As I’ve alluded to in these first seven blog posts, I prepare for each school year emotionally because my teaching philosophy depends on connecting with students. I’ve written about how my teaching has evolved over the years so that even though I try to be THE TEACHER for every student, I also know this is impossible. My philosophy is about connecting and building community, activism and nature. It’s about processing a challenging world with my students and learning their names. But I think when my friend asked about how I teach, she was asking more about specifics.
The book that informed my teaching the most is Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle. She’s an award-winning middle school English teacher in Maine, and even though she teaches much smaller classes at a tiny independent school with students who have a much smaller range of needs, her reader’s and writer’s workshops still guide what I do. I’ve adapted much of it, mostly because I can’t keep up with weekly letters and her version of written feedback to every paper, but my students still read and discuss books the same way I discuss books with friends. I use mini-lessons in my writer’s workshop and respond with an editor submission form to address individual student needs. I focus on revision and student ownership over their throughout the revising process.
My other guiding influence has been the writing project from UCLA. Their summer institute got me doing classroom blogs (which you can follow daily to read about what we do in class every. single. day) and writing with my students. Part of the professional development philosophy of the UCLA Writing Project is that in order to grow as a writer and teacher, you must write with your students, side-by-side. So, from essays to poems, I write with my students. I share my work with them. I revise, edit, and publish right alongside them. This helps provide a model for every assignment and it also helps me understand how easy, challenging, and time-consuming a writing task is.
So, with reader’s and writer’s workshops we read and write together and learn the standards. My focus is on making them lifelong readers and writers, not great test-takers. So, even though curriculum constantly evolves, new effective strategies emerge, and required texts change, I make adaptations with these educational beliefs in mind. Even though there are days when I have to take my students to a lab for test prep, when I have to give an interim assessment, and we take a break from the "real" work, most days I manage to stay true to who I am as a writer and educator. So, I guess this is the four paragraph version of how I teach.