The middle school animal is a breed of its own. Those who work with students in lower or higher grades look at middle-schoolers and shudder. One can almost hear the audible ‘Ughhhh’ accompanying that shudder. Middle-schoolers revel in being loud, verbal, and demonstrative in many shapes and forms. One often wonders if they are teachable at this age. After all, one queries, how could a screaming, pushing, fidgeting preteen sit still and be quiet long enough to take anything in? Well, that’s the in: the College, Career, and Community Writers Program encourages and relies on discourse. And believe you me, middle schoolers love to talk.
Routine argument writing, a continuous and informal C3WP element, begins with such short, carefully scaffolded lessons that it is accessible to students of all abilities. Students might participate in “writing sprints,” “loop writing,” or a “human continuum;” or they might identify the argument in an image or complete a checklist. And then, voila, they get to turn and talk! First with a partner, then with the whole group, where students raise and shake hands violently as they await their turn to verbalize their thinking. Using sentence stems like “I believe ….,” “I agree with so-and-so…” and “I see what so-and-so is saying, but I also think…,” they learn to participate in a civil discourse that even the adults in their lives are often unable to do successfully. Continue reading The College, Career, and Community Writers Program in the Middle School→
The other day, my daughter called and asked me about a recipe. We chatted about its origin, and recalled a funny story that went with it. Our lively conversation had stemmed from a simple question. Recently, I’ve been paying close attention to questions and their resulting conversations.
“Do you have an idea for your digital story?”
“How was your Fourth of July?”
“What’s the best way to get ketchup and red wine out of a table cloth? ”
“Who can help me with Weebly?”
“Could you look at this piece to tell me if the transitions work, and if the ending is strong enough?”
Each of these is a question I heard asked by someone during their time at the CRWP Summer Institute. Each of these led to discussions between two or more people. Sometimes the discussions were short, other times they were long, and a time or two the discussions were later revisited. Although it might appear that the conversations were casual, they were still interactions in which two or more people needed to communicate with others and needed to know what others knew in order to help their own learning or thinking.Continue reading The Value of Talk→
I remember my first student teacher fondly. He was as eager and energetic as I was, ready to learn from me and to show he had what it takes to be a teacher. I was a seasoned teacher, but new to the student teacher mentoring process. Between the two of us, we worked out a process for his learning and my teaching. I’ve had many student teachers since Mr. W. and have fine-tuned my mentoring since then, but some basic elements remain. I ask the student teacher to watch and take notes as I model practices and procedures; we work collaboratively on lessons and initial grading; we both reflect on each lesson delivered. Yet how we go about this process has changed dramatically in 20 years.
When Mr. W. arrived, I gave him a spiral notebook, pristine in its newness. Handing him a marker, I suggested he label it, noting that we’d use that space to write together. He would take notes, pass the book back to me, and I’d respond to his notes. He was to jot down observations, wonderings and connections, much like we would ask our students to do; it was a lesson in mentoring and in modeling. We handed the notebook back and forth easily in the beginning. He was eager to show me his work, I was eager to see what he had written and to write back. My replies were full of praise and suggestions, or simple answers to questions. Later, we’d meet and talk about the entries, using the writings as a springboard for our conversations.
As time went on, however, the notebook became a weekly instead of daily writing. He got busy with lessons and grading, and I felt less of a need to monitor him so closely. I did encourage him to reflect on his lessons, to note if each was a success or not, to jot down how he adjusted his lessons to adapt to the varying groups and their personalities. However, the notebook wasn’t always easily utilized–he might forget to leave it with me, I might forget to take it home to look it over. Whatever the reason, what started as an easy exchange of writings became less accessible.
My, has that changed!
When Mr. L., my current student teacher, arrived (also ready to learn and teach), I didn’t give him a spiral bound notebook. Instead, I showed him how to use Google Docs. I created a document labeled ‘Journal: A Collaborative Student Teacher-Mentor Teacher Writing.’ I ‘shared’ it with him and showed him how to use the ‘comment’ feature. Then, we both sat down to write. He hadn’t used Google Docs before, and was a little taken aback when he saw the words I was typing while he was also typing. Once he got used to it, he was delighted. As he scribed his summaries, reflections, and questions, I replied in comment boxes. He replied in similar fashion. Gone are the days of having to share a hard copy of our journal. Now, when I want to access our journal I don’t need to search my desk to see if he remembered to leave it for me. I don’t need to carry it around with me; stored in the cloud, it’s always there for both of us. I can be at home using my computer, at a restaurant using my iPad, or a passenger in a car using my phone. Anywhere I have internet access, I have the journal. It’s both freeing and empowering.
The same is true of our lesson plans. With Mr. W., we shared a large lesson plan book. During our prep, before or after school, we carved out time to look at our plans and record them on the lesson plan book. When we needed to adjust the plans, we took out a pencil and eraser and rewrote in the appropriate boxes. As we worked, we made a list of documents that needed to be created, how many copies we needed, and when they needed to be completed. Mr. W. worked tirelessly both at school and at home, brought me completed copies to see if any revisions were needed, and then returned home to his computer to make changes. This process continued for each study guide, each worksheet, each quiz, each test. Wow. As I look back, I wonder how we managed to remain sane.
Now, our lesson plans are another Google Doc. My current student teacher, Mr. L., can work on them at work and at home. I can look at them, too, anytime and from anywhere. And rather than having to carry hard copies back and forth to discuss, I can address needs (and send positive notes!) via the comment box. Additionally, all documents that are created for class can be linked directly to the document. What a plus! Not only are all our papers readily accessible to us, whether it’s to project onto the large screen as we teach or to open and send to the printer, they are also readily accessible to parents and students. Now, when a parent asks for work for an absent child, or a student needs another copy of the work, we can just share the lesson plans with them via email.
Over the years, I’ve had a half-dozen student teachers. As the process began anew with each, I continued with what worked well and omitted what did not. The shared journal, begun in a spiral notebook and remade in a Google doc, is a keeper. Using the new technology has been a natural yet dramatic change that helps keep the energy of my teaching evident in a tried and true process. Perhaps in fewer than 20 years there will be another venue for shared documents. Until then, I’ll continue to share the process with other teachers, whether they are student or seasoned teachers. I am sure Misters L. and W. will do the same.
Kathy Kurtze teaches English and Drama at Carson City-Crystal High School in Carson City, Michigan, and is an active teacher consultant as a co-director of the Chippewa River Writing Project at CMU.