By Megan Motley
Happy April! Happy National Poetry Month!
As an ELA teacher, I always felt obligated and hesitant to teach poetry. Where to begin? Iambic pentameter? Sonnets? Enjambment? Emily Dickinson wandering around in a white dress?! Ultimately, I found that sharing poetry that I liked and giving students space to find poems that they enjoyed in units throughout the year was enough. I didn’t need to provide hours of direct instruction to prepare them for poetry: students are smart, and they appreciate lyrics, rhythm, and lovely phrases. I also found that some students were already reading poetry on their own thanks to Instapoets like Rupi Kaur.
Not only did my classes appreciate reading poetry, I found that many students enjoyed writing poetry. Students loved creating “found poems” from a chapter of a novel that we were reading, and I loved that it was a sneaky and scaffolded way for all students to reread, examine language, and explore themes regardless of their reading level.
While there are only a few days left of National Poetry Month, it is worth prioritizing space in our own lives and our classrooms to simply read and appreciate poetry regardless of grade level or content. After all, as the poet Audre Lorde reminds us, “Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity for our existence. It forms the quality of light from which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.” Let’s continue to grow and refine our quality of light.
To celebrate spring’s return of songbirds and the last few days of National Poetry Month, here’s one that I keep coming back to by Mary Oliver.
What Gorgeous Thing
I do not know what gorgeous thing
the bluebird keeps saying,
his voice easing out of his throat,
beak, body into the pink air
of the early morning. I like it
whatever it is. Sometimes
it seems the only thing in the world
that is without dark thoughts.
Sometimes it seems the only thing
in the world that is without
questions that can’t and probably
never will be answered, the
only thing that is entirely content
with the pink, then clear white
morning and, gratefully, says so.
By Julie Doyle
The challenges and restrictions that arose and changed during the last two years made it difficult -- if not impossible -- for international exchange students to live in the U.S. and be a part of our wonderful Jeffco communities. We are celebrating that international exchange students are back! For the 2022-2023 school year, Jeffco will host up to 100 international exchange students. International exchange is a great way for the youth of today to meet the global challenges of tomorrow by building bridges of cross-cultural understanding.
So far, we have students coming from Germany, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Puerto Rico, Sweden, France, Norway, Brazil, Switzerland, Thailand, Belgium, and Ukraine. We have expedited the application process for our students from Ukraine in the hopes of getting them to safety as soon as possible, and we are looking forward to welcoming them into our communities. We have so much to learn from them.
International students certainly get to enjoy the opportunities of participating in the academic, athletic, and social lives of their schools. However, American students also benefit when their peers are from very different cultural backgrounds. American students do not hesitate to ask questions and learn from their new classmates. Teachers also enjoy having international students in their classrooms and the new learning and connections that are made.
If you are interested in hosting an international exchange student, please reach out to Julie Doyle, International Exchange Coordinator, at Julie.email@example.com.
By Adrienne Rossi-Genova
“Engagement is more about what you can do for your students. Empowerment is about helping students to figure out what they can do for themselves.”
- G. Couros
Project Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge (PBLWorks). PBLs can range in duration, from a week to a full unit’s length of time. The culmination of learning is to create a project or presentation to deliver to a real audience.
There are many high-leverage teaching practices used in PBL which translate to any classroom’s work. One of these wrap-around practices is culture building, which is a Gold-Standard PBL teaching practice from PBLWorks. “Teachers explicitly and implicitly promote student independence and growth, open-ended inquiry, team spirit, and attention to quality” (WHAT: Gold-Standard PBL).
This view of culture reflects real-world skills that anyone might do as part of their job. From task organization to research to developing public products, teachers who routinely use these practices as a part of the way they do business in the classroom are promoting the deepening of Essential or 21st Century Skills. In addition, developing the classroom’s culture improves learning because students know their work and feel empowered to carry out tasks independently.
“Classroom environment is one of the most important factors affecting student learning. A positive environment is one in which students feel a sense of belonging, trusting others, and feel encouraged to tackle challenges, take risks, and ask questions”.
Joan Young, Encouragement in the Classroom (2014)
Culture is defined as ‘the set of shared attitudes, beliefs, values, goals, and practices that characterize an institute or organization’” (PBLWorks, 2021). In Candice Steinke’s and Erika Lee’s classrooms at Foothills Elementary, their Smart Doll PBL exemplified a positive classroom culture. They promoted student independence through student voice and choice-- students made decisions about who they would research and which major life events to include in their timeline and essay. Students developed an attention to quality when creating their own Smart Doll-- from choosing a design to cutting to sewing; students themselves did the work.
Many teachers engage in culture-building activities at the beginning of the school year or semester. Dedication to the development of culture in the classroom not only builds relationships but strengthens students’ convictions about themselves as learners and their ability to create excellent independent work.
PBLWorks. (n.d.). What is PBL? https://www.pblworks.org/what-is-pbl
PBLWorks. (n.d.). WHAT: Gold standard PBL: Project based teaching practices. https://www.pblworks.org/what-is-pbl/gold-standard-teaching-practices
PBLWorks. (2021). Project based learning handbook for elementary school.
Young, J. (2014). Encouragement in the classroom: How do I help students stay positive and focused? (ASCD Arias). ASCD.
By Kristina Harris, Apryl Thompson, and Anne Folsom
Within a reading workshop how many minutes are students reading? This year has brought a return to consistent, in-person learning environments for most students. Teachers have worked hard to create these learning environments through consistent routines that leverage learning to build independence. The last few years have brought a need to adjust instruction to meet the needs of an even wider range of students. As you examine the needs of your classroom and the promise of grade level learning, we encourage you to consider the balance you are creating. “Children need time to read — a lot of time. Time spent reading contributes to reading achievement in ways that simply doing worksheets or other activities does not” (Allington, 2002; Foorman et al., 2006). Look at the categories below from your students eyes. How are your readers building stamina in their texts? Consider ways for them to read, take a little break, and jump back into a book.
Structure and Environment- Consider how students access books. A robust classroom library builds excitement and interest in books. Students will have the option to read books that meet their needs, interest and purpose. Book boxes contain a variety of text, some for fluency, some for print work, some for student interest and choice. Students have more device access than ever before and you will want to consider how ebooks are assigned or accessible to students. One caution: ensure students are actually reading, not just listening to books.
Books- Can students find books on topics that they think are interesting?
Are the books student access “just right” for them? I’m thinking of the wide range of readers you probably see in your classroom right now. Students will want to spend time in a variety of text types. Decodable texts allow students to apply the foundational skills they have learned. They are using the spelling rules to decode within a controlled environment. Predictable texts enable students to move from that controlled print work to a text that will have more engaging comprehension work. Level readers typically have richer story lines, better characters or exciting information. And lastly, think about choice or library books. Students want to read, and even just look at, texts on topics that interest them, that come in a variety of formats, that they can share with friends, and that they can learn from.
Proficiency Scales to Drive Purpose- As students head off to independent reading you may want to engage them in a purpose for reading. For years schools have used close reading as a lens for readers to examine text through. These practices can guide students' thinking about a text. Think "Notice & Note." Students engage in book clubs or collaboration that allows them to be accountable to their group as they have conversation and dig into books. Some independent reading with sticky notes or opportunities to write about reading can also be a purpose. And sometimes, kids deserve a chance to read and enjoy something they’ve picked on their own just for the sheer joy of reading.
Goals, Logs, Journals- Get to know your students' reading habits through interest surveys either for students or families. Reading logs can be a great visual way for kids to track what they have read and get them reading more. Student Friendly Proficiency Scales can help students evaluate their own progress in reading skills.
Curriculum & Instruction