Archive | February, 2013

My Dog Makes Me a Better Teacher

23 Feb

Finn's Crazy EyeI love mutts. I love all dogs, regardless of pedigree, but I have always favored the scrappy, intelligent mash-up that is a pound puppy. Every dog with which I have shared my life has been a rescue, and until my wife and I adopted Finn, an Australian Cattle Dog/Poodle mix so intelligent she could probably crack a safe, every dog I have welcomed into my life has been relatively easy work. Finn, however, is another story.

A cute but neurotic pup with a skull-rattling bark, Finn has required more training, patience, and “accommodations” in order to adjust to our lifestyle. And, more than any other dog for which I’ve cared, she has forced me to adjust my lifestyle to her. In just one year we were her third family, and I do not think many people would have the time or resources to help her in the way that we can. Of course, she helps me, too.

In both the classroom and my personal life, I expect things to work. I believe with enough thought and hard work, I can solve any problem. Yet, I have come to accept I will ever really “fix” Finn. I can help her become a calmer, more predictable, more relaxed dog, but I don’t know if she’ll ever be the “perfect” dog that I’ve had in the past. Accepting this fact is an ongoing process but one that teaches me quite a bit about myself.

I know she has made me a better teacher. As I change my mindset to better work with my dog, I realize I am bringing these positive attributes into my classroom as well.

 A good teacher (of dogs or humans) must…

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Spanking Shakespeare: My Blind Date

16 Feb

pileofbookmarksWe do not have a library at my school. We do, however, have the BiblioTECH. The unusual name is purposeful, indicating our school’s focus on the intersection between books and information technology. Before you groan too loudly, don’t despair. Our BiblioTECH is still a place firmly dedicated to enticing young readers to fall in love with the printed word.

As part of a clever marketing campaign, our un-Librarian (yes…her official title) urged us to take a book on a blind date in February. She wrapped 30+ titles in brown paper and displayed them at the entrance. Anyone could pick a book at random, unwrap it at home, and agree to read it within two weeks. Of course, I couldn’t resist (nor could several of my students).

I’m pleased to report this blind date was a memorable one, an instant attraction filled with easy laughs and serendipitous connections. I was lucky enough to meet Jake Wizner’s Spanking Shakespeare.

spank_shakespeare_new_cvrShakespeare Shapiro, a witty and neurotic high school senior, longs to win his school’s memoir contest and lose his virginity. Naturally, in the course of his misadventures he learns a bit about his friends, his family, and himself. A very funny YA read that cleverly sidesteps a pat ending, this first-time novel was a delightful surprise.

I feel lucky to work with fellow passionate readers who are committed to enticing young people into the tribe. I hope you will consider setting up Blind Dates for the readers in your life. Some will be disasters, and others will just be “meh.” Yet, more often than we would expect, there’s magic in these chance encounters.

bookmark_origami

A “Typical” Day in a 1:1 Classroom (Part Two)

6 Feb
Beaver Country Day School

Robin working with his students

I love to know when my posts are “landing” or not, so please comment if you find this line of reflection helpful. When I sat down to record my thoughts on how teaching in a 1:1 classroom influenced one school day, I was not prepared for how many thoughts came out. This post is a continuation of  A “Typical Day” in a 1:1 Classroom: Part One, so read that first if you have not already done so:

 

Rhetoric 11

Membean Vocabulary Quiz / Discuss the class novel / Honors lessons / Revise literary analysis mini-essay

I see my classes five hours per week, with an optional sixth hour available for additional one-on-one help. This means three days a week I have a one hour block, one day a week I have a two-hour block, and one day per week I hold optional office hours during an “x-block.” This schedule has had the biggest positive impact on learning of any schedule I have ever encountered in my teaching career.

As in my sophomore classes, I began this class with a vocabulary quiz via Membean (explained in part one post):

Additional advantages of each student having a personal laptop:

  • While students take the vocabulary quiz, I run a report of their Membean activity for the week [see below]. I require students to log at least 50 minutes per week and encourage them to complete short sessions (5-10 minutes) every day. Through the report I can tell who has completed the work in a timely manner. I can even tell if students have just left the program open for 50 minutes but not used it continuously during that time. (Unfortunately, I…like you…have some students who cut such corners.) After the quiz I quickly check in with each student, addressing issues of incomplete work.
Membean Post

A weekly Membean report

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A Typical Day in a 1:1 Classroom (PART ONE)

2 Feb

Of course, a typical day in any classroom does not really exist. Our routines, systems, and practices serve our students, so when dealing with the individuals in our care, each day takes its own unique shape.

Yet, there is some use in examining a “typical” day in my English classrooms. For the past four years I’ve been lucky to work in a 1:1 school. I have found the advantages of having students “wired in” far outweigh the disadvantages.

For those who have not lived in a 1:1 laptop classroom, the very idea of it can seem Orwellian—students jacked-in to ear buds, mesmerized by a glowing blue screen instead of the far more interesting human beings around them. I have found, however, the reality of a 1:1 room is quite different. Every day I am convinced instant access to customizable technology can be a crucial component in making learning more efficient and dynamic.

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