Every December, I start thinking about the upcoming year and making plans to write a reflection and a plan for moving forward. While I was a classroom teacher, this project often got lost in the flurry of preparing units and lessons, and trying to figure out how to encourage my students to embrace reading and writing in their lives.
This year, I don’t have that excuse since I stepped out of the classroom after earning my master’s degree at the end of 2021. So I am determined to write something that I hope will encourage both the teachers who are continuing their work on the front lines and those of us who are searching for ways to support their work.
I've also realized I have a bad habit of writing massive articles that probably no one reads, so I've decided to divide my reflections and goal setting into multiple posts this year. I'm starting with a reflection that will both help me remember what I've learned and accomplished last year, but give you a chance to review it and perhaps add your own thoughts.
Looking back, this website has been the centerpiece of both my efforts to chronicle my journey as an educator for reflection purposes, but also as a way to share my journey for those who are a few steps behind. I also hope to collaborate with those who are a few steps ahead so that we can all work together to serve our students.
I also realize this may be difficult in our current troubling times. So I hope that these reflections and the content that I wrote last year (and in this coming year) will both feed your soul and inspire you to serve your student readers and writers.
Best articles written in 2022
The following articles are the best ones that I wrote in 2022 and cover a range of topics from lists of slam poetry that can serve as resources for teachers seeking to engage students in reading and writing to ideas for how to manage censorship within your classroom.
Both my professor and my colleagues in Creativity in Teaching Composition class introduced examples of slam poetry as part of their contributions to class--both as students and as teachers who use the resources to inspire their own students. So I decided to curate a list of poems you can use in your classes (because finding these poems on your own can really take up a lot of time). My favorite slam poems are the first two-- Taylor Mali's "Like Totally Whatever, You Know" and Melissa Lozado-Oliva's response. These two poems may serve as an excellent introduction to an argumentative writing unit this semester.
After writing the list of slam poems for high school, I realized that middle school students might love the same genre--but some of the topics that work for high school might not be appropriate for the younger students. So I created another list. My favorite poem on this list is Amanda Gorman's--not just because of what she says, but the fact that she has been able to speak to such a wide audience at a relatively young age. Perhaps there are more Amanda Gorman's who can hear her words and be inspired to share their own.
I had an amazing opportunity to partner with Dr. Chea Parton this past year and publish a Halloween short story writing unit. It's the perfect follow up to all the Halloween short stories I've recommended over the years.
I'm a little surprised this article gained so much traction. However, it's important to me because it marks a shirt in my journey as an educator. At the beginning of 2022, I stepped out of the classroom and into a new role as a doctoral student--a role that has stretched me in ways I could not imagine before and that is leading, as I write, in directions I could not have previously imagined.
While I wrote this article for the beginning of the school year in August, the activities I recommended can actually be used at the beginning of the spring semester, too. It's always a good idea to reconnect with everyone, invite new students into the fold, and set new goals for the upcoming year.
I noticed back in October several middle school teachers expressing frustration on Twitter and Facebook that publishers were releasing few books written for upper middle grade tweens. Their students were reading at a young adult level, but they weren't emotionally ready for 16-year-old protagonists. Naturally, I decided to do the leg work and create a list of novels teachers could invest in for their classroom libraries.
Before I started my master's degree in 2017, I had little to no access to educational research. While my school and public libraries had EBSCO Host and other databases, I really didn't know what I needed to be looking for. As a member of the National Council of Teachers of English and my local affiliate of the National Writing Project, I did have access to their publications, which feature research-based articles, I still felt like there was a lot of relevant research that I was not aware of or didn't have access to. Now that I'm out of the classroom, I have time, access, and perspective with which to read and write about relevant research that is being published right now about reading and writing in secondary schools. I hope that my critiques can help teachers rethink their practices and improve engagement and literacy in their classes.
One mistake some schools make is to forbid technology. For example, one of the high schools where I taught blocked student access to Wikipedia. Students, of course, with their own technology or through VPNs accessed it anyway. So I wrote a post about how to use Wikipedia properly. When I saw students citing a Wikipedia page in their rough drafts, I'd direct them to my article and show them how to use the resource to find the primary and secondary sources I need. (For the record, when I encounter a new theory or educator in my own graduate research, such as the zone of proximal development or it's proponent Lev Vygotsky, I use the online encyclopedia to fill in my background knowledge and find popular sources. Then I use Google Scholar and my school's online library to find academic studies and articles on the topic. This is an important skill for students to learn, whether they plan to go to college or make informed decisions about which car to buy or which legislator to vote for.) Likewise, ChatGPT is another tool that students need to learn to use appropriately as technology continues to evolve.
In the spring of 2022, I stepped into the Teaching Language--Theory and Practice class thinking that the professor would introduce us to a few neat tricks for teaching English grammar and I would just add them to my existing toolbox. Instead, Dr. Madina Djuraeva, who speaks eight languages, introduced us to research into multilingual education and how to serve students who have greater linguistic abilities than I do as a monolingual speaker. I read studies about translanguaging and code switching. Even better, several colleagues in the class hailed from different countries and spoke multiple languages. Listening to them, and reading the research helped me realize that our educational system has treated multilingualism as a deficit instead of the strength that it actually is. Now, as a writing consultant and teacher, I realize that I need to find ways to encourage writers to use their entire linguistic repertoires in ways that will serve their purposes with their audiences.
In my research with my graduate school professor, I've realized that censorship is an issue schools have grappled with for almost a century. I, myself, have had a parent or two complain that the novel a student chose to read in my class promoted a point of view they did not agree with. But we have not seen the widespread coordinated efforts to promote massive censorship that we have over the past year. This article explores ways that teachers can both protect themselves, their students, and respond in the event that someone still attempts to limit what everyone has access to read.
As a teacher, it has always been important to me to blend my interests: reading, writing, teaching, collaborating, creating, and advocating. This presentation was not only about how I blend all those interests, but how other teachers can do the same in a way that both fulfills them, but also serves others. Much like this website.
I hope these articles help you rethink your practices, grow, and inspire your students in this new year. I'd also love to hear your feedback on what helped you and what you'd like to see us explore in the future.