Blog #5 for not going to Boston: Liar liar pants on fire

I. Am. In. Love.

“Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Teach Students about Plagiarism” by Melissa A. Vosen is probably one of the best NCTE articles I have ever read. Ever.

She starts her article by telling about the time she caught one of her 18 year old female students plagiarizing. Her student had “written” a beautiful memoir about her 12 year old daughter and how much she loved watching her participate in gymnastics. “I did not even bother trying to find an original source; it was pretty unlikely that she birthed a child when she was six” (43). This is all in her very first paragraph. How are you not already hooked?!

Sometimes we assume that our students know what we are talking about when we say the word “plagiarism.” Vosen’s article is so great because she literally gives her readers a short unit on how to teach students what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. It isn’t your boring cut and dry kind of activities either; she makes them go on scavenger hunts, she has them actively writing on the board, and she even has them catch her in the act of plagiarizing!

One of my favorite activities that she does with her students is having a debate about the school’s policy on plagiarism. She asks her students if “there should be a difference in punishment for those who knowingly plagiarize versus those who simply cite incorrectly” (45). This is a higher level question that really makes her students think and come up with valid arguments to defend their opinions.

You guys. I’m tired of blogging, and it’s now Thanksgiving break for me, so I’m sorry, but this blog will be a bit shorter than the rest.

PLEASE do yourselves a favor and get your hands on this article. It’s truly magnificent. And it’s a free unit/idea for mini lessons. You know you want to……..

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Blog #4 for not going to Boston: The iPhone 39 SX is coming out tomorrow

Back when I was in senior in high school, I always hated when last year’s seniors (who were then college freshman) would come from college to visit us youngins in the high school. Why you ask? Because if they visited us in PE class they would say “oh man, I’m too old for this! I can’t do this anymore!” Or if they visited us in History class they would say “oh my gosh, you guys are learning about the Civil War? Haha, I remember doing that. Losers.” They always pissed me off because they would think one semester away at college turned them into learned doctors and old fogies that couldn’t run a lap, when in reality they actually don’t remember the Civil War and gained the freshman 15. 

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I don’t really remember why I started this blog with that story. OH wait, yes, I remember now. It’s because now that I have been out of high school for 5 years, it’s OK for me to be an old fogie that can’t run a lap without gasping for breath (not joking) and can’t remember who won the Civil War (joking) and gripes about technology (not joking).

In a blog from earlier this week, I talked about how the word “bully” was the newest buzz word. Well, I think it’s safe to say that “technology” is also a huge buzz word, but for good reason. Technology moves at such a fast pace; the iPhone 39 SX is coming out tomorrow.

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I have mixed feelings about technology in the classroom. I like it if it serves an educational purpose; I don’t like when teachers try to incorporate as much technology as possible in order to show how much technology their students can juggle. At that conference in Casper that I went to last week, the guy that won the best presentation award was a technology guru. He showed a picture of one of his students holding a cell phone in one hand, an iPad in the other, and a laptop on the desk in front of her. He was so proud of his student; she could manage all these devices and ensure us that she was doing something educational on each device. This kind of stuff irritates the bajeezus out of me. To me, that’s not doing the right thing with technology.

What’s the right thing to do with technology you ask? Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher know the answer! They published an article in the NCTE English journal, volume 97, No. 6, July 2008 titled “Doing the Right Thing with Technology” (38). Frey and Fisher discuss that the right thing to do with technology is not to ignore it or incorporate it to the point where kids have no face to face communication. They realized that they “needed a policy that would allow [them] to move from confiscating technology to teaching students how and when to use technology. In short, [they] were not teaching students to do the right thing with the technology they (the students) had” (39).They taught their students the difference between courteous and discourteous usage of technology. Because of this, students were more aware of the consequence and danger behind inappropriate use of technology. There is so much to be done with technology in an English classroom; they suggest getting audio files of books and sending text messages from you school computer to your kids’ cell phones to remind them of homework assignments (40).

I think there is a time and place for everything. Technology has its place in the classroom; its role is to promote and enhance learning, not trump all face to face social interaction. Read this article to learn more about how doing the right thing with technology enriched their classroom and students’ learning abilities. 

Blog #3 for not going to Boston: Press One for English

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I start this blog with pictures. I hate these pictures. I think they’re incredibly racist and patronizing. Back in Dr. Miller’s Grammar and Linguistic course, I read “Do you speak American?” by Robert MacNeil and William Cran. I loved this book. It discussed the difference of the English language throughout the United States. The authors traveled the states and interviewed people. Their research was appalling; people on the east coast talked about how their dialect was only spoken by a few members in the community because the Standard/Western English was kicking their dialect to the curb. Other people from the south told the authors that they hate hearing their southern accents on TV as representations of hicks or morons.

So, do you speak American? And who exactly is an American? Joellen Maples and Susan Groenke wrote an article published in Voices from the Middle journal, volume 17, No. 2, December 2009 titled “Who is an American?: Challenging Middle School Students’ Assumptions through Critical Literacy.” They created a critical literacy curriculum using young adult literature with the intention to “find ways to open lines of communication with [their] students that might encourage them to reconsider their perceptions of people different from themselves” (29). I was immediately intrigued by this article because as a native of Wyoming, I am all too familiar with the distaste towards anyone that goes against the conservative Wyoming norm. (Sidenote: I absolutely love Wyoming; it’s my home, but it always makes me chuckle that we are known as the “equality state” yet we hate you if you aren’t a conservative, right-winged, Jesus-lover. If you know your Wyoming history, you would know that we are the equality state because we were the first to allow women to vote, but the equality shouldn’t stop at women’s rights.)

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Joellen and Susan introduced this curriculum and the question (who is American) into their classroom; it resulted in a great debate among their students. I found it interesting that some of the students debated that if you were born in the states and were born a legal citizen, then that made you the “Most American” (30). However, the other group of students argued that people who displayed work ethic to achieve the “American dream” and chased cultural assimilation were the most American. I don’t mean to sound rude or snotty, but this surprised me. High school students came to these conclusions?! Yet, we have people in high political positions that can’t even realize this?! Call me a left-winged nut, but this is amazing. (Sidenote: I think that last argument is great. People groan and moan about the illegal and legal immigrants in our country, but they are the ones doing the jobs that “we Americans” don’t want to do/hate to do. They came to the U.S. looking for work/money, so doesn’t that make them fall under the category of “chasing the American Dream and cultural assimilation?” They are no different than you and me. They want a better life; they are just willing to do more to get it. So get over that fact that you have to press one for English; there are bigger problems in this world.)

Not once did Joellen or Susan poke and prod the students to think one way or the other. The students talked it out and came to this realization by themselves. Sometimes I think the best way to teach is to sit back and watch the students debate and rationalize their arguments. After the initial question of who an American is, the students then read young adult literature that depicted people of different color, ethnicity, religion, etc. (The book they mention using is ‘Seedfolks.’) Joellen and Susan write that “surprisingly . . . they realized that what people do with their lives might be more important than their birthright” (31).

This article gave me hope that taboo topics in certain areas of this country can be handled with grace and can be talked about without inserting your own political beliefs (like I keep doing throughout this blog, oops!) I recommend reading this article if you are at all interested in the topic/debate such as this. Read it to learn more about the students’ summary of “Who is an American” profiles. 

Blog #2 for not going to Boston: Hester Prynne ain’t so bad

Classic novels: you either love them or hate them. This blog was inspired by an article published in the NCTE journal, volume 101, No. 2, November 2011. The article is titled “Making the Classics Matter to Students through Digital Literacies and Essential Questions” by Jonathan Ostenson and Elizabeth Gleason-Sutton.

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Sometimes just the words “classic novel” make people cringe a little. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear those words? For me, I think of the God-awful, dreaded, horrible “Scarlet Letter.” I don’t like that book. Not because a high school teacher ruined it for me but because it’s just terrible, haha! Can I get an amen, Dr. Ellington?!

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I don’t mean to toot my own horn, BUT TOO TOOT!! What Jonathan and Elizabeth talk about in their article is something I have already thought of doing in my classroom. Let me fill you in: Jonathan and Elizabeth talk about the importance of making a connection between classic literature to “today.”  In other words, make reading about Hester Prynne relevant to your students.

The authors of this article discuss how this can be done via digital literacy (multimedia project and such) and essential questions (questions that are related to their lives today). The best example they give is with the God-awful, dreaded, horrible “Scarlet Letter.” They begin by asking their students, what is worth risking everything for? Would you risk everything for a chance to own  a mountain made of chocolate? Would you risk everything for the chance to kiss Ryan Gosling? (The correct answer is yes. That man is too perfect.) They can then relate to the risks taken in the novel. What will they risk in order for “Hester to keep the right to raise Pearl and to keep her lover’s identity a secret, Dimmesdale to maintain his revered social position, and Chillingworth to pursue knowledge and revenge” (38). By asking an essential (and thought-provoking and difficult to answer) question, students become more enthusiastic in what they are reading because they are now interested and mentally invested in what the characters will risk.

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A way to incorporate digital literacy into this ongoing example of the “Scarlet Letter” is by having the students do some research. Research the Puritans, why were they called the Puritans? Is there a connection between the meaning of their name to the way in which Hester is being ostracized? Or research songs/lyrics that can describe Hester’s emotions. How do they connect? (An example they give is “Addicted” by Kelly Clarkson to describe Chillingworth’s motivations.)

Even though I already planned on incorporating outside information in order to make classics more appealing and relevant to my students’ lives, this article provided many good examples and demonstrations of how to do so effectively. I highly recommend it.

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I actually do believe that the book is called “The Scarlet Letter” and I have been referring to it as just “Scarlet Letter.” But quite frankly my dears, I don’t give a damn. (10 extra credit points if you can name that movie!)

Blog #1 for not going to Boston: Hate the bullying, not the bully

The word “bully” is the biggest buzz word in almost any public school across America. How to stop bullies, how to prevent bullies, how to respond to bullies, etc.

I might sound a bit brash by saying this, but I am not one of those “we must stop bullying!” people. I don’t by any means promote bullying, but quite frankly, it turns out, some people just suck. There are always going to be bullies; in 1st grade, 5th grade, 11th grade, college, when you’re 40, whenever and wherever. I can easily assume that every person has been bullied or been a bully at least one time in their life. I know I have been both. We need to experience certain things in order to learn from them and move on with our lives. I was bullied once; my reaction to it was to bully another person. After I saw how my verbal abuse affected my classmate, I stopped. I lived. I learned. I experienced being bullied and being a bully. I’m not in juvi. It’s all OK.

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The reason I am choosing to write about bullying today is because the middle school in my hometown recently had what they call “Challenge Day.” It’s basically a day that challenges students to be the change; apologize to your enemies, make amends, tell your best friend you secretly hate her, etc. It’s a day full of soggy eyes and wet shoulders. I love it. I’m an emotional person; I wear my heart on my sleeve. I think it’s great for students to let out their emotions; I always feel better after a good cry!

“Challenge Day” also goes hand in hand with bullying because it is such an “anti-bullying” program. They remind you of the golden rule and how bullies are bullying because they want acceptance. Well, as much as I love/d “Challenge Day”, I think this information can easily be taught in the classroom in a not so direct manner that forces kids to cry and tell their deepest darkest secrets.

Donna Miller wrote an article called “Tough Talk as an Antidote to Bullying” that was published in the NCTE English journal volume 101, No. 6, July 2012. She writes about how there is young adult literature that discusses the topic of bullying. She encourages teachers to use bold texts as mentor texts; “these are the best books because they deal in the gray areas of life . . . these books are often targeted as controversial” (31). There are so many young adult books that tackle the tougher parts of an adolescent’s life. I made the point earlier that I think using Y.A. lit books as mentors texts is similar to “Challenge Day” except that using books is a more indirect way of communicating these bigger issues. “Using a text as a tool for tough talk also affords conversants some distance from the topic, which can be filtered through a character’s reaction or opinion” (31).

Two of my all-time favorite books are “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson and “Will Grayson, Will Grayson” by John Green and David Levithan. “Speak” is a story about a girl that is raped, and “Will Grayson, Will Grayson” is a story about homosexuality. I think Donna Miller hits the nail on the head when she says “while many teachers might prefer to pass on the storm of controversy, what do we sacrifice when we don’t invite critical thinking about controversial social subjects into the classroom—topics such as abuse, bullying, and LGBTQ perspectives?” (32). These two books are clearly about controversial social subjects. By reading them in the classroom, we are not directly prompting students or forcing them to talk about their feelings and relationships. Instead, we are providing a topic that is filtered through a different (and fictional) person’s experience.

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I think it is important to bring light to tough talks and sticky situations. Through texts, we can effectively teach our students the importance of acceptance and the reality that each individual is different yet created equal. This route is more effective than standing in front of a group of adolescents exclaiming that they shouldn’t bully. As Laura said during our heart to heart talk during work, “that is totally ineffective!” Word, Laura. Word.

Good Corn

I was absent from class on November 13th because I attended the Best of the Best Wyoming Teachers Conference. It was only the 2nd annual so there were not many people attending. However, there were a few things to take away from this conference.

My fiancé presented at this conference, so I might be a little bias when I say I enjoyed his presentation the most. He talked about how content planning, classroom climate, effective instruction, and accurate assessments makes the “best” better than the rest.

One thing that really stood out to me from the discussion with Tyler and his fellow staff members was the discussion of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. This idea is not only applicable to teachers; each person needs to strive to perform at their best by growing as an individual.

A way for us teachers to do so is to collaborate and share. The best way to get information to share and collaborate on is through profession development workshops/conferences or books. I was talking to an English teacher and we were talking about our love for Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher. As our conversation came to a close, I couldn’t help but think “huh, that conversation wouldn’t have existed if we both hadn’t taken the time to read and develop our professional lives.”

I don’t know if you guys have heard of the “good corn” story, but it’s one of my favorites. It ran through my head throughout the conversations I was having with my ridiculously smart fiance and his fellow staff members.

Good corn:

There once was a farmer who grew award-winning corn. Each year he entered his corn in the state fair where it won a blue ribbon.

One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors.

“How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.

“Why sir,” said the farmer, “didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”

He is very much aware of the connectedness of life. His corn cannot improve unless his neighbor’s corn also improves.

So it is with our lives. Those who choose to live in peace must help their neighbors to live in peace. Those who choose to live well must help others to live well, for the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others to find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all.

The lesson for each of us is this: if we are to grow good corn, we must help our neighbors grow good corn.

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“Look at their hearts, not their circumstances”

Today in block, we Skyped with a lady that works at/runs an alternative school in Colorado. She inspired this blog. In the 30 minutes we got to hear her speak, I was filled with inspiration and hope. 

The alternative school is for students that were expelled from the public school. So, needless to say, there are lots of Thugging Hards in this school. I thought the best thing she said was that it is most important to look at their hearts, not their circumstances. It is really easy for teachers (and people in general) to judge a person strictly on their circumstances. Think of the last time you saw a homeless person; what were you thoughts? Were you thinking “ew gross don’t talk to me” or “wonder how they got there?” I know I do that. I do that because it’s easy. It’s easy to define a person because of their circumstances. We have to be able to look past that and see their heart, see their intentions. These students in the alt school are in gangs, abuse meth, and have babies at way too young of age. I am glad there are people that can look past that.

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The public school does not accommodate to people of that nature. We see them as “troublemakers” or “threats.” So we take the easy way out and boot them out of school and send them to alt schools. Isn’t our job to give each student a chance? People give up on kids like these because of their circumstances. “A boy from a broken family with a history of alcoholism? He won’t last. A girl knocked up? Well it’s because she’s a slut.” We are so quick to judge others and give them labels and blame their circumstances. We don’t give them the chance to show their heart because we’re so busy beating them down and trying to make them conform. Might as well tell them “quit being you!”

I’m excited to be a teacher. I’m going to give each kid a chance. I’m going to cheer on each student, especially the underdogs. 

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Suzo

I don’t know if everyone saw the picture I posted to Twitter last week, but I got 2 huge cardboard boxes full of children’s books about the Holocuast, YA lit novels dealing with the Holocaust/WWII, and binders and binders and binders full of Holocaust information. Here’s my living room currently, taken over by all this wonderful goodness:

Image I went and visited my middle school English teacher over the weekend. Her name is Susan Jones, but everyone just called her Suzo. Suzo was a one of a kind teacher; she spit a little when she talked (and she knew it), she has over 1,000 teddy bear trinkets in her house, and her classroom always smelled like rubber cement because she was constantly making some cool new poster board. She is retired now and has a room in her house dedicated to children’s books. She has signed copies from Patricia Polacco and Mark Ludy (two of my absolute favorite authors. Everyone should “read” the wordless book  “Flower Man” by Mark Ludy.) When I told her about all the wonderful stuff we are learning in our Methods course and how a majority of my lesson plans include a children’s book she kissed my forehead. No joke. She just straight up kissed me on the forehead because she was so excited that we were learning how to incorporate children’s books into the classroom. I think we were required to read one novel in her 7th grade English class, and it was “Crash.” She encouraged us to read our OWN novels and started each day by reading from a children’s book. She was a bad ass teacher, and she is now a bad ass retired teacher.
 
She gave me butt loads of Holocaust information because I am currently making a Holocaust/poetry unit. (SO EXCITED!) We have another date to get together in December because she wants to give me box loads of children’s books and YA lit books. Needless to say, I have a pretty magnificent start on my classroom library. I am eternally grateful to Suzo.

This was the post I put on her Facebook wall and her comment back to me:

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A mini rant about shi**y teachers

Last week, my best friend, Kristina, sent me her brother’s paper to look over. He is a sophomore at a college in Wyoming, and he had received a C on his last paper. She wants him to succeed because he is trying really hard, so she sent me the paper to have it looked over before he submitted it.

I read through it, and it was great. Sure he had a few comma mistakes and didn’t cite his sources correctly, but they weren’t major enough for them to complicate the message/reading for me. Kristina and I redirected him to a website that would help him correct those minor errors himself. He corrected the slight errors and submitted the paper.

Kristina texted me yesterday that her brother got a 79 on the paper. She was livid, he was livid, and I was confused. That paper was easily A quality; he structured his thoughts into well-developed paragraphs, he used humor, he used outside research. It was truly a great paper. However, the English professor didn’t think so. The teacher wrote comments on his paper like: “lack of idea development”, “sentence structure is rough”, “plenty of grammatical/spelling errors”, “what?” (by his humor)….and so on.

Kristina was clearly upset because her brother is trying so hard to do well in that English class. I couldn’t help but flip out a little bit. I told Kristina that everything that professor did is everything we are taught not to be. She did nothing but humiliate his writing by writing demeaning comments and acknowledging the technical errors rather than the quality of the content. I’m pretty sure this professor didn’t even read his paper for the content; she just read through it to find structural/technical errors.

Here’s hoping that I am never like that teacher; here’s hoping I never shut down a student’s writing by pointing out all the flaws with no positive feedback.