By Shana Karnes
I love to spend big chunks of my summer planning ways to revise and improve my practice. The season is always so full of hope, with opportunities to reframe my thinking and help my students be more successful.
But when the school year actually begins, it can be overwhelming to attempt anything from a major overhaul of your teaching to a few key shifts in practice. Every year, I read books, take classes, and obsessively jot ideas that never see the light of day when I’m faced with the reality of a fall full of fresh faces, administrative initiatives, and new courses to teach.
This summer, though, I’m working with a group of amazing teachers in Pipestem, WV during a National Writing Project summer institute. As we read and write and think and plan about argument writing, we’ve come across two key changes we can make that will withstand the crush of the reality of our profession.
Embrace the Wobble
One of our central texts for the institute is Pose, Wobble, Flow by Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen. This text makes lots of wonderful arguments for teachers to inhabit “poses” as more thoughtful, authentic practitioners through the metaphor of yoga. The idea is that when we try new things as teachers, we are trying to get into a pose. We inevitably wobble as we try to master this new stance, but eventually attain the flow characterized by doing this pose without thinking.
GODA (as one of our teachers refers to Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen)’s key argument is that the wobble part of this process is not only a necessary part of becoming a better teacher, but a desirable one--we must live in the gray area, a zone of proximal development, disequilibrium, or whatever else we might call it. “The P/W/F model is not about an endpoint,” GODA vehemently asserts; “it is a framework to help acknowledge how one’s practice changes over time and requires constant adaptation” (4). It’s only by being uncomfortable, by trying new things day or week or year in and out, that we can improve as teachers.
What this looks like in terms of our current theme of teaching argument writing is revising the way we think about the writing process to start from an inquiry-based place of research, then claim development, then argument articulation. This new mindset is requiring all of us to “wobble” as we try to conceive of it, and we’re wobbling in even our understandings of its many moving parts--what revision is, or what an argument can look like, or how we can use argument as a genre for developing our opinionated writing voices. As we’re flooded with unconventional ideas, mentor texts, thought processes, and assessment measures, we’re all wobbling with the confidence we’ll eventually reach flow.
But once we do--some time during the school year when things are going smoothly and planning and teaching are underway--we’ll need to yank ourselves out of our newly-found comfort zones and get back into a new pose, embracing the wobble of new learning once more.
This constant revision of our teaching is a simple way we can always strive to be better teachers--just embrace the wobble of continuous improvement.
Become a Writer
The second simple way we’ve discovered to guarantee an improvement in our teaching is to help shift our identities from mere teachers to that of teacher-writers. GODA strongly advocate for the many student-centered benefits of writing beside our learners, but there are so many benefits beyond the classroom that become possible when we simply write.
Outside the classroom, GODA suggest that teachers might become more engaged in improvement by:
Taking one or more of these eminently doable steps can help teachers “enact agency and make an impact on the profession” (27). I highly encourage anyone reading this to write for WVCTE, join us for a region-specific #wvedchat on Twitter, comment on this or other blogs, or join us for local workshops like our state conference in April. These simple activities will not only expose you to ideas to keep you in the “wobble,” but they’ll let you meet and engage with like-minded colleagues as interested in improvement as you.
Within your classroom, becoming a writer is equally valuable. If you read nothing else of Pose Wobble Flow, I encourage you to read the chapter on “Embracing Your Inner Writer: What It Means to Teach as a Writer.” These pages are chock full of suggestions for not only reasons to write, but ways to do it. From a survey designed to help you find your identity as a writer, to practical methods for joining writing communities on Twitter, Facebook, and even NaNoWriMo, to the ways the act of writing beside our students changes our teaching, this chapter is awesome.
Because “the changes that come about within our classrooms and with our students start with ourselves,” (80), writing is a necessary first step to becoming a better teacher. I hope, like me, you’ll begin keeping a writer’s notebook, blogging regularly, and writing beside your students every time you see them in class. Beginning to inhabit the pose of a writer--although I experience wobble within this identity almost daily--is doubtless the most helpful thing I’ve done to improve my practice as a teacher.
Whether you start with wobbling or writing this school year, I wish you a wonderful end of the summer and all the joy and optimism the fall always brings as we work to become better teachers every day!
What simple ways have you improved your teaching? Please share with us in the comments, on our Facebook page, or via Twitter!
Shana Karnes teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University. She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life. Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or find more of her writing about secondary readers-writers workshop at Three Teachers Talk.
To celebrate this year's Black History Month, Berkeley County Schools students read and studied One Book, Kwame Alexander's The Crossover. If you don't already know Kwame Alexander or his work, you should definitely check him out. WVCTE had a chance to meet Kwame and hear him speak on NCTE '16 in Atlanta. He is an incredibly inspiring and engaging speaker, writer, and fellow human.
The Crossover is a YA novel written in verse that follows the story of a young basketball superstar named Josh, dubbed Filthy McNasty, his twin brother Jordan, their retired professional ball player dad, and their PhD vice-principal mother. Like its writer, The Crossover is inspiring and engaging, breaking stereotypes and raising important questions about family, loyalty, relationships, adolescence, and the biases we bring to our reading experiences.
To top off our Black History Month studies and celebrate our One Book, a few of us decided there was no better way to wrap up good reading than with good conversation. Because many of us are active Twitter users and consider our connections on Twitter to be meaningful PLCs, we decided to extend that opportunity to students here in Berkeley County.
The lovely Jeni Gearhart, WVCTE Executive Committee member, proposed the plan, and after a few emails, a few graphics, and a little bit of hype, the first ever Berkeley County One Book Twitter chat was born.
We decided to host a "slow chat" and release questions each hour beginning at 7:45. We asked students to ponder the writer's craft and the big ideas in the text, which made for a rich discussion.
Below are a few teacher reflections and highlights of that chat.
First of all, I am now a certified Kwame Alexander fangirl. My students had a great time writing imitation poetry, and Kwame even retweeted some of our work. Much as I loved this book, I think the best part of this learning experience was the collaborative nature of it. Being able to have conversations with other teachers and other students about the text made it more significant than just a normal, isolated learning experience. My students enjoyed the #crosschat Twitter chat because it made the conversation more authentic. The reading experience became real, rather than just another assignment. I can't wait to participate in something similar again, and I've been already mulling around new ideas of how to make this happen again!
#CrossChat was no doubt a great day of learning. All six of my classes, from AP Literature to on-grade English 10 shared in a fun and thoughtful conversation with fellow Berkeley County students.
Here's my two cents on Twitter in the classroom: It works. Twitter provides engaging and relevant content. And when harnessed to elevate learning, it's undeniably effective. As a teacher, I've made some of my most meaningful professional connections on Twitter -- I've been endlessly inspired by colleagues from across the country, I've been forced to reflect and reassess my practice, and I've shamelessly celebrated my students and their incredible work. I believe students may find Twitter an exciting forum for learning as well.
And that's exactly what happened in #CrossChat. My students were eager to hear the thoughts of other students outside our class, to see how they agreed or disagreed, and to learn how others considered the text. Students were surprised by the novelty of using social media in class, but they were more surprised by the quality of conversation. Many were eager to share, and many more were eager to "listen."
And those are skills that never go out of style -- to share thoughts, feelings, and ideas, and to learn to listen to others.
I first read The Crossover last year, after seeing student after student devour it during independent read time. The few times I went to our school library to check it out, it was never there. I saw the way both readers and “not-yet-readers” connected to it, and finally bought a copy. I read it, laying in a swing under a summer sky, and I can remember that spell settling down on me. You know the one. When a book stretches outside the boundaries of its cover, and wraps itself around you in a net of words and magic. When I finished the last page, I snapped the book shut and hugged it close to my chest, and let hot tears spill down my face. I knew that this was a book that every kid should have an opportunity to read and love.
I then, of course started tweeting at students who I knew should read the book.
@TDoutrive (now a senior) did read The Crossover and loved it, by the way.
#CrossChat was an incredible way to give every student a chance to share their voices and engage with the book and their peers outside the classroom walls. The slow chat format allowed students time to get comfortable with Twitter chatting before engaging in rapid fire conversation. The best part of the #CrossChat was seeing students who are normally “quiet” in discussion go all in on Twitter. The semi-anonymity of Twitter was freeing for many of my students, and I saw kids sharing poems, ideas, and artwork during our discussion of Alexander’s work who usually remain quiet and withdrawn. The novelty of chatting about a common text with other student from within our county was also a high point. To see so many other young people across our county uniting around a novel, and not just any novel, but a novel written in poetry, was exhilarating. And Kwame, because he’s awesome, chimed in more than once, liking our students’ posts, and retweeting great student comments. This is an activity that was enormously successful, but I think it was successful because we picked the right text. The tool (Twitter) gave our students the outlet to talk about great art, and that is ultimately the goal of every classroom discussion.
WVCTE is wondering...
What do you think of using Twitter in the classroom? Would you be interested in having your classes participate in a chat? (We're up for planning!)
Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Check out #CrossChat after the jump!
An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves. ~Bill Vaughan (1915–1977), in The Kansas City Star
If you’ve been anywhere near social media, then you know the vast majority of the world was ready for 2016 to come to an end. And I’ll admit, part of me was right there with them. This year saw the horrific violence of Syria, we lost Leonard Cohen, Prince, David Bowie and Princess Leia, and let’s not even talk about the chaotic, weird, divisive United States election.
Yeah, 2016 was a doosey. For a hilarious recap, check out this parody of a man who slept through 2016.
Like most folks, when New Year’s Eve approached this week, my knee-jerk reaction was “good riddance 2016.” But then, I sat down to draft this blog post and realized that for all the awful things that happened in the past year, there was also an extraordinary amount of awesome, specifically for our WVCTE community.
For starters, WVCTE received its official NCTE affiliate status, our membership has grown, we’ve connected educators across the state, and we’ve begun planning our first state-wide conference for March 2018. Our little organization hosted its first professional development session in September with the authors of Writing with Mentors, Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell, and it was attended by over 40 teachers from West Virginia and Maryland. Our Best Practices blog has been reaching teachers all over the state, country, and world, and we’ve given West Virginia ELA teachers a platform to share their stories, success, and strategies. (And we designed these really great t-shirts...)
So no, I can’t say the 2016 was a bad year. In fact it was an incredible year, and 2017 has some pretty big shoes to fill. I look forward to the next year with hope and optimism.
And like most hopeful, optimistic people I have made qutie a few New Year Resolutions. Most of them are pretty standard proclamations like "get fit," "get more sleep," and "drink more water," but I've also made a few Teacher resolutions, and I would like to share two of them here:
Teacher Resolution Number 1