Collaboration is so Important for Teachers!

Last night I had the privilege of attending a workshop for English teachers who get together once a month to share writing ideas, reading strategies and sources and to simply discuss what they are doing in their classroom (Nicole, you are fantastic for doing this!).  I’ve gone to this before, but have not had a chance to since summer and was immediately glad I made time for it yesterday.  Here is what I learned in a quick two hour meeting time:

  • There’s a fabulous TED Talk called “Love Letters to Strangers” introduced to me by my friend Angeline (here is the link:  I had no idea what a powerful classroom activity this could be to have students write positive messages to random strangers and then leave them in random places (gas stations, inside books in a bookstore, at Walmart).  Totally stealing this idea!
  • I need to go to NCTE next year because the teachers were so excited about what they experienced while there a few weeks ago.  On my list…
  • Using podcasts in the classroom is very powerful and I need to continue to do so.  Using Serial was a big hit this year and the kids learned so much while listening.  After talking with other teachers, I felt good about having used it in my classroom.
  • There’s more English teachers jumping in to do Genius Hour with their kids.  I loved talking to another teacher who is trying it next semester and sharing ideas and resources.  She turned me onto a blogger and teacher named Laura Randazzo (here is the link to her site: who blogs about everything related to the secondary classroom.  I am now following her blog.  Thanks, Sarah, for the recommendation.
  • I get to read Writing with Mentors by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell as a book study with this group (the link to the book is here:  My geeky side is doing cartwheels in anticipation.  Total nerd.
  • I love talking with other English teachers.  There is some inspiring stuff going on in English classrooms all over our area.

Off to grade, but I wanted to get this down before I got wrapped up in 5,000 other things.  In a nutshell, collaboration is the best PD a teacher can ask for…and it’s free.  Are you listening, all you schools out there?


Genius Hour – My Epiphany!

This is my third year using Genius Hour in my English classroom.  While I’ve loved it and feel using this type of PBL has completely changed my classroom, I’ve always had this feeling that I was missing something, that there was an element that was just not quite there.  Yesterday, the students were showing their second post on their social media sites (one of three requirements to Genius Hour, the other two being that their project must help someone or others and it must include research to show knowledge gained), and it hit me – my epiphany!  With all my focus on using textual evidence to back up arguments in their writing in my classroom, I had never thought to use this for their Genius Hour.  I’ve never asked my students to show proof that what they were doing, making, or discovering for Genius Hour was valid or successful (using their own personal measures for success, of course) or benefitted others in some way.  That was it – my missing piece!

This all happened yesterday when a student asked me if she could change her Genius Hour. She just wasn’t feeling passionate about her first choice and did not feel it would be something to which she could devote the next six months.  I told her that was fine and asked her what she would prefer doing; she explained that body confidence was something she always struggled with and it was a topic she felt she could educate people about.  Then, without any thought on my part, I blurted out, “So, how will you prove that you were able to teach others about this?”.  It must have been a knee-jerk reaction because it’s a concept I nag my kids about all the time in regards to their writing, but it just seemed to fit perfectly with Genius Hour. I knew instantly that I needed to incorporate this idea into this project, because I could tell the question furthered my student’s thinking and made her consider the “how”, rather than just the “what” of her project.  This then led to a very productive conversation about ways she could prove that what she has done has educated people and made a difference in some way.  She talked about making polls, filming interviews with people, as well as a few other really good ideas.  But what I found was it deepened her thinking and gave her more of a connection with the project.

One final thought about the importance of having students prove their success and/or impact with their Genius Hour Projects has to do with teaching; there is connection between what the kids are doing for their projects and what we do as teachers.  While we, as teachers, may start out with great intentions when presenting a lesson, how will we really know we made an impact or educated our kids unless we assess them?  We have to use summative and formative assessment to make sure that what we are doing and teaching is effective and that the kids are actually learning as a result.  My approach to Genius Hour the past two years was exactly like teaching without assessment; I’ve allowed the kids to show what they’ve done, without challenging them to prove its effectiveness or benefit to others.  That is changing immediately!  I’m actually really excited to add this new layer to Genius Hour, because I know this will challenge the kids’ thinking even more and their experiences and results will be so much better…saying-it-is-one-thing-but-proving-it-is-another-quote-1