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...