The Classroom

The Classroom is a podcast by a middle school writing teacher conferring with students about the books they read and issues in writing. The podcast strives to give students a voice about the impact of choice in the classroom and the reality of what works for them in the teaching of reading and writing.
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The Classroom




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Now displaying: June, 2016
Jun 30, 2016

Organization requires social components that adolescents are only just discovering in middle school. Used to graphic organizers, students initially might make organizational decisions based on the chart and their own tastes.

Yet, the more we talk with our peers, we discover that organization influences our readers. Do we hold a reader's attention? How do we even grab it--let along hold it?

As Michael and Emma discussed organization, I wondered how much class time we spent on leads and conclusion. Did we spend an equal amount of time on conclusions--or do I ignore it? Have we grown from the elementary "hamburger" model of organization...and is it even possible with middle school students?

I am always amazed by the insights of students and this episode's content (organization) did not disappoint me. I walked away thinking about Michael's recognition of organizational moves in the books he reads and I began planning methods of capitalizing on this discovery in the future.

And, of course, I am left with Emma's note that schools and teachers are always trying to box students in...that we narrow their field of possibilities. No matter how I try to reframe Emma's words, I can't help but come back to the fact that what she says is true.

Please feel free to comment on the episode by reaching out to me on Twitter at @_briank_. 

Jun 23, 2016

The specificity of feedback--adding ideas, deleting ideas--matters. Students care about what their writing says, yet how much time do we spend helping students learn how to talk about writing, or how to identify what good writing is? Often, students only identify good writing as error-free writing and do not know how to give feedback beyond "I like that" or what we come to call "peer editing" (checking spelling and grammar).

Writing is more than requirements or what the teacher assigns. In this episode of The Classroom, three adolescents discuss several positive and negative conditions of feedback:

  • discussing idea development, clarity, and flow is a primary concern
  • feeling closeness to the reader (friends) helps
  • when teachers only focus on requirements
  • getting to know a writer helps
  • the difference between teaching "the writer" and teaching "the writing"
  • writing in school to prompts does not make students feel like writers
  • the challenge of knowing the quality of one's own writing

As is the case in most episodes, the discussion leads me to more questions. I walk away from listening to this episode reflecting on how I can alter the time we spend in class to include more modeling of talking about writing. How can I send the message that good writing is more than just error-free?

Feel free to comment or ask questions about episode by reading to me on Twitter at @_briank_.

Jun 16, 2016

Two students explain the the various sources of encouragement and discouragement in school. Predictably, the students begin by examining the role that rades play. Good grades lead to positive feelings. Poor grades lead to negative feelings.

However, as they access their thinking through talking, they discover there is to more to encouragement and discouragement than just a grade.

Listen to 8th graders Gemma and Meghan unravel how students want acknowledgement. They want positive feedback that demonstrates that the teacher is paying attention to them, that the teacher cares about them, that the teacher knows them: "Maybe when a teacher gives you a really nice compliment or says you are doing a really good job. Just them saying a simple thing, knowing that you are working hard is encouragement, that is like really...I get really happy when a teacher says that."

Of course, one of the major tenets of educating is not only knowing content, classroom management, scaffolding strategies, et al. but also knowing people. In the case of middle school, knowing adolescents--and knowing adolescents are unique from teenagers--matters a great deal. Talking with, and listening to, my students throughout these podcast episodes only leads me to more questions. The only answer I seem to come up with is that I have to find a way to encourage and listen more, and discourage and correct/criticize less.

I am always open to feedback and thoughts based on each episode. You can reach out to me on Twitter at @_briank_.