of us who won the teacher of the year awards at our schools. There were 34 of us from my district. Each teacher came to the front of the room in order to be recognized, and while awkward to stand in front of my colleagues, it was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.

As my principal told the attributes that got me to that point along with a list of the courses I have taught at my school, I looked around the room. And because the podium was in the middle of the audience, I could see everyone. There were teachers there who represented every part of my career other than the earliest while I was in the Peace Corps and while I lived in Arizona. Each of the people in that audience, I feel, were every bit as worthy of the award as I, if not more so. Each of them smiled at me as I stood there, some of them waved, and one even put her hands to her heart as if to tell me she appreciated me.

In education there are few times we get shown deep appreciation for what we do. Yes, we see our students grow. Yes, we sometimes hear a thank you from a parent, but it is rare to feel such deep understanding and appreciation for what we do in that room filled with 30-ish teens on a daily basis.

And then to hear what other principals said about the teachers they nominated created a whole new level of humble pie for me to take in and ingest. To be considered in the same class as some of the teachers acknowledged at this ceremony was astounding, and I am not certain yet whether I really am deserving of such a distinction.

I know I love what I do. I know I try my hardest every day to reach every kid who walks through the threshold of my four (yes, four) classrooms. Beyond that, I am not sure how I stack up.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


We all like to be recognized for our efforts. Students, we think, earn their recognition through grades. When students earn high marks, we adults think they are receiving the recognition they need to continue to stay motivated.

This year our school started the Cougar of Character program where students get recognized for being "caught doing good." I figured we, the staff, would fill out the card and the students would eventually receive them.

That's why last Friday I was completely surprised when the principal if our school came into my classroom: not to observe, not to discipline a student. She came in to celebrate the good deeds one of my students committed.

She called my student up to the front and read to the class what one of the staff members at school wrote  about her. In this particular instance, this student works with underclassmen with our Link Crew working with the incoming ninth grade night- an evening where eighth graders and their families come to hear about our programming, get tours of the school, and visit with different clubs. It is students who volunteer for events like this that make then successful  - middle schoolers don't get excited by adults talking at them - they want to hear what other kids have to say.

Standing at the front of the class, this student couldn't help but smile, couldn't help but beam -  and on the journey back to her desk, everyone wanted to see the card she got - the fancy one that would go on the refrigerator, so she made sure everyone got to see it from their seats.

One student said, "That would look GRRREAT on my bulletin board!"

Another kiddo yelled out, "The car keys would be mine for the weekend with one of those on my fridge."

This all took place in my AP class  with kids who are driven by high grades which clearly has worked for them. But they want more - they want to be noticed for the deeds they do and accomplish outside the classroom as well - they, like all of us, simply want to be noticed.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Heart in Hand

Every year for Valentine's Day our student council puts every student's name on a big red heart and they stick them on the banisters around our school. I love this tradition because whether or not you have your own special Valentine doesn't mean that you won't get one.

Each year upon entering school on  Valentine's Day, students gather in the hallways, around the banisters to find their heart. Once they find it, they take it and decide what to do with it. Some stick it on their lockers while others take them and have their friends write some nice little note about how great they think they are. One would think this whole routine could be disastrous for some students, but surprisingly I have never heard of students bullied with their hearts as fodder.

The teachers in  our school have pink hearts made and these hearts outline our main office. There are some students who go to great lengths to get their teacher's heart to bring it to them. Each student who does this holds the teacher's heart in both hands, smiles as they give it to the teacher, and the teacher is ALWAYS surprised and elated that some student thought of them on this day we show others we care.

I hold my students' hearts in my hand every day. I write on their hearts my comments for growth. I smile my comments in class each day we are together. It is my hope that I too, hold their hearts with both hands as I hand them back to my students.

A Drop in the Bucket

Some days the kids I teach are with me, and some days....well, let's just say they're not. Yesterday was one of those days. I walked into the AVID class I teach, the senior-level course geared towards first-generation college goers in order to help them matriculate through a four year university system. Yah, that one.

I walked into class excited because their FAFSA form was due, that Wiley little bugger that allows most financial aid to come their way, and I could  taste the progress about to be made that would continue to pave their lives towards their future.

Upon opening the door, I had three students who, before saying "Hi Mrs, Robbins, how is your day?" Or even before a simple, "Hello Mrs. Robbins," they blurted "I don't have my FAFSA form!!" Point-blank range, no warning, just blurted it out, all three one after the other in rapid fire.

Here's the thing: since these kiddos were freshmen I have told them I don't want to hear about their problems, I want to hear how they will solve it. Most of the time these students get this and work to resolve whatever issue they have in order to move forward, but not yesterday.

Needless to say, I kind of lost my cool and here's why. I have high hopes for my students. There are kids in this class who want to be doctors, some who want to be lawyers, a couple who want to be teachers, and some who would like to go into business. We have worked hard the last three years to understand that with lofty goals, comes a lot of work with great payout.

My students forget from time to time that piece of the puzzle about hard work. They forget that hard work is not about one big push and then you're done. I wonder if they realize that hard work is what we continually sustain on a daily basis.

Hard work is created by those small things we do every day. All those moments when we would like to vegetate in front of the TV and we choose not to. All those times when we want to sit and just hang out with friends, but we don't. Sometimes we sit in the doctor's office (as I am now) and we want to look at trashy magazines, but we don't. It is these every day decisions that constitute hard work, never letting go of our goals, never letting in to our id, that piece of our ego that tells us our effort is a waste.

I tell my daughter that every day is an interview, that we never know how someone may perceive us may affect our future. This above all else, is what I want my AVID students to take away from their time with me. Life is not a dress rehearsal, it is always on, it is always real, and most of the time whether we know it or not, there is always a audience watching.

Tomorrow is a new day. We will begin our class new and fresh and I know I, for one, will be ready for curtain call.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Last week I had a couple of conversations with teachers that made me think that we, teachers, are looking for places of energy, places where we can converge, share, and then take that energy into our world, our classrooms.

The first was with two women who I am working with in a book study group. One is a science teacher and the other a social studies teacher working with a group called the DBQ Project. Our charge is to read and study about text complexity, but our discussion was so much more than that.

We moved from text complexity to Common Core to history vs. social studies to frustrations about how teachers seem to have less and less of a voice in education and we finally landed on a discussion about how teachers in content areas HAVE to teach their students to write and read their content because it's so specific to the discipline. I left this meeting excited for the future education holds. I left feeling like I could work authentically with people around issues we care about: that students can write effectively in our respective content areas.

The other synergistic conversation actually occurred at the gym where I work out with a teacher who teaches English in middle school. We each have been given an iPad to use in the classroom and share problems, frustrations, but mostly our successes in our classrooms. Every time I talk with this person, I feel energized and I feel like we are making a difference.

You see the thing in education is that we have felt so much control taken out of the profession and given to legislatures that these little conversations are not only inspiring, but they are essential to our careers, essential to the synergistic education of our children. How else do we create excitement around learning than for those who educate to be excited about it?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Testing Out

Today is the day I handed back the bad news to my Writing Lab students. Writing Lab is a class I created with some colleagues for students who are below proficient in writing as indicated by both the Explore/PLAN test and our state testing, now called T-CAP. Students are placed into the class based on their test scores, nothing else.

Many students on their first day do not understand why they are in the class. They believe they are doing just fine. They believe they are making it in high school. They believe their writing is good enough. Needless to say, we spend the first week of the class simply looking at test scores, thinking about goals, and finally writing the pretest. The pretest is the indicator we use to determine if students will "test out" of the course.

We decided three years ago we would have students write an writing autobiography which allows us not only to assess their writing, but also allows us to figure out where their breakdown occurred. It is actually a powerful assessment tool which cuts to the chase with most of my students.

I handed these back today scored on the MWIP, the awesome rubric that breaks down writing into its most basic gradable components our district created for interventions in writing. I am sad to say that none of my students tested out. But...they did have the highest scores they have ever had on the assessment.

Each time I hand back this reassessment, I must remember how my students are much more fragile than any of them let on. Disappointment...anger...frustration are all emotions which run through the room on this day. Today though something different happened, my students did not turn this on to me. One of my students instead said, "It's okay miss; it's not about you. I'm disappointed in  myself."

...and so our work began.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Success is Real

My AVID class is designed to teach students who test in the middle, who need a push, to get into and matriculate through the university system. This is the last year for my students, I have had them all four years through what is now their senior year.

Part of the curriculum of this class is conducting tutorials; we even have professional tutors who come in to help. Some if my students, though, have practiced the art of tutorials since they were in sixth grade. Yes, you heard that correctly SIX years of tutorials. They have begged and pleaded for something new, and I have to admit that I was reluctant to even broach this topic with my students. 

But the more I read and the more I talk to students who are currently in college, the more I realize we need to make a change. Today I had my students read a study that a researcher at Berkeley conducted to try to figure out why students of color have little success in upper division math classes. He wanted to figure out what would help African American students be more successful, so he began to study the concept of study groups and how these eventually helped his students become successful.

After reading this study, we conducted a Socratic Seminar about the ideas presented and then turned to what my students feel they might need in senior study groups as they begin their transition towards college. 

Here's the punch line: their decisions around what they most need to creat a successful study group are EXACTLY the same as their tutorial forms they have been given since early middle school.

To say I have fought them in the validity of tutorials is a euphemism. After four years of explaining, cajoling, and testifying the benefits of tutorials, my students have FINALLY realized the validity of their time well spent.

It was a happy day, indeed.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

My Adventures in Teaching

I have decided to begin a blog about my teaching experience. It's about time, I say. Each day in my classroom tiny miracles happen. It is time to share those small changes in thoughts, beliefs, and capabilities.

It is time to put these shifts into the world. For those of you who are teachers, you know exactly what I mean. And for those of you who are not teachers, please, I hope you learn something about the inner workings of classrooms, schools, and this one teacher's mind.

It is my hope, in this era of Common Core Standards, testing, and pay for performance, some insights might be gained: both from myself, but also from those with whom I come into contact.

This blog will be my thoughts about education from my own perspective and from the lens of my own classroom.