Archive for the 'Alumni Voices' Category

The Last Day of School

1000w_q95By Stephanie Nicoletti

On Friday there was a certain buzz going around the school, the kids came in with happy faces and even teachers were grinning ear to ear; it was the last day of school. During our closing circle on the last day I told my students that I enjoyed every minute with them and absolutely loved watching them grow over the school year.

Each year I always get sad during our last closing circle, your students become a part of you after spending a year together. This year I even had a little one who had tears streaming from his face when the bell rang, he was so upset he did not want to leave the classroom. This made me sad of course, but it also made me realize that all of the work teachers do over the summer to prepare for the following school year does not go unnoticed.

I was making a list this morning of all of the things I wanted to accomplish this summer before the school year starts. The list is long and daunting, but then I remember the tears that were in my classroom on the last day and remind myself that everything teachers do, no matter how daunting it may seem, is always for the students. While this summer will be fun, relaxing and refreshing for students and teachers alike, do not forget to remember your students who are itching to come back to school!

What I’m doing This Summer

summer-still-life-785231_1280By Elizabeth Jorgensen

I hear in the media, and from professionals outside education, that teachers “have the summers off.” But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In 2007, I searched WECAN for summer employment opportunities and noticed Kettle Moraine High School’s extensive listings. When I interviewed, I learned about the state’s largest summer school program. With a five period day, students from kindergarten through the 12th grade, attend classes ranging from camping to everyday math and from golf to Disney mania. After an interview, I accepted a position with KM’s Summer Academy. Throughout the next decade, I taught online classes and in-person classes to both elementary and high school students. Learn more about Kettle Moraine’s Summer Academy here.

Working in a different district energized and encouraged me. I saw firsthand the positives of my district and I picked up innovative ideas from KM teachers to help advance my AHS curriculum. This summer, I’m slated to teach two sections of ACT Prep online to KM juniors and seniors.

Then, in 2013, one of my colleagues at Arrowhead asked, “What do you do on Saturday mornings?” She proceeded to discuss Dr. Donnie Hale and his work in the pre-college program at Carroll University. Again, after an interview, I accepted a position to work with Project Pioneer. “Project Pioneer is Carroll University’s Saturday pre-college enrichment program which focuses on helping high school students build the skills, knowledge and mindset necessary to succeed in college and beyond.” On Saturdays, fifty high school students from Waukesha and Milwaukee engage in month-long academies “that will lead them through exploring their community and identifying a challenge within it, researching that challenge and finding solutions, and taking action. During this process, students will address a real challenge that their community faces while also building skills around the 4Cs: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Creativity and Innovation, Communication and Collaboration. Students will learn that their voice matters and that when they speak up and take action, they can make positive changes in the world around them.” Although Dr. Hale left Carroll a few years later (to become Florida International University Faculty Director of the Education Effect at Booker T. Washington Senior High School), I stayed on to work in the pre-college program (now under the direction of Maria Ramirez). Learn more about the program here.

My work at Project Pioneer led me to Horizontes en Carroll: “a program which welcomes upwards of 50 high school students from Waukesha, Milwaukee, Racine, and Harlem (NY) to campus each summer to experience university life and gain academic, social and life skills…During this week long residential program, students in grades 9-12 take part in several learning experiences that allow them to understand all aspects of higher education.” At the week-long summer camp, students develop career and college readiness skills and a better understanding of the college experience. Last summer, I facilitated a poetry reading and Horizontes en Carroll literary magazine. This summer, students will produce and publish the second annual Horizontes en Carroll Literary Magazine: A Collection of Creativity. Learn more about the program here.

This summer, I am also teaching online English classes for Arrowhead Union High School. Learn more about Arrowhead’s summer school offerings here.

My summers are, in fact, busier than my school year. I’m not sure who perpetuates the “teachers have summers off” stereotype, but it surely isn’t me.

What are you doing this summer?

Celebrate. Get Sleep. Be Proud.

– By Claudia Felske

Celebrate. Get Sleep. Be Proud. Anyone who reads my blog with regularity will know that this is worlds away from my previous post: Worry. Lose Sleep. Be AnxiousThe simple reason for this 360? We’re done with our collaborative novels. Done!

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Our 4th hour novelists: Epoch 

So, how does it feel, this collective exhale? How does it feel to be click-ready published authors on Amazon.com? First, a glance inside, a peek behind the curtains. As you’d expect, we didn’t go directly from bile-inducing anxiety to euphoric celebration.  There were more than a few bumps along the way.

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Our 1st Hour Novelists: First Draft

Mantra time. I opened the next class period by scrawling my favorite writing mantra on my board as students watched: “An author is a writer who didn’t give up,” a sentence which remained on front board for the duration of the project. I then openly shared my anxiety with them, I shared my sleeplessness with them, I shared my own publishing experiences with them. I explained the level of precision required for publication. I told them that we could get there, but it wouldn’t be easy.Our first sizable hurdle was a sobering reality check after first drafts were turned in. Student writing was not at the caliber I had hoped; rather, it was at a caliber, to be truthful, that terrified me. The prospect of getting these chapters from their current state—underdeveloped and error-laden, in other words, fiction written by freshmen in high school—to publication seemed inconceivable. That night, sleep eluded me. Getting from point A to point Z would require much more than wishful thinking.

After our heart-to-heart, I gave them a survey, asking for their honest feedback. The result (see graphs) is what pushed us ahead. Ninety percent said they felt like with the help of their teacher and editors they could do this. Only three students said they weren’t sure (but they’d try); and only one person said they weren’t interested. Buy-in was apparent. I knew that if we had the mindset and the work ethic (which we clearly did) we could do this. I could pull in the naysayer and provide a structure that would support my writers and get us across the publication finish line.

1 graph graph 2b

Then came the delegation of work. This was a critical step. Yes, I’d be editing each story, but many rounds of editing would have to happen before publication.  I needed help. Recruiting student editors would also give my strongest writers a challenge worthy of their skills. However, it would, of course, mean more work for already busy students. Would students be interested in being editors? cover artists? organizers? Again, the stars seemed aligned: my strong writers seemed to naturally self-identify and volunteer to be editors, my artistically-inclined students started working on cover art they’d submit for a class vote. And the momentum began.

editors

Blanket-wrapped editors on a late-night editing session (the heat was turned off). 

What happened in the two months that followed was writing, revising, mini-lessons, pep talks, Saturday and Spring Break work sessions, and did I mention writing? What did not happen was “point mongering.” Not a single student asked “What’s my grade?” They were, as educational researcher Alphie Kohn calls it, intrinsically motivated learners. Remarkably, as freshman in high school, they were determined to write stories worthy of publication, to achieve a degree of excellence that transcended grades. And that, I’m deciding right now as I type these words, is the true indicator of authentic learning, the mark that what we’re doing is truly worthy of my time and theirs. That is the new standard I will hold myself to.

 

boardNow, instead of subjecting you to all of the sordid details of our writing and editing process, I will pass the ball to my students, in their own words. Here’s what they wrote in their blogs the day after our book signing event. I asked them to reflect on the unit and offer advice to next year’s novelists: 

  • I’m a published author! It’s so worth it so look at the experience as a lesson that sometimes you need to do what you find uncomfortable and make it into something fun and worth it in the end. 
  • The biggest thing I learned was I have a vivid imagination that I am really good at putting it on paper. I couldn’t stop writing and I won’t.
  • It was amazing to see people reading and buying OUR book. Just seeing it on Amazon was really cool.
  • I was an editor for my classmate’s chapters and I think I learned more editing than I did writing. I already knew how to write decently, however, I had never critiqued and changed other’s fictional works before. I learned about writing in different voices than what I write in and how to give positive feedback mixed with critiques.
  • Here’s my advice: Treasure and appreciate extraordinary experiences. This really just sunk in for me. I collaborated with a number of very creative and intelligent people and in the midst of that collaboration we created something awesome. 
  • Some people are really bull-headed, others shy, some just don’t like to work with others. People can be difficult. They are difficult because everyone is different. But when making the book we somehow made the book happen. I gained knowledge on how to work with other people and how to deal with things that I really don’t agree with.
  • I am a published novelist! That’s right, you read that correctly! Our English class decided to do something a little different. You might have read books, but we wrote one.
  • It sure was a ton of stress and lots of hard work and many hours spent on this project. I remember how crazy our English teacher sounded when she told our first hour class that WE were going to be writing and publishing a book. A legit, freaking, book!

And my reluctant novelists? The ones who weren’t sure they could do it? Here’s what they wrote:

  • Writing a chapter allowed you to stretch your creative muscles and learn something about yourself that you didn’t know. 
  • All I can tell you is that it takes work to get there, but it’s worth it.

My “not interested” student?

  • The writing process wasn’t my favorite but seeing the connection between stories of completely different people in completely different places in the world was amazing. Overall, I learned a lot from the experience, about myself and about writing. I usually hate the idea of short stories but this story is something I am sort of proud of. Writing is not my dream, but it is definitely be a good skill to have.
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Students proudly signing copies of their novels

Finally, what about me, their “fearless” (a.k.a “fearful”) leader? As one of my students duly noted: I think that this novel really took a toll on our teacher, but it all worked out in the end.” Yes, and yes—a worthwhile toll, I would add. None of it was easy, all of it was worth it.

And now, through it all, we are bound together for 70 years past my death (copyright law, the great uniter).

 

Clearly, it’s time to celebrate, get sleep, and be proud.

Lost and Found: A Farewell and Travel Plan

Output Garden Sunlight Door Open Light Beam InputBy Peggy Wuenstel

I’ve been a bit absent from the blog roll recently, but with good reason. I’ve been packing away, paring down and moving on. Even though the focus has been on what comes next: the house is sold, the travel trailer is purchased, and most of our belongings are packed for the upcoming journey, I feel the need to wax nostalgic.

Much of it makes me very happy. The memories experienced, lessons learned, and friendships made can go with me without taking up space anywhere but in my heart. I have had the privilege of working with an extraordinary team of educators over the last fifteen years. They truly put children first and their loving care has paid wonderful dividends for the students we serve.

I have colleagues passionate about growth and improvement for themselves and the programs they administer. I have students who have no concept that there is a limit to how far they can rise. I live in town where education is an important aspect of community life for most residents and they have voted to support local schools when asked to do so.

But the theme of this year’s blogging cycle has been knowing what I’ve got before it’s gone. There are some things that are gone. Some are mourned deeply and some are celebrated with whoops of joy. There are things that I have learned and things I am still struggling to understand.

  • Over the last few weeks I have handled nearly every item I own, sorting those things that will travel the country with us, those that need new homes, and those that will be discarded. I did not feel the “Joy of Tidying Up” that made the bestseller list this year, but I have enjoyed the lightening up. What is gone will not be missed. I have learned that both dreams and possessions are real, worthy of effort, and attainable. One category does not have to be dusted, insured or packed securely for storage.
  • The things I love to do: cook, teach, gift, and plant are all activities designed to provide something to be consumed by others. I won’t be able to do those items in the same way from a travel trailer next year. I’ll survive. I don’t have to host the family gathering or be the co-worker that has supplies at the ready. That part of me is gone.
  • My name will not be on the door anymore. But I have learned that unlike our current president, you don’t get to write your name on your monuments. Someone who comes after you decides that. I would never want a Trump Tower, and establishing my brand has been about being so consistent and recognizable in my love for children and for literacy that I wouldn’t have to label it to have others recognize my work and passion. I understand the need for copyright laws, preserving the intellectual property of others, but have always freely shared those things I have produced for the betterment of our school. I hope my monument be the kids I have had the privilege to teach, who are proud of what they know and who they are.
  • There are things that are gone from the Wisconsin landscape that have made it much easier for me to move on. The value that has historically been ascribed to public education is eroding nationally, but especially in Wisconsin. Respect for teachers, adequate funding for schools and community engagement in bettering the lives of all children in Wisconsin’s classroom has been seriously reduced. Teachers must spend much more time defending themselves from criticism and educating a public unaware of the multitude of roles that schools take on in today’s communities. This pulls time and energy away from where we would like it to be, on our kids and their growth, joy, and self-confidence. It is increasingly hard to project that surety when you are feeling attacked and insecure in your livelihood.
  • We have unfortunately shifted from a focus on the learning to a focus on the testing that drives education today. There are so many better ways to measure progress than single high stakes exam. The easiest tests to administer, score, and publish are often the least effective in describing student learning. They are even less helpful in driving decisions about improving outcomes for individual students, where we should be focused.
  • As a society, we also seem to have lost the sense that the values we teach our children in an elementary school have validity in the adult world. Compromise is good. Everyone deserves to be heard. We only can say we are doing well when all of us are doing well. We need to care about others, even those people who don’t look like us.

After 34 years as an educator I am on a new journey. I am conscious of the things I have lost and am leaving behind. I am also grateful for the things that will never leave me. I read somewhere that retirement is when you stop working on your resume and start working on your eulogy. I’d like to hope that any successes I have had in my teaching career are because I have always concentrated on those “big things” first. Learn all you can, then share what you know, care about people first, things second. The things you give away say more about you than the things you keep. You should listen, learn, and wonder more every day than you speak, teach or think you know. Love what you do and the people you do it with. Be grateful, be quiet, and know when it’s time to turn off the lights and close the door.

Students Try on a Different Writing Style with Their Voice

writer-605764_1280By Elizabeth Jorgensen

To encourage my students to write in a different style, I first have them read a chapter from House on Mango Street titled “Four Skinny Trees.” We read and discuss this chapter. Then, I tell students to try on the author’s style of writing to see how it fits with his or her voice. I instruct students to adhere to Sandra Cisneros’s sentence structure by going word by word, keeping her structure, but changing the words.

First, students look at the title: “Four Skinny Trees.” In the title, Cisneros has a number, an adjective, and then a plural noun. Students then write their own title, complete with a number, adjective and plural noun.

Example: Four Skinny Trees could become Three Bulbous Rocks or Five Insecure Boys or Three Broken Feet.

Students continue through Cisneros’s “Four Skinny Trees” chapter, keeping her structure but telling their own story. I remind students that they should have the same number of sentences and paragraphs as Cisneros. If she repeats a word, I remind the students they need to repeat a word. If Cisneros states her title, the student should state his or hers.

Cisneros: “Four Skinny Trees”

Jorgensen: Three Bulbous Rocks

Cisneros: “They are the only ones who understand me. I am the only one who understands them.”

Jorgensen: They are the only ones that irritate me. I am the only one who kicks them.

Cisneros: “Four skinny trees with skinny necks and pointy elbows like mine.”

Jorgensen: Three bulbous rocks with dirty bellies and snowy caps like glaciers.

Cisneros: “Four who do not belong here but are here.”

Jorgensen: Three amongst a million more in my yard.

Cisneros: “Four raggedy excuses planted by the city.”

Jorgensen: Three infuriating rocks there to trip me.

Cisneros: “From our room we can hear them, but Nenny just sleeps and doesn’t appreciate these things.”

Jorgensen: From my porch I can see them, but my boyfriend just sighs and says I’m hallucinating.

I provide a model as well as student and teacher examples. You can see my worksheet and resources here. At the end of the exercise, students have a poetic, entertaining and interesting vignette. This exercise also prompts a plagiarism discussion, students debating if a writer can copy another author’s structure.

Student vignettes are often published. Teen Ink published Nate Ferro’s vignette and Megan Rutkowksi’s vignette.

I encourage you to use this exercise with your students or to modify it to better align with your curriculum.

 

Is it Good for Kids?

By Claudia Felske

Ask any teacher (especially this time of year) how they’re doing, and my guess is their response will be “busy” or some synonym thereof. The truth is that “busyness” is pretty much par for the course in this profession, and so this month (a particularly busy one) I thought I’d reflect a bit on how a teacher might best prioritize his/her time. Whether facing a time consuming class project, a district initiative, a  stack of papers, a student need, a community event, an administrative request, a building committee, a licensure requirement, (the list goes on and on…) it must all boil down to one question: “Is it good for kids?”  It may sound ridiculously reductive, but if that’s not ALWAYS the central question, what are we doing here? And so, here’s a flow-chart version of how I try to prioritize my time. Feel free to give it a try when your to-do list is seemingly insurmountable: IMG_0098

Playing and Learning

board-gamesBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

In the Washington Post article, “Children’s board games help reinforce lessons learned in the classroom,” Jayne Cooke-Cobern, a kindergarten teacher at Marumsco Hills Elementary School in Woodbridge says, “Any game that requires a student to count and move a game piece at the same time is good for developing one-to-one correspondence while counting.” Which games does she use? Trouble, Chutes and Ladders, Uno, Yahtzee, Racko, and Apples to Apples.

Lisa Barnes, another kindergarten teacher at Marumsco Hills quoted in the article, says she uses “Memory (recognition of numbers, sight words and color words), bingo (letters, shapes and rhyming words) and dominoes (numbers and the concept of more and less)” with her students.

Although I teach students on the other end of the educational spectrum—seniors in high school—board games also supplement my lesson plans. Why? Games force students to use planning and cognitive skills. They also encourage problem-solving and creative thinking.

In the Washington Post article, Marilyn Fleetwood, president of the Academy of the Child, a Montessori preschool and elementary school said, “Play is probably the most important skill for life. Most children learn to read, but social skills are one of those things that really have to be developed. And that’s what you get with board games.”

I keep a stack of board games in my classroom. And on days when attendance is light—or during challenging weeks (like Homecoming or when the basketball team makes it to state)—I will often allow students to pull them out. Students say the same things: games are fun, appealing, and motivating. And they also support my English curriculum. While word, matching and memory games foster language development and literacy, while card games improve spatial awareness and develop strategic thinking.

Games provide a forum for initiative and leadership, reasoning, and problem-solving. Challenging and strategic games help children learn to focus and concentrate, which is essential to developing creative thought.

Here are some of the games I use in my classroom:

  • You’ve Been Sentenced
  • Word on the Street
  • Buzz Word
  • Guesstures
  • Quickword
  • Starwords
  • Alphabet Roundabout
  • Play on Words
  • Scrabble Upwords
  • Rattled
  • Flashwordz
  • Boggle
  • Buy Word
  • Word Winks

 


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