Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Bring on the Boredom #SOL15

Each week the Slice of Life Challenge is sponsored by the prolific team at Two Writing Teachers. Thanks, ladies. 'Preciate you. Check out more slices here. 


Is there a mother or a teacher who has not heard these two words?

As chronology creeps up on me, my appreciation of boredom grows. I remember my own childhood as filled with boredom, but in its midst I created imaginary worlds in my mind, envisioned myself living the lives of historically significant people such as Elizabeth Blackwell and Marie Curie. In my boredom, I created a vision for my life and set goals as I sat on the front porch swing and sang to my cat, Cricket.

I hated being told, "Find something to do" and "Play a game." when I proclaimed my boredom.

As my own children were growing up, they too shouted I'M BORED frequently, even though they lived childhoods far more scheduled than my own. And like my parents, I too echoed the "Find something to do" and "Play a game" advice offered to me.

To keep my boys creating, I let them climb mountains near our home and build forts in the back yard. My youngest son frequently gathered scrap wood from our neighborhood as houses sprang up and used his finds to build skateboard ramps, which my husband promptly hauled to the dump to make room for more.

I often tell the story of Corey's ingenuity in transforming a skateboard into a trampoline accessory by removing the wheels and replacing them with an old pair of sneakers. He put the contraption on his feet and mounted the trampoline and began to jump. Not satisfied with jumping, he performed backflips and somersaults. All went well until the dismount. Corey slipped and used his hand to brace himself. That resulted in his third trip to the hospital for a broken arm.

Perhaps I felt comfortable making room for my boys' creative enterprises because my father once hauled a playground-size slide home and set it up in our back yard. It became a gathering place in our neighborhood. We performed on the platform my father built atop the slide. My sister practiced her high-wire act on the bar that extended from the platform to a huge oak tree. I watched the train from atop the platform and imagined where I'd go if I were riding the rails.

Through boredom we see the possible.

Sadly, most kids today miss the benefits of boredom, despite research that suggests boredom breeds creativity, that we need boredom. A 2014 Psychology Today article traces the modern history of boredom to the 19th Century and the idea that boredom results from "unmeaningful activity" during the industrial revolution.

We eschew boredom for many reasons, including fear of facing our own realities. During moments of boredom we're confronted with our thoughts and fears, but we're also given the gift of contemplation. Boredom births creativity, opens opportunities for new ideas, and helps us reassess our lives.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell has some wise thoughts about the benefits of boredom: "A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow process of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers as though they were cut flowers in a vase."

We need moments of occasional boredom to flourish. The next time a moment of solitude presents itself, instead of looking for ways to fill the time with the business of being busy, simply BRING ON THE BOREDOM!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

September Summer Sun in a Small Town on Sunday #SOL15

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for sponsoring the Slice of Life Challenge each Tuesday. Head over to the TWT blog and enjoy some more stories from others' lives. 

Sunday afternoons for English teachers often loom as a time for lesson planning and paper grading. Succumbing to the temptation to get out and about instead, my husband and I headed to the brand new Portneuf Wellness Facility near our home Sunday afternoon to enjoy the end of summer sun with our pups, Puck and Snug and to fill our hearts with gratitude for this new state-of-the-art facility that graces our small town. 

Situated at the corner of Chubbuck Road and Bench Road where the road turns sharply to the south, the Portneuf Wellness Facility boasts a beautiful, high-tech amphitheater and other amenities, including a jogging track and stocked reservoir that's fed by a mountain artisan stream. To the south of the center is a lush pastoral row of soccer fields, a vestige from the past. The Bannock County fairgrounds still peep from the western horizon beyond the wellness center. 

Lately, for many reasons, I've been thinking about the poetry of Walt Whitman, particularly "Leaves of Grass" and its implications for and echoes of so much of life: 

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.It is not far. It is within reach.Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. Perhaps it is everywhere - on water and land.” ― Walt WhitmanLeaves of Grass

I snapped a few pics of this idyllic corner of our community that offers a glimpse of its bounty. However, since the amphitheater wasn't in use Sunday, I could only photograph the back side. We did attend the first concert  in the facility a few weeks ago and lounged on the lawn like teenagers as we listened to a couple of geezer groups: The Beach Boys and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Somehow this throwback to the past seems appropriate for a facility designed to bring the community together in theis beautiful mountain valley of southeast Idaho. 
Looking west at the reservoir and swimming beach. 
The reservoir offers several fishing piers and rocks that pose as seats awaiting anglers of all ages.  
Ken, Snug, and Puck stop for a rest on the bridge over the mountain stream. 

The source of the artisan stream that feeds the reservoir. 
 As we walked along the stream, we paused to observe a rainbow trout meandering in the water.
Enjoy the sunny disposition of these sunflowers against the blue sky.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

In Which I Reflect on My Journey through the NEA Better Lesson Master Teacher Project: #SOL15

It's Tuesday and time to slice! Thank you, Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting Slice of Life each Tuesday. Head over and check out today's slices.

Two years ago I embarked on a professional journey that has had a profound impact on my professional life and is arguably the most grueling PD I've experienced. I, along with a cadre of K-12 teachers, was hired to create a ELA course that other teachers could access FREE for use in their professional development and in their classes.

The National Education Association (NEA) Master Teacher Project (MTP) was (is) designed to give educators a glimpse into the classrooms of other teachers. Yes, union membership was (is) a criteria for being a NEA MT.

During the year I worked on my English 12 course, I had the guidance of a wonderful mentor who has become a dear friend and the collegiality of three other teachers; one of our team members was forced to drop out of the program.

Although my employment with Better Lesson, the Boston startup that manages the website hosting MT courses, ended a year ago, the NEA BL MTP remains a significant part of my life. I feel its impact each week when I receive a report indicating how often resources on my page have been downloaded. Last week I had 172 downloads. My work in the MTP impacts all the teachers--for better, I hope--who visit my page and download the resources there.

I've thought about my BL page frequently the past few days as I've followed conversations about Teachers Pay Teachers, a website I've never used. I want to offer this post as a public service announcement to those looking for resources for English, Math, Science, and Blended Learning. You can find lots of free lesson plans, all complete with videos, student work samples, handouts, narratives about how to implement the lessons, time frames, images, and reflections on the BL website. All of these are FREE!

Even if you don't teach senior English, know that the materials on my page are grounded in pedagogy adaptable for many works of literature. In my course, you'll find 113 lesson plans in 14 units. None of these lessons exist in a vacuum. All are part of many collaborations I've had for over thirty years. I could not have done the work without the many from whom I've learned so much.

As one teacher to another, feel free to toddle over to the BL website and see what teachers in the MTP are paying teachers.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Hanging In, Hanging Out, and Hanging On: A Collaboration Begins #SOL15

Dana in the big square; me in the little one!
During the summer I learned that my friend and colleague Dana Huff, who blogs at Huff English and whom I met through the Folger Shakespeare Library, would be teaching English Literature and Composition for the first time next year. As I will also be teaching English Lit and Comp for the first time, Dana and I decided to meet up via Google Hangouts and discuss the course and our plans. 

For more than 1:45, Dana and I talked, but we didn't confer about AP only. Nope. We chatted about the challenges of HANGING IN for the long haul in our maligned profession. We visited about HANGING ON in the face of reductive, pseudo education reforms that run antithetical to our notions about pedagogical excellence. Of course, we spoke about HANGING OUT throughout the school year and offering support to one another in our AP Lit and Comp journey as we share best practices. 

For our first Google Hangout, here are some of the things we discussed: 

*First day plan: Dana shared her plan to seek input about student goals and obstacles they face. At one point she made a comment that reminded me of the ONE SENTENCE project I used for a MACBETH lesson. This has inspired me to change the lesson to one about universal themes in literature by having students write about and share their life theme. 

*Assessment and Revision: Dana reminded me that the College Board wants to see a plan for student revision built into the required audit syllabus. I like Dana's suggestion for requiring students to revise essays that fall below a 5 on the AP nine-point scale and offering all students an opportunity to revise. 

*Whether to teach the course thematically or by genre: I shared my AP by the Sea facilitator's thoughts about a thematic course and how I changed my mind about teaching the course as separate genre studies. 

*Dana told me about the acronym TWIST, which refers to tone, word, image, style, and theme. We also talked about TP-CAST and the various other AP acronyms. We both realize we have the AP Vertical Teams book with these resources that we can use. 

*Dana had a great idea about having her course go full circle by revisiting the questions she began with at the end of the year. 

*Class size challenges: Dana teaches in a private school that promises to keep class size low, and I am in a public school. Dana's two sections of AP are below 15, and I have one section of AP w/ 19 students. (Many of our seniors take dual enrollment English through ISU.)

*Books we're teaching: Both Dana and I received complimentary copies of Carol Jago's Literature & Composition: Reading, Writing, Thinking (Bedford/St. Martin) book, and I also received a copy on Perrine's Literature: Structure, Sound & Sense, Twelfth Edition (Johnson and Arp, eds. (Cengage Learning). We chatted about the merits of both books and like both. Additionally, we talked about some of the major works we're teaching and the challenges of teaching new books and those our predecessors taught. We both have visions for the class that align more with our constructivist philosophy of learning. 

*My facilitator shared a huge file of materials with participants in the workshop I attended. I shared this with Dana, as well as the syllabus I composed for the audit. Dana is sharing her documents with me, too, but she has the unenviable task of retyping many since she did not get a digitized copy of the resources. 

Finally, before ending our visit and waving goodbye, I suggested that Dana and I keep notes about our collaboration during the year and consider writing about it together next summer. I asked Dana if she had ever seen a book about or read an article about sustaining and making a collaboration such as ours work. We both see this as a gap in the professional literature. 

Near the end of the hangout, I snapped the screenshot above and later posted it to FB where another friend from the Folger saw it and commented: "Hey, I'm teaching AP Lit and Comp for the first time next year, too." Dana and  I invited Julie Bowerman to join us, and we later added one more to our merry band, one of Dana's friends from the Kenyon Writer's Workshop. 

Now we are four newbie AP Lit and Comp teachers ready to read, write, reflect, and rehash the challenges and rewards of our new teaching experiences. We're ready to HANG IN, HANG OUT, and HANG ON together! 

*It's Tuesday and time for the Tuesday Slice of Life challenge presented every week by the merry band of teachers at Two Writing Teachers. Head on over to TWT for more slices.