Being a Teacher-Learner This Summer

I strongly believe in classroom choice for all kids, especially in high school, where our kids are so close to leaving us and need the ability to think and make their own decisions.  I have an ever-growing classroom library with a diverse selection of books to meet kids' interests.  I've always used a Writer's Notebook for kids to explore their thinking.  

But still, these choices have been sprinkled, like a dash of seasoning, into my classroom structure, added to the foundation that I set...units of study, the "real" work, [cue dramatic music] the CURRICULUM.  I have maintained my firm position as captain of the ship.  I've chosen which objectives to learn in what order.  I've decided what the standard of measure is.  I've done it all.  Which, of course, means the kids have had no real ownership in the bigger picture of their own learning.  As much as I say I don't value compliance, a deep look at my classroom will tell you, compliance is the foundation of everything. I have not been walking my talk.

Over the past four years I've had new colleagues teaching literacy with me every single year.  Since most new high school teachers have no training in literacy, this has meant that I'm teaching my class and guiding a new group of teachers in how to teach literacy. I tried to be methodical and logical and consistent. Sure sounds like a valid reason for maintaining control, doesn't it?

But what I missed was the word boring. There's an underlying feeling of just going through the motions, not being deeply invested, both on my own and the kids' part.  I have tried to control it all so tightly that I've squeezed out creativity, individual passion, and kid-ownership, except with independent reading.  It feels robotic, and I am ready to trash everything.  

Instead of being overly dramatic, I'm going to use my blog in a little different way in the coming weeks, or maybe months.  I want to develop my idea that I can restructure my class with choice as the foundation, not just an addition to the real stuff.  I've decided to do a teacher inquiry project into how to create a classroom driven by my students' passions and interests rather than my own. It may wander and ramble. I may summarize and reflect on what I'm reading. I may propose something that sounds completely ludicrous. It might be messy and meander worse than one of Billy's routes in a Family Circus comic. I may propose something, only to reject it a week later. In other words, I'm putting myself to the task of learning something new in an exploratory way just like I believe students should have the opportunity to do.

I am also hoping to learn more about what this process feels like. Where do I get stuck, get frustrated, want to quit?  What's hard, what's easy, what is most rewarding?  When does true learning happen?  How do I figure out what to do next?  How do I evaluate my progress?  I don't know the answers to any of these questions yet.  But I know if I give myself the freedom to explore and learn, answers will emerge.  
Here's the learning plan so far:
1.  Participate in the Book Love Foundation Summer Book Club, which includes Kylene Beers and Bob Probst's book Disrupting Thinking.

2.  Read Ralph Fletcher's book, Joy Write:  Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing.

3.  Write daily in my journal, reflecting on my learning and ideas.  

4.  Blog at least weekly to share what I'm doing and learning.

5.  Talk with my teacher-colleague friends to develop ideas.

6.  Get feedback from my online PLN.

So readers, I need your help.  I would love to get suggestions for books, articles, ideas, what you've tried, who you've turned to, if you've tried a self-directed, trust-the-kids way of teaching.  And if you desire, join me on this crazy journey!  

Happy Learning!

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