Throughout my marathon training I have often stepped back to look at how far I’ve come in my running and it’s pretty exciting! I started thinking about using this perspective with other aspects of my life. Last week I realized that I have a pretty clear cut example of how far I’ve come in my short career of a teacher and the more I thought about it the more excited I got! I think it’s so easy to become bogged down with all the things we want to do and strive for as teachers that we don’t often take the time to look at how far we’ve come. So here it is…
April 2010 – Grade 6 (three week practicum)
I was nearing the end of my first practicum and I was going to be supervised by the principal of the school I was at in Ontario. In preparing for the supervision, I decided that I should choose a language arts lesson that I had been dying to try out and I knew that it would be intriguing and dynamic for the students: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. If you aren’t familiar with these pictures then you need to go check out Van Allsburg’s work quickly because it is truly amazing.
For the lesson, I gave each group of students (sitting in pods of four) one of the pictures and asked them to discuss what they thought was happening in the picture. After a few minutes I switched the pictures to the next table and they repeated the process. The students absolutely loved looking at the mysterious photos and talking about what might have been happening. After they had seen all of them I let them choose the one they were most intrigued by and they started on a rough draft of a short story.
In the end I got one amazing short story from a student and then quite a few “okay” rough drafts, followed by a lot of blank pages with some writing crossed out on it. When I sat down with the principal and my mentor teacher after the lesson they gave me some suggestions on how to scaffold the lesson better to meet the learning needs of my students. During this meeting a key phrase really struck me and I have kept it in mind ever since, “What is necessary for one student is beneficial for all.” I think this phrase gave me permission to slow down my lessons and allow for better teaching to occur.
November 2012 – Grade 8 (first contract)
As we were finishing our short stories unit and working through the 6+1 traits of writing program I decided that this would be a great opportunity to try out “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick” again. This time I was ready with a lot more pre-writing strategies as well. Not only was this at the end of a writing unit where we had targeted the 6 traits, but I also had a better sense of what my students would need to be successful for this assignment.
This time I laid out the pictures with chart paper around the room and for the first half of class students were given time to go explore the different pictures and write down key words or phrases that came to mind with the different pictures. Once they finished looking they gathered in a group with the picture they had chosen and discussed the different suggestions their classmates had written on the chart paper. Each student then circled three of the ideas they liked the best from the paper and discussed where there story might go.
The next day we moved onto planning out our short stories and used the pictures and ideas to write notes on plot, characters, and setting before we started into the rough drafts. After the rough drafts were finished, students were paired up to do revisions and specifically check for different writing traits. Once we had the final drafts finished and edited the students were very proud of their final products. And I was proud of the improvement I had made to my initial writing assignments two years prior.
April 2014 – Grade 8 (second year teaching)
When I first received this contract and found out that I was going to be doing creative writing I was excited to use my favourite story writing assignment again. My goal this time was to be more intentional with my lessons surrounding the assignment, and I attended a wonderful workshop from our school district’s Learning Initiatives department right around the time I was planning. At the workshop we learned about Smart Learning and planning with the end in mind, as well as practicing strategies such as AB Partners with talking stems.
I decided that my end goal for this unit was going to be based around the question “How can we express emotion through writing?” With this goal I did several lead up activities including a short paragraph piece on emotion and looking at emotion through the lens of a reader with the story “The Tunnel.” By the time we had a good grasp of how emotion comes through writing we developed a rubric together for what the students thought would be most important in their own writing.
Now that we had already practiced AB Partner talk and using Smart Learning coaching cards (in our lessons with “The Tunnel), we used these strategies to discuss some of the Van Allsburg pictures. During this time every single student was engaged in speaking and listening with their partners and I was even able to walk around with a checklist for some oral language assessment. After the partner talk, students were all able to choose the picture they found the most intriguing and the next class we worked through a story planning sheet (following the RAFT outline, example here) in groups with the others who selected the same picture. They also had to discuss the emotions that they would be addressing through their writing.
For the rest of the week we did a mini lesson first thing (on voice, word choice, and flow) and then spent the second half of the block writing our rough drafts. We will be working through peer revisions and editing this week and their final drafts will be finished this week. So far the students have been actively engaged in the writing process through reading, listening, speaking, planning, writing, and revising. I can already see how much more thought they are putting into making the emotion come through in their stories and I can’t wait to see the final products!
I am amazed at how far I’ve come as a teacher and it’s neat to look back and see that my one lesson flop was actually based on a really good idea – it just needed a little more experience to back it up! I am so thankful for the feedback that I have received over the years and the ability to put it to use has been invaluable to my practice.
How far have you come as a teacher?
What are your goals for improving your practice further?