So, I’ve been thinking about summer reading. I’ve also been thinking about my Arduino skills, or lack of Arduino skills.

Learning more and doing some significant practice has been on my to-do list for several years at this point. I keep trying to get back to it, but never really get anywhere. I admit I have never really gone all in. Every time I decide to give it another go, I get overwhelmed by how must there is to know and how much I don’t know. This is probably because I decide to look around the interwebs rather than just getting going. Then, I see all the advanced this and that, get confused by various system and components and run away. I’m not proud.

Time for another strategy. No more looking at all the complex things I could do in several years. Time to start small and just start. As luck would have it, my STEAM department chairperson gave each department member this for our “summer reading.”

There’s a lot of potential for me to be overwhelmed here. However, there is a small project I have in mind that would be a very reasonable start. The small, realistic plan is not my strong suit. I’m really going to try though. I know from working with students that sometimes a kit with a set project is a great way to start. This is not that kind of kit, but I think I can find some simple projects to try. I seriously will feel so proud if I can make some progress here. I took a three-session class at The Hacktory, but the class started too far along for me. I needed a step zero class that gave me some lingo and some basic circuitry review. Things just went too fast for me. My stepgrandmother who spoke many languages used to swear that the way to learn a language in school was to take first-year French, Spanish, whatever three times rather than moving on to the next year. I think that is where I am with Arduidos, at least that’s where I hope I am. I have tried an intro class, read an intro book, and now I have another opportunity. Maybe this will be my third time’s a charm.

My first project is a light and photograph idea that’s been sitting on my work shelf, waiting. I have photos of faces with good freckles. I poked holes in the images at the freckles and have a simple string of Chibitronics lights in the same pattern underneath the freckles. I plan to code the lights to blink the name of the person in morse code in response to sound or light and dark. I can write the blinking code. I started that already. It’s not hard, just tedious. Next step is setting up a test circuit that includes the sensor. That’s harder for me.

Monday is a new week.

CCO Public domain image

So, I’ve been thinking about my own support of students of color, colleagues of color, and a curriculum of color in my school.

I hope that I am an obvious and effective ally and advocate for all of the above. However, as a white woman who is married to a white man and who lives in a fairly white neighborhood, I know I am missing a lot. My regular adventures outside my neighborhood are not enough. My conversations with colleagues are not enough. The books that I have managed to put in my courses are not enough. The articles that I read are not enough.

I read something by a journalist (whose name I cannot remember or I would attribute) who said that he or she at some point decided to be deliberate about having gender balance in his or her sources or quoted experts. Once making that conscious decision, it turned out not to be that hard, surprise, to find women experts; it just took paying attention and not being lazy.I think I can take this example to heart. It’s not hard to expand the voices I notice. There’s been talk about how Twitter is dead or at least passé. Personally, as an educator, I still find it immensely valuable. And, it is another way for me to expand my circle of things I notice. So, I have been very deliberately adding many more voices of color to my twitter feed. My “home”

There’s been talk about how Twitter is dead or at least passé. Personally, as an educator, I still find it immensely valuable. And, it is another way for me to expand the voices in my circle. So, I have been very deliberately adding many more voices of color to my twitter feed. My “home” tweetdeck column is changing for the better, and it’s leading me to other resources.

It’s not an end, but it’s another step in the right direction.

 

This goat has read my post and is wondering if I am crazy.
CCO public domain image.

So, I’ve been thinking about my summer reading. I’m actually kind of obsessing about it. I can’t wait to get started. I already wrote about my literature plan and have started reading two of the books on my list.

I also have a professional learning reading plan.

Top on my list are a few of the Hacking Learning books, in particular, Hacking Assessment by Starr Sackstein and Hacking Project Based Learning by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy. I am a big fan of Star Sackstein via Twitter. And, I went to Ross and Erin’s session about PBL at EduCon in January and was really impressed with their honesty about their progress in understanding and implementing PBL.

This is the summer that I will finish several education reads, including several books that I recommend to people all the time, but may not have quite finished. I’ll admit to Mindstorms by Seymour Papert and Invent to Learn by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager being on the list. A few others I am keeping to myself.

I’m also going to brush up on my Understanding by Design background and have already collected a bunch of online resources.

My other big topics are going to be pretty much anything that comes out of Project Zero (especially in relation to Global Education and Global Competencies) and Interdisciplinary curriculum readings.

Finally, I have a lot of reading and learning to do in relation to the class I am teaching next year which is an interdisciplinary course about ‘the fantastics’ (fantastic creatures and fantastic places). I’ve got a growing LiveBinder of resources and book list and a lot of books to read.

Oh, and I have a bunch of edtech things to investigate; I get behind during the school year and have to go through all the bookmarks and OneTab (I love this tool) collections once I have time to review. Currently, I’m thinking a lot about things like Flipgrid, Hypothes.is, and HyperDocs. This may or may not be the summer that I make respectable progress with Arduido and/or soft circuitry beyond the basics.

I can totally do all that, right?

 

So, I’ve been thinking about the final writing assignment in my YA literature elective. Last year, there was a lot of moaning and groaning about the length. I wrote about it then.

Briefly, the students read an article from Slate by Ruth Graham (“Against YA“), several responses to Ms. Graham, and then entered the debate by writing their own article, either supporting or opposing Ms. Graham’s original. Last year, after all that complaining, the students’ articles were pretty solid. However, I thought they could have done a better job of dissecting the original article and either countering or agreeing with specific points. They had the same problem with the response articles–too general, not enough of the nitty gritty. This lead to some arguments that were too simplistic. As they did last year, again, students could take either side but needed to make solid and well-defended arguments, reference the first article, at least two others, and at least two books that we read during the semester.

For several students, this was the most successful writing of the semester in terms of their clarity and level of detail. I’ve been thinking about why that might be.

This year, I made sure that we analyzed the first article and several other examples in more detail. We I used the webtool hypothes.is to annotate collaboratively. For each response article, we looked more closely at the particular points of the original article the author chose to address, the tone of the response, and students’ responses to that tone. Some students liked an equally snarky response; others preferred a more neutral tone combined with evidence of experience or expertise. We spent more time talking about format options, and several students took good risks in that department. A few wrote as if they were YA bloggers, and one attempted the ‘take the argument to the extreme to prove its ridiculousness’ option.

Another important characteristic of this assignment, in terms of having more success for more students, was the fact that this writing did not need to have quite as serious an analytical tone. Although the assignment required significant thought and synthesis, it was not “an analytical essay” in their minds. There was some option for creativity of format and less formality in language. It is this language business that often trips them up. The clear writers are clear writers. The problem comes for the students who equate serious analysis with overly complex sentences and overly formal word choice, both of which lead to awkward writing that gets in the way of itself and any point to be made.

So, the better teaching of the arguments in the article is on me. Although, now I wonder if I went too far in terms of digesting so many of the articles together in class.  The part that I am really thinking about is the significant improvement in clarity of writing in this assignment (for some students).

  • Did they just relax with the less formal style and therefore write better?
  • Did they say to themselves, “hey it’s my last English paper, I’ll ease up on the fancy language I’ve been trying to use.”
  • Did they feel pressured in other assignments to write in a voice that is unnaturally serious and therefore awkward?

I tend to think that the understanding that this piece of writing could be less formal was the key for those students who were more successful than they had been earlier in the semester. Interesting to note though, the final articles were not all that casual. No one took it too far. Good thinking, synthesis of ideas, and integration of quations were all obvious.

What if it was all just the perception that they could write as themselves?

I have a lot to think about on this one.

So, I’ve been thinking about what I plan to read over the summer. There are a few more weeks before students and teachers are off, and I have a few books I would like to finish before then. I just finished I’m Looking Through You by Jennifer Finey Boylan, and currently, I am reading The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro and Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino.

 

As I have mentioned before, I have a tendency to plan big, too big. I am teaching a new-to-me course next year, again, and have all of those books to read or reread as well, but somehow those don’t count. Plus, I have some teaching books I want to read. And, I’m sure I’ll read some YA and graphic novels in addition. I mean, there’s a new graphic novel about the Dalai Lama out!! (Man of Peace: The Illustrated Life Story of the Dalai Lama of Tibet by Robert Thurman and others. Fun facts: Professor Thurman taught a class I took in college, and my undergrad thesis was about Tibetan Buddhist women.)

Here’s my list to date.

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. I gave this to my dad for Christmas and now get to read it myself.

The Amber Spy Glass by Philip Pullman. I have not read the final book in the His Dark Materials series. I am not letting myself start this one yet. I have things I need to do.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I have been eyeing this since it came out. My school library does not have it or I would have read it already.

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter. This is a potential read for my English class next year. (I may stick with the circus theme and reread The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern as another option.)

Swing Time by Zadie Smith is sitting on my kitchen table, waiting.

 

I sometimes like to read a few books that somehow relate or go together. Other times, I just read all over the place. I’m a big fan of women pioneer stories (non-fiction) and don’t have any of that on my list so far. It gets harder and harder to find ones I have not read at bookstores on the East Coast.

What else would you recommend?

 

So I’ve been thinking about the book All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

The book was part of my senior elective “Young Adult Fiction’.” We read it after Monster by Walter Dean Myers and Hush by Jacqueline Woodson. The three books together made a thought-provoking group, in my opinion. And, ending with All American Boys really brought the discussion right into the classroom because by then everyone in my class had a character like them in play. The issues weren’t just for my group or your group of people. Everyone saw someone like themselves, somewhere in these three works. When I looked at the course evaluation I just did (which I wrote about the other day), this book got the most 5’s (~42%). It also got the most 2’s (~33%). Half the class rated it a 4 or 5. We had some good conversations about the book. The students were really interested in one character in particular, Paul, and wanted to know more about him; they almost needed to know more about him.

Then a few days ago, a student who is taking an interdisciplinary course called “Race and Ethnicity” interviewed me about the book. He read it as part of a project at the end of the semester. His teacher knew I had read the book with my class and suggested me as an interview subject. The student had good questions about my students’ responses to the book, my thoughts about the quality of the writing, the story, etc. He wanted some feedback on a lesson plan idea that he was proposing. All interesting.

However, the most interesting part was our brief discussion after the official interview. I asked him what he thought of the book and the two person point of view format, which had been one of his questions.

He said something along the lines of “I’ve been thinking about race all year in this class. But this book, ever since I read it, I’ve been thinking about it. It keeps popping up. I do something or something happens, and I think about the book again.” Ok, that seems like a pretty solid argument for reading the book.

Finally, I saw this on Twitter a few days later.

As I told the student who interviewed me, there are a lot of different reasons we (teachers) choose a particular book for an English class. The ability to start a conversation is one of them.

So now, putting these events together, I am thinking about my class and wondering more about how or if All American Boys stayed with them, allowed them to start a conversation, or made them uncomfortable. I wish I had asked them more about this particular book. Were some of the low ratings about discomfort? I’m totally ok with a book causing some discomfort and am wondering how much those 2’s are a reflection of that. Or, were they feeling ready for more of a change of subject matter? And, if so, what part of that is about wanting to look away from a difficult topic? I am debating whether it is worth emailing a few questions to my students, who are now finished and off doing senior projects for a few weeks before graduation. It would make me sad to get no responses.

In any case, am more convinced than ever that this is a book to read with students and discuss in community.

CCO public domain image.

So I’ve been thinking about student feedback and feedback about class climate in particular.

I give course surveys at the end of the course or semester in my English classes in the high school. I used to ask students in my 5th grade class about language arts class too. Then, I mostly asked about the books. What to “definitely keep” what to “definitely change”. I got feedback about class climate and the like in other ways; since we were together all the time, class climate was not related just to language arts.

Now, I don’t spend all day, every day with my English students. I asked my students about the books we read, the homework load, the assignment variety, grading etc. However, the question I am always most concerned about is this one:

Class climate. My goal is always to develop a climate in which all students feel valued, supported, and challenged. I want to hear from each student. Was I successful in creating that climate? Please explain what I might improve in this area.

This is the most important question, because it is where everything begins, IMO. A teacher can’t nail the class climate on day 1, because how could you really? It takes time to develop and foster. You can tell students you are this or that way all you want, but until you demonstrate the truth of those statements, they are just hypotheticals. But, you can’t forget about class climate either; it’s always there, in the background, either supporting or undermining everything you are trying to accomplish.

I read through all the responses about this and that, but what I am always anxious about is that class climate question. It’s the one that is closest to my heart and that I just don’t want to get wrong. I pick books that flop all the time. Not on purpose, of course. I think I do a decent job getting a mix of texts in there, but inevitably something really doesn’t fly. This school year it was KonTiki (for summer reading). There were other books that had their detractors, but none was as widely disliked as that, across two courses. Point taken.

Here are some examples what my students said in response to my class climate question:

  • I felt all of these things on the days that I did what I was supposed to.
    • Comment from me: Hmm. This was interesting to me. I would like to know more about this. How much is this about my response to students and how much is this about the fact that if you have not done the reading, it is hard to participate and feel included.
  • Yeah, I think everyone fit in the class and brought something valuable to the discussion.
    • Comment from me: I am reassured to think that students felt that everyone brought something to class, not just that I valued everyone, but they did too.
  • I felt welcome to voice my opinions in this class and I think everyone felt that way.
    • Comment from me: yay!
  • I felt comfortable expressing my thoughts and opinions in class, unlike some other classes I am taking.
    • Comment from me: yay, but why doesn’t this person feel that way elsewhere?
  • I felt valued, supported and challenged in class. You did this perfectly! I felt that every student felt encouraged and helped to bring up their thoughts in class.
    • Comment from me: Victory dance happening now.
  • I believe the class climate was exactly that. You were constantly asking everyone’s ideas because you truly wanted to know what all of us thought. To know that your ideas and opinions are valued means a lot. I don’t think there is anything that needs to be improved in this area.
    • Comment from me: More victory dancing, maybe some chocolate too.
  • The class climate was very even I feel, even the kids who were not very engaged in class were on the same level as the kids who consistently take notes and I like that level of equality as opposed to the opposite where the teacher picks favorites.
    • Comment from me: great. I don’t want anyone to think I have favorites. For kids to recognize that students are differently engaged and that there is still equity for all, is a win.

I feel pretty good about these results. The survey was anonymous, which I told people in advance. There are other areas that I can improve on, which I know. (Ahem, getting feedback to students in a timely manner!)

I have a few things I want to think about, but I’m feeling pretty good about this one.