Monday, February 18, 2013

An Ode to Post-It Notes

Blank page with a flashing cursor. Wavering thoughts. Incomplete ideas. Unfinished sentences. Plummeting motivation.

A good old case of writer’s block.

Luckily, I was in good company and my friend whipped a book out of her bag: Reviving the Essay: How to Teach Structure without Formula by Gretchen Bernabei (it’s pretty awesome, I have the urge to “forget” to give it back to her). Though my friend was just sharing her excitement that the book finally arrived despite Nemo’s interruptions, I eagerly flipped through the pages for some inspiration. I had lots of ideas floating around about my week of student teaching, but was struggling to put it together in a fun, coherent way. I wanted to talk about how I’ve been using Post-It notes in my class, but that seemed like a terribly boring idea. As I scanned the pages of the book, though, I found a lesson called, “Evolution of a Term” where you write about how a particular word’s meaning has changed to you when you were 4, 10, what it means to you now, and what it might mean in the future. Well, I honestly can’t remember what I did with Post-It notes when I was 4 or 10, so I slept on it and awoke with the solution:
An Ode to Post-It Notes

O Post-It note,
sticky and yellow and square;
I’ve proclaimed to my students
just how much for you I care.
In the old days,
before Miss Richer became my name,
your purpose always was for me
eternally the same:
lists to myself of homework
that soon was to be due.
But now, with my teacher hat,
your function? Unlimited and new!
You mark evidence of power struggles
found in children’s books.
Students write on you what they just learned,
so I can see how their worlds have shook.
They provide explanations
of their thinking on a topic,
specifically Obama’s inaugural address
in which he appealed to credibility, emotion, and logic.
On you I write notes
of jokes I want to share.
“Miss, you’re so corny!”
they roll their eyes and declare.

I really wouldn’t have it
any other way.
Post-It note, O Post-It note,
you really make my day.
You help me through my lessons
“Thanks a lot,” I sincerely say.


My experience in writing this post is making me wonder how my own students handle their writer’s block. They’ll be composing their own essays and short stories soon, so I think this is important to consider. In high school, before I knew about Bernabei, Gallagher, and “I Do, We Do, You Do,” I would find models for myself to get my writing started. I might find a quote that related to the topic or follow the structure of a poem I had recently read. Those were my strategies. What do they do? Is their strategy to give up? To seek help? If they seek help, is it from Ask Jeeves or a trusted friend? How can my instruction prepare my students to be independent writers and thinkers? How can I help them transfer their non-academic problem solving techniques to their academic work and vice-versa? Maybe a Post-It note response is in order…

Saturday, February 9, 2013


This week my 10th graders were preparing to give their presentations of their critical readings of children’s books. They have been using critical lenses to analyze other texts like Toy Story and an episode of Glee where Ms. M did a lot of modeling and thinking aloud, but with the gradual release of responsibility, it was time for the students to work in groups of their own choosing (according to the books they wanted to analyze) and consult one another (rather than me) to make meaning of the text. As I took a few minutes to sit down with each group, I quickly noticed their engagement and depth of thinking in the process. They were crafting strong thesis statements and finding evidence to support their reading. My role was to push them further and make sure they were ready to present.
Since Ms. M and I had done this same lesson with the 11th graders the week before, I knew that I wanted to set clearer expectations for the presentations. Though we had discussed the rubric and talked about presenting something the audience would want to pay attention to, the groups struggled to create an engaging hook. When they got to the front of the room, they said their names, the title of their book, mentioned the author, and began their summaries. Despite our best efforts to tell them what an engaging hook might be, they weren’t able to internalize it. They had no models. With the 10th graders, however, my very first lesson was all about different introduction strategies (using a question, quotation, statement, description, etc.). Though this lesson was to help them write essays, I was able to remind them of the strategies and they more easily transferred the skill.

One group joked that they should ask a question and have their classmates raise their hands to agree or disagree, thinking it was an outlandish idea.
I told them to go for it.

And they did.
              The class was hooked.
This second time around I also wanted to push the students to show, not just tell, their evidence to the class. To my dismay, only one of the 11th grade groups pointed to specific pages in the book that supported their thesis (again, probably because I didn’t make this expectation clear enough). I realized this was something I wanted all the groups to do, so Ms. M suggested that I give the 10th graders sticky notes to mark the pages that they will show during their presentations. This suggestion has worked like magic.
Yellow sticky notes protrude from the edges of the books.

                Groups whiz gracefully through their presentations.
                                Far less fumbling with papers and fewer looks of befuddlement.

It’s one thing to know what you expect of your students. It’s one thing to tell them what you expect. And it’s another thing to have clear, high expectations and provide models and scaffolding to help students exceed those expectations.  Here’s to models, scaffolding, and good old “I do, we do, you do.”

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Choosing the Road to Awesome

A blog post about Student Teaching Week 2, inspired by quotes from #kidpresident. I’m obsessed. Watch the video here:

 “The world needs you to stop being boring.”

Over the last two weeks, I have noticed how Ms. M begins her classes by being the most enthusiastic, energetic person in the room. She dances at the doorway and sings her greetings. The stubborn students roll their eyes and call her corny as they settle in at their seats, but by the end of the period they are all usually bubbling over with their renewed excitement (or at least a smile on their faces). Her lessons typically involve some time for quiet reflection, some time to talk with friends close by, and some time to share aloud with the whole class. This has helped to build community and has made transitioning much easier because we have similar ideas about what a high school English class should look/sound like.

“I took the road less traveled. And it really hurt man! Rocks! Thorns! Glass!”

Every day I learn more and more about each student. I am piecing together their personalities, learning styles, and outside factors that affect learning. Since Ms. M and I can’t collect all the rocks, thorns, and glass that the students stumble upon in the winding woods of adolescence, I do hope to continue to foster the “clearing in the woods” that Ms. M’s classroom seems to be. One student who frequently comes into class very upset (on the verge of getting in a fist fight or just plain uninterested in participating), is especially on my radar. Yesterday, he came in with his usual tough guy swagger, but after talking him through some brainstorming, providing gentle encouragement, and throwing in a pirate joke or two, he was the first one with his hand up to share. Can we #hack SLOs and include data that shows improvement on the frown-to-smile ratio?

“This is your time. This is my time. This is OUR time. We can make every day better for each other.”

I really love this line because I think it represents the experience of student teaching so well. Each one of us must bring our best selves to the classroom each day. Unlike Practicum where we shared responsibilities with our teaching partners, this semester we get the opportunity to fly solo, to be the only “Ms.” or “Mr.” in the room.  However, we also have the benefit of working in our cohort of 15 student teachers. I have been so energized by classmates’ successes (shout out to Emmanuel for his “Chain of Kindness” and his revision of our 10th grade common task!). I love hearing stories about students who opened up or activities that blew students’ minds. We can make each day better for each other by sharing new ideas, pooling resources, and providing encouragement. Let’s continue make the world awesome, #actofhope.