Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Power of Positive Thinking

Last summer, I read a book by Darren Hardy called The Compund Effect which I believe has truly positively affected my typically-cynical thinking.  The best piece of advice I gleaned from Hardy's text was the idea of beginning each day by counting one's blessings; particularly, he suggests doing so after you press the snooze button and until your alarm next sounds.  I've found this practice to be a great way to begin each day, and thought I'd practice the power of positive thinking in my professional life as well this semester.  Based on this book and the inspiration of a very cheerful colleague, I've made it a professional goal to, each day, give at least one student and/ or one class a sincere compliment.  Doesn't sound tricky, does it?  For me, it initially was a switch, not because I don't love my classes or my students, but rather because I am very very critical of myself and often this spills over into my teaching.  Like many of us, I constantly strive for better and can sometimes, in the process, forget to compliment and reward what's working well outside of offering a nice compliment on a written work or giving the "reward" of a grade a student rightfully earned.  I have found the experience to be a great one, one that, so far, seems to have changed the tone of my classes and also my own attitude during work each day.  Here are a few examples.
I have a brilliant junior-senior class this year.  I've been graced with insightful readers, thoughtful contributors, and, by and large, hard workers.  I knew this last semester.  I just sometimes forgot to say it out loud.  I engage in the instructional practice of Socratics often and, yesterday, we had the best Socratic we've had all year about Joyce's "Eveline', a very challenging text.  This might be attributable to many factors:  a short text, some time to think about the story before beginning discussion.  But I also think it has a lot to do with the fact that I've actually taken the time to affirm what bright young students they are.
Another example has occurred in my fourth hour class.  Because this is the midway point through the day, right before lunch, many students stop for drinks, bathroom, etc. causing them to be late.  I got frustrated and chastised before, this semester I've tried expressing my appreciation at their punctuality.  It seems a successful experiment so far.
Clearly, my evidence isn't yet prolific, yet this has so far proven a change that's required minimal effort and no time, but rather simply a mental reminder to express my sentiments.  I'm excited to see how it continues.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Coming together, the Irish Way

After the terrific success I experienced working with Maggi Smith-Dalton at the Salem Historical Society in Massachusetts, I'm hoping to begin another collaborative adventure as I start James Joyce's The Dubliners with my junior-senior college preparatory course.  In a perfect world, I would love to collaborate with a class in Ireland who is also engaged in the same text but, realizing that might be an unachievable aspiration, my hope is to connect with someone who is from Dublin and is familiar with the text.  The city of Dublin is such a prominent character in Joyce's works and I would love the students to get the perpsective of someone who knows both the city and the text and might be willing to Skype into my class.  Any takers?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Reflecting on my learning goals

Today I'm going to ask some of my students to, as their first task of the second semester, reflect on their learnings and goals from first semester.  I figured today, my only day without grading of the semester, might present a good opportunity for me to do the same.  Heck, maybe some of my students will even read it and help me stay on track. :)

Here's what I came up with:

1. Find audiences and experts beyond our classroom walls. I contacted several people and successfully connected with one enthusiastic participant named Maggi Smith-Dalton at the Salem Historical Society; I was ignored by the other handful.  This semester, I hope to connect with someone in Ireland as my English Literature class begins with Joyce's Dubliners.
2. Choose one class to try scribe posting. Yikes.  I totally blew it with this one.  The only days my Honor class has scribe posts are those when one of my lovely students inquired if she could post because she liked always knowing where her notes were; thanks Kylie! :)  I need to work harder on this.
3. Focus on building classroom culture to create a better learning and working environment. I feel like I did a much better job with this than I usually do, though my most successful efforts transpired in English 9 and I struggled more with this in my other 2 classes where I consistently run short of class time.  I began by asking students to write 3 questions they wanted to know about each other on sticky notes and posted these, then each day we had group or partner work, they would begin by talking about 1 or 2 questions.  I will continue to do this and be sure to ask my students at the semester's end how it made them feel about the classroom and doing group work.
4. Share my reading life. I have done many more book talks with my students this semester and have shared my Goodreads account with at least 1 class. I think this goal is going fairly well.
5. Read out loud more in class rather than assigning so much reading homework.  I did better with this than I have in the past but still not as well as I would like to.  I'm an overzealous planner and need to realize that I never has as much time as I think.

6. Blog once a week. I did better with this than in years past, but still need to work on doing better. 
7. Differentiate based on readiness, interest, and learning profile.  I did well with the "interest" part, but need to consider how to better my focus on the other 2, maybe even reviewing my notes from last summer as my memory of this has since faded.

8. Engage in metacognition and help my students do the same.  My honors class reflected often as did I, but I need to help my other classes do this more.  Particularly, I feel this will benefit my ninth graders, so I feel our start today will be a good one.
9. Explore other ways of giving feedback.  This is the only one I feel I have basically neglected entirely.  Oops.

I'm also adding a couple based on the inspiration of a couple collegues this morning and my own reflections from last semester...
1.  Be a better cheerleader.

2.  Don't forget when I'm good at, particularly my Understanding by Design unit structure that I accidentally moved away from.