The end of the school year is the best time to get ideas for next year. All the successful and failed experiments are still fresh in my mind and most importantly, I get the chance to ask students what they thought. I’ve grown the most as a teacher not from any single professional development session (although that’s why I started offering courses myself) but from listening to my students. At the end of the year, I give them the opportunity to write about their experiences and what did and didn’t work for them. I don’t ask for numbers or rankings unless it's about their favorite novel, because I can’t make sense of them. They will often provide suggestions and ideas for projects and explain why the preferred a certain kind of activity over another.
This year, I experimented with Free Literacy Blocks (update coming soon) where students got weekly free time to explore a topic of choice. I started by giving them the absolute freedom to read essays, books, or poems, write fiction or nonfiction, watch videos, or listen to podcasts. As the year went along, I started to provide students with lists of quality essays, podcasts, videos, and websites to explore. I took them to the library and encouraged them to explore their interests.
It went well, but next year, I will have a more guided approach. My students definitely enjoyed the freedom but I felt like they focused too heavily on too narrow of a topic. Because I teach seniors, I like them to encounter a variety of different voices, philosophies, and topics and too many students stayed trapped in the box they created early on in the year. They were on a variety of topics like ‘90s rock bands, Taylor Swift lyrics, Virginia Woolf’s diaries, poetry, politics, the podcast Anything Goes by Emma Chamberlain, fast food, ‘80s films, social media, and sports.
Next year, I will start with the reverse logic: encounter literary nonfiction including personal narratives, philosophy, topical essays, podcasts, and videos early on and then open things up later. I will assign each student a different article or podcast and I will also ask students to keep a handwritten log of notes and free response journals since documenting how they spent their time was difficult. Each student will present a summary of their source to the class and then each student will pick another source and respond to it in their journal. They will eventually get free time to pick a source of choice. The end objective is to create a project that demonstrates both the depth and breadth of their learning.
Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers