Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Two Days In The Life of a High School Teacher or Never a Dull Moment

It's Wednesday, so it hasn't even been a whole week and in many ways it's been a very average week.

Monday I broke up a girl fight in my classroom during passing period. Fights are fairly rare at my school and I haven't had one in my room for over two years. This altercation began in the hallway and then escalated. I yelled at them to stop, kept other students back and then eventually found the wits to have a student call for security. In the aftermath their were clumps of hair on the floor and a pearl earing that I took down to the office and returned to to one of the combatants.

That afternoon I spent over an hour calculating and submitting students' grades for the six week progress report, and then creating a lesson for Tuesday, before rushing to pick up my own children. Late that evening I finalized a book order for the English department that we needed to put together quickly before the budget gets frozen.

On Tuesday I had to tell two seniors that they did not pass the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) and that they would not get to walk in our school's graduation ceremony. I also got to congratulate five others who passed on their last chance and will get to walk with their class.

Later I held the beautiful one month old baby of one of my former students. The student is in the marines now and he is training in North Carolina before being deployed to Afghanistan. His girlfriend, the baby's mother, is a senior still and she came to visit campus before she returns to classes in two weeks. She knew I would want to meet her daughter. The baby closely resembles her father. His picture, in full marine dress uniform, is on my bulletin board from the day he came to tell my class about his experience in boot camp. He got to see her for a day before he left California.

In the same day I had a lunch meeting with my student teacher and her university supervisor about her excellent progress this semester. And in the afternoon on my prep period I was able to see the second half of a presentation by a comic book artist who was showing students the very sophisticated computer tools he uses to create amazing artwork.

Along the way I taught lessons, took attendance, wrote passes, counseled students about their options, reviewed student work, fixed computers, wrote e-mails, called parents, and received a really nice thank you note.

Forty eight hours is not enough to absorb the heartbreak, violence, hope, inspiration, congratulation, ordinary, and extraordinary that makes up a typical week in a high school.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Blog vs. Website-- Which will you use in your classroom?

Wow, the post below is five years old and it is all still true. I still run my classroom through a blog and most of my colleagues in my department have joined me. I teach 9th grade English now and you can follow our daily adventures at: 

In the last week three different people have asked me why I prefer to use a blog with my class rather than a website, so let me explain.

You must know that my preference for blogs does not stem from ignorance about websites. In the last fifteen years I have created, built, maintained, managed and removed numerous websites related to my teaching experiences; from my earliest webpage created as a student teacher, through those I created while teaching middle school, to the one I made as part of my masters program, one I created in a workshop about Google Sites and even the one I still maintain as part of my school's larger site. I know a lot about websites. They are great for a lot of things, but not for my classroom.

A website is rather static. Even in a world of web 2.0 a website (at least those easily created by tech novices) just sits there. You can put content up and take it down. You can add pages and take them down. A website is great for things you want to leave up for a while. It is not well suited to daily changes. A blog is.
If you don't know me then you need to know that my students have 1:1 laptops that they use almost daily in my classroom. My blog is their starting place. They turn on, log in and go to the blog. (Do not pass Go. Do not check your e-mail on the way.)

When they get there they will find the instructions I just gave them repeated in the text, the links to the resources I need them to have, and anything else I think they might need to know that day. They have access to the whole internet and we regularly use Google Docs and other sites for productivity, but the blog is the hub.

Why can't I do that with a website, you may ask. Well you can, but if you plan to change the lesson daily or at least several times a week your page is going to get quite long. It also won't come with a nice interface that will allow you to easily attach key words to each post, or automatically format the date and title of each post for you. Your web site posts also won't have a way for readers to leave you comments on each post.

The real magic of the blog is the way it automatically archives my posts. Everything I've done with my students for the last two years is archived and searchable on my American Lit blog. Want to know how I taught Walden last month? Search Walden and scroll down. You'll also find how I taught it last year and the year before that. Want to know how I've taught reading standard 2.5 about assumptions? Search that. You'll see that one year I taught it with political speeches and another year I used first person narratives. Very handy for me as I plan lessons and invaluable to my student teachers.

What about the students? Obviously, either a blog or a website can help students catch up on the work they missed if they were absent, but what about preparing for a test?  Last semester my students made their own study guides for finals by working in groups to identify the key material we covered in each month with the help of the blog archive. I published their guides in Google Docs and linked to them in a blog post. Then I used the student created study guides to tweak my final exam. One of the teachers who asked me about class blogs admitted recently that he spent over five hours on a Sunday making his students a study guide. Do you think they used it much? Even if my students never went back to their study guide they studied as they created it.

My favorite part about the blog is the gadgets. Most blog templates have a column for gadgets. These are things you can add like linked lists, polls, text boxes, and a dozen other things. They stay there until you take them down.  You can have a linked list with links to your syllabus, assignment sheets, rubrics, and anywhere else you want your students to be able to find easily. Polls let you ask your students questions anonymously; things like: How's your project going? or Did you like the last piece we read?  Text boxes give you a way to explain important policies etc. There are even gadgets that allow you to embed other functions from outside sites, like a cluster map of your blog visitors or a slideshow of images.

Blogs are made to deal with information that changes frequently. They are user friendly, easy to update, searchable, flexible and fun. They are also easy to create for teachers (and students). If you don't have a classroom blog yet you can start one in less than five minutes. There is a button at the top of this page on the right side that says "Create Blog". Click that and get started.

Addendum: For more ideas on how to use a classroom blog take a look at the slide below created by Richard Byrne. Mr. Byrne has an amazing blog you should follow