Tag Archives: Jeffrey Wilhelm

Essentially speaking

7 Oct

Wow, time sure does go by fast! Apparently I’m already a month into this whole high school thing. At least that’s what they tell me.

Recently we had a chance, as English teachers, to examine all of the secondary English curriculum maps. One thing stood out, well I guess we better say that two things stood out. The first point was that English teachers are protective. Don’t you dare take my books to that grade level! Just kidding (sort of).

But the main point, at least in my eyes, was that an essential question framing a unit makes a huge difference in how that unit is perceived. I have written about Jeffrey Wilhelm before, but his views on essential questions are starting to spread throughout English teachers in our district because of our work last week.

Essential questions must:

  • Get to the heart of the discipline
  • Be compelling and “sexy” in order to capture the students’ attention
  • Not be able to be answered by Googling it

As part of the seventh grade team of teachers who worked on creating essential questions last year, I was proud to hear the chatter of those great questions. Although using the word “sexy” when describing an English lesson might sound ridiculous to some (we almost had to use earmuffs at one point), it is true! How can we be edgy enough to motivate our students to learn?

Here are the unit titles or essential questions that we came up with:

  • How much control do I have over who I am?
  • What would I give up to be free?
  • How can I get people to do what I want?
  • How can I be a hero?

All important to students’ lives, unanswerable through a Google search, and lead students to important parts of English.

New to the tenth and eleventh grade curriculums (curricula? Apparently they are both correct. Thank you, dictionary.com.), I am trying to create some essential questions that are even more powerful and important to my students’ lives. Here is what I have for quarter one.

In American Lit, my first unit is shaped around the question “What power does a label have over me?” We have looked at labels through multiple This I Believe essays dealing with labels. This week we read about the controversy about yoga pants in a local North Dakota school and how the students were shown a clip of Pretty Woman – some pretty interesting labels were being applied to both males and females there – and a blogger’s response to the dress code. And we are moving towards The Scarlet Letter, one of the most famous labels of all. Supporting that will be a look at a girl named Jada who was raped, photographed, and became a hashtag joke on Twitter. Rather than hide in shame Jada stood up for herself and many others and gained national support. Talk about taking over a label!

Creating a unit like this is fun to teach! When I want to be a student in my classroom, and I get fired up about making a connection from a supporting text to a larger piece, it tells me that something great is going to come of it. It also gives me focus in looking for nonfiction articles to support the larger texts.

The hardest part of essential questions is coming up with them! What matters to students right now? What do you know will get their attention?

Challenge yourself to be more engaging in your themes and units. Your student engagement will show you that it was worth it.

#AMLE2013 Quotes

12 Nov

There were so many amazing things said over the weekend. As I take you on a tour through my notes, here are some of the quotes (or as close as I could get) that stood out to me:

“They will suffer through this miserable instruction later, so we better make them miserable now.” – Rick Wormeli

It really is cringe-worthy to hear someone say this. Let’s stop making excuses like this and start getting better. We don’t need to hide behind those excuses and blame others.

” ‘You’re out of control!’ is just like ‘For the next 30 seconds, don’t think of chocolate cake.” – Monte Selby

If we want a behavior to change, just pointing at it isn’t going to help! Give the child something to do instead.

“The kids better be more psyched to read and write when you leave them than when they came to you.” – Jeffrey Wilhelm

Build the excitement and the love!

“When the butt goes numb, the brain goes dumb.” – Kim Campbell

Let’s move more often! I am sick of getting stuck in a rut for too long in class. I need to do myself and my kids a favor and switch things up more often.

” ‘I don’t have pencil.’ Who’s fault is that? Yours! You let them in the room… You don’t enter my room unless you’re ready to learn.” – Jack Berckemeyer

If I could avoid hearing a student tell me that they didn’t have something, it would make my day!

And lastly, a serious one:

If the kids can see the target and know where they are in relation to the target, they hit it overwhelmingly more often than if they do not. – Rick Wormeli

It is time for me to help my students understand what their learning goals are and to be able to articulate them.

Sometimes I wish I could write faster…

#AMLE2013Day1

10 Nov

When I heard that the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) was holding it’s national conference in Minneapolis, it was up to me to do whatever I could to get myself there! Luckily, it happened. I was able hear some incredible presenters such as Jack Berckemeyer, Rick Wormeli, Jeffrey Wilhelm, and Kim Campbell. What a blast!

To make the conference even more valuable, I’ll do what I can to share some of the incredible ideas, activities, and quotes that I picked up. It’s time to do some reflecting through my notes, so I’ll post a few interesting and possibly random points today. Hopefully I’ll dig deeper into some of these in my classroom.

  • Assessment is something we do with and for the student, not something we do to the student.  – This one came from Mark Springer, who has been teaching without grades for over 30 years. His students write a narrative about their quarter in school.
  • Why do we have four columns in our rubrics? (Mark Springer) – Is our implicit message to students that it is acceptable to be “emergent” in a standard? Does a student even know what that means? What if we had three columns: exemplary, proficient, and not yet?
  • Powerful professional development tool: interacting with different scenarios at staff meetings. This came from Wormeli’s session on differentiated instruction. He had many different possible classroom and school scenes, but it is great for teachers to come with their own as well. Have staff members read a couple of scenarios in small groups and brainstorm five ways a highly accomplished, professional teacher would handle that situation. Too often we end up in a situation and only have one or two options. Let’s help each other build our toolbox! Start in a PLC and build some momentum. As Rick says, wherever two or three are gathered!
  • Mad, Sad, Happy (Monte Selby) – If you don’t look happy, and you don’t look sad, what does that leave you? When kids have trouble reading our emotions, it is our responsibility to teach them as well as to be happy ourselves and show it!
  • Use your out-loud manners to show students and children why we are doing something for someone. Instead of just opening the door for someone, let’s talk through it to show why we are doing it as well as how happy it makes the recipient of the good deed. (Selby)

Jeffrey Wilhelm does some incredible things with essential questions, inquiry, and motivation. I’ll give him his own section:

  • Studies have shown that you cannot, no matter what you say, possibly overestimate the role that motivation plays in a child’s education. And to add to that, it was found that students will only match the teacher’s level of enthusiasm for a topic.
  • Good essential questions must do two things: 1. Get at the heart of the discipline. 2. Be compelling to the kids, or as Wilhelm says, “Sexy.” If we aren’t taking the time to pique student interest, we are sunk before we begin.
  • Essential questions cannot be answered by looking it up, understood in a day or two, or easily agreed upon. Let’s have an argument and learn at the same time!

Here are a few examples of essential questions from Wilhelm:

  1. What are your civil rights, and how is this school violating them? (Civil rights unit)
  2. How far are you willing to go to get what you want? (Macbeth)
  3. What makes and breaks relationships? (Romeo and Juliet)
  4. Who will survive? (Dystopian novels/life science)
  5. What determines who wins? (A theme for an entire quarter of math)

The answers to these questions affect students in a way that feels immediate and relevant, perfect for a middle school student.

That was day one of AMLE 2013, from 10 pages of notes down to a few points. Who wants to know more? I’ll be happy to share! Of course, I still have two more days to go through in blog posts…