I love the
beginning of school. August and
September hold new possibilities full of hope and promise, a chance to start fresh,
to learn from last year’s failures as well as successes, and to build something
even better than the year before.
I didn’t always look so
excitedly toward the beginning of another school year. When I was new to the
field, I taught the prescribed curriculum that was handed to me. Although I was “teaching by the book,” my
students were struggling. I came to realize they were struggling precisely because
I was teaching the prescribed curriculum.
The beginning of the school year can be stressful for students and teachers alike. What better time to introduce a calming break within the school day? By structuring a quiet minute at the start of class, after lunch, or when transitioning between activities, we offer students and faculty a chance to catch their breath, literally. By offering our students the gift of quiet, even for a moment or two, we can transform our classrooms into a zone of peace. I hope this post, composed of excerpts from my book, Classroom Yoga Breaks (2016), will inspire you to create some moments of stillness in your days at school.
The proportion of English learners (ELs) in the United States public school system has reached nearly ten percent of all students, and is on a nationwide growth trajectory1. Along with this growth in numbers, ELs tend to experience an opportunity gap, which generally refers to the impact that factors such as students’ English proficiency, socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity have on their achievement. For example, 79% of English fluent eighth graders scored at the basic or above reading level in 2017, while only 32% of ELs scored at those levels during that same year.2 In addition, ELs have one of the lowest graduation rates among all students on a national level, approximately 63% as compared to 82% of all students3.Gaps such as these have helped lead far too many educators to see ELs as one-dimensional, defined primarily as being lacking in areas such as English proficiency, achievement in content areas, and/or ability to graduate. Recent research4 on teachers’ perceptions of ELs in kindergarten through second grade suggests that classifying students as ELs has a “direct and negative effect on teachers’ perceptions of students’ academic skills.”
As the days grow shorter and Labor Day approaches, most of you are preparing your minds and classrooms for the start of the school year. Increasingly, that means not only writing or revising academic goals and lesson plans but also considering how best to foster the emotional well-being and growth of a new group of learners. What strengths and challenges will your students bring with them? How will you cultivate the former and meet the latter? We thought you might be interested, in this last gasp of summer reading time, to dip into some recent books about social emotional learning and mindfulness: what better way to get into a positive mindset about the fall semester? The dozen titles below are recommendations from two of Norton’s authors whose own work and writing focus on the social and emotional aspects of educating the whole child.
Blogger George Evans recently wrote a blog post called “In Defense of Slow” where he states that “many things in education are simply too fast…in this rush to cover content, to get through standards…we lose the heart and soul of what we should be there for.”
I connected with this instantly, as I’ve often thought and written
about how cramming too much feedback into a single paper or too much content
into a single lesson often leads to less learning. Sure, the amount covered by
the teacher is more, but the amount ultimately retained by the students tends
to be far less.
Here’s a mystery: why, when I talk
to teachers about what literature they teach, does crime fiction rarely if ever
make the list? I can make some guesses: lurid subject matter, graphic
descriptions of gore or sex, a kind of literary snobbery, anticipated parent and/or
administration disapproval. However, having spent the last several years reading
crime fiction—primarily from countries outside the U.S.—I could easily put
together a collection of titles whose content is in no way lurid, does not
truck in gore, and handles sex scenes, if any, in mature and discreet ways. That
leaves the presumption that crime fiction is not serious literature and should
therefore not be taught in school. Let me use the rest of my allotted word
count to help us get beyond the loner, gumshoe, Sam Spade stereotypes and
create an argument for those outside your classroom who would raise eyebrows or
hackles or worse.
As a high school English teacher,
summer means one thing to me: reading for pleasure. Each May, I get giddy with
the thought of the stack of books I plan to delve into during my two months
off. Inevitably, I almost never reach my goal of getting through the whole
stack. Sometimes it’s because my eyes are bigger than my timetable, sometimes
it’s because I stumble upon different books throughout the summer I want to
read more, and sometimes it’s because a book that seemed so promising turned
out to be a slog that I can’t bear during summer days (War and Peace, I’m looking at you!). No matter the end result, at
the beginning of every summer I try to build a stack that’s a mix of
professional and pleasure reads that will inspire me for the coming school
year, ones that span several categories aimed at broadening my horizons and
challenging me as a reader and educator. Here are the categories and selections
I’ve chosen for summer 2019.
We have all heard that collaborating is an opportunity to stretch our thinking by hearing what others have to say, or have read, or are reading on a topic that we are exploring. That is what is occurring as I co-write a book with Ivannia Soto; I am learning about resources from my writing partner, in addition to reading what she has to say, and the combination makes collaborating a powerful experience. One book Ivannia recommended is Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. A self-proclaimed “internet yeller,” Oluo brings a fresh, current, and serious look at racism in ways that are on the one hand personal and on the other generalizable. She helps us to see, in today’s climate, how it comes in many subtle, but no less-damaging forms than overt racism.
The last pieces of writing I see from students
each year are reflective in nature. Some celebrate areas of literacy growth and
proudly exclaim, “I am a writer!” Others share classroom routines, like
creative writing and poetry, that have stuck with them throughout the year.
There are a few students who are gracious enough to thank me for enlivening a
love for reading and writing that they had lost over the years. These
reflections would brighten any teacher’s soul.
My summer reading has begun with This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel. I chose this book for two reasons; I am a parent trying to raise gender-aware and sensitive kids and also an academic, a sociologist who studies gender. These are two roles that often overlap but at times can be difficult to negotiate. I want my children to express gender in whatever ways they see fit and yet I am aware of the constraints of social structures on gendered bodies. This novel is a wonderful depiction of how and in what ways a family deals with gender. Frankel tells the story of a family, made up of two-heterosexual, cis-gender parents that have four kids, all boys. However, the last child, Claude, struggles with his gender (boy) and sex (male) identity. The story follows how and in what ways the family influences, reacts to, and shapes the transition of the young child.