A brief update

Have you seen this photo going around?

It came across my Instagram feed a couple of days ago and I saved it to one of my collections. And then I must have forgotten I’d saved it, because yesterday it appeared in my feed from a different account and I saved it again.

So I suppose this maxim spoke to me. Twice.

It’s a good reminder to me that I will come through on the other side of what I’m currently experiencing, and that perhaps I’ll be able to help someone else.

Yesterday as we filed out for a fire drill, a student said to me, “Ms. Rowse, I miss your six word stories!”

For the past two years, I’ve written a six word story for every school day. These stories force me to be present while teaching, as I look for possible stories to create. They force me to practice brevity and pointed language since I limit myself to six words. And they force me into a daily writing habit, even if it’s only six words.

But I started this school year in significant personal tumult, and while I wear a pretty good Happy Mask, it’s hard for me to see much joy, let alone create anything resembling quality writing.

But the photo above reminds me the tumult is temporary, and before long joy will start to break through.

Like the student, who on the first day of school walked into my classroom and said, “I wanted to take another class with you so I signed up for this one!” Or watching my editors teach a young newspaper staff how to be good reporters. Or getting grateful emails from colleagues.

Or a student who tells me she misses my six word stories.

So do I, kiddo. I promise I’ll start writing them again soon.

I Love Public Schools Day: Music Edition

I planned to hang this in my classroom for I Love Public Schools Day.

I’ve written here before about my high school English teacher and my high school choir teacher. These women were foundational to my career in education. But I’ve never written how public schools helped me become a musician.

The summer before my sophomore year of high school, I got a phone call from the choir teacher, Mr. Reimer. He was looking for an accompanist for the show choir.

Accompanying wasn’t what I wanted to do. I’d been down this road at church, and once I showed moderate proficiency with playing the piano, I never got to sing. But in my lapsed-logic-15-year-old brain, I thought if I played the piano for the show choir and sang in the sophomore choir, I’d have a better chance making the show choir as a singer my junior year.

Show choir music is sometimes challenging to play, and as a 15 year-old, I was often out of my element. But Mr. Reimer was encouraging and not critical when I’d miss notes. Which happened often.

We moved to Montana after my sophomore year, and though I delayed telling my new choir teacher that I could play the piano, she still made sure I accompanied the choir at least once a year. And sure, I resented it then, but what I didn’t realize at the time is that both of my high school choir teachers developed my accompanying skills, which have allowed me to earn a little extra money and continue to be a musician.

Fast forward several years: I was teaching at the high school I attended as a sophomore, and Mr. Reimer asked me to play piano for the school musical–nothing fancy, just the violin part on a synthesizer. And then he asked me to play more challenging four-hand accompaniments for his varsity choir.

When I came back from grad school, that choir teacher’s son AJ was teaching choir, and he carried on the tradition of asking me to play for the musicals and varsity choir.

Both Reimers taught me musicianship, the value that each person in a choir or an orchestra brings to every piece of music, and that participating in musical groups is fun, not stressful.

Last year I took over as principal pianist for the school musical. I constantly feel inadequate. But AJ, always the music educator, is nothing but encouraging. He never makes me feel stupid when I can’t figure out a rhythm or when a song pops up in G flat major and I keep forgetting the C flat. Instead, he teaches.

Without these opportunities to grow as an accompanist and musician, I’m not sure I would not still be playing the piano. I’m positive I wouldn’t be as good of a musician as I am. I definitely wouldn’t even consider myself a musician at all.

I’m a musician because of public schools.

Station Rotation: What Students Thought

You can read part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Today I had my students answer a few questions about how to stations went. Here’s their answers.


Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 8.36.54 PMThis actually surprised me, mostly because when I’ve tried new things in the past, some students have really bristled at change.

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Well this was a nice warm fuzzy for me. But also made me realize I might need to do a little more explanation about the AP Style quizzes, and maybe tweak how they read, interact with, and discuss the example stories. I asked which stations were least helpful, and it was just about a equal split with the AP Style quiz, comma splice review, and reading feature examples.

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Sorry, 6.2% of respondents…looks like you’ll be doing stations again.

I did include a free-response, but only five people responded. They all wanted more grammar instruction via Khan Academy, so I’m glad to know that went over well.

Overall, not a bad showing. I didn’t anticipate the level of positive feedback, so I really am pretty happy with how it turned out this time. Will definitely be doing it again.

Big thanks to our district tech coordinators for providing quality professional development–something I was able to implement immediately–and thanks to our district for providing the time and the subs to allow that kind of collaboration and growth.

Station Rotations in Journalistic Writing

Read how I came around to stations in a secondary classroom here.

First, full disclosure: I took no photos of my stations.

Why did I take no photos? Let me dispel a station rotation myth. For some teachers, setting up stations that allow students to work independently might mean time for the teacher to catch up on grading, parent contacts, etc. But implementing stations that way ensures teachers miss out on what I found to be the best feature: directed instruction with smaller groups of students.

So I couldn’t take photos because though 3/4 of my class was not in my immediate teaching purview, I was working with 1/4 of my class the entire time.

Second: this post is long. TL;DR: I think I found a way to make stations really work, despite teaching in a 47 minute block of time AND sharing a classroom with three other teachers.

Here’s how it happened.

Catlin Tucker suggests instead of planning lessons vertically, plan them horizontally. So I thought about thing I would spend an entire day teaching: AP Style, peer revisions, grammar instruction, and dissecting story examples. In previous semesters, those items took up four days of instruction. But was it all that effective?

So I went horizontal. Could any of those activities be done with correct supports, a little frontloading, and with collaboration between students instead of with me directing the whole show?

Yes. Here’s what it looked like on paper:

I needed two days for it to work. 10 minutes at a station is too little time. 20 would be perfect. I divided the class into four groups, and by the end of the second day, every student would have been through all four stations.

Station 1: AP Style quiz. All students have access to the AP Stylebook online, and a generous journalism teacher wrote 40 AP style quizzes and shared them with any adviser who asked. So I printed quizzes and these instructions:

Complete AP Style quiz 3 and 4.
Collaborate with each other on the quizzes.
Use the AP Stylebook.
Correct the quizzes as a group (come get the key from me when you’re ready!)

Station 2: Fixing comma splices and run on sentences. As students transcribe interviews, recognizing these two sentence construction problems is the #1 grammar issue I see in their writing. Here’s what I had them do:

Watch the Khan Academy video about comma splices and run on sentences.
Complete the quiz that follows the video.
Create a Google Doc in your Journalistic Writing folder and title it “Comma Splice/Run on practice.
Write at least one sentence that has a comma splice, and one that is a run on sentence.
Share your Google Doc with someone else in your group, and have them correct your incorrect sentence.

Station 3: Story dissection. Writers don’t become better writers if they aren’t reading. So I uploaded some examples to Schoology for them to read, and asked them to follow these instructions:

Watch the video that explains how you will get the stories, mark on them, and turn them in.
Read both stories, and highlight the who, what, where, when, why.
Also highlight details that the writer observed, and then wrote.
Share the note to the discussion board, and then look at what your peers noticed.
Discuss what makes a good feature story.

Station 4: Peer writing time. Students had been assigned a 150-word vignette earlier in the week. I used this time to debrief how the fact-gathering process went, and helped them fine-tune their ideas. I gave them time to write with me there, and as they wrote, I had their Google Docs pulled up. Students also asked questions as they wrote. After a few minutes of writing time, I highlighted sentences in their Google Docs and asked them to read the section out loud. I pointed out strong writing from every student.

This is already too long, so I’ll write another post about what went well and what needs to improve. Bottom line, though: I think it worked. On Monday I’m having students give me some feedback about it, and will tweak things from there. And I’m hopeful those tweaks will create better writers, better collaborators, and an overall better classroom culture.

Why Continual Technology Coaching is Vital to A District’s Technology Plan

I started teaching with iPads nearly six years ago. I was terrified, not of the iPads, but of not using them the best way possible, of falling short of district expectations. In those six years, I’ve settled into a workable routine for how I use them in my classes. This routine evolved because for the first couple of years, the district provided continual technology coaching and allowed constant collaboration as more and more teachers started using iPads.

It’s been a while since I’ve received any of that direct coaching. And a lot has changed with using iPads in education. I know that my district’s technology coaches are just an email away and always happy to pop in and have a quick brainstorm session, but nothing can replace the value of directed instruction on recent research and best practices, the value of collaborating across curricula and grade levels, the value of the “gift of time.”

Last Friday, the district allotted a day for “veteran” iPad teachers in our district to meet, receive some direct coaching, and spend time honing new ideas. I went with pretty low expectations of myself–after all, I’ve been part of this rodeo for six years. How could one day possibly change me?

Turns out, it changed quite a bit.

First, I had forgotten the energy I get from being around teachers in different content areas, seeing how they incorporate different technologies in their curricula. Getting away from my journalism mindset for a spell was refreshing.

Second, I had forgotten that sometimes, I still need to be taught. One of the activities during the day was reading a chapter from “Blended Learning” about stations. I also watched a couple of videos in the resources provided to us about stations in secondary classrooms. And my rusty wheels started to turn.

I had tried stations once before with the iPads, and it failed miserably. But something this time clicked. I started to see how I could make stations work in my secondary classroom, even in a room that I share with four other teachers.

Tomorrow’s post will have photos and an in-depth explanation of how the stations worked out, but for today, my purpose in writing is this: districts that expect teachers to utilize new technologies in their classrooms, but don’t provide supports to do so, will not see results they are hoping for.

I didn’t realize how complacent I’d become, how reticent I was to experiment, how resistant I was to trying anything new. Getting out of that rut is not only good for me, but is also good for my students.