Monday, July 14, 2014

Thrive Week 6: Empower Your Students

How are you giving your students a voice in your classroom? What ideas do you have to empower your students to take more interest in and control of their education? What questions or concerns do you have that others in the book club could help with?

This is the last chapter of the book, but we still have one more week for the book club. Next week come prepared to share your take aways from the book.

104 comments:

  1. Question for the group: Our local newspaper features a colored insert that publishes student stories, articles, photos, and poetry from five local high schools. I have tried allowing submissions to be totally voluntary - and then I receive only a few pieces from the same students. I have tried requiring all students to give me two items for submission during the year - which shut down some creativity, resulted in some very poorly written materials being turned in at the last minute, and overall was a nightmare! How do any of you handle this type of publishing opportunity.

    Question: Has anyone used "Collaborative Classroom" successfully?

    Comment: Even though my students are 10th graders, they still like for me to display their projects/works in the hallway!

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    1. My students are 11th and 12th graders and still enjoy seeing their work displayed in the hallways! Many teachers in my building display student work in this manner and it helps them to try a little harder.

      Regarding the local newspaper insert: Have you tried surveying your students to see what they are most interested in submitting? Have they been allowed to submit photos to you? What topics are they writing about? It might help to survey them to figure out what they are most interested in and then try to create an assignment that is geared toward their interests and that will also be submitted in the insert. Maybe even have someone from the newspaper come in and talk to students about why the paper includes the insert, who is reading the paper (which will help them to authentically identify audience) and why they should want to see their names in print.

      Don't give up--the newspaper insert sounds like a great opportunity for your students' voices to be heard in your community :)

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    2. The part of this chapter that spoke to me the most was the idea of building relationships with community members. Finding people to work with our students and provide feedback could really help the students feel more validated in their work. As a result, I think some students would feel more confident and motivated to publish their work. So, I hope to build a relationship with the local education editor but I think it's important to remember that some students need to feel comfortable and validated by those outside of the classroom before they will readily embrace the idea of publishing their work.

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    3. Could you have a representative from the newspaper come and talk to your class. They could address how big an audience the paper reaches so the students could understand the power the newspaper gives to their thoughts and words.

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    4. I'm wondering if you could require students to submit entries to a blog first as part of a required assignment. Then from there, perhaps students might be more willing to submit an entry after receiving comments and feedback from others. Or, you could have students vote for their top entries on the blog and then submit those for the newspaper contest? Maybe the blog format would be more motivating and less threatening to some of your students.

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  2. The last chapter, Empower your Students had a great deal to offer me at this point in my career. For the past three years our PLC has developed and revised a PBL inquiry unit on civil rights violations in modern-day America and in particular, our local community. All of the points made by Meenoo Rami and the vignettes of the selected educators have been visible to me during this unit. My students are more engaged than ever and are taking ownership over their own learning and application. I monitor the peer interaction via small group forums on Edmodo and set milestones and roles for them to meet. In the end, the students create an exhibit teaching others of the problem as it exists today and its connections to the Civil Rights Movement. In addition, students write a letter to a public figure with suggestions for solving the issue, usually someone who opposes the idea. We have not yet had local civil rights leaders come into our classroom to evaluate the products, but it has been discussed.

    The problem I have is that I find it hard to use this methodology and cover the content adequately. I use mini-lessons and post graphics and videos on my Edmodo class page, but content takes a back seat to creativity and application. Also, I would love to hear from other educators in this club, especially social studies teachers, about their projects. So far, this is the only unit I do this way so I’m looking to add more without diluting its effectiveness.

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    1. I also struggled with content when I plan super-engaging lessons with authentic audiences. I use Weebly's to direct students through projects, provide detailed rubrics, and edit the final projects as needed to get a sense of content knowledge and retention.

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    2. John--this project sounds outstanding! I also worry about how content is being "covered" when engaging in projects such as these. Since you are already doing mini-lessons over content, would it be possible to give your students a pretest and a post test about civil rights that has questions related to the content in your mini lessons to be sure it is being covered adequately?

      You might also consider pairing up with a teacher from another content area (like an English 11 teacher whose students are reading American Literature) to create a "Collaborative Classroom" that would help students to also make connections between classes they are currently taking so the work being done isn't just for one grade and would help them to see the project as an authentic learning opportunity.

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  3. Giving my students opportunities to develop their voice has been one of my primary goals over the past couple of years. From primary source analysis, changing the style of my assessments, Skype conferences, letter writing...I've seen how connecting students to they actual world they're supposed to be learning about has engaged them in the curriculum and helped them further develop compassion and empathy toward other people and cultures. Developing voice is one thing but feeling it's appreciated is quite another. Through social networking and attending student events, I've built a better rapport with my students. While I know most educators do this to show students support, recently I've found that by understanding their passions outside of school I can adjust my lessons to utilize that knowledge the students may not have shared otherwise. Lastly, I really like that Meenoo said "I believe this is the best moment to be a teacher..." Our job is fun when you concentrate on the true purpose of our profession and stop letting all the naysayers get to you. Students need to feel like you want to be there. Modeling the fact that you are a lifelong learner will go a long way in developing the classroom climate you want. I've found my students appreciate my lessons more when they know where my knowledge came from or that I studied... The old adage is true "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

    Share: I've been using Smore.com to share exemplary digital student work with parents and colleagues. It's a virtual flyer and works well!

    Question: Anyone have a teacher blog that they keep? I just started mine, and it has been fun sharing. http://theulmanac.wordpress.com/

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    1. I kept a blog most of last year for a different than usual purpose; I set up a blog to be my daily agenda. It turned out to be a diary of sorts, too. So each day, I posted the day's plan. I would then add pictures/exemplars from the first few classes for other classes to use. I would refer absent students to this blog so they could keep up. And when parents wanted to know what we are doing in class or how they can help their child at home, I had the answer. It is found here: http://english9today.blogspot.com/

      I've had a daily blog for several years now. The quick and easy edit with blogger meant that I could tweak and add content, such as model student work, throughout the day. I just realized that I didn't "trust" my students enough to add the Comment feature. I really wish I would have. I believe it would have generated more use of this resource. Many students still seem "paralyzed" when it comes to absent/work. My 9th graders had a hard time going out to the web (or the "Yellow Binder," with every single day printed for them to use to find out what we did in class). My seniors, too, had a hard time using the website to keep up with class and get materials for class. I believe it is a paradigm shift for students from using the web for entertainment to using it for school purposes.

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    2. C. Trinkle: Has your school gone to one to one (each student with a laptop)? Each student in my classroom has a school-issued computer that they bring with them to class and this has really helped my school website to be used as a classroom tool. I post the daily homework agenda and also any handouts or notes we did in class so that any student who was absent will be able to find all the information they need online. I like your use of the word "paralyzed" describing student-response to make up work because many students want to be handed the information instead of looking it up for themselves.

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    3. I visited your Blog and Smore.com. What site hosts your Blog? Also, is there a way to search Smore.com for your stuff? Do you have a paid version or do you use the free version?

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  4. Even very young students can be empowered. Having authentic purposes and audiences is important. Here's a few ways we do this in a K-1 building:
    -Writing workshop is often a place that we talk about audience. Publishing writing work in the hallway or in a weekly newsletter is motivating (the teacher can write it in the correct form for the newsletter). Pen pals provide an authentic purpose for writing. Another way to empower students is to give small writer's notebooks that can be used at home or anywhere to write down ideas for writing (experiences, things they know about, etc.)
    - Sharing learning with another classroom (could be plays, writing, shared reading, experiments, etc.
    - Inviting community members to talk about their careers; students develop some general questions before the visit
    - Research projects (K,W, L)
    - Student planning for activities/events/celebrations
    What are some ways you have empowered primary students?

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  5. Both in the General Music and Choir classroom, audience is always a focus. The questions "what is your message" and "what do you want your audience to take away from this" are always a focus. While I haven't gone totally public with my students, they perform for each other as frequently as I can manage. I foster an environment of encouragement and meaningful feedback. My General Music students, in particular feel inadequate to perform. They are largely the students who think they have no talent or aren't interested in performing arts. While it is challenging, I find that creating collaborative projects for them in a variety of mediums is essential for them to gain feelings of success and ownership. I have a collaborative project in place with Purdue University's Freshman Engineers. My students build instruments using recycled materials as part of their instruments of the orchestra/having something to create rhythms & melody on in the Gen. Mus. classroom studies. In turn, they make a trip to Purdue at the end of the first semester to evaluate projects of Freshman Engineering students who have created museum displays of world instruments geared to Middle School students. Purdue students get feedback from their target audience (both me as the teacher and my students) my students get a chance to give feedback on a process they have experienced themselves. Let's just say that the vuvuzela exhibits, unless they are highly focused on showing the history are not very well received because my students are all very aware that THEY could have made that vuvuzela and are expecting more from a college freshman.

    Creating empowerment is a complicated process in a middle school classroom. Students must feel secure and safe before they are willing to share publicly. Fostering an environment that encourages sharing without the threat of ridicule or teasing is something that must be established before any student's work goes public. It is possible to do but requires vigilance and supervision. I am going to work on video blogging with my students this year as many kids are opening YouTube channels and sharing themselves in that way. I believe with a healthy environment of collaboration and safe risk-taking students can find their voices.

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  6. I am all for the idea of empowering my students. I think I learned from Harry Wong before my first year of teaching that the students, not the teachers, should be the ones who are tired at the end of the day. They should be doing all the work!
    I think you all and Rami have some great ideas, I just struggle finding a way to integrate publishing student work into a math classroom. When I do give my students a writing assignment, I am pleasantly surprised with how much they want to share with others. I have found google docs as well as our new information management system, Canvas, a good place to display student work. Even if it is all done digitally, nothing beats the pride a student feels when a teacher thinks his/her work is good enough to share with the whole class.
    I agree with John that it is difficult to cover all the content when using fun, engaging, student-centered projects. I find this true especially in math class because there is a good amount of content that does not lend itself easily to such projects. I am open to suggestions, especially about good speakers from the work force!
    Overall, I do feel like my students appreciate having more of a say in class. When they can see that your course is tailored to who they are and how they learn they really seem to buy into it more. I have learned it is okay to relinquish some control and that any time lost is worth the student engagement and buy in. There are certainly days that I've accomplished nothing more than making my students feel like they want to come back again.

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    1. Mrs. Schaffner,

      I also feel that students are more engaged when they have a "say in class." Buy-in is a key and once the students feel that sense of pride, it is amazing what they can accomplish.

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    2. I still use ideas from Harry Wong each day in my classroom. He rules!!

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    3. I agree that making math units more public is a challenge. I was so impressed when at the iPossibilities conference at Center Grove High School this June, the academic hallways were covered with student-created tessellations. I have decorated my own classroom with these, but this was so much more "public." I liked what Rami said about the goal for sharing student work is to share the learning process along the way. I put up student work that may not be completely correct and wait to see what the comments will be.

      I would love ideas, too, for making math work that is not so artistic public. A good proof may not be as interesting for publication. Thoughts?

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  7. Even though my classroom utilizes an on-line curriculum, there is room for "customization" based on each students unique situation. The courses can be adjusted in order to effectively address each students specific needs. I am responsible for up to 30 students (in two 3-hour blocks) who need credit recovery, accrual, and or classes to prepare for state assessments.

    On the first day a student is in my classroom, I give them a classroom manual with the following in the first paragraph:

    "Emphasis is placed on reading and writing independently with
    personalized lectures provided by video media; although, interaction between
    student and instructor is encouraged. You also will be encouraged to become
    empowered to take ownership of your learning experience."

    We discuss that they have a chance to "take control of their own education" by how they navigate the program and are encouraged to give input about the courses. We then discuss,collaborate, and make changes based on what is best for each individual student. Those that take advantage of this are the ones who progress quickly and embrace their education as something that will give them skills for life.

    As far as publishing work is concerned, we are limited by corporation and HIPPA regulations. However when I have a student assignment that is exceptional (which means different things for different students) I send to colleagues and administration as well as post on my classroom wall. This lets the student know that their work is valued and gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment -- which many never receive from parents or guardians.

    Once they see that their work is valued, it makes them ant to work harder and continue progressing towards a goal that will give them fulfillment for life.

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  8. Most of my student choice is done in my upper classes. I think it has turned out to be that way because I have fewer class sections and fewer students. I am willing to try things outside my comfort. Giving student choice might actually go back to the previous chapter about fears I have. I do not give myself enough credit (or lack of confidence) to try something new in a class that I have multiple sections, because “what happens if it doesn’t work?” Then I will have to figure out what to do in the next class? What changes should be made? Is it worth trying with another class? What happens if it just flops? Then I have wasted class time.
    Some of the student choice ideas have come from other teachers or things I have made up. Either way in the end, more than not the students enjoyed the project as well as learned the content required. I have also asked for feedback. Usually the feed back is “free response” with some guided questions. I tell the kids that I want their opinions and suggestions that will make this project better. I am always pleased with ideas they provide.
    Some of the student choice projects I have done in my Anatomy class have been Public Service Announcements regarding sun care, health, etc… Students look on line at examples of different PSA’s. In the past I had given the students a particular l sign up for provided topics, and then produce a PSA.
    Another student choice that has been challenging yet fun is after the unti of studying muscles, the students choose a weight machine we have available to them. The students are then to develop an informational video on how to properly use the machine. They must include what muscles are being used and what type of movement is performed. The also have to develop a poster along with their video that provides a bit more “science” using proper terminology.

    Questions I have are:
    1) Where do I find more ideas?
    2) I don’t do well developing rubrics. I know there are pre-made rubrics and rubric templates out there, but I want to know what I need to include as an evaluation to student choice projects. How do I properly distribute point values?

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    1. Reena - For ideas to increase student choice and utilize rubrics for those unique assessments look into Marzano's work. I do a lot of some of the ideas I took away from the Marzano Research Laboratory books and training.

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  9. I learned how very much audience matters during the last 2 years. I used to think it was just thrown into the standards and one that I could ignore. But I was wrong. Look at the CCS/Indiana argument standards. Grades 11-12 add understanding your reader's biases when writing an argument. 9th and 10th grade doesn't have this because they aren't ready for this yet. Teaching bias to 12th graders was so important. I had to admit my own (for example, I don't take seriously conspiracy theories, and I'm not afraid of our government) so students would know how to set up their arguments. This was important work.

    For 9th graders, we learned that as an audience, we have some deficiencies in background knowledge that means as an audience of readers, we won't understand some things. For example, in the short story Marigolds, I learned that my students did not know what abject poverty looks like, so they weren't relating to and therefore not comprehending or even liking the story. We ended up talking about how as a group of readers - teenage students living in the midwest, we weren't the audience for some authors and so we had to work harder to understand some writings. This helped them understand that this is another barrier to comprehension; I worked all year to help my students understand why some texts are hard for them so they would stop beating themselves up as being "bad readers."

    I find having students write to different audiences a challenge because ultimately, I am their primary reader. Even if others read their work, I'm the one who assigns the grade. I know I'm being old-fashioned somehow right now!

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  10. I love Meenoo's list on page 81 about how to use yourself as a model of lifelong learning and curiosity!! Thomas Newkirk discusses Meenoo's point #2, "share your confusion about an idea, author,or experience in the world" in his book, The Art of Slow Reading. Not being the expert on the stage can lead to increased student engagement.

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  11. Giving students a voice in my classroom takes on a different twist as many of my students are non-verbal, and have a low cognitive ability. I try to give choices for all of our activities whether it be cooking, art, or leisure time. This may involve a limited menu of choices for some and for others a more expanded menu. It has been amazing to watch as students who are higher functioning look out for those who struggle and speak up for them and let us know they need help. Outstanding work, as well as work they are proud of is displayed on a wall within the classroom. The students are excited to share this with other staff and parents who come into the room. One student became very invested in his daily journal entries when I allowed him to copy them and take them home each day. Since the class also works on vocational skills activities, they do many jobs within the school setting. One of these jobs is to clean the pool area before swim meets. As a reward for their hard work they were given a pool party! They still talk about it and want to continue with this job for the coming year. Once a week the local workshop, and group home clients come to our classroom for an art activity or to play board games or card games. The students take turns deciding what the activity will be. They work as a group to get the room ready for the activity. This year I hope to involve the class in a weekly or monthly blog to highlight some of our cooking and service activities. This was an idea some thought would be fun so I hope to pursue it.

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    1. Could some of your students take the pictures of them working on a project? They could decide as a group what pictures go on the blog or newsletter, and what order they go in so they had a voice in the composing process. Even though they are non-verbal, they can communicate what they like and want to highlight.

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  12. I love the idea of real-life experience learning. Having kids work with local people and companies. Truly empowering for student, educator and community! I wander how to empower kindergarten and first grade students to work with the community. Could we have kindergarteners take pictures of the gym, cafeteria, library, art room, music room, office, etc and label them for the upcoming kindergarteners to share about places in their school? That would be real-life, sharing their experience to a relevant audience who would really care about the information being shared. How else can we empower beginning writers and readers with real-life experiences in the community?
    Could our first graders interview 2nd graders about what to expect at a new school? (In our community, we have a k/1 bldg, a 2/3 bldg and a 4/5 bldg.). Then they could come back and present to the 1st graders?

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  13. As a person who likes to control everything around me, letting kids take control of and responsibility for their own education is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. However, the rewards are very worthwhile. I have largely stopped teaching in the traditional style and have begun to teach the majority of my courses using projects. It has not been perfect, and has sometimes failed spectacularly, but when it works, It is amazing how much ownership students and enthusiasm students take in their work. I have seen shy kids flourish as they reveal skills that were previously unknown to their classmates. Finding authentic audience is one of those things that I still struggle with. However, at the end of the last semester my students were asked to share their work with various members of the community. They were nervous, but it brought a new level of care and attention to their work. And when it was over, my students were elated with their accomplishments and the community members who attended where highly impressed. It was a lot of work and very intimidating, but well worth the effort.

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    1. Authentic audience is something I struggle with as well. Sometimes, if I teach more than one section of a class, I will collect their papers or projects, and share them with the other section for that class to "grade". I make that grade a percentage of their final grade on the project. I have found that students love getting grading by their peers, as long as its anonymous. The grading students don't know who the authors are, and the authors don't know who "graded" their paper.

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    2. I was lucky enough to get to see some of Angie's students' presentations. They were awesome, and I was surprised how seriously the 8th graders took the presentations. There was no "messing around!" They treated the presentations as if they were applying for a job with me! After I interacted with all of them a little, they lightened up a bit, too. It was fun to see their creativity!

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  14. What grade level do you teach? What do your projects look like? Sounds awesome! What was the message they were sharing with the community members? When you get to see kids get pumped about learning, it is worth it!

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  15. The first way I allow students to have a voice is by coming up with our weekly classroom jobs. I may offer some insight from my observations, but they come up with jobs that "should be completed" by a student. I find if they create the jobs, then they have more joy in carrying out the job. I mean, no one told me I had to teach...I decided I wanted to do it.
    As far as empowering the students and allowing them to guide the happenings of our class, I may say we're going to study "plants" or "economics", but there are always choices about how we'll accomplish it. I find they are much more excited if they decide we're going to plants seeds and do various things to them than if I say we're going to plant seeds. Even when they pick exactly what I have done in the past, they find more desire to focus and learn if they made the decision.
    A question for the book club would be aimed at other third grade teachers. What else do you do in your classroom to allow students to lead and us to guide the journey?

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  16. It can be difficult for me to find ways to allow some of my students a 'voice' as many have speech/language impairments and are nonverbal. I do try to offer students choices with activities, assignments, and incentives. I most often use icons (pictures) or technology to offer the choice. However, the choices are limited to what I am aware of. I don't really have a way to get their unique input. All of my students participate in a classroom economy and classroom 'store.' I am going to let the students create a list of items for the store that they would like to have an opportunity to earn. I am also going to create a shopping trip to take the students to actually purchase the items to be earned. Academically, I am going to sit with each individual and talk about what he or she feels like they need to work on. My higher functioning students are usually able and aware to give me a realistic response. They can usually tell me if they feel like they need to work on reading, spelling, counting money, etc. I will then use the input when creating lessons. I welcome any suggestions or ideas to use when trying to give more voice to nonverbal students in the classroom.

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  17. I want my students to be empowered so they will take ownership of their education. I also struggle at ways to use blogs and other writings in my math classroom. I hope to explore some more websites and find some useful ideas. I plan to display more student work this year.

    I have been pleased with the discussions I have had with students when I have found articles that pertain to our class. They give honest opinions and sometimes we can develop a lesson or work using their ideas. I feel they work with more pride when they have been included in the part of the planning.

    As my school moves to the 1:1 concept, my students and I will experience many changes and challenges. I am certain we will have lots of success and some failures but listening to the students can make the transition easier.

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    1. 1:1 opens up a lot of new ways to engage students. There are sites of just pictures/photos where you can pick one and ask the students what questions come to mind when they view it. I have used videos of math done wrong (the Ma and Pa Kettle one, Scarecrow in Wizard of Oz getting his brain) where I ask them to explain why the math is wrong. Getting them to communicate mathematically is the idea, but once they make a comment, they can see the other comments of their peers and learn more from them. Have fun!

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  18. In one of my previous postings, I mentioned the benefit of allowing students the choice with certain assignments and projects. I utilized tic-tac-toe boards with a few different writing assignments. I really enjoyed the outcome to the assignments, and it allowed the students to pick and choose what they would like to do. In the end, it seemed to motivate them with the more choices they were given. Even though each task was a writing assignment, I included a variety of options for the students to choose from. Being a new teacher, it benefitted me to listen to their feedback after a lesson. I felt like I was able use the foundation of the lesson and adapt it to satisfy the curriculum and their wants.

    I was really drawn to the lists on pages 80 and 81. I love the idea of surveys at the beginning of the year to get to know them. On the first week of school last year, I started right away with an assignment that I called Soundtrack to My Life. Each student was responsible for searching for a song that could share some information about what makes them unique. I am a very music-oriented person, and I think some students were pleasantly surprised that I found interest in the songs they were choosing. They had to write a few paragraphs outlining why they chose the song, but it turned out to be a fun way to start the year. Each student had a little writing, showed their creativity in their choices, and presented to the class all within the first couple weeks of school.

    Throughout the school year, I was able to show my support by attending various athletic events, chaperoning almost every dance, and attending performances. It was well worth the time, and I think it allowed me to know my students to plan lessons accordingly. Knowing my students inside and outside of the classroom opened the door for communication and a comfortable learning environment.

    As we are nearing the end of summer, my biggest concern is the idea of feeling unprepared. I think reading and posting throughout the summer has boosted my confidence, but I still have doubts and anxiety beginning my second year of teaching.

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  19. It'd be weird if you didn't have doubts and anxiety. Being reflective brings about those emotions, but reflective teachers also tend to be the best teachers! Good luck in your upcoming school year!

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    1. I totally agree with Tara. Ive been blessed to have finished 29 years and each year I still have doubts about weather or not I am going to be effective or not. I believe that learning opportunities like what we are doing here, give us hope and confidence in teaching. We work in such an amazing field that can be challenging to say the least but the joys of seeing success in our students is what makes it all worth it. May your year be full of joys and successes.

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  20. One of the ways I have empowered students in my classroom is by helping them to experience job interviews conducted by members of the community. My English 12 students created a cover letter and resume and completed a job application. The students dressed up for their interview where they met with members from the community who actually interview and hire people in their work place. The students also received an interview evaluation sheet that provided them with feedback from their interview and helped to determine their grade.

    Because they were not just writing for me, but were to present their work to an outside person, they worked extra hard to be sure that their cover letters were error-free and their resumes looked professional. One of my students is considering applying for a job at the company his interviewer works and has confidence that his interview will go well. Providing students with authentic experiences that reach beyond the scope of my classroom is the most effective way for them to learn.

    One of my favorite books is The Freedom Writers Diary. This book was made into a movie called The Freedom Writers. I have always wanted to be like Erin Gruell who was able to inspire and motivate her students to believe in their own work and themselves. I enjoy teaching Basic English, General English, and English in the Tippecanoe Academy North because I enjoy working with students who may not place a high value on their education because there isn't high value placed on education in their homes. I was once in their shoes and rose above my circumstances to be where I am today. I explain where I came from and how I was able to go to college and become a teacher.

    I also share my own reading interests and my learning outside of the classroom. If we are reading a story in the textbook that is not one of my favorites, I tell them so. I also tell them why we are going to read it anyway and things we are going to learn from the literature. Having real conversations about what we are doing helps to open up communication and create a learning environment where students are not afraid to share what they think and so they are willing to step out of their comfort zones and try something new.

    I hope I can continue to find ways to provide my students with authentic experiences. I plan to create more projects that invite students to interact with members of the community and that provide them with feedback that extends beyond the four walls of my classroom.

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    1. I love the idea of pairing with the community to give students feedback on their resume and interviewing skills! Thank you for sharing that idea.

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    2. I think sharing with students that you do not like selections, but you are asking them to read for a specific purpose anyway is very powerful for students. I think it is hard for students to see the teacher perspective in why we ask them to read text they do not always enjoy and it is good to share the message that we do not always simply read what we want.

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  21. I try to give students a voice in my classroom through choice and a sense of co-ownership. I stress from the start of the year that I’m not the center; the curriculum is. I’m there to help them find ways in and out of it, giving feedback along the way, but I’m not necessarily the source of answers, especially when it comes to literary analysis. I often ask questions that I don’t have clear answers for, and I acknowledge this up front. I tell them that we’re on the same side; it’s us against the material. I’ve had more practice at it, but their answers are often better than mine, and I make sure to acknowledge that as well. I believe this helps lower their inhibitions in participating in challenging discussions, which is a form of empowerment.
    Choice is a big factor in their empowerment also. This takes the form of choice in smaller, day-to-day work, such as choosing which handful of questions out of a larger batch to answer, or options in how to respond to a piece. But I’ve tried to get them involved in larger decisions as well. I’ve had students give input and even conducted polls to decide what kinds of unit projects we would develop. This last year I gave some background on two different novels and the merits for studying each, but we did not have the time to cover both. I polled the students to determine which they were more interested in exploring (and then strongly encouraged they add the other title to their summer reading).
    One part of this chapter that caught my attention was the empowering potential of finding an audience outside of the classroom. Rami says, “When students have an outside audience, they have a clear purpose to get behind their own work as well as become cheerleaders for others” (79). I want to find ways to gather an outside audience through digital media to share the work we do and extend the work beyond the specific assignment guidelines. A blog will meet this need, but it would be limited in the kinds of work we could share. I will have to explore whether Tumblr is a viable outlet in my corporation.

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  22. As I was reading this last chapter I realized that I have been basing my answers on the last couple of years of teaching. I have 27 previous years. This past week has been one of reflection. I taught and loved 9 years at the Madison State Hospital on the adolescent unit. After that I helped establish, taught and loved a program at Englishton Park. This was another residential program but instead of being mentally ill like at MSH these young men were juvenile delinquents and emotionally disabled. I learned so much from these programs and young men.
    Know your students: I always try to make a point of getting to know my students. No matter what program or age of children, I want to know their likes and dislikes. I want them to help me to generate rules and consequences for the classroom. I want them to have fun and be honest with me. I try to model my expectations of them in and out of the classroom. And because I am with my students for usually longer than just one year, I am blessed to see differences and growth. When I am having a difficult day with a particular student, I have to remind myself of how far he or she has come. For instance I had a student who when he first came to MSH he barked like a dog, crawled under table and chairs to avoid interaction or confrontations. He struggled in all classes. After a few months he was succeeding in class. He was participating in group activities and was taking pride in his work. When he would have a really bad day, many staff made comments about how bad it was. I gentle reminded them of how things were when he first came to us. I had another student who had difficulty being mainstreamed at all in general ed classes. Over the last 3 years he is able to mainstreamed for at least half of a day. For some, this may not be a mile stone. However for me, this is wonderful. The simple fact that he is able to be away from his comfort zone of the ED room and to succeed in gen ed is awesome. Of course this success is also due to dynamic teachers who are willing to take on the extra challenge of having a child with emotional disabilities. I have been so blessed at Southwestern to be able to work with such teachers.
    Like all of you, one of my greatest joys is hearing from former students telling me how I impacted their life.

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  23. This chapter is full of ideas that relate to my practice of physical therapy in the schools. "A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary-Thomas Carruthers" (I am reading an ebook and the page is 8 of 57 in section-one of you teachers will have to tell me the correct way to reference that!) On page of 56 of 57 "Know your students well so that you can live in peace with the decisions you make for them," and on page 57 of 57 "Standing still in these times is not an option. Your teaching must change and respond to the evolving world around you." And finally, on 57 of 57 "You may not see immediate results or gratification with your students, but eventually you will. Watch for tiny moments and appreciate them."

    Each of these comments are notions that attempt to live and work by as many of the students that I have on my caseload will be on my caseload over a long period of time.

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  26. There are multiple things I do to empower my students and give them a voice. For essays or projects, I always allow them to choose their topic. Reading about the production of a teen magazine reminded me of an assignment I did last year. My students took part in the NY Times Editorial contest. Not only did they pick very interesting topics, but they were writing for a real audience, and were being published on the NY Times website. Many students told me that was their favorite writing assignment we did all year. Many of them had never read an editorial, let alone written one. I think they enjoyed it because it was something different than a typical persuasive essay assignment. As an English teacher, group discussion and sharing is something we do often in my classroom. It takes a while for my freshmen to get in the groove and find their voice, but I am always pleased with each student’s growth of insight into the literature. I am a big fan of surveys, so at the end of units or semesters, I can see what I did that worked or didn’t, and what their biggest takeaway was. I have used that feedback to change my lessons and units. I love the idea mentioned in this chapter of student helping create assessments and rubrics!

    One thing I want to do more of is to allow students to feel more in control of their education. I have read some on flipping the classroom, and am hoping that I can gain some knowledge and advice from teachers who have done it successfully. I know for sure that this school year I am going to have my students write their own goals and track their success. I’m hoping that throughout the year, they will remain motivated, and when they meet their goal, they will feel empowered.

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  27. o empower my students in kindergarten to take more interest and control in their education, I start by building a classroom environment that encourages independence (rather than dependence on me!) I start on the first day of school teaching the children about their classroom, how to function in it, where their supplies for different activities are kept and how to get to them. Within the first few days,for example, the children know what choices they have if they are an early finisher, how to choose an appropriate activity during work station time, how to use the classroom for writer's workshop, where our math supplies are kept and how to use them, and so much more... I have found that with young children, they are so much more in love with learning when they are in a place that allows them to take ownership and that they can confidently navigate without constant direction/redirection from me! I love it when we get to that point in the year where the children move from one area to the next, one activity to another, with little direction from me. It feels like the classroom would keep on humming and the children would keep learning, even without me there!

    There are several ways that I give my little ones a voice. I started doing writer's workshop with my kindergarten kiddos several years ago, and my little students are writing more than I ever thought possible. We share our writing whenever possible. On a daily basis, three children sit in the author's chair to read a completed piece and take questions and comments from peers. At other times, we share our writing with the pre-k students in our building, and also with our fifth grade buddies who are always amazed at how smart we are! The end of the year brings a reading celebration, and part of that is reading a piece that they've written to a parent or other adult that visits the classroom on this special day. I also bind a hard back book full of the children's writing each year.

    Another way that I give my students a voice in their world is to help them participate in a service project each year. Some years they are small projects, some years a little more involved, but the goal each year is to connect them to the community and help them to see that even though they are small, they have a voice in their world! Last year, we spent the year sending cards, crafts, treats, and notes to shut-ins in our community. Once, we collected craft items for a diabetic camp in honor of a classmate that was diagnosed with diabetes and began wearing a pump. Another year, when a student had a daddy that was deployed overseas, we "adopted" the soldier and his unit and sent care packages and frequent letters.

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  28. I love this! It is amazing how young students can work independently when they are taught procedures well by teacher modeling and then small group or individual modeling with feedback. One way to foster independence is by asking students to share how they solved a problem on their own. I also agree that writing workshop is a great way for students to have a voice in your classroom. Writing for authentic purposes can motivate and empower the students even if it is just a message to another classroom. Teresa, you are creating a great environment for learning!

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  29. I enjoyed reading this chapter. I especially appreciate Rami's list of ideas to help teachers empower their students (page 80-82). Getting to know your students is such an incredible motivator. In today's field of education, we get so busy with our work that we sometimes don't feel there is time to do this. (I feel this same way about being a principal and getting to know my staff.) A few years back I encouraged my staff to try to make themselves available in the mornings to greet their students at the door. A number of the staff shared how much they ended up loving that time to "talk" to the students about their evenings or listen to the things the students want to share with them first thing of the day. It has set aside some time in our very busy schedules to intentionally "get to know" our students better. In reading about student discipline this summer, I also read about a "Ten and Two" strategy for dealing with difficult students recently. The premise was for ten days in a row, a person should spend two minutes getting to know that student through dialog with them. The writer said each time they had implemented the strategy they saw some great improvements in behavior. I am a big believer in building relationships with students to improve behavior so it would also make sense that building relationships would also improve their learning as well.

    As a principal, I also appreciate seeing how a teacher handles responding to a student's question when he/she doesn't know the answer. I am so proud when I see the teacher admit to not knowing the answer and then suggest ways to find the answer along with the students. I know it must be scary, especially with an administrator watching, to admit that you don't know an answer but I would so prefer to see you admit it and suggest ways to figure it out together than watch you not respond or give an inaccurate response. I have seen some great teachable moments when a teacher is brave enough to share their vulnerability with their students.

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    1. I also enjoyed the pages on empowering your students. I do think that getting to know your students is an incredible motivator. When I have attended students extra curricular activities or even talked about the activities with the students, I have seen a difference in their behavior and work in school. I like your idea of being available every morning to greet the students. I want to make more of a concentrated effort to greet every student every morning. Thanks also for the "Ten and Two" strategy. I can see how that could be very effective. I also appreciate that as an administrator, you appreciate when a teacher is vulnerable. I think that is important too. Thanks for sharing!

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  30. I LOVE giving my students voice and choice in their learning!! Teaching science allows me to use problem based learning and my kids love it! It takes a while to teach them the answers are not necessarily in the back of the book, but once we hurdle that obstacle, I present an open ended problem and them work through it. Buck Institute has fabulous resources and a step by step procedure. Some teachers struggle with this because they cannot let go of their classroom control. I personally love teaching them to work together to solve a real world problem.

    I also sponsor a service learning/community service group. They choose what they want to do and, together, we all make it happen :-)

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    1. Just checked out information on the Buck Institute. Thanks for the resource. I think it is really awesome to see students working together to solve problems. I think this is a definite way to keep them engaged.

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    2. Great site, thanks for sharing!

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  31. “Standing still in these times is not an option. Your teaching must change and respond to the evolving world around you.” I feel this quote from page 93 says it all. The past few years, I have felt that I have let my students down. Project Based Learning is a trend in our building. I have a hard time allowing projects to take over my classroom and the students’ learning! I do need to empower my students more. I have worked on several choice boards to be used this coming year. I think students will enjoy being able to choose how they learn and practice new vocabulary. I do have students do projects but not to the extent of others in our building. They are displayed in my classroom and also in the hallway. This coming year, our principal is encouraging all of us to share on the school’s Facebook page and local newspapers.

    I think I do a good job at getting to know my students. At the beginning of the year, my students fill out a get to know me card that includes their favorite things and their activities that they are involved in school and out of school. I read these during the first few days of school to learn about my students. In the upper Spanish levels, I also have the students share their information out loud in class. I refer back to these cards throughout the year so I can remember details for each student. I don’t get to a lot of events but I read through the daily announcements and try to mention something to them in class. Also, sometimes I have to do goofy things to build a sense of community within my classes and that works nicely in a World Language class! Also, I try to create an environment that makes it ok to make mistakes and to grow from those mistakes.

    I also enjoyed reading the other bulleted points on p. 81-83 and 93. I agree with the author when she states that teaching is incredibly difficult and it is the most meaningful work that I will ever do in my life.

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    1. As a teacher and mom who has a child in one of your Spanish classes, Sandy, please believe me that you did not let your students down! This is a time of tremendous change, but I think you have changed along with the laptops. No one can be expected to be an expert at something totally new the very first year. You always do a good job of covering a lot of material and giving your students a good foundation - whether you're using the laptops to do that or delivering content in another way. There's always more to learn, but you are one of the teachers who has made progress with incorporating technology into your classes. You're too hard on yourself!

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  32. I have spent the summer participating in this book club as well as participating in a Five Star Academy Technology course. Many ideas from both of these experiences have complimented one another. I plan to try to integrate more technology in the classroom and tap into the student's experience that they will no doubt bring to the table. The other plan I have for giving my students a voice in the classroom is to conference with them regularly about their progress in the program. When the Middle School Alternative Program began, I worked in collaboration with specialists from a Mental Health Institution. They provided skills groups and counseling to assist with their social and emotional issues that impeded their learning. As time has passed, that particular service has been scaled back more and more to the point that students success rate has decreased. I plan to establish time slots for students to consistently evaluate their progress, set goals, and identify changes they need to make to be more successful. Finding ways to incorporate more technology in a blended classroom could free up time for me to conference with students individually.

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  33. I share responsibility & decision making with my students. I’m very flexible in my classroom expectations. My students sit at tables & are encouraged to work together. I try to set a comfortable tone of co-ownership of all that happens in the classroom. I always let students help me with routine tasks. Some of the tasks students love to do: hand back papers, hand out materials for activities, fill in While You Were Absent sheets, fill out assignment calendars, put stickers on papers, put students’ papers on display, grade, etc. I give my students a choice (Tick, Tack Toe board) to demonstrate what they’ve learned.
    I would like to initiate team-building activities to observe my students interacting with one another. My students sit at tables, so they can communicate easily. I do administer a survey at the beginning of the year to get to know my students’ likes/interests. I get to know my students—what they love/care about, tv programs/movies they enjoy, books they read, instruments they play, sports they watch and/or play, favorite food, favorite color, etc.
    I attend as many extracurricular activities as possible. I referee girls’ volleyball and I announce home football games. I co-sponsor Student Council and share yearbook responsibilities (taking pictures at after school events).
    I teach math, but I LOVE to read! Recently (just the last few years), I’ve shared my passion for reading and learning with my students. For years, I never shared any personal information with my students. This past year, my adorable (wiener) dog, Bogey, developed glaucoma in both eyes & had a lesion on her thyroid. Bogey had the lesion and both eyes (glaucoma caused her to lose her eyesight) removed. I was devastated and shared my painful journey with my students. They were kind, caring, and unbelievably supportive.

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  34. I like to empower my students from day one by giving them a voice in the classroom as we together create our guidelines and rules that will allow us to Have a successful school year together. Community members are also involved in the classroom/school throughout the year. We participate in the Junior Achievement program which allows the students to see real community members in action. This program is not only educational, but also sparks the children's interests in possible career choices. Living close to Purdue University is also another great opportunity to empower my students by the positive influence the athletes bring into our school.

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  35. What resonates for me from this chapter is the author’s creative and real-life work with which she engages hers students. From creating the teen magazine, [SLA]ng, to the public service announcements for local non- profits, her student centered classroom must have been an exciting class for students to enter. As educators we are always creating goals—personal, department, school, and district. Most of these include the goal of cultivating “lifelong learners.” As a new teacher, I remember being on a committee that selected this as a school goal. Later, I would wonder if there was a lesson plan that I would be given to follow. I quickly learned that using some of Rami’s strategies she lists, created a culture in my classes that hopefully fostered a love of learning and sense of inquiry about all things. Rami’s list of foundations is a great recipe to follow to foster lifelong learners.

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  36. Back when I was in a classroom, I attended a workshop for “Problem Based Learning” and decided to try it out. This evolved into a 17 week, problem based class in Environmental Science. How does this apply to the question of empowering our students? On the first day of this class, I split the students into groups and they determined the class. The decided what question we would study and how we would do the study. I directed them and facilitated the study, but the students ran the class.

    I remember this class fondly as the MOST DIFFICULT and MOST REWARDING class that I ever taught. The difficulty came in my having to give up so much control and it was most rewarding seeing my students take ownership in the process and stepping up to make their investigations timely and important to them. The majority of the students in this class were “at risk” and few had success in the classroom. When they were given the power to lead their own learning, they truly flourished! Here is one example of ownership….the only incentive our school offered was a yearly picnic and students were allowed out of class at the teacher’s discretion. One the day of the yearly picnic, the class needed to collect water samples in order to keep their investigations on track. I discussed this with the students and told them that they would have to miss the picnic in order to collect the samples. They agreed that the samples were vital and insisted that they would collect them on their own. Knowing these students, I doubted that they would collect the samples, but I had to give them the power to succeed or fail on their own. To my surprise and JOY...they not only collected all of the samples we needed, they arrived at school early the next day to finish the analysis:-) As the teacher, it was very hard for me to step back and give my students the power to make their own decisions, but the students took great ownership in their class and investigations and it was one of the most successful classes I ever taught.

    I know that PBL won't work for everyone and every class, but I would encourage every teacher to try it for at least one project a year. I think that you might be pleasantly surprised with the success of this approach to teaching.

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  37. I think it is hard to give up control in the classroom. Not knowing what they might come up with or how they might behave concern me as I give up control. I try to give them different ways to show their learning with different ideas for projects in social studies or science. I also give them jobs and the responsibility of keeping our classroom looking nice. At the beginning of last year, the students had a chance to give input on what makes a good classmate and what the expect. I had them write it down. This year I hope to make it more discussion based, so they can feed off of each other.

    I have definitely experienced what Meenoo was talking about in not feeling engaged and empowered at certain parts of the year. I will strive to involve the students more in how to make us all feel empowered and engaged. I like the idea of making work public. I know that the times I made students show their work to others, they took more care and effort in creating it. My only concern is making it completely public especially because my students are only fifth graders.

    I want to find more ways to expand my network with others to give students in my room many opportunities to learn from others in the community. If I continue to learn and grow in that regard, I give my students more authentic ways to learn. Others in the community can teach them even more than I can and in different ways to create more engaged students.

    Meenoo reminded me in this chapter that I am going to listen more to my students and understand more of who they are and what needs they have.

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  38. In this chapter, Rami talks about assigning a traditional research paper and was frustrated with the process and results. She states that she came to the conclusion that a huge part of the problem was that the students had no ownership and were not empowered to really make it their own. I try to find a balance in my classroom. I believe it is important that students write some papers that focus on the traditional mechanics of research, note taking, outlining, drafting, editing, etc. They need those essential skills. But I always try to also find room for papers that allow the students full control -- they get to write about whatever they want. Those papers are usually assigned later in the year when the students have learned the essentials and trust me enough to know that they really can express their own voice. They are usually the best papers and I love reading them. This chapter's section on ways to expand networks and audiences was full of good advice. One of my goals for this school year is to do a better job of updating my website in a way that lets parents know more about what is going on in my classroom -- not just assignments and homework; but conversations we have, funny moments, tense moments, group work, etc.

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  39. I have begun to give greater autonomy to my students as I strive to move increasingly toward a project-driven curriculum. Each time I try something new, we encounter some bumps along the way, and when it's over we discuss what worked and what didn't. They're almost always thrilled to be given a chance to do something "different" and prove themselves...and I often feel like the terrified, over-protective parent with the outstretched arms beneath the ecstatic six-year-old dangling from the monkey bars.

    It isn't always easy, though, and there are times when I just KNOW it isn't going to happen with a class. I will try once, maybe twice (with adjustments), but if the maturity isn't there, and if there are too many discipline issues, then I just accept that I may have to limit the amount of autonomy I offer them or to whom I offer it. When that happens, it makes me sad, because I really do prefer that they benefit from the self-discovery that comes with project-based learning.

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    1. Brenda,
      Bingo! I agree with your second paragraph so much! We teach 8th and 9th grades, and I feel those are really transition years, and why some classes are more ready for autonomy than other classes. I, too, feel sad when I have to limit students due to their behavior. Sometimes I tell them why I have to clamp down, and then we try anew in a few weeks. Some classes respond better than others.

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  40. Every year I have asked my regular level Senior English class to create a social satire about something in the school or in our community. Over the years, this assignment has evolved with the progress of our times and the abilities of my students. The project started as an essay. It became a video project (remember the little movie cassette tapes for cameras and players?). It is now an i-movie project. Just last year I set up my first file in a share-drive so that the students could watch each other's movies. For this school year, I plan to add analysis and reflection to the project. The students get ownership of the topic that they feel needs change in our society and they get feedback from their peers. I am looking for ways to provide this to a larger, authentic audience.

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    1. I think this is a great way to give your students voice a chance to be shared in an audience that will understand their work!

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    2. Cathy, this is a great assignment! Reading and writing satire is a complex skill, but one that students love. Most teenagers love to be sarcastic, and this project gives them a chance to identify it and use it in a positive way.

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  41. Two things came to mind as I read through this chapter.

    On p. 81, where Rami talks about modeling lifelong learning and curiosity, she lists bullet points that sound so much like the Standards for Math Practices. I had just watched a webinar on these this week and the same points of asking challenging open-ended questions, basing answers on evidence supported by reason or logic, and having more than one correct solution were stressed. I really feel this is the direction education is going and we need to prepare our students for it as we model it and encourage them to do the same.

    The other thing was how the section on bringing the community members to your classroom (p. 85-86) reminded me of service learning. I took a course on this at IUPUI a few summers ago and we learned about ways to take the concepts and units that we teach in the classroom to making an impact with agencies or groups that need help. Her PSAs were right in line with this. It is exciting and energizing as she says, and I loved being reminded of it again here in this book.

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  42. I like her idea of letting students choose whether to work in a group or alone. The biggest disadvantage I have experienced and still see going on with students with group projects no matter if it is Jr./Sr. High School or college that some people do not contribute their share or one while one or two do all the work. I guess I have had students say they wanted to do their the Beginning Foods demonstration alone and I would encourage them to go with another student, but often gave up. Her comment made me wonder why I do not do this more often. As I have connected with students I hear not only the good things about group projects but also the ones I always suspected with my own class projects. I am thinking they should have an option like she suggested in chapter 5.

    Sometimes you will look at a class list and form a wrong impression of the chemistry of the group, so go in with an open mind. A few times you might be right, but given the chance and with a positive teacher attitude you might be surprised what results. Often the students I punished the most are the ones that come back and say how appreciative they are. As in my case you might have 6 different classes with 6 different preps and teenagers from all walks of life, if you have one bad class every 3-5 years don’t let it make you leave the profession. Even in those less than ideal classes I have had over the years, I know in my heart I have still left an important legacy to the students in our community.

    On class discussion, it is not just the teacher lecturing but they engaged in the discussion. Some lessons and some class groups are easier to engage. This is something I have always enjoyed. I know often by the time it gets to my class students are counting of a hands on experience and may often hope that we don’t engage in more computer assignments or computer group projects. Not sure if people have suggestions, but I have always believed in balance of all areas of life and maybe my students count on me as part of that balance. I learned on eLearning professional day to not give such big assignments, as they were having more work overall on eLearning day than normal school days. I had some students that did great on whatever we were doing in class but did not want do eLearning or other digital assignments. They have Internet connection at home. This was an interesting chapter.

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  43. Honestly and unfortunately, until this summer I had not really given the thought of empowering my students and their voice outside of my school much consideration. After reading the posts here an this chapter, I know that this must be a change I make in the upcoming year.

    Using choice boards is one way to give them choice, and I know they enjoy the freedom the choice boards allow. I know that the time invested into authentic projects and collaborative efforts will be more engaging to students than tasks for which I am the only audience; however, I worry in my first year moving to a general education classroom the time that it will take to share work with the larger class. In the past in a special education setting, I worked with much fewer students so sharing was much easier. Is it enough to allow students to share their work if the entire class is divided into three groups? I love the portion of writers workshop where students share their writing, and everyone should get a chance to share their writing with the entire class, but I really feel like I want them to have ample opportunities to share their work aloud. Has anyone had this work?

    Also, I am nervous about allowing my students to blog for the world, but several students have been posting questions and chatting within My Big Campus this summer. Although their questions are frivolous, I can tell that they want to use these social media types of writing. So this year, I will have several conversations via this medium in the safe environment of MBC instead of a verbal conversation.

    I know that sixth graders have a passion to appear older than they are and to be treated like teens/adults whenever they can. I really think giving them a serious service learning project this year to solve will help them to see how the skills they are learning can be applied. This will be completely new for me. Is anyone aware of resources available to help in planning this type of endeavor?

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  44. When teaching middle school students, giving them a voice can be pretty scary. You have to be willing to be vulnerable, decipher what they are saying, and be ready to change direction at the drop of a hat. Regardless, I have found that giving students a voice leads to a co-ownership in the classroom that helps to foster an atmosphere of respect and collaboration that students enjoy and so do I! I make it a point to tell my students I am learning from them just as they are learning from me. I often ask for their feedback or come to them and say, “Here is my goal, how do you think we should approach it”? They often have great suggestions.

    I like to give students choice by using tic-tac-toe choice boards and interactive notebooks. During my cell unit I have the students use a tic-tac-toe board to choose three projects to complete. Once finished, they pick one to be evaluated by a peer, one to be evaluated by me, and one to be evaluated by a parent. It is always interesting to see how the audience impacts the way a student approaches the work. Students are often most concerned about sharing with their parents! As suggested in this chapter, I need to investigate broadening the audience choices for my students. With the implementation of the IPads this year, I can investigate having my students share their work with others outside of their comfort zone more easily. In addition when using the interactive notebooks, the “output” or left side is where I give students the freedom to choose how they present their knowledge of the topic of study. This also could be shared with different audiences to give the work in the notebook even more importance!

    While I always try to get to know my students using surveys and talking to them, I can always do a better job. I like the lists presented by Rami on pages 80-82. These are good reminders that those beginning of the year “fluff” activities really are important! Last spring, as we prepared to move to a different building in our district, teachers were asked for feedback on how to improve our school. The concern most often shared by teachers was that we no longer have fun with our students. We want time away from the standards and the freedom to do team building activities and celebrations. These types of activities give us the opportunity to get to know our students better and them to get to know us in a different way. I am excited that administration listened and for the first time in many years time has been set-aside for us to do these activities.

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  45. Lastly, I have been fortunate enough to take middle school students to the upper Amazon Basin in Peru, South America every other summer for the past 18 years. I and three other sponsors run the program through Global Explorers. It is a two-year commitment for students (and some parents) that involves a year of study, an immersion travel experience, and then a year of advocacy/service here at home. The program involves so much more than I have time to write, but I can say it is the ultimate learning experience for students. We take them from a place where they are comfortable and sheltered and immerse them in a culture beyond their imagination. We expose them to the science and the culture. Have them complete a service project while in Peru. Place them in situations where they have to be leaders, where their audience is not only people they don’t know but who speak a different language. Once home, they are allowed to choose how they can make an impact on their community through service and we help them make that happen. While this is all just the tip of the iceberg as to what this program is all about, I mentioned it because of the statement Rami makes at the beginning of the chapter on page 75. “Your legacy, the true value of the work you do, will be measured by the way your students make a difference in your community”. The rainforest program is so much work, but when I see students who have traveled with us in the past as young adults, it is always so exciting because they are doing such great things in our community or the world!! While this program is not something every student would enjoy, offering opportunities outside of school really helps to take the learning to a new level that just can’t be done in the classroom alone.

    This chapter has given me much to think about in terms of ways to improve what I do with my students and validation that there are things I do that are good for my students!

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  46. The longer I teach, and I guess the more I grow as a teacher I strive to give more voice to students. Our curriculum is pretty laid out, but I have tried to make sure that activities allow for student diversity (in terms of creativity, interest, and needs). I always start by making sure I know what my end goal is…and then check to make sure the activity or “diversion from the norm” meets that goal.

    This summer I have been mostly focused on PBL…and my trainings, along with Rami’s ideas, have given me a strong foundation. Our team has really been focusing on tying each of our core classes together in some way…because many “big ideas” from each of our contents overlap. Well-designed PBL opportunities will fit well into our curriculum and our district’s vision.

    I would really love to get into student publication…especially blogs, but because my students are young (7th grade) is parent permission needed? Does anyone have experience with middle school publishing?

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  47. I would love to find a way in my classroom to give my students more of a voice. I want to be able to do projects and assignments and learn about things that either they are interested in as well or in a way that will interest them most. I have difficulty with this in the setting I have because my students usually don`t want to do anything. This could be because they simply aren`t interested in the way that the classroom is run, and I have thought about that quite a lot, especially throughout this summer before school starts again. However, my experiences last year were that when we would complete assignments or projects on paper, the students would complain that they wanted to use the computers. So, I would try to plan some projects that they could complete on the computers. They would then complain that they would rather be working on paper. I felt like I couldn`t win, and so giving my students a voice became extremely difficult. They simply wanted to whine about anything they were asked to do. Now I feel like all I`m doing is complaining about my students. I have been trying to think of projects and ways to teach the various topics I want my students to learn that will be more interesting to them and put more of the learning on their shoulders. Last year, we completed most assignments together and even large projects were highly supervised. I would like to give them more independence this year and responsibility with their assignments. The students I teach tend to be some of the more immature ones in their grade levels, and so they really struggle with the responsibility of getting things done, especially on time, without being constantly pushed by myself. One thing I feel like I could use advice from other teachers about is how to put that responsibility on my students so that they do things when and how they are supposed to without my constantly having to be on their case. I`m not saying that I would never need to be, but I want them to take that responsibility on themselves. They need that skill to be able to hold a job after high school, and my students aren`t ones that are going to be college bound, so I feel that it is especially important for them to learn now, while still in high school. One of the goals I have set for myself for this school year is to begin teaching my students responsibility and putting things on them instead of all of it on myself.

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  48. When I read this chapter, I thought about all the times I made an effort to empower my students through community involvement, sharing with an audience, or open ended projects that were more student led. When I think of those times, I realize that those are some of my proudest teaching moments. Though those approaches required extra energy and work, I know that they were by far the most meaningful to my students. I think of Meeno's point that even though empowering your students requires extra work, that work often energizes us. I can remember the stress, but also that high that I was feeling that what the students and I were doing was important. I know that those projects were what the students will remember.

    Though I am not in the classroom, this chapter made me think about how I can support teachers in finding authentic audiences and community resources to empower their students. It also makes me reflect on what I am doing in my reading intervention groups and how I can find ways to empower my students. Though our reading intervention is pretty structured, I know if I challenge myself, I can find small ways for my students to have authentic audiences for their reading and writing. I'm thinking doing a repeated reading to some of the students in our special education class or allowing some of our intervention students to play a small role in our family library night. Another way might be having our students share book recommendations with their classrooms or during library time.

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  49. Teaching ELA provides quite a few opportunities to share student work outside the classroom and I often do so. However, having read this chapter, I see that there are many other things I could do to get more of my students' work in the presence of others. I want to set this as a priority for the coming school year and beyond to celebrate my students' ideas, successes, collaborative efforts.

    I find that I'm pretty open about what I'm reading and learning about, and that often opens up dialogue in the class. I have to be careful that these discussions don't override the lessons that must be taught, but they can and often do act as springboards to future lessons that require student ideas, input, and partner discussion. It's always touching that students want to know about my world and what's going on in it. Keeping it real.

    Finally, in honest criticism of myself, I don't think that I give my students the empowerment that the chapter suggests. Sixth grade is such a year of transition, and I tend to keep things pretty reined in as much as possible.

    The one sentence that I really appreciated in this chapter is the first sentence on page 79. "When students create content rather than just consume it, their engagement grows capaciously." Good words to take to heart and commit to memory.

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  50. Empowering young children is a wonderful thing to watch and facilitate. However, I think well learned procedures and a sense of community need to be built first. Sharing and teaching others is one way to empower younger students. I often teach a skill and then have them turn to one another and teach each other. They all like to take part and be the “teacher”. Writing workshops are a place for them to share their own thoughts and feelings. Doing group writing projects is another way to help children see that not only are their thoughts, feelings and opinions important but so are those of around you. I sometimes feel that it can be difficult to have as much authentic learning happening in my room as I would like to see but I’m thinking that there must be more ways to introduce this in the classroom than I have been doing. I liked the idea of taking pictures in the school and having the children write about what they see. Something to be research and brain storm with others about. If any of you that teach primary grades have any ideas on this subject I would like to hear about them.

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  51. At the beginning of the school year I try to establish a sense of community in the classroom. I like the students to feel like they are a part of a family instead of feeling like an outsider. I encourage students to get to know one another and to make new friends. This way we become a team instead of individuals. The students now feel like they have a voice in our classroom. Another way I give students a voice is by giving them choices. I will often give them different options for activities on the skill we are learning. Or I let them choose the classroom reward time that they have to earn on a daily basis. This gives them motivation to make good decisions as an individual and as a whole. I also like the idea of forming a partnership with someone in the community. I think this would be a great way for the students to show someone outside of their school and family environment what they have been learning. It would be wonderful if there could be a relationship where this could happen. I believe this type of relationship would motivate the students to try their best with their school work and behavior choices made in the classroom.

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  52. This chapter really hit on the spot in my teaching where I feel I need to grow the most. While getting my masters degree, I took a class on STEM Project Based Learning. As a math teacher, I joined up with a couple other math teachers and we STRUGGLED. The groups of science teachers were flying through, coming up with amazing projects that would be authentic experiences for their students. Anytime we came up with an idea, we would have to put so many constraints on it in order to be sure the students would be using the intended topic. We created a project where the students would plan a transit system for Indianapolis. They had to research population pockets, proximity, etc. We intended to do this to go with our chapter on circles, and so we had to put that constraint on their plans. It has to have a circle. That takes out so much creativity.

    In my classroom, I feel I do a great job of getting to know my students. I do a pretty good job at letting them have a say in many of the things that we do in class. I hope to do a better job at letting them be a part of many of the classroom procedures.

    Still hoping to find some more ways to bring in the community involvement and "audience" into my math classroom.

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    1. One thing I have noticed that when people really enter into project based learning is some of those constraints in trying to make a project that all the students may be able to accomplish and that people try and make HUGE projects. Although I have some of those as well, I have noticed that giving them a choice (menu) between a few smaller projects is also just as effective and gets them excited because they got to make the choice. It also makes it easy to differentiate between ability levels.

      Another thing about PBL's and I feel especially with math is using other content areas as well for some of the students who are not so math inclined. For example, you could have your students write a story and at the end of each page they have to finish a math problem to figure out what the next page is that they should turn too. The students could then read each other's story and see if they did it right.

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  53. Preparing to flip my 8th grade math instruction in the upcoming school year, I have found a few ideas related to giving students a voice to be helpful and as well as pertinent to this week's discussion. First, I have been inspired by Tara Maynard who has a working model for flipping instruction. (Google her.) One component of the daily routine involves students returning to class with a question or math example of their own that they formulate after viewing a video and taking notes. This allows each student to express his own thoughts or difficulties after internalizing the math concept for the day. While this is a 'voice' of small proportion compared to that of PBL or other presentation oriented structures, it does allow daily feedback from each student. Some of these questions/examples become the basis for the following day's development of a concept, allowing the students to have input in determining what is the focus of the next class meeting. Second, I see flipping the classroom the best opportunity to free class time for projects and activities that allow student expression. This is all a work-in-progress for me and not without some reservations, mostly involving the trade-off of covering the basic skills and the time that many projects involve. Finally, I see empowering students directly related to building their confidence. As a general math teacher I have many students with weak math skills and several of the students have never passed ISTEP: they need to see some success. I am hopeful that I am restructuring/flipping the content in a way that the work they do outside of class will bring them back to class in a confident frame of mind.

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    1. Tammy, I had no idea that you would be flipping our class for this year! I am excited to be a part of this! I have yet to be in an inclusion class that is flipped so this will be a learning experience for us both! Please let me know how I can help!!

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  54. I try and give my students voice in their own projects they do in my class. I do however, struggle with giving them an outside audience. This I think is a huge part about being a teacher right now and figuring out how to do that. Mostly what I see is people having their students write blogs and post youtube videos. I also feel that giving students an outside audience is picking when to do so and when they will see the worth of it. This can also only come from trial and error. It is also important to build them up to it so they can get a better idea of what you are expecting and what they need to do to meet those expectations.

    One thing I have noticed usually helps students be more energized is giving them a choice in what they do. Give them the options on how they can show you what they learned. I am not saying that this should be done for everything, but every once in a while it really helps change up the pace and monotony that the students sometimes get used too.

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    1. I totally agree. FInding the time and energy to engage and outside audience is a challenge.
      I need to remember to work smarter not harder and rethink the types of lessons we do and figure a way that the kids can do the work of engaging the community, That is more authentic and will have a greater impact.

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  55. I include my students in setting the classroom expectations at the beginning of the year. They brainstorm a list of student responsibilities for success as well as a list of teacher responsibilities for success. This list is then posted in my classroom and referred to throughout the year. I have also done interest surveys at the beginning of the year, but often forgot about these by the end of the 1st quarter. I find that I get so busy with the process of teaching that I forget to relate personally with my students. My goal for this year is to find out about the students' interests and make a point to ask the students what they are doing in their lives.

    I agree with one other participant who stated that he had a hard time displaying student work in a math class. I have a hard time allowing creativity and choice in my middle school math class. I am starting to follow several math blogs this year. Hopefully I will get some good ideas from these blogs and be able to incorporate more choice and creativity this year.

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  56. verything I do as a Functional Life Skills teacher has empowerment behind it. Whatever level my students are at, I push them to be as independent as possible so they can have the best quality of life possible, despite the challenges they face as a person with disabilities. I do my best to teach them that they have a voice, and that is important. They need to speak up for themselves (even if that means a prerecorded voice on an iPad) and express their wants, needs, likes and dislikes. This begins very simply with giving them choices and encouraging them to say or sign "no" or "stop" when something is not okay. I teach them appropriate social skills as well as how to be respectful to others; I also teach students that they must expect respect from others and where to turn when someone is being disrespectful. Self advocacy is very important for adulthood. I include my students in planning goals and encourage them to speak for themselves at Case Conferences. Students help plan their classes and when they dislike a class selection we work through it or try something new. I always struggle with helping parents understand that these students are young adults, not small children, and should be treated as such. Yes, they have disabilities but infantilizing them and enabling them to be helpless is not okay!

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  57. Teaching ELA gives a teacher so many opportunities to giving students a voice in the classroom. I think that students today are lacking a sense of competition. Healthy competition fosters healthy motivation. Individual, and group competition, are key in prompting students to be accountable for what they learn. The groups need to include students with varying skills and ability levels. Also, it’s crucial to provide students with authentic learning opportunities.
    When creating rules for the classroom, I let my students have a say in the expectations for the classroom climate. I ask students how they want their ideas and thoughts received in the classroom by their peers. That is the conversation starter for what kind of expectations there are going to be for our classroom’s climate. This shows the students that I understand that every classroom climate is different, which means that their expectations of one another are going to be different.

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  58. In an 8th grade history class, there is so much information to cover between 1450 and 1870 and we must emphasize what are the important basics every US citizen should know and remember. My students were assigned major writing activities once per quarter as a way of delving deeper into historical eras. To make learning about early Native American peoples come alive, I encouraged students to learn about their cultural heritage and write about their own connections. Around the holidays, we did a Living History activity, interviewing an older family member. It's amazing how teenagers of the 1950's are so similar in behavior and emotions to those of today... When my students would discover how much they had in common, the stories would start flowing! They learned that Grandma's great grandpa served in the Civil War. Connections!!! When they choose their Civil War topics, these mean more than without the Living History.

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    1. I am a huge History buff. I like the way you included the families of your students', when teaching history. I know my own kids loved 8th grade History because the had to interview their Great Grandfather about storming the beaches of France and watching their friends fall dead beside them. Then they had to read "My Brother Sam is Dead" this connection madeHistory come alive and had so much meaning. Keep it up

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  59. I have been away, so it was great to catch up reading the posts for this week. It is awesome to read about the role of student voice/choice across age levels, ability, and discipline. I teach upper level high school students in challenging science classes, so the students' ability to defend an answer or lab data is vital to the learning process. Students need more than an equation plucked from an equation sheet provided that they plug numbers into and get an answer to be successful in science. I enjoy the discussion, and it is interesting to watch students find their voice throughout the year. The questions raised by classmates can really deepen the understanding for everyone. Modelling and inquiry-based learning definitely shift the responsibility to the student, too. The concern becomes guiding the process so that forward progress is maintained and the content is covered.

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  60. A few ways that I try to empower my students:
    For each of the major projects that we do throughout the school year my students always have choices on who they work with, and what type of project they will complete. I try to make the instructions vague (ex: make a video), but still with enough information to make sure they are showing specific benchmarks about the topic. This way students can add their personal take on the information and show their creative side (which is sometimes hard to do in science).

    I often have students research specific websites and pick out information on what we are currently learning (ex: nasa.gov- find a mission related to our current topic in class), then present their findings to the class or small groups. Presenting their thoughts is often difficult for some students, but is a true test on their comprehension of the material.

    One project idea that I am excited to start this school year with my honors class is a "science buddies" program. I am going to team up with an elementary teacher in my district, pair my high school students with elementary students, and have my students create mini science lessons and demonstrations to "teach" the younger students. I hope this will empower my students to take pride in their work and feel like they are able to make a difference.

    A take away from this chapter:
    I really enjoyed the message from this chapter. It was very validating to see that I already do quite a few of the things mentioned, but yet made me realize that I need to do a better job of sharing my students' work. No matter what age the student is, they always love for their hard work and efforts to be shown to others. My goal for this school year is to make sure I am sharing my students' work in a variety of ways- to parents, teachers, and other students. My hope is that if students' see the work being posted, they will want to make sure they put in the extra effort on the next project to ensure theirs is shared.

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  61. I liked the idea of having students create a magazine in this chapter. Student motivation, work ethic, and energy/passion for English is something I think about a lot, but I have to admit I may not being doing enough to empower students enough. I think students feel comfortable voicing their opinions and feelings in my classroom, but I need to look for ways to empower students by giving them a bigger audience. Rami says it takes time and effort to look for members of the community to be a potential audience for students, and I agree. I also agree with her that it would be a very worthwhile goal, however. Students are bound to work harder and with more interest if they know a wider audience will see their work. Most kids love to show something they've created on the computer, so I really need to explore new ways of getting their work to others to enjoy.

    I do hang student work in the hallway on occasion, I sponsor a school news column for our local newspaper written on a rotating basis by four of our high school students, and I have just started posting items on our school Facebook page. I know when students receive recognition from these three examples, they love the comments other adults and students share with them. I know in my heart I need to push myself to continue to look for new ways of sharing student work with more audiences. I do feel teachers have more to do than ever! The definition of a "good teacher" has changed, I believe, from when I first started teaching. This is a job that is never finished; we have to decide what is the most important use of our time and remember that we put a lot of love and care into what we do. That will shine through our lessons and through our students for years to come!

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    1. Wow, it sounds like you have some great authentic audiences there! I bet students like seeing their work displayed in these places.

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  62. While subbing I had limitations as to how much I am able to accomplish on my own, as I had to follow the lesson plans, guidelines, rules and procedures left by the classroom teacher. Given that the classes I taught were lower elementary grades, students were still learning the procedures and overall foundation of a classroom setting. Yet, there were one or two subjects were the students were able to use their voices, express their ideas, and thoughts. While reading this chapter I continued to reflect and compare the different classes that I subbed for. While one class taught math in a very traditional way; teacher lead and texts books used, another taught through student lead inquiry after a problem was given. The differences were amazing! It was just how Meeno Rami said, the students who were teacher led were less likely to embrace the lesson and take ownership in their learning. They either understood the concept or they didn't. Where as the student led 'lessons' showed students grasping onto different aspects of the idea being presented and built up their understanding by recognizing their mistakes, consulting with other students, and learning other ways that students may have solved the same problem but in a different way.

    Students had also been provided with opportunities to share their writing with the class and the students listening may provide feedback as long as they are able to explain what they liked/disliked, agreed/disagreed with, and explain their thoughts.

    When I read about how it is important to understand your students as individuals; recognizing their interests and their thoughts about school, I was reminded of the position that I took in the beginning of the school year for a first grade class. The classroom teacher had me had out a 'All About Me' handout where the parents and their child filled out a brief questionnaire about their child; including interests, personality, subjects liked/disliked, etc. I referred to these questionnaires often when planning lessons or adjusting pre-written plans to grasp the students interests and to help with their understanding.

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  63. Having only 15 students in my class – the same kids all day long – I very quickly get to know my students well and on a personal level. I do some ice-breaker types of activities at the beginning of the school year. I try to do something a little different each year. I’ve allowed kids to take as much candy as they want (within reason, of course) without them knowing what I intend to do with it. When all of the students have some candy, I tell them to count the pieces. If they have 15 pieces, they have to tell us 15 things about themselves. Not only do I get to learn about them through what they say, but I learn about their various personalities based on how much candy they take/their strategy in picking candy. I’ve also had them do a top ten list similar to the idea of David Letterman. The ten things are things about themselves that they are willing to share with the class. In both cases, I participate as well by demonstrating to the class with some of my own personal information. I find that this lets the students know that I want to know them and that they can get to know each other well and quickly.

    I also allow the students the help make the rules of the classroom. I, of course, have certain ones in mind that are “standards.” As we discuss the rules that the kids think are important, we talk about them. I initially allow them to put down all rules that they think are applicable. We then go through them, and I kind of allow them to be critical of them. They will consolidate rules that are similar to one another, they will delete ones that they feel as though are common sense, and they debate with one another what specific rules mean, etc. I find that this activity lets them know that I value their ideas and that I want them to help set the tone in the room. They also are critical of themselves and what kinds of things they do/find annoying in the classroom that hinders their own learning.

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    1. I'm glad you posted this-- I have done the activity with choosing classroom rules in the past but haven't used it in the last year or two. I think this year I will use it again with my newcomer ELLs. Thanks!

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  64. This was honestly the hardest chapter for me to read, because I feel like this is an area I really need to do better in. It's a little ironic I feel that way, since English language learning is nothing but empowering for students who need language skills. But I don't often get it right-- it's hard to find the right things to do that are authentic and help students feel that what they are doing is important for their life, not just for a grade. And language learning is hard work. For the first while it feels like no progress is being made, and that is so frustrating for students.

    I'm definitely haven't arrived in this area, but there are some things I do fairly well. I am lucky in that I have a smallish group of students that I see throughout the year for lots of intense time, and I generally see the same students all through high school, so I do get to know them very well. I go to sporting events and plays as often as I can, and through my work with the adult ed classes and various other community things I have gotten to know a handful of the parents. I try my hardest to see students in 3D-- as sons, daughters, and siblings; as student athletes; as young workers in various businesses around town; as church and youth group members; as third culture kids; etc. Seeing students this way helps me to feel the weight and importance of what we do in the classroom because it is interdependent with what the student does in all of these areas. So I do spend a lot of time and effort getting to know my kids. Also, I model my lifelong learning and curiosity. This is one of my strengths in the classroom-- I'm just a naturally curious person, and I love modeling that love of learning for students.

    I would really like to grow in the areas of sharing responsibility and decision making with students and not making myself the center of the classroom. I'm toying around with some new ideas of how to structure my classes next year, so I'm excited about the chance to put some of these things to work. Also, the idea of going public is very challenging to me. I hope to find something I can do to move in that direction.

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  65. As I read this chapter, I kept feeling it was more for the secondary level. I still think that the suggestions and examples were geared mostly for MS and HS. However, in 4th grade we do talk about audience and is your reader going to be interested or learn something from your writing.

    We also have a section in our local paper that is called "Blackboard" . It is to highlight education in our town. The journalist is very wonderful and comes to the school whenever we call. The problem can be remembering to call him BEFORE you are in the middle of a fantastic project. Taking pictures and video is something I hope to do more of this year. I can send that to the paper and he will publish it. (One perk of a small town! :)

    I have been challenged to engage my students with more "real world" writing and experiences this year.

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  66. Wow. These questions are really hard when you teach a scripted program. read 180 as it is, gives very little choice for the students. I have to be very creative. I allow them to chose their own books for independent reading. There are sections of the computer that also allow some choice. I focus on teaching them behavior choices. Good choices equal special opportunities. Bad choices equal consequence . I do stretch my program to make real world connections. On Friday's they have activity choices. Most choose to play vocabulary bingo, because they get to write on their with dry erase markers. They also have book projects that are due at the end of each grading period. They have all types of options as to how they chose to complete these projects.

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  67. This is one are that I am struggling with currently. Since I teach Life Skills Reading, I have very small classes. And my classes typically have a wide range of abilities (as do all classes!). These students are non-diploma track and are typically pretty low academically. This past year I had a class of 2 and a class of 4, making it very difficult to do many group projects. I tried to do a blog, but with only 4 kids in the class it makes it less relevant. We also tried using vokis and the students seemed to enjoy those projects but again it takes some of the relevance out of it when there are so few in the class. I do try to give the students as many choices as I can about the projects and activities that we do. I also worked with the Read Naturally program ( a structured reading program to improve reading fluency and comprehension). My students were given a choice of the set of stories that would interest them the most to complete. I also did some writing activities that they got to choose the stories that they wanted to use. I sometimes feel that these students are so far behind already that I need to be the one who chooses what needs to be accomplished and keep pushing them to achieve as much as they can in the short amount of time that I have. Also, being a "reading" class I feel that a lot of the time I am using a "reading program" and not as much time with creative instruction/ learning.

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  68. I have students create new games and ways to teach the basics for my PE class. Many of their suggestions I have used in class. It is good from time to time to the freedom to take the class into a different directions. However, it is important to give them parameters in which to work. Due to the limitations in my gym for technology I can not use many of the useful tools the regular classroom has. But I hope one day in the future I can have these technologies and share much more information with my students.

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  69. I empower my students by giving them as much choice as possible. This of course varies depending on age and level of students. I try to give younger students a choice of center, reading material, or maybe a vote in a classroom activity. Older students are able to choose how they respond to lessons. For example, if we read a chapter book they can choose how to respond. This is done on a tic tac toe board. Each assignment is tailored to a different learning style. Students simply choose three activities in a row. Empowering students give them a sense of responsibility and control in their learning as well as helping them develop a higher order thinking skills.

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