The Power of Talking Circles

Last week during pre-planning, I had the pleasure of attending a break-out session where my colleague, Maggie Menkus, who had attended a conference in Oregon this summer, shared her take-away on Talking Circles with us. She laid the ground rules, and brought her stuffed armadillo, while modeling thought-provoking questions as well as responses to the group. I borrowed Maggie’s idea, and began my first day of grade 8 Literature with a talking circle on students’ “best educational experience,” and the stories were surprising and powerful. Students shared about expeditionary learning experiences (from simply going outside to learn about plants, to going to Whole Foods with their math teacher, learning independently at the Fernbank Museum, the Boston class trip, mission trips with their churches), rising from 4th grade to 5th grade, where they felt incredibly more challenged, and reflecting on time spent in the Dean’s office where they learned to make wiser decisions regarding their peer group, just to name a few. While I try to incorporate discussion time into my literature classes, Maggie’s Talking Circles brought home the importance of giving voice to every student, and helped me (as well as the rest of the class) to learn about students’ experiences and get to know them better. I plan to incorporate Talking Circles quite frequently into my classes this year!

Creative To Kill a Mockingbird Projects!

My fourth period Literature class loves to create visual replicas of their reading. Here are some examples of the awesome performance tasks that they created from their menu of options: a Maycomb Tribune newspaper recounting events from the trial, a collage on one of the characters, Scout’s scrapbook, a revised book cover, and a character sketch. I absolutely love both the Map of Maycomb as well as the silhouettes of Jem and Scout – so creative!

The Glass Menagerie Performance Tasks

Students in my 4th period Literature class love to combine Art with Literature. Almost every member of the class selected a hands-on art project to showcase their understanding of the four major characters of Tennessee Williams’ award-winning play, The Glass Menagerie. Teachers can apply this lesson to any literary work by helping students to reflect on the characters’ personalities, attitudes, talents, and interests. The best part is that I have lots of artwork to display around my classroom!

Class Trip to Washington D.C.

It’s hard for me to believe that another class trip to Washington D.C. is behind us. This was my 5th time visiting our nation’s capital with our 8th graders. Every year, our agenda is quite similar, but there is always something new to learn or somewhere new to explore. Above are some of the highlights from our week, including photo ops outside the White House, The National Cathedral, Museum of Natural History, MLK Memorial, Vietnam Veterans’ Women’s Memorial (Faith, Hope and Love), as well as a ghost tour of Alexandria, Virginia; we also explored the grounds of George Washington’s home in Mt. Vernon, as well as took in the sights of the Air and Space Museum, Museum of American History, as well as the Holocaust Museum. On our last night, students attended a formal dinner/dance, and competed in a friendly competition of Jeopardy. One of our favorite memories as we awaited our flight home was running into Santa!

Positive Feedback: The Best Gift All Year

At the end of the semester, students are required to complete surveys for each course that they take. This is my favorite feedback that I received; I only wish I knew who wrote it so I could personally thank the student as it really touched me how kindly this student expressed gratitude for me and my course.

“I love Ms. Young’s class so much. She is so positive, up lifting, and constantly joyful and jubilant in everything she does. The books she picks are great, powerful, and meaningful books that show us real world problems and real things to discuss that happen in our everyday world. Talking about WW2 in Unbroken is much more important than knowing how a immigrant lost his sister in Afghanistan (Shooting Kabul, Grade 7). Romeo and Juliet went down the roots of Shakespeare and how his literary work changed the world forever, and before Ms. Young taught us how to kind of decode the writing we didn’t understand. She comes into class excited and ready for the day with all of her material and plans. She is able to change her plans for the benefit of the classroom and the students. Overall, Ms. Young is a great teacher who understands her students’ needs and desires to learn. She has an immense amount of knowledge that she applies to every aspect of the classroom and is such a great role model for coming in no matter what, sick or sad, being the most positive person in the MSAB.”

More Voice and Choice Than Ever Before!

I decided to offer more student voice and choice to our annual Romeo and Juliet performance task offerings this year. What I discovered was that it was a win-win situation for students and teacher alike!

  1. Students were more engaged because there were so many options from which to choose (as opposed to years past when every student completed a body biography and scene performance)
  2. The class presentations had greater variety (which made for a more engaging experience for the whole class), and
  3. “Grading” the projects was a cinch because I assessed steps of the projects along the way, offered feedback before final submission, allowing students to tweak their final product, and was better able to assess mindset indicators while they worked

Here are some examples of my favorite submissions as well as photos from presentation day!  


What I Learned about Relationships from Improv

I love Improvisation! In fact, improv brings back memories from my early twenties when I took some classes at Chicago’s famed Improv Olympic, home of many great SNL comedians like Jim Belushi, Chris Farley, Stephen Colbert and Amy Poehler, so when I took an Improv workshop at the Greater Presbytery’s Middle School retreat this past weekend, I was challenged to think of Improv in a new light. At our retreat, “Created to Create,” we reflected on how we can use our God-given gifts to connect with God, with each other, and with the world. All of the “Yes, and-ing” that I learned in my earlier improv days, the “never deny your partner” and “do something with purpose” mantras all resonated with me, but it was only with fresh eyes that I was able to see how these same philosophies so closely align with Christ’s teachings. How often (and easily) do we as parents, teachers, and coaches crush our children’s and student’s ideas and dreams? How frequently do we deny our kids’ abilities to be their own decision-makers? How many times have we done something without purpose? My goal going forward is to say “yes, and” more frequently, to stop denying the cast of characters in my life, and to do all things with greater purpose.

Implementation of IBL

After implementing the lesson I designed after I attended the IBL Workshop on Tuesday, these are my observations:IMG_5083

  1. Everyone has a role (therefore they are working at the highest level of cognition)
  2. Students are delving deeper into the text (most likely due to the fact that they all have a role to play)
  3. Students who often sit quietly during whole group performance/discussions are readily taking part/contributing to their small group discussion (perhaps because they feel more comfortable sharing in a smaller group

This is a sample of one group’s submission. This chart exceeded expectations because it captured every element assigned in a creative format:Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 10.47.50 AM

Takeaways from IBL Workshop

After attending a workshop led by Amy Wilkes yesterday on Inquiry-Based Learning, I discovered that IBL can take place in baby steps, and does not require a full-blown project to work. I was inspired by Wilkes’ lesson on circuits. While I have very little prior knowledge on circuit-building, the lesson allowed me to think that, with practice, a round of examples, and a team on which to lean for guidance and support, I too could build a circuit just like the model! As we worked, we were being observed by a member of our group as well as by an Administrator who was assessing our Mindset indicator. The observer noted that once I got my circuit to work, I became the expert in the room, and that my group leaned on me for their own circuit building.

Some of my takeaways from this exercise were the importance of trial and error (I made several attempts to get my light to work); every individual being able to give it a try (which contrasts with traditional learning), as well as the importance of relying on the guidance of my teammates (what worked for them, and what didn’t), the pressure of time constraints (as teachers, we wanted more time, and felt pressured by the time constraints, which got us wondering: how often have our students felt the same way?) and the value of assisting students in becoming “experts” in the room (how it builds their confidence, and makes them want to improve as was the case with my circuit building).

Following Amy’s lead, I tried to figure out a way to apply what we learned in yesterday’s workshop to my current Literature class, where we are reading Romeo and Juliet. Like Science where students are analyzing tangible things, in Literature, students need to learn how to analyze language, thus, my leading question is this: “How might students analyze Shakespeare’s language in order to determine the most important content of a scene?” While students are taking on roles in their groups to analyze one scene, I will be assessing them on their Creative Thinking mindset indicator (CC.1 Challenges Assumptions). Wish me luck!




What Parents Want

It’s hard to believe that Curriculum Night was a month ago already; I have just now had the time to reflect on the goals that parents want for their children from my course this year. What I discovered when asking my students’ parents their goals for their children for my course is that the parents’ goals were similar to my own. They want their children to read more, to become better reads, to read the Classics, and to learn to LOVE to read. I could not agree more! Their goals for their children are my goals too!  Here are their responses:IMG_5004