Rescurrected from the Dead


Me again.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written here, and quite a bit has changed in my world since July when I wrote my last post. Truth be told, I think it’s changed because I’ve changed. I’ve been thinking (obsessing) about the teaching of writing all year, as I’ve continued working with secondary teachers. And I’ve been, as I told my teaching partner the other day, wanting to “start a blog.”

Then I realized, “Wait. I already have one.” Except my dilemma was this: I’m not teaching summer school anymore. But here’s the deal. When I really thought about it, I realized that everything I’ve done this year has been an outgrowth of many of the lessons I learned this summer. So while my back-to-the-classroom stint lasted a mere twelve days, it has impacted me much much more than you’d expect.

In the past six months or so, I’ve become even more fascinated with the teaching of writing in high school. I think this is why–

a) I really saw glimmers of possibility this summer as some of my reluctant writers found their voices.

b) After spending some time at Teachers College this fall (and getting stuck in Superstorm Sandy–with lots of time to think) and seeing the success of our district’s Writing Workshop Middle School Study Group, I am more than slightly obsessed with creating a similar feeling of community in high school around the teaching of writing.

I’ve also been listening to and learning from a lot of high school teachers this year. Here’s what they are saying–

“Nicole, I hear what you’re saying about writing instruction, but…”

1. Where do I find texts to use in my class as models?

2. How do I make writing instruction in my class different from and appropriately more rigorous than what is happening in middle school?

3. How will this help me with the transition to Common Core?

4. What about getting kids ready for college (or, rather, any sort of life beyond high school?)

5. What does it look like? Just show me!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t claim to have the answers.

My goal here is to share some of my thinking–based on many of the conversations I’ve been fortunate to have with my thoughtful colleagues this year. I’ll be offering some ideas to perhaps start addressing some of the big questions that are emerging in the teaching of writing in high school, especially with the transition to the Common Core State Standards gaining momentum and intensity. (Full disclosure: these thoughts often hit me when I’m either a) geeking out with fellow edu-nerds or b) in the shower.)

More importantly, though, I am also hoping to hear your thoughts about some of these ideas. We all get smarter when we explore issues together and work collaboratively to solve problems. And when we get smarter, so do our kids.

So, welcome. Again.


Summer Vacay = Common Core

Those of you who know me well will understand why, instead of sitting by my pool, reading trashy Janet Evanovich novels (or 50 Shades of Grey–oh wait.), or sleeping in until 9 a.m., I have chosen to teach summer school.

Some of my teacher friends think I’m crazy. After all, I haven’t done this since 2001 when I had just graduated with my teaching credential and was completely broke.

So why now?

I guess the story starts last August when I chose to leave my high school ELA classroom for a position at our district’s central office as a Teacher on Special Assignment.

You might be wondering what that even means. While I’d like to let you believe I’m lurking around schools in a Ninja costume (I guess in writing that sounds creepier than it did in my head), it’s not quite that exciting. Instead of being the educational equivalent of a Secret Service Agent, I work with middle and high school teachers in infusing literacy practices into their classrooms.

And I obsess about Common Core.

This is because this year, admist my coaching responsibilities, I became immersed in our district’s transition to these new standards. So much so that my six-year-old has started asking me questions about them (apparently, they come up a lot at our house). And I know that next year, as I continue to try to figure out a way to finally convince my boss to let me wear that Ninja outfit to work, I will be obsessing even more about the Common Core.

Here’s why:

I really do think that they are good for kids. Not only do they require our students to think much more deeply about what they’re learning, but they also expect all students to be thoughtful, literate citizens with a variety of choices spread before them when they graduate, like a giant Vegas-sized life opportunity buffet. This excites me more than anything else.

All kids. Doesn’t that have a great ring to it?

I know some people think I’m idealistic. I am. And I will continue to be.

So back to why I’m teaching summer school.

As I was thinking about my responsibilities for next year (including continuing to deepen my work with Common Core), I thought to myself, “The best way to have real street cred, Nicole, is to give these things a whirl.”

I know that in order to really understand these standards, I’m going to have to teach with them. I’m going to need to look at the quality of work my students produce. I’m going to need to understand what it feels like to shift to a brand new set of standards that are so much more complex than our old ones. If I don’t, then these Common Core State Standards remain in my head–in mere theory. In order to really get them, I need to get my hands dirty.

So there you have it. I’m teaching summer school so that I can play with the Common Core (I promise I really do have a social life). And while I realize that summer school is only twelve days (twelve six-hour days with 51 students currently on my roll sheet) and that the conditions of summer school in no way measure up to what my colleagues in classrooms will begin to do during the year, it’s the best option I have.

And I’m going to make the most of it.