Making sub plans? Awful.
PD with my fellow seventh grade ELA teachers? Awesome.
Hearing stories about the “mean” sub? Awful.
Hearing my kids say “We missed you. Don’t ever leave us again!” Awesome.
Last week, I was lucky to have an in-school PD day with the three other seventh grade ELA teachers. I wondered what the heck we would do for 6.5 hours, but it flew by.
We began by calibrating rubrics for a common assessment. We’d done it once before at the beginning of the year, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been scared for it. I don’t put as much stock in grades as I used to when I was a student (see my existential crisis here) , but still, what if I’m too easy? What if I’m too hard? What’s the difference between approaching and meeting? Meeting and exceeding? Am I ruining kids by the grades and feedback I am giving them?
Of course, it was a powerful experience. The grades themselves were not as important as the conversation that they started. As a 7th grade team, we were able to see strengths and areas for improvement across the grade level. We talked about what should be expected developmentally and shared best practices for preparing students for the next progression of skills. We realized that with the very structured Evidence Sandwich that is a key component of our writing program, we are in a much better place than most for breaking down the important process of analysis, but we definitely have a lot of work to get the kids there.
And through these discussions I breathed a heavy sigh of relief as I realized how closely aligned my thinking and practice are compared to the other ELA teachers. It’s nice to be a new teacher and work with people who believe the same things I do about reading and writing. With more theory than practice on my side, it would be a lot harder to defend my beliefs to people who have been teaching for nearly as many years as I have been alive.
Next, we reflected on our first trimester unit. We discussed which activities the kids loved, which texts are required for this non-fiction unit, and drafted a curriculum document with essential questions, learning targets, and common assessments for next year’s seventh grade teachers to use.
Then, finally, we were able to look forward to our second trimester narrative unit and beyond. Last year’s seventh grade teachers recommended that we use “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” (a teleplay from the original Twilight Zone) since it connects with the themes of fear, scapegoating, and the dangers of group behavior that we explored with Salem. I had never heard of “Monsters” before the meeting, but the other teachers had and agreed that we should go for it.
Since the Common Core calls for compare/contrast of historical and fictional texts and our school is working on developing common assessments, the students will be writing an Evidence Sandwich comparing two scapegoat characters - Bridget Bishop from Salem and Les Goodman from “Monsters.” Then, since the unit also calls for narrative writing, we designed a RAFT with characters from Salem and “Monsters” with a variety of audiences, formats, and topics (my idea!).
You might have noticed that most of the content of our texts has been and will continue to be a bit heavy. We’ve talked about the death of innocent people in Salem, Pete Van Horn is fatally shot in “Monsters,” and we will be reading a historical fiction novel about genocides around the world after this. Even our essential question while reading “Monsters” is going to be somewhat grim: “What turns a crowd into a mob?”
As we sat there, I was saddened by this because I think crowds can also be powerful and lead to positive good. I couldn’t help but think of the TED Talk “How to Start a Movement.” I mentioned this, and, as if I was student teaching again, Mrs. Ballard finished my thought...
“What turns a crowd into a movement?”
So we are working toward some sort of service learning/social action project at the end of the year. I am pumped for the way all of this is going to come together. My goal as an ELA teacher is for my students to become better readers, writers, speakers, and listeners, but more importantly, to be compassionate, generous, grateful human beings. I’m lucky to have a department (especially an AMAZING curriculum coordinator) that’s with me on this.