The Value of Reflecting

Can you believe that it’s almost the end of the school year?  I’m sure some of you are already out of school!  Here in NJ, we have about 2-2.5 weeks left this year and then it’s summer!  But summer doesn’t mean no work.  I will be spending a good portion of the summer reflecting on my first year teaching high school English, going over what worked and what didn’t.  I have been jotting down notes all year, what I want to do differently and what I want to continue next year.

It’s important to reflect on our teaching.  No one should be teaching the same lessons, year in and year out, without change.  Students change, times change, technology changes.  As teachers, we need to evolve, too.  My department spent a few days earlier this year beginning to align our curriculum with the Common Core standards.  We were pretty well aligned but just needed to work on the new curriculum document.  This, however, inspired me to rework my units at the beginning of the year.  I team teach with history and the NJ world history curriculum has also changed slightly, starting now at a later date.  This gives me a little more wiggle room and I am planning to start my year with a thematic unit based on Joseph Campbell’s hero monomyth.  I am so excited about this.

Taking time to reflect makes me a better teacher.  It makes me seek out new ideas and keep learning.  I am a perpetual student (and if I could afford it, I would be a student forever!).  I need to reflect and research and learn and grow, or I am bored!

Will you be reflecting on your best practices and what you can improve this summer?  What are some ideas you have for next year?

Multi-genre Research Projects

My students are currently working on their multi-genre self portrait poetry anthologies (Georgia Heard, Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School). They are working on them at home while we focus on the poetry toolboxes and revision in school. Next week we will be taking in part in our annual state testing (oh joy), so I am trying to decide what our final unit of study will be after testing is completed. I am very intrigued with the idea of a multi-genre research project.

A multi-genre research project allows students to research a topic of their choice, just as they would with an expository research paper (the “report” we are all used to seeing). My problem with a research report is that I end up reading 45 of the exact same paper, some of which are even plagiarized. The students are bored, I am bored, and I don’t think either of us gets much out of it. A multi-genre project will let my kids research the topic of their choice, thus letting me do a little more work on their research skills before they head off to middle school. But more importantly, it will allow them to be creative and present the information they learn in a synthesized way, without boring regurgitation. I need to lay it out and get some more reading done, but this seems to be the path I will be heading down for our final unit of study!

Does anyone have experience with multi-genre projects in middle school or intermediate grades? I would love to hear an advice or information you have!

*More information:

Introduction to Multi-genre

Multi-genre Writing

A Teacher’s Guide to the Multigenre Research Project: Everything You Need to Get Started

The Multigenre Research Paper: Voice, Passion, and Discovery in Grades 4-6

For future reference

This idea was mentioned on the Middle School Lit listserv and I LOVE it!  I am saving it here for possible use next year.

Middle School Lit is a great listserv for upper-grade/intermediate teachers.  I tend to lurk, but I get a lot of great ideas and inspiration from the amazing teachers who post.  I highly recommend joining if you teach 5th grade and up!

“Lowry’s “Giver,” “Gathering Blue” and “Messenger”–this is during our
novel study unit. Students ‘draw books’ out of a hat==1/2 read The
Giver, while the other half read GB. We all then read Messenger, and
in the end, a Giver student and a GB student have to come together to
create a culminating project over Messenger. It’s pretty neat how they
get excited to explain how their book plays a part in Messenger. ” – user glfprncs

Possible Idea?

In her comment here, author, blogger, and fellow teacher Kate Messner has given me a fantastic idea for my survival-themed unit at the beginning of the year. How cool would it be to have half the class read Life As We Knew It and the other half read the dead and the gone?  I can imagine how this would start off the year-  “Life As We Knew It” scared the bejeezus out of me and I am sure “the dead and the gone” will do the same.  See, now I have a good excuse for an ARC!  I want to read it and then get it approved by the district so that I can use it first thing next year.  😉

Seriously though, how cool would that be?  “Life As We Knew It” is getting raves from my kids this year, boys and girls alike.  I think this would be a fantastic way to kick off the year!