Saturday, June 9, 2012

Why Blog?

And some context

So why am I writing this? Why start a blog? Several reasons, actually. This is an entirely selfish venture – I am writing this for myself. I believe that one of the best ways to become a better teacher is through reflection, purposeful thinking about what you did in the classroom, how it went, who was learning, and maybe more importantly, who wasn’t learning. This is a place for me to do that: to reflect on what I have been doing in my classroom, and to try to get better. Always better. Always.

What is my classroom? I teach world history in San Mateo, CA.  I am lucky to get to loop with my students: I get them as ninth graders and keep the same students as tenth graders. This group of common students is shared with three other core teachers – English, math, and science – for the two-year loop. Then we get a new batch. This smaller learning community (SLC) structure emphasizes personalization, which meshes well with my personality. I just finished my second loop with students and will receive a new group of freshmen in August.

My class is unique in a couple of ways: first, I collaborate extensively with my English colleague in an attempt to discuss similar topics in both my students’ English and history classes. For example, they will read All Quiet on the Western Front in English while we study World War I, or Cry, the Beloved Country while we study South Africa. Large Humanities papers and projects are markers of progress throughout the two-year loop.

The second way my classroom is unique is the literacy and evaluation of history focus. I was heavily influenced in these areas by being able to study under Sam Wineburg, who believes that students should be reading and interpreting history, not being fed a narrative without the ability to question it. In short, students should be doing the work that historians do. This is a big difference from what my students are used to in history, and is able to engage them in a way they are not used to in history class. I absolutely love the emphasis that this pedagogical style has placed on critical thinking and interpretation of history. Additionally, I was further influenced in my literacy emphasis by a training I was able to do with WestEd that emphasized the explicit teaching and modeling of the reading processes expert readers use to students.

Finally, I was lucky enough to participate in the Making Education Relevant and Interactive through Technology (MERIT) program through Foothill College this past year. This yearlong experience focused on getting teachers knowledgeable of and comfortable with educational technology resources, as well as creating a supportive network in which to learn and experiment in our classrooms.

This push to integrate more technology into my classroom – not at the expense of the critical thinking focus but to allow for more of it – combined with completing my second loop of students has given me a lot to think about this summer as I reconfigure what my classroom looks like. And here we are again, back at the beginning: this is why I am starting this blog.