My thoughts on 20 Time Projects

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Finally a few minutes to view the Innovation Hour presentations and I was more impressed watching them after the fact than while I was there. So much great work by students came out of these projects, but viewing the montage video has helped me think more about what I want to do differently next year. The video below was produced by one of my fabulous students, Madeline Cobbler.

First, I want more time to prepare for the presentations and more time for reflection about the journey of the project. I will introduce this project again in the Fall, but with some changes. Student project work will finish at the end of the first semester. This will allow a more focused amount of time for the students to plan their timelines. There was definitely some dead time this year. Progress updates will be bi-weekly and I will give the option of keeping a notebook or blog so students that enjoy the act of writing rather than using technology have more freedom in how they express their learning to me. The Innovation Hour will happen in February next year to coincide with our school-wide Titan 21 night where all students showcase interesting work being done in various classes. This will give a wider audience for Innovation Hour presentations. I found throughout the year students were fueled by outside interest in their work. Whenever I brought people in to talk to them about their projects, they found renewed passion in what they were doing. I want to replicate that effect more next year. The goal of this project was always to allow students the freedom to pursue something they were passionate about and give them the tools and time to bring that passion to fruition. In many ways I consider this first year a success. Students found things they were interested in and some even found paths for their future.

For me, I started out trying to complete my own 20 Time project, a collection of blog posts chronicling my adventures with my daughter in the kitchen, but often I found myself overwhelmed trying to chart my classroom journey while maintaining my personal project. I realized I missed many moments on both fronts. Next year, my goal will be to give voice regularly to what I have going on in the classroom, and work on my food blog as worthy occasions arise.

Innovation Hour

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The curtain has fallen. The stage has cleared. Our first year of 20 time projects has closed. This week marked our 20 time showcase event, Innovation Hour. Students have been viewing TED talks, discussing public speaking styles, and preparing their final presentations of their yearlong journey with their 20 time projects. It has been eye-opening for me to see how they feel about their project progress and what they want to say about it. I noticed that similar comments kept cropping up. The theme was “this was not what I originally planned, but I am happy with how it turned out.” No matter what the outcome, students learned something about themselves, collaboration and long-term planning along the way.

Here are some of my lessons learned:

1. Make the time span for the actual project shorter and the presentation planning time span longer.

2. Practice more- in class, on stage and with technology.

3. Be more clear about the blog purpose early on.

4. Show the video feedback from this year about failure and end games.

5. Bring more community members in and facilitate more mentorship.

6. Require a research element.

7. Require more frequent status updates and opportunities for progress sharing with wider audiences.

8. Keep schedule of one full class period every other week for 20 time.

9. Enlist HELP with evening showcase event.

10. Set a 3-5 minute cap on all final presentations and schedule 3, rather than 2 hours.

11. Start year with Dan Pink TED talk about motivation to set stage for project purpose.

12. Schedule Toastmasters early!

13. Directly instruct about various presentation technologies.

I am sure there are more, and I am sure I will add to this list as I disseminate all the data and student video reflections over the next couple of weeks. I plan to create and post a video montage of our actual Innovation Hour, as well as snippets from the video reflections to help other teachers interested in trying out a project like this. I will also plan to post my own, more complete reflection as I round out my first experiment with a project of this magnitude. I am proud of what my students accomplished and what they taught me about implementing ultimate choice in the classroom!

5 Mentor Sentences to Help Students Writer Better Analysis

Great tools to add to my teaching analysis cadre!

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Photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr Photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr

If you haven’t checked out Rebekah’s series on analysis, stop what you’re doing and go read about her brilliant work with her IB students! I’ve never been more excited to teach analysis than after reading her thoughtful blog series.

I’m going to piggyback on her posts and share something that I have found useful in the teaching of analysis with my ninth graders: using mentor sentences to help them articulate their thinking about a text.
Like Rebekah, I, too, am searching for ways to make literary analysis a richer experience for my young writers. While my students are working on a fairly traditional literary analysis of a poem right now, I have been able to complicate the simplistic formula they have been trained to use for far too long (5 paragraphs, claim as last sentence in introduction, sentences that start with the phrase “This quote shows that…” and…

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Writing Workshop Finals (or Wrapping Up a Year of Writing Workshop)

Love these ideas!

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In our workshops, we want our students to learn to craft moving pieces of authentic writing. But we hope that this will extend far past our classroom — how do we do this? How do we assess and ensure the independence we hope we have instilled in students all year long?  As a final project (or final exam, as we are currently required to give one), we ask our students to use the processes and resources of the class — specifically mentor texts — to create one final piece of writing.

In a way, this is similar to the beginning-of-the-year mentor text activities we use to open class (Here is what I did last year, and here is what Allison did). For these final, independent writing projects, we look for mentor texts that are engaging (often this means that they are highly visual), easily accessible to students of all…

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A Technique-Based Literary Analysis Workshop

Awesome way to approach literary analysis in the workshop classroom. This is often so difficult and these guys offered a refreshing perspective and great examples!

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But even if we want to, how can we teach literary analysis in writing studies throughout the school year using a workshop approach?

Do we just repeat the same mini-lessons again and again until the students have mastered them? Do we teach the mini-lessons once at the beginning of the year and just bring out new mentor texts for each subsequent go-round? Do we only teach literary analysis in one study of the year and hope it sticks?

Technique-Based Analysis Studies

To combine the study of literary analysis writing and writing workshop, one trick I have found is to break literary analysis into sub-genres: analyzing theme, analyzing character, analyzing symbol, analyzing a key passage, etc. Not all analysis is created equal —  in different kinds of analysis the techniques differ. The structures differ. The way we read, think, and unpack our ideas differs. So, we can teach students to look…

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Day of Writing

Perfect weather for a Writing Marathon!

Perfect weather for a Writing Marathon!

They brought pens, pencils, laptops, and smartphones all for one purpose- a day of writing with the Blue Ridge Writing Project.

Coincidentally, it was also the day of the Remembrance Run which provided an inspirational backdrop for some fruitful writing. We asked participants to bring an artifact, something that represented them as teachers, writers or both. One of the ladies at my table shared her Teacher’s Calendar book. It contained interesting facts and important events that happen on each day of the year. The coolest thing about this book though, was what the teacher did with it. She collects birthdays of her students at the beginning of the school year, and then wait for it…on their birthday, she brings them a passage from a famous author who shares their birthday. Such an awesome idea to bring some writing into the classroom and make it personal and relatable. Hearing the stories of the artifacts was such a heartwarming way to start the day! I use this activity at the beginning of the school year with my own students. I ask them to bring an artifact to school that says something about them and we write and share around. I have found it is a great way to get to know the students and everybody enjoys hearing the stories other students tell.

From the artifacts, we moved into a traditional National Writing Project activity- a Writing Marathon. I have blogged about the usefulness of writing marathons before, but it was a whole new level to share it with other teachers as people ran around us in the Remembrance Run. It was sunny and the smell of fresh cut grass was all around us. This one we ran in groups of 6-7 all camped out in one area of Hillcrest Honors Dorm. We used prompts more geared towards adults and an escalating amount of time to write with each prompt. Most centered on the concept of loss and forgiveness and the pens were flying. I love writing marathons because they are a forum where you write, share and there is no feedback. The absence of commentary creates a safe space for writing about personal issues. We concluded the writing marathon with a breakdown of how these can be used in any age classroom- from writing about seasons, to writing about novels, to writing to expose prior knowledge. These are perennially some of my students’ favorite activities.

After lunch, we convened for some poetry and prose writing. Aileen Murphy, BRWP Director, led us in a poetic form writing using what participants had written on the marathon. The activity originated in one of our Summer Institutes as a final presentation by a BRWP fellow. I have used the attached handout a variety of ways including a meditation creative writing exercise, as well as an introduction to various poetic forms.

A FEW POETIC Forms(1)-1

We also did a few writing stations where participants wrote from prompts, composed qualities poems based on Ruth Gendler’s book, created flash fiction from different parts of speech, and did some fiction writing. After about an hour of moving from station-to-station, we shared some of the pieces we were proud of with the larger group. The creativity was palpable!

The day ended with a short gallery of digital compositions with an explanation of how to take what was written during the day to a multimedia presentation. We viewed video versions of multigenre personal narratives, “Where I am From” poems, and an illuminated text of Hemingway’s “Cat In the Rain”.

It was inspirational to see all the writing and passion for writing produced throughout the day. Participating in days like this renews my love of the written word and the recognition of its power to transform, heal and unite. Below is how we said farewell- an interactive board celebrating why we write!

Popping Up Some Poetry

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The word poetry often brings cringes and groans in the average high school student, but today was the first day of National Poetry Month and it was time to get past that disdain. The past few days we viewed some spoken word poetry videos to prime the poetry pumps. Today I introduced the students to the Pop-Up Poets of NYC. I was lucky enough to be a spectator at one of their Times Square pop-up performances a couple of years ago and thought then what a cool way to infuse poetry in unexpected places.

The poetry sharing fever caught on rapidly among my students. They chose their poems, mostly from Billy Collins’ Poetry 180 site, and set out to pop-up some poetry around the school. A few elected to go outside and sidewalk chalk their poems around the school, one copied a bunch of mini-poems and put them in books in our library to be found by an unsuspecting student at some later date. We also had some poems about self confidence and inner beauty posted in bathrooms around the school, but the most viral thing that happened was the guerilla-style poetry performances in random classrooms. I sent an email out to warn the staff of the possibility of students popping into their rooms with poetry to read first and then sent them out on their adventures. The videos of their performances were just awesome! One group read food poems to Culinary Arts, another group visited Anatomy classes with poems about science and still others went to random classrooms around the school spreading their poems about smiles, the future, hope and Chipotle burritos. They had so much fun they came back and asked if they could spend all period running around to classrooms reading poetry. What a great way to kick off National Poetry Month, and one of my students even asked if we could continue this after Spring Break!

Reading and Writing Workshop: The Essentials of Getting Organized

Great tools to help facilitate effective writing workshop model!

moving writers

I found Rebekah’s visual guide to planning for writing workshop tremendously helpful, and I know many of you did, too. In an effort to be transparent and share the systems that work for us, this week I am going to write a little bit about the various organizational tools that help my workshops run more smoothly and keep the materials my students and I need at our fingertips.

Master Workshop Binder

My Master Workshop Binder

For a year or two I tried to go completely paperless. I condensed dozens of binders (one for each study or unit) into two or three by making or finding digital copies of everything. I forced myself to move conference notes online, and I asked the students to set up digital writing folders. At first, I loved how much space a purely digital system opened up in my room. Our classroom unfettered by papers, thick 2-inch binders, and…

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Rorschach, Raskolnikov and Titan 21 visits

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Section 2A Student Rorschach Ink Blots

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Section 4A Student Rorschach Ink Blots

The drop cloth was spread. The paint was high-flowing, and the paper was ready for blotting. After getting into Crime and Punishment, and examining Raskolnikov in all his anti-hero glory, we looked at some psychology. Students explored the history of the famed ink blot test, its validity or lack thereof, and how the test can be interpreted. Students chose their paint colors and paper sizes and set about creating their own ink blots.

After they were finished with the art part, they had to look at their blots and write about what they saw. The interesting thing is that many of them saw things that revealed something about their frame of reference. One of my students stared intently at his and when I walked over and asked him what he saw, he replied “surgery, here are the lungs and the kidneys and you can see a shadow of the rib cage.” When he said that, I could see what he was talking about, but more importantly I thought it was interesting that this student aspires to be a doctor and has been shadowing a trauma physician to get a feel for the career. He saw something that was meaningful in his life. This was meant as a fun activity to break up some of the deepness of Dostoevsky’s novel, but it became a jumping off point to talk about Rask’s dreams in the novel and what they reveal about him. I think as teachers we need to develop activities that help students engage in chunky, older texts and psychology is a great avenue given our current obsession with criminal profiling.

As a cap-off to a great week of student-centered activities, a team of visiting members of Titan 21 came to our class to check in on the students’ 20 Time projects. My school is part of an initiative to bring more project-based learning into classrooms. The visiting team consisted of administrators, teachers, and an educational consultant from Advanced learning Partnerships, Amos Fodchuk, who has been spear-heading professional development for our school system. The students rose to the challenge. It was a typical 20 Time day with groups gathered in their favorite spots around the room working on their final leg of these projects. The visiting team spread out around the room and asked the students questions about their projects, challenges and triumphs they had faced, and how they thought the project time was impacting preparing for the AP Lit exam in May. I caught little snippets of the conversations and was impressed. Students were poised and confident. They shared their work from Sketch-Up models of a baseball field redesign to a website for homework help to a first aid app to a journey with random acts of kindness. I could not have been more proud. I think in the future I need to provide more opportunities for the kids to showcase their work. It infused a renewed passion for their projects and showed them how excited other people are about what they are doing!

20 Time presentations and iSearch Papers

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With all the snow, I have had some time to reflect on what we need to accomplish in my classes as we draw near to the end of 3rd nine weeks. It also gave me time to order a few things to support my students’ 20 Time projects. One of the great fears of most students is public speaking. Being able to communicate a message effectively to an audience is such an important skill to possess that I decided to spend some extra time on that aspect of the 20 Time projects. I am a huge fan of TED Talks and show them regularly in class as bounce points for discussion or journal writing. You can find a talk on pretty much any topic you might want to explore and there are new ones being added all the time. Preparing my students to deliver a TED-like talk will be a daunting task so I decided to order a couple books. I bought Talk Like TED and How to deliver a TED Talk to help me with my students’ public speaking skills. I deliver presentations to large audiences myself, so hopefully between what I learn from the books and what I already know, I can help my students craft great presentations.

I have come to realize that the model I set up with the 20 Time projects is too lengthy to keep students engaged. There was alot of excitement when we first embarked on these projects and some students have kept up with that drive to learn, but many are lagging at this point. When I changed the model to be just two blogs a month about progress and one day every other week devoted solely to the projects, I thought that would help students focus more on what they wanted to accomplish. I have come to realize now that this project should be more of a semester-long quest rather than a whole school year. The students that chose smaller ideas to pursue are starting to stall and the blogs reflect that stagnation. I think when I set this up next year, I will make it a semester pursuit, but will allow the option to continue on throughout the year for those it makes sense to. I will have to figure out how to incorporate it into second semester for those who want to continue, but that is something to think about over the summer.

I have also realized that two weeks of snow days really crunches trying to get these presentation in around Spring Break. My other impediment is the AP exam window in May. I know many of my students will be out those two weeks in May for various AP exams and it would not be prudent to try and plan presentations leading up to them or during the window since students will be spending all of their mental energy preparing for those exams. So, as much as I wanted to finish these in April, I am going to have to push them to the third week of May. The good news with that is two of my groups are doing school-wide activities as their culminating products, a “Keep Rec Sports Alive” football camp and a March Madness-style basketball tournament, “Gilbert’s Game,” in honor of a beloved faculty member with breast cancer to help pay bills and support her through her time of need. Both of these large-scale projects are happening in late April and early May so the students will actually be able to present on their full projects. I think next year I will also add a required research element to the projects, probably before the Pitch Proposals to add another layer to what we can explore with the projects and maybe give kids more ideas about what to pursue. The other thing I have been kicking around is a response element so students are actively looking at each other’s projects and maybe providing some feedback. They are always excited to hear about what others are doing when we talk about it in class, but few actively go out and read other’s blogs. I think a discussion/feedback element would aid in keeping the students excited about what they are doing.

In some of my senior classes (non-AP), my students have started an iSearch project. I read about iSearch papers a couple of years ago in Ken Macrorie’s book, The I-Search Paper: Revised Edition of Searching and Writing. I like the iSearch format because it gives room for a more personal approach to research. The paper becomes not just a regurgitation of what is already out there, but an avenue to add your own voice to that body of research. I find too, the narrative approach to research makes the inquiry more meaningful and relatable to the student’s life. So,I asked students to think about something they are interested in doing the year after graduation- career or personally- to spend some time researching and writing about. I widened the parameters more than I usually do and told them to think about ideally what they would want to do if given any option. Last year, I held it to just researching a career or college program they planned to enter. I realized as I was talking to them about their projects, that some had followed on to what they are doing with their 20 Time projects. I have students writing novels that want to be professional writers after high school and students working with animal care agencies that want to pursue Wildlife Biology and Veterinary Science after graduation. It was pretty cool to see this tie-in to what they have been pursuing all year. One thing I always require with research is a personal interview. I think it is important to talk to somebody who has walked in the shoes you aspire to wear.  It gives you a better idea of what it takes to be successful and the pitfalls you might face. I also realize that sometimes students don’t know where to start with finding an interview subject, so I always offer my resources to find an interview. I was able to hook up one of my students with a Wildlife Biologist for the State of Virginia and two of my writers with published poets. There is no substitute for interacting with people practicing in the field you want to be a part of. It is interesting to see how curriculum can become so interconnected when you make it driven by student choice and voice. It is not always easy as a teacher to let the control go, but the reward with the students is worth it.