Monday, February 24, 2014

The Ideal ELA Student: According to the Common Core

A question that I constantly ask myself as I plan is, "Am I teaching to the standards?" I never want  create activities as time fillers, ways to just complete the day. No, everything I do must have a purpose toward that end goal.

In a nut shell, the Common Core is made up of four strands, which if mastered, should create a well rounded literate person.

To offer a clearer picture, I recommend reading the following link in regards to ELA and the CCSS.

English Language Arts Standards » Introduction » Students Who are College and Career Ready in Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, & Language

The following statement focuses on the portrait of the ideal student of the CCSS.
They are independent and free thinkers, continually build strong content knowledge, adapt their communications easily depending on the task, engaged and open-minded readers and listeners, cite evidence from text, use technology and digital media strategically and capably, and understand other cultures and perspectives.

First, all this speaks to the student centered classroom. The students must be able to grapple with a variety of texts by themselves and in groups. They must be able to read the texts, comprehend them, develop arguments, and defend their arguments citing evidence from the text. CCSS students must utilize technology for research, and be able to decipher valid from invalid sources, and publish their work. Finally, students must be world thinkers, and understand perspectives of other cultures.

So, how have I over the course of this year brought this ideal out in my students.
  • We completed three units utilizing themes such as Believe and Achieve, Perseverance: The Strength of the Human Spirit, and Rising Up from Hate: Equality for All. Every one of these units incorporated research projects utilizing technology as well as traditional research sources, several essay pieces citing textual evidence(some published and some not published), whole discussion, small group discussion, debate, a heavy emphasis on non-fiction and historical texts, technology integration through the use of Kid Blog for publishing writing, Haiku Deck for presentations, Animoto, and research through the internet.
I believe that all of these elements are important, and one is not more important than the other.

Someone may be a marvelous writer, but what good is it, if he/she doesn't have the courage to speak well publicly.

I reflect often on my undergraduate degree. I was a Speech Communications major with an emphasis in Political Communications. I studied the debates of many past U.S. Presidents, and I competed in several debates. Political speech makers are writers, analyzers, researchers, and interpreters of text.
Public speaking requires high levels of critical thinking, and should not be overlooked as a valid form of learning and assessment. Technology integration serves to support the public speakers in their efforts for clearer presentation and thought.

When I look back over this past school year, I know I have used passion, planning, and perseverance to mold my students to becoming stronger readers, writers, and speakers. Their confidence, poise, and abilities have increased greatly.

Of course, the deadline of end of the year test scores still loom before me, but I know with all my heart that I've given my all, always adhering to the Common Core Standards.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Reflection: Mastery of the Common Core Begins with a Single Step

"I know how you feel. When I was a 6th grader, I would have died for the teacher to look at my paper. I perfected the cover up. I'd never look at the teacher directly, and I never dared to raise my hand, for fear of being--wrong."

I gave this little speech to my students a few days ago as we began a discussion on bravery. I knew we were about to dip our feet into uncharted waters with this lesson. Not that we haven't discussed the topic before, but because my plan for the week included learning a new technology and deeper instruction into the art of public speaking.

The students I serve live in a rural area, and many of my students struggle with poverty. As a result, they often come to school with little knowledge of technology outside of gaming, and many have poor grammar skills. At the beginning of the school year, I spent countless classroom hours instructing many of my students on the basics of computer usage, such as where to find the start button, navigating the Internet, cutting and pasting, saving and inserting pictures. During our lessons, I hopped from one student to the next, answering many of the same questions time and time again. At times, I thought, "Whew, this is tiring." However, I never gave up. I stayed the course, because I was determined to offer my students  the same education that other students are currently receiving across the country under the Common Core State Standards.

According to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), 6th grade ELA students are to master typing a three page paper in one class sitting, publish their writings on social media such as KidBlog, collaborate with other students via social media about their writings, use multimedia components in presentations to clarify information, and interpret information presented in different media formats. This is what the Common Core calls for, but I believe many educators want to abandon these standards, because at a glance they seem too rigorous, but are they? I would say they are not.

Today's students should be moving passed the classic "poster board project". I used to do those while I was in middle school, and honestly, I was never asked to use poster board as a public relations professional, nor in any other job. However, I did need to write well, speak clearly and fluently, and be able to utilize and adapt to new technologies. These are real world needs.

So, what does this mean for me, and any teacher who educates at-risk students? It means, we, as teachers seeking excellence, must be patient, and allow our students to explore, and ask as many questions as necessary, knowing that the students will get there. We must dedicate ourselves to their rights, as students, to a proper education, and know that they will conquer these standards.

However, patience cannot be underscored. Yes, this week, as I introduced a new presentation tool, called Haiku Deck, I answered a thousand questions, from, "Mrs. Farmer, how do you spell haiku?" to "Mrs. Farmer, how do you log in?" The students ran up to me constantly. But, honestly, I loved it. They were engaged, and excited to learn something new. I was happy to help them.

Yes, the Common Core is tough, but it's not impossible. An education that transforms lives is a thousand mile journey that begins with a single step. Patience and faith in our students abilities is a great place to start.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

CCSS Middle Grades ELA Lesson: What's Your Brave?

Over the last several weeks, my students and I have compared and contrasted the Civil Rights Movement with the Holocaust using the novels, Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice by Phillip Hoose and The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

Recently, the students wrote about personal power. Is one individual powerful or powerless to change society? Most students believed that one person could change society and make a difference.

However, my question now to my students is, "What does that really mean, and what amount of courage, bravery, or inner fortitude does it take to be the lone visionary fighting for a cause?"

Tomorrow, my students and I will examine this topic further through the essential question:
What is your brave?

                                                              Sara Bareilles' "Brave"

The students will read the following article by Stephen Covey. It talks about stepping out of your personal comfort zone, and offers guiding questions for students to discuss. The students will brainstorm, and write about their own struggles and what actions they can take to overcome them.

Next, the students will compare their stories with another young teen who turned her own bullying experience into a positive message for other teens.

The students will complete a formal essay by Wednesday on the topic.

The students will exit the class by answering the question.
What is the one action you will focus on to be braver today?

I'm excited about the discoveries we will make tomorrow!

RL.6.9: Compare and contrast texts in terms of their approaches to similar themes.
RI.6.3: Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, or elaborated in a text.
RI.6.7: Integrate information presented in different media formats as well as in words to get a coherent understanding of the topic or issue.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

It's About the Journey: Enjoy It

"Oh, tell me more!" states a former mentor enthusiastically as she bends over to the table next to her to grab a pencil and paper.

" want to hear my story?" I say in almost a state of disbelief.

"Yes, please go on..."

I go on to tell this blessed teacher, the story of how I used a single magazine article as a springboard to deeper content knowledge, character development through a student led book drive, learning opportunities by a guest speaker based off the article, and now coming full circle, the follow up story that will soon be published featuring my own students.

My former mentor looked in my eyes with pure happiness, and reached for my hand, and quietly said, "Thank you for sharing your teaching victory with me."

At that moment, her students pulled her away, and I was left feeling completely at peace.

This story happened recently at an academic bowl meet hosted by my school. I was a reader, and I glanced up from my papers to see this marvelous teacher sitting straight as a arrow across the room totally engrossed in the moment with her students. I gasped and thought, "There she is!" I witnessed her teaching only once during my student teaching, but it left a deep impact on me. Decades in the field hadn't stilted her a bit. She brought enthusiasm, wit, strength, professionalism, and most importantly, a positive message everyday to students and colleagues alike.

Later that night, I reached out to my mother, a retired educator, and asked her with frustration, "Why do so many teachers act like teaching is a jail sentence?" They groan, "How many years do you have left?" "Oh, I've served 10, 15. 20... years. I hope I can make it ......more years."

My mother, a wise woman, and true educator, replied, "The sad part is that after you "serve" all those years, the only thing left waiting for you is old age. All teachers must learn to enjoy the journey."

When I think on my career, I hope to meet each day with enthusiasm, knowing that as an educator I'm not serving a term, I'm making a positive difference. I'm changing lives.

So let us all reclaim our love for education and remain dreamers, romantics, and celebrators of knowledge, life, and all that is good. Let us be thankful, and enjoy our journey each and every day.