Category Archives: Personal

Machiavelli the teacher?

This is kind of interesting.

In reading and preparing for my lessons this upcoming week on Niccolo Machiavelli‘s rules for a prince or leader, I couldn’t stop thinking about his rules as if that leader was a teacher. Call it whatever critical lens you want, but it was interesting looking at his beliefs about leaders through the eyes of a preservice teacher. Without going into the specifics about what Machiavelli believes (you know, in case my students come across this post) he does offer some interesting questions about what a leader – er, rather, a teacher if you’re using this lens – should do and how he or she should act.

If you aren’t familiar with Machiavelli, he lived during the late 1400s and early 1500s. Living during the Renaissance, he was quite the humanist. He also held some power in Italian politics. His party (used loosely in comparison to contemporary American politics) eventually lost power in Italy and he was arrested, tortured and banished – and, of course, left without any political influence. Because of this, he ended up writing The Prince, in which he outlines, through personal mental struggle, how leaders should act in power.  It’s a really interesting read, but using my “Educator Lens” I couldn’t help but apply his beliefs to the so-called leader of the classroom, a teacher.

Here are some of those characteristics and roles of a leader, as suggested by Machiavelli, to think about: Continue reading

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Filed under Classroom management, Education, English, Lesson, Lesson planning, Personal, Student Teaching, Students, Teaching

The importance of planning

I’ve had about three good weeks in a row right now. I haven’t felt overwhelmed by graduate classes or teaching – and I’ve actually been able to make it to the gym 4-5 times a week. It’s a great feeling. Maybe it’s because I’m managing my time better. Maybe it’s because I’m getting more comfortable at my placement. Or maybe it’s just a mix between those two in combination with another aspect: planning.

This might be the biggest change I’ve noticed over the last couple months. It’s not that I wasn’t planning before – and it definitely wasn’t that I felt it was unnecessary – but it seemed like I was just stuck in a rut. My mentor would plan the lessons and I’d follow in the footsteps of those lessons. In a sense, I felt like robot that copied exactly what it saw.

But in the last few months, especially since the start of the new year, I’ve made it a goal to get more involved in the planning. Even if it’s just looking a week at a time, I’m staying focused on what I want to teach and how I want to go about doing it. I’m getting the readings done well in advance of these lessons on the weekends. And because of that, I’m able to get multiple readings in before the actual lesson. I’m more prepared and comfortable when I teach, now. So, while planning has greatly impacted how I approach my teaching, I’ve also noticed that it’s having a huge influence on my students. It’s a win-win all-around and it’s all because I took the initiative to get ahead on my planning to make a difference for me and for my students.

And because I like this feeling so much, I don’t expect to ever go back to how it was. Planning lessons is crucial to keeping my good mood and rest of my life less stressful.

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Individual accountability with collaborative learning

It’s amazing what a good day toward the end of the week can do for an intern. I’m able to look at everything in my teaching with a positive light. And even with the things that I know I need to work on or fix, I look at critically but with hope. One such thing area of focus for me that I’ve started thinking about lately is holding individual accountability in collaborative learning. Continue reading

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Vlog: Focusing on student engagement

This is a vlog post regarding student engagement and motivation in the classroom, as well as outlining my plans to help increase class participation.

http://www.viddler.com/player/bd0ae6fe/

This video is password protected. For access to the video, please send me an e-mail and I will send you the password.

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The need to read difficult texts

Over the summer, I had this post about the struggles of teaching a difficult text. You can read a little more about my questions and thoughts in that blog post, but I want to draw attention to something that a friend of mine and current teacher made in one of the comments for that post. I bring this up because, while teaching seniors this year, I’ve run into students who won’t do the readings for class discussion because they find the text too difficult. Now, that post back in July was actually more about teaching “dangerous” texts as opposed to “difficult” texts. But what Sean said in the comments stuck out to me as I was thinking through some issues with student motivation when it comes to reading:

On another note, was “teaching this book” how this was worded as you discussed in class? That is how I remember the verbiage in my Pitt Ed classes as well. But, since I have been in the classroom my mindset has focused more on the text as a vehicle to teach skills. The difference may seem subtle linguistically, but has serious pedagogical implications for one’s approach to planning and teaching.

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Overcoming Beowulf

Quite an interesting week at my placement as we started Beowulf on Monday. There’s no question that Beowulf is a difficult text – for seniors and myself. I find myself having to do quick Google searches for definitions of words, even if I’m reading a modern translation. So, it’s not uncommon for student to lack the motivation to read such a text that is so foreign to them. But the goal, here, is to get them to read these texts because they will encounter them as they move into college and later into their field of work. It’s about teaching the themes and having them gain knowledge on Beowulf and the Old English culture just as much as it’s about teaching them the skills to read, comprehend and interpret difficult texts.

As a teacher, though, that’s a hard concept to get across. So often – and I’m guilty of it as well – any time a student comes across a text that they can’t understand on the first read or even just by “judging” the text to difficult, they’ll just put it aside and claim it’s meaningless and pointless to attempt to read something like Beowulf. What my mentor teacher and I, then, have been working on is encouraging student to read it once and not to cast it aside because it seems impossible to understand. We want them to come into class the next day with questions about the text and their interpretation of certain parts of the reading. Then, as a class, we’ll work through it together. This week we focused heavily on close readings, partner conversation, small group discussion and whole group discussion to come to an understanding of the text from a comprehension standpoint as well as an investigative standpoint (the “why” is something included and “what” does it mean discussion). I’d have my students look at passage of Beowulf, read it to themselves and think about what it’s saying. Then, they might talk to a partner or other students at the their table before I’d bring it back to a whole class discussion where we could combine ideas and figure things out together.

Needless to say, we were able to get a majority of the students to do the reading and jump in on discussion. For my periods, especially, I was amazed at the amount of participation from all students in the classroom. They seemed genuinely interested to reach conclusions and find out what happened next. It makes for some good days.

Tomorrow evening, I hope to make a quick follow-up post with some activities and ideas that my mentor shared with me that do two things: checks that students are actually reading; and marks a place that can kickstart discussion.

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Filed under Education, English, Lesson, Lesson planning, Motivation, Personal, Reading, Student Teaching, Students, Teaching

NCLB turns 10 and what it means for a pre-service teacher

As I was skimming through some Tweets yesterday, there was one that really stuck out. It was from Education Week and they were looking back on the No Child Left Behind Act, as it celebrated its 10th birthday. If you scroll a little further down on their NCLB page, you’ll come across a pretty intense and frightening word coud:

NCLB Word Cloud

The question that caused this sobering graphic: What word or words do you associate with No Child Left Behind?

As a side note, I did something similar when I was studying the future of  journalism at Pitt a few years ago.

But if you take a look at the word cloud, you see words like “flawed,” “failure” and “has to go.” But if you look hard enough you can see “goal is good” and “a wakeup call for parents and educators.” While I’m not here to debate one side or the other when it comes to NCLB – not yet, at least – I do want to look at what 10 years of NCLB means for me, a pre-service teacher (PST). Continue reading

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