A Window into My Classroom: Special Methods, Week 1 #specmethods


Belief Statement #1:

The teacher’s own literate life is the foundation for learning: we don’t ask kids to do things we don’t do in our own literate lives. So we have to (1) figure out what we do in our literate lives and (2) develop those literate lives to be as rich and meaningful as possible so we have a lot to draw on for our teaching.

Picture Book: First Day Jitters

first day jitters

Daily Poem: “To Be of Use” by Marge Piercy

Writing Prompt: Lift a line from “To Be of Use” and write for 6 minutes in Writer’s Notebook

I shared my piece, and four students volunteered to read.

Book Talks: Too many to list since it was the first class and most students didn’t have YA books to read. Lots of graphic novels and a few recent favorites, including When I Was the Greatest and Gabi: A Girl in Pieces.

Mini-Lesson: Introduction to Writer’s Notebooks

Poem: “What’s In My Journal” by William Stafford

The writer’s notebook is a place to live like a writer, to gather and collect. I shared what’s in my notebook using a list piece, “What’s In My Notebook (with thanks to Penny Kittle).”

I read a piece I’d written earlier in the day and talked about the process of writing, how it came about, what I may or may not do with it. I also talked briefly about why I write. My son is always asking me, “Why do you want to remember only the bad stuff?” I almost never write about the good stuff—and there’s plenty of that. I write about what’s difficult and unresolved in an attempt to take what is messy and ugly in life and transform it, make it have meaning, make it matter, make it art.

Philosophy and Purpose for the First Class:

The Specialized Methods course is probably my favorite to teach, but it’s also a bear. When I ask students what they want to learn in this class, the answer is usually “Everything. I need to learn everything about teaching in this class.” And so that’s what I try to give them. Everything they need to know about the incredibly demanding and complex work of teaching in 16 class sessions. Methods class is an exercise for me in what really matters.

Since this was the first class, I also wanted to spend considerable time setting up the issues and questions we’ll be working with all semester. First, we talked about what we’re not going to be talking about—or not much anyway. Lesson plans. Standards. Traditional curriculum. How to teach To Kill a Mockingbird. How to teach grammar. Then, we talked about what we will be talking about. Our own literate lives. Our students, their experiences and their literate lives. Why reading and writing matter. What we believe about teaching and learning. How to learn. How to read. How to write. How to create the conditions for engaged, purposeful, authentic learning. How to develop curriculum. How to do what’s right when confronted with so many ideas that are wrong. How to focus on what really matters in teaching—relationships.

I also want the first class to inspire. I want students to be fired up with missionary zeal. I think that teaching is the most important work in the world. And I’m straightforward about the reason I teach: I teach to change lives. What happens in the classroom should be a profoundly transformational experience for everyone. I want to be changed by my work in the classroom and by my relationships with my students, and I want my students to be changed. Every day in the classroom isn’t going to be life-altering. But I know that there is that potential in every class and within every kind of relationship that is fostered in a good class–the relationships we have with each other and the relationships that we have with reading, writing, learning.

I’ve learned that Methods students tend to be particularly anxious at the beginning of the semester. And no wonder: the sheer scope of what we do—what we can do, what we’re expected to do, what we should do–in an English class is overwhelming. It’s a daunting task to figure out what to teach and how to teach it in any field, but I think especially in English.

And so the first class is also about starting at the end. The best way to figure out what to teach is to know where you want to go. Who do we hope our students will be at the end of their year with us? What do we hope they will say about their learning in our class? What do we want them to know? Even more important, what do we want them to be able to do? We brainstormed a list that I call our Vision and Values Statement.

FullSizeRender (2)

This statement will guide all of our work this semester. We’ll use it to design learning experiences for ourselves and our students. We’ll use it to interrogate traditional and non-traditional classroom practices.

Inspirational Teaching Quote of the Week:

“In my writing, people have helped me by urging me to linger longer with my feelings and observations, to trust my voice, and to have the courage to fail. But in my teaching, people have tried to help me by suggesting that I rearrange students’ desks into a circle, give more frequent assignments, and separate cumulative writing folders from daily ones. This advice on teaching may or may not be wise, but where is the recognition that how I teach comes from all that I am? Teaching well, like writing well, is about lingering longer to see and feel and experience things I might otherwise pass by; it’s about being willing to risk failure and trusting my own voice. Like writing, teaching grows out of our passions, our sense of self, our faith in other people, our hope for the world. The way I teach has everything to do with finding a world in the backyard, feeding pigeons on the rooftop, and cherishing a fleet of orange slices on the window sill. I nurture my teaching by nurturing my soul.”

–Lucy Calkins, Living Between the Lines, p. 302

So yeah. When people ask what we do in Methods, this is what we’re going to tell them: we’re nurturing our souls!


At the end of class, we debrief the reading/writing workshop part of class and discuss pedagogy. Two interesting questions came up.

Is read-aloud a good thing? Should high school or middle school teachers read books aloud to students?

We used this question to develop a checklist for evaluating any classroom practice we might consider.

Foolproof Checklist for Evaluating Classroom Practices:

  • What is its purpose?
  • Does it fit our vision and values? How?
  • What does research say about it?
  • Is it something that I or other readers/writers practice in our own literate lives?

Our thinking about read-alouds:

  • The purpose is to engage kids in story, to foster a community of readers, to experience the pleasure of hearing a good story well read.
  • It does fit our vision and values: community, lifelong readers, profound experiences.
  • Research strongly supports. See Richard Allington, Donalyn Miller, Steven Layne.
  • Yes, it’s something that we all experienced and enjoyed as children and something many of us still experience with audiobooks and enjoy.

What do we do with students who don’t accept our invitation to learn?

The second question focused on resistant learners. How I love the resistant learner! There were several thoughtful responses to this question: conferencing, kidwatching, more scaffolding. My answer is to look more carefully at my invitation and examine my teaching. Often the students who resist are telling us there’s something wrong with the way we’re teaching. But I did love Zach’s answer best: “we keep inviting them.” Yes!

We’re tweeting using the hashtag #specmethods on Twitter. All students will also be blogging about their thinking and learning. You can find links to their posts on Twitter.


2 responses to “A Window into My Classroom: Special Methods, Week 1 #specmethods”

  1. carriegelson Avatar

    Well, wow. Teaching everything seems definitely overwhelming. But nurturing your souls? Amazing. I am so glad you exist and do what you do. Such fortunate students. I hope they know that and drink it all in.

  2. […] new regular feature, Window into My Classroom, focusing on the first week of Special […]

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