November, Again.

How is it already November?

Time has simultaneously moved at a glacial and white-water-rapids pace. I will never understand how both feel possible.

This dichotomous passage of time fills me with both relief and dread–relief that the current problems I face can’t be my problems forever; dread that the pieces of my life I love the most right now are just as fleeting.

I’ve used past Novembers to write daily–some years it was writing a book or two, some years it was writing here about things I was grateful for. As someone who craves tradition I feel the familiar pull to write every day in November. As someone who craves change, I need to write something different.

So this November, I plan to write lists.

Lists of films, music, worst teaching moments, best teaching moments, fascinating ancestors, lies depression tells me and so on. Lists of things that have led me to the being I am right now, this moment, November 2018.

I have a list (a list of lists!) with 26 topics. It might change over the next 30 days. We will see. It’s a place to start. Why only 26 topics? Because every Wednesday I plan a return to the movie project. 

So if all goes according to plan (and I think long-time readers of the blog know that’s rarely the care), you’ll have a new list to read every day. Maybe it will inspire you to make your own lists, to reflect on the tiny building blocks that created who you are right now, this moment.

I kinda hope it does.

Random Thoughts On The Night Before…

In exactly 12 hours I will be sitting in a meeting at school.

I can’t believe how fast the summer went. I did that to myself, really, with a seven-week trip that took me from Utah to Tokyo and back, with a brief stopover in Colorado. By the time I was home again, it was July 11th, less than 30 days to meetings at school.

I am feeling all the normal feels of the start of a new school year–fear, excitement, frustration–which tells me that I’m still doing what the universe thinks I should be doing. The year I feel none of these things is probably the first sign it’s time to move on. But this is not that year.

I have a mostly-new newspaper staff, and the editors are willing to make some sweeping changes in how we cover news at the school.

I am adjusting some of my assignments to be more about practice and less about point values.

And I am setting a goal to be more reflective this year.

At the end of last year, I applied for a scholarship to a master’s program. I did not get the scholarship, and I was a little bummed because paying for a second master’s degree is not really something I want to do.

But in my scholarship essay, I explained how I have not written much lately about what goes well and what goes not-so-well in my classroom. I’m not present enough in my craft, because I’m too worried about the litany of concerns that currently plague educators in this country.

So the night before school starts, I am thinking about how I can be more reflective, more present, more involved in my classroom.

I have some ideas percolating, and one of those ideas is to blog more here. I don’t need to be enrolled in a master’s program to be more reflective, and I know I don’t need a master’s program to inspire me to write more often than I have been.

The trick is to remember to do it. To make the time for it.

Welcoming any suggestions for how I make that happen.

SAMR: It’s Not Just For Students.

I often agonize over the SAMR model and how I feel completely stuck at Augmentation most of the time.

Today, I felt like maybe I’m actually closer to Modification. Here’s why.

I’ve taught writing in some form my entire teaching career. This year, writing instruction is in my Journalistic Writing class. Before iPads and Google Drive, I scheduled lab time, wrote endless passes to the library, and begged students to complete drafts on time so I could grade them–by hand–fast enough to get the feedback to students in time for them to write a final draft.

This year’s students have been working on their very first news stories. Today was a writing day, where their only task was to work on rough drafts.

In the past, I would walk around the room and glance at sentences, making minor (mostly grammatical) changes.

Deciphering handwriting and scratched out comments here and there can be tough.

Today, I sat at my desk and read drafts as the students wrote them. I commented on their stories, looked for passive voice, found holes in their stories, suggested alternate sources. I worked with them. And as students had questions, I conferenced with students.

There aren’t many ways I can “significantly redesign the task” of writing news stories. But I have “significantly redesigned” how I provide feedback. Students this semester are getting feedback on their writing way more often than in semesters past, and that feedback is better quality (I type way faster than I handwrite). Later this week, we will do whole-group revisions and peer-to-peer revisions. Instead of only me reading their stories once or twice before a final draft, I’ll have read each of their stories at least 4 or 5 times, in addition to the attention of their classmates.

I have to believe that the quantity and quality of feedback will make them better writers.

For the past eight months, I’ve been thinking about the SAMR model as solely for my students. It wasn’t until today I considered it as a model for me.

Eddie Vedder and Journalism

Back when I coached speech, I really struggled to maintain a balance between teaching my students skills, allowing them some creativity, and guiding them toward what judges wanted to see. It eventually became nearly impossible for me to balance those–if I allowed my students to make some unorthodox choices, they were often denied state and national awards. But if I forced them into choices that pleased judges, their performances were a tad inauthentic.

Now that I’m a newspaper adviser, I’m faced with the same predicament. Do I let my students really make their own choices (and therefore make mistakes)? Or do I proofread every little thing, suggest every layout, monitor all story ideas, all in an attempt to “play to the judges”?

I talked about this with Stueve, my compatriot who advises the yearbook, and we decided we would take a page out of Eddie Vedder’s playbook.

At the 1996 Grammy Awards, Pearl Jam won an award, and as he “accepted” the award, Vedder acknowledged that at the end of the day, awards mean nothing. He was a little more colorful than that, of course, but he speaks the truth. We do what we do because we love it, not because we want to win awards.

So Stueve and I plan to let our kids make the choices, trust their decisions but guide them when necessary, and if we’re recognized by anyone outside our building, then great.

But if not, we’ll just be happy we get to work with some of the best kids in the building in creating something absolutely beautiful.

Full disclosure: today was State Journalism. One of my students came in 6th in column writing; a different student actually won our district in prelims of column writing. I’m terribly proud of them both.

Risk Aversion

I showed Morgan Spurlock’s TED talk to my Pop Culture Studies classes last week. Toward the end, he flashes this quote on the screen behind him:

“When you train your employees to be risk averse, then you’re preparing your whole company to be reward challenged.”

I chewed on that quote throughout the rest of the week, as my colleagues and I are forging new territories in our classrooms. Specifically, we are introducing our students to the concept of Challenge-Based Learning. And yes, the conversation about its grounding in Apple products is one for another day, but if you strip away the product placement throughout the resources provided, Challenge-Based Learning (or I’ve also seen it presented at Project-Based Learning), all that remains is a curriculum designed on teaching students how to think, work collaboratively, and create a product of impact.

The trouble for me is taking the risk. 

It’s a huge risk to try and guide juniors in high school through a research process that is so different from what they are used to. It’s a huge risk to relenquish some of the control I typically have in my classroom. It’s also a risk to trust that my students will follow me into the void, that they will take risks themselves and that we all will possibly fail.

But if we don’t take the risk…well, according to Spurlock’s quote, we’ll be reward challenged. If we don’t take the risk, my students will research meaningless topics about which they do not care, then write papers that I will not want to grade because they were not written with any kind of passion whatsoever, and I will have no one to blame but myself for not taking the risk.

So tomorrow, we begin a whole-class mini-research endeavor. All of us–myself included–figuring out the steps and elements of completing research that could actually change a life. I’ve been telling my students for the past week that even if what we do only affects one person, then it’s worth it.

I need to remember that sentiment throughout this process–maybe this year, only one student will find this risk to be worthwhile. But I will find better ways to teach this process and next year, maybe two students will love the risk. And perhaps it will grow exponentially from there.

And speaking of not falling prey to risk aversion:

First Year: Week Two from AE Stueve on Vimeo.