Keys to Literacy in Action

The English Department is in the third year of its implementation of Keys to Literacy, and both students and teachers continue to develop from its use. We have integrated KTL strategies into the curriculum across all grades and all levels, which has really helped us to focus on necessary skills and effective scaffolding. As the English department shifts its curricular focus, moving away from text-based instruction to skills-based instruction, KTL has been really helpful.

Though I was initially skeptical about how the comprehension strategies would be effective tools for students in upper grades and levels, I have found that they work well with all my students. It's just a matter of applying them appropriately and with the right content.

I used KTL's focus on different Bloom's Taxonomy when helping students to facilitate class conversations. As part of an activity on how to prepare for critical frame student-led discussions, students generated questions that reached different cognitive levels on Bloom’s Taxonomy. After working in groups to develop inquiries that addressed understanding, analyzing, and evaluation, my students wrote their questions on the whiteboard tables in our alcove and engaged in a “silent discussion” by walking around the room and answering them. Now, when students prepare for in-class discussions, they know to create a list of questions that facilitate academic conversations and help their peers access the text at different levels.

Students making use of our new whiteboard tables in the English alcove to share the questions they generated on summer reading texts: The Handmaid's Tale and 1984.

Students making use of our new whiteboard tables in the English alcove to share the questions they generated on summer reading texts: The Handmaid's Tale and 1984.

Introduction to Film and Media students have also been working with KTL. Using two-column notes to help them understand how media representation impacts social behavior, as well as how filmmakers use visual techniques to convey meaning, students employed one of the more basic tools of the Keys to Literacy program to understand some complex material. This is an assignment students completed after talking about two contemporary family sitcoms, Modern Family and Blackish. Here is an assignment that is helping students organize their thoughts about substantive scenes in the film Pleasantville.

KTL has been really helpful in giving students the foundational skills they need to read and think critically and communicate effectively. Because students have been working with these tools across the curriculum and the language is familiar, they are easily able to dive into assignments and get to the important work.

My Room is Your Room

I am a big believer in the psychological and emotional power of physical spaces. The environment in which we learn impacts how we learn and the emotional experience we attach to learning. I have been working through the years to create a classroom space that offers students a welcoming, interesting place that makes them feel at home while also prompting them to engage in varied learning adventures. I did the research. I engaged in webinars and Twitter chats. I spent far too long on Pinterest. I found my intent to be supported by current educational theory. But, mainly, I just have a real personal attachment to spaces. Depending on how they are designed, I feel happy or inspired or threatened or intimidated. I need my students to identify their English class with emotions that empower them to learn.

I have spent a few years now designing this space. I've created reading corners, collaboration stations, gallery walls, student work displays - all with the intent of providing students with a sense of comfort, value, and engagement. I don't want them to feel like school is a system, an institution. That's not fair. I want them to feel like they are at home in my room, like my room is their room. Though learning often happens when we are out of our comfort zone, I don't think that means that students need to be uncomfortable.

I really like my classroom space. It reflects who I am as a person and as a teacher. All it's missing right now is the energy and thoughts of the students who will fill that space for the next ten months. I can't wait to share my room with them.

                               Space for reading, sharing, thinking, talking.

                               Space for reading, sharing, thinking, talking.

              View of gallery wall and collaboration stations with whiteboard tables.

              View of gallery wall and collaboration stations with whiteboard tables.

Back to School Again

I love the back-to-school season. Though I know that I will miss the ease of summer days, just the thought of getting back to the classroom brings joy. Entering the long drive leading to BHS, passing the field full of students practicing, hearing the marching band and drumline play  it truly warms me.

As a teacher, it’s easy to get caught up in the preparation of it all. While summer days offer ease, they still include work. Most of us spend much of the break bettering our practice, but during that last week before school begins everything amps up. We attend professional development sessions and department meetings. We devise and facilitate collaborative workshops. We organize and decorate our spaces. We create lessons, buy school supplies, and develop goals. We even experience back-to-school anxiety dreams. It’s a lot to do and it’s hard.

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Today, after spending the day with colleagues at our annual PD conference, hearing everyone talk about feeling overwhelmed by everything that comes with this time of year, I decided to head back to BHS. All the talk panicked me a bit. My intent was to get in some more prep for the first week of classes before picking up my daughter and helping her pack for her very first sleepover. I had a lot on my mind. Then, I began the slow drive into the BHS parking lot. I saw the faces of the students. I heard the music of the band. I watched these amazing young people getting ready to start their year. I pulled into the teacher's lot and really looked at the backdrop of painted rocks. Immediately, all the stress of preparation disappeared and was replaced with a wave of warmth.

"The Rocks" - where the incoming seniors paint their names and claim their space as members of the BHS community.

"The Rocks" - where the incoming seniors paint their names and claim their space as members of the BHS community.

This is what is great about teaching. This feeling of being part of a community of people who are all learning and pursuing their passions and figuring out who they are. Everyone in the building is growing through interactions with each other. Watching transformations on a daily basis is a pretty powerful thing. So, as the ease of summer days abruptly shifts to the frenzy of lessons and bells and grading, I am reminded of what makes all of that worthwhile. I choose to ignore the teacher memes flooding social media, feeding that frenzied feeling. Instead I am focusing on the joy of it all.

I am grateful to work in this profession. It is emotional and it is exhausting, but it is wonderful. I am grateful for the drive into the parking lot and for drumline practice. I love back-to-school season, and I feel ready for another year.