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Monthly Archives: June 2013

I am extremely proud and happy to return to this year’s Invitational Summer Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee  affiliate of the National Writing Project. Three years ago, I participated as a teacher consultant. This year, I’m serving as a facilitator. I’m excited to get a second go-round at this transformational, career-changing piece of professional development, this time as a guide and coach for other educators who are having their very first Writing Project experience.

The point of the Writing Project ISI is to develop teachers as researchers, experts on the teaching of writing, and as writers themselves. When I participated in 2010, the latter was the aspect of the experience that rejuvenated my soul. Having the time, the space, and the reason to write creatively brought me back, mentally, to why I first had the idea to become an English teacher–writing sustains me. Something about making thoughts permanent, making words into art, and giving strength and structure to my imagination makes writing one of the most fulfilling things in my life. For me, becoming a storyteller was always the most thrilling part of being an English student; and being in charge of the training of young storytellers, poets, and philosophers was what I had in mind when I applied to the School of Education in my undergrad years. Creating fiction, in my opinion, is a vital task for the development of creative thinking in students. 

Even though I’m a facilitator this summer, I’m still going to be conducting new research of my own, and creating a new Teacher Inquiry Workshop to demonstrate my findings as they are applicable to the classroom. And I’ve decided to let my strong feelings about the importance of creative writing guide my study. Since Wisconsin adopted the Common Core State Standards, it seems that less and less space is being afforded for the literary arts while argumentative, informative, and research writing take center stage. In fact, nowhere in the  Common Core State Standards for high school language arts does it overtly require a high school student to write a single poem, play, or story during any of the four years. It seems to suggest that creative writing is superfluous fluff. Personally, I feel that this view is a disservice to the minds and hearts of our students, who need experience in creating something altogether new in order to know how to envision solutions to problems. More than that, they deserve a chance to tell stories, let their voices off a tether, and explore the power of their own generative imaginations.

I believe that the teaching of creative writing in high school is crucial to the development of young writers. And I want to prove that teachers can address the writing standards–even as overtly geared toward non-fiction as they are–through the teaching of creative writing.

The following are my working inquiry questions:

1. How can the teaching of creative writing (such as poetry, fictitious prose, and drama) be used to directly address and fulfill the Common Core State Standards for Writing in the high school classroom?

2. What are the benefits of teaching creative writing–as far as student motivation, learning outcomes, marketability, and critical thinking–that cannot be addressed by non-fiction writing alone?

As the summer goes on, I’ll be posting more about what I discover, in an effort to provide other educators with the justification that they need to keep creative writing alive in the classroom. Also, in an effort to practice what I preach, I’ve started an online collection of some of my own creative writing, which I hope to add to throughout the summer.

SAVE  CREATIVE WRITING IN OUR SCHOOLS! Comment below or “like” the Universe as Text Facebook page to join the conversation.

A year ago, I wrote a post about attending the Top Ten banquet at my school for the first time. The event is organized at the end of each year to give the top ten academically ranked students a chance to gather along with their parents and the school administrators to pay tribute to their chosen most influential teachers. I was lucky enough to be invited back this year, as the guest of a student that I’ve worked with over the past three years in English 10, AP Literature and Composition, and on the school newspaper editorial staff. Here we are in all our plaque-holding smileyness:

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The Top Ten banquet was the perfect special event to mark the end of my time at my current school. Seeing students taking an evening to honor their teachers is always touching and gratifying, but in many ways this year meant so much more to me than the last. Seeing the young people who were my very first batch of sophomores during my first year at SFHS grow up and graduate has given me a taste of what it’s like to become a veteran teacher–one whom students know, trust, and come to for guidance each and every year of their high school career. Seeing this particular young man and his classmates come of age is sparking in me the first inklings of that classic realization which we all understand more the older we get: time is moving very, very quickly. And the time that we share with students in our classrooms can be quite a small space afforded to make a lifetime of impact.

As I listened to my student give me the best tribute speech ever, I got a little teary-eyed. The emotional weight of being handed that wondrous “you meant something to my life” type of recognition is overwhelming, especially when it brings into clear focus how much time, care, work, and trust we’ve  invested, hoping that our teaching will have lasting meaning. I think most teachers, from time to time, secretly dread that… maybe no good has actually been done. Maybe no matter what we do, our students will become who they will become and we’re just here to watch over them for a while. Maybe they won’t retain a dang thing I worked so hard to get across to their young, distracted minds. I know I’ve felt that way on my bad days. But then you have moments like this, where a kid who cares about you stands up and says, Hey. You made me see things I couldn’t see. You helped me learn what I am capable of. You’ve made me want to be better. I wouldn’t be who I am without you, and I will not forget it.  And when that happens, you remember all kinds of things about why you chose this career in the first place.

Endless thanks to all my SF kids for being my shipmates on this six-semester voyage. I won’t forget you, either. 

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Most teachers find themselves at a crossroads or two, as careers reach transitional points and the best teaching “home” turns up in a new place. I now find myself at such a crossroads for the second time in my career, as I prepare to leave my current placement, which I’ve held for three years, to pursue a new position in the Communications department at Port Washington High School. This fills me with excitement and zeal for discovery as I look forward to connecting with new students, advancing my career, and learning new things from colleagues with vast experience and wisdom to share. Still, while packing up my classroom this weekend, I realized how difficult it will be for me to face this final week of teaching at Sheboygan Falls High.

The experience of teaching at SFHS gave me so much that one might think it would be difficult to pinpoint just one particular thing that made three years’ worth of plans, projects, presentations, performances, professional development, and pedagogy memorable. But it’s not. All alliteration aside, when I think about the last three years, it’s the people that will keep this chapter of my career ingrained in my heart. Specifically, the people in my department. As we all move on to shift our teaching directions in big and small ways next year, I know that I need to thank the stars that I somehow landed in such an amazing team. So, I’ve decided, as my tribute to these many days spent teaching together, I’d write my thank you in the form of a list: Things that Make a Great Teaching Team. This, of course, comes with the implication that I could not have learned these things without working alongside my outstanding team, lovingly and forever known as “the superdepartment.”

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Things that Make a Great Teaching Team

Laughter: Teachers who work together with positivity are able to find humor in all situations–to ease frustration, to find a way through befuddlement, to celebrate success, to delight in the work of teaching.

Expertise: A fantastic team is made up of wickedly smart teachers, who have measured expertise in specific content/pedagogical areas. The members of the team know each other’s strengths, and put each other in the position to share, develop, and actively use their specialized outstanding knowledge and abilities.

Drive: The team is comprised of people who have a strong desire to work together in order to make each day better and more successful for students. They simply don’t ever stop creating, reading, questioning, revising, experimenting, and collaborating.

Communication: Effective team members trust one another, and are clear about what they are thinking, needing, and doing. They ask questions, challenge one another when appropriate, and relate to and support each other openly. They build lessons, curriculum, and initiatives together, working in person and online as a group.

Risk-Taking: An outstanding team is not afraid of doing things that have never been done before. In fact, when convinced of positive potential, they actively pursue it. They welcome challenge, ambitious projects, and new approaches. They know that as a team, their risk-taking will result in new knowledge and breakthroughs.

Compassion: A truly cohesive team cares for one another and their students unconditionally. A warm, receptive, caring attitude towards every team member is something that can be counted on at all times.

Purpose: Team members are able to develop and define their mission(s) for the year. This mission unites the team as each teacher does what he or she can to make progress toward the team goals, with the knowledge that results will be seen. A sense of purpose pervades the cohort and inspires them to work for results.

 

Thanks for a great ride, guys. This has been three years well spent. 🙂