Category Archives: SLA

Keeping the Social Contract.

Almost exactly a month ago, I wrote about recovering from surgery and going back to work.

Then, on Monday, my school district had a stealth meeting to cancel my union’s contract and impose health care payments onto staff.

In response, I sent out a tweet that was personal, but important to me.

If you’ve been following the #phled news recently, you know that students at several schools took matters into their own hands today and held their own strikes, organized under the hasthag #studentsforteachers.

(One of their big reasons for doing this? According to state law, Philadelphia teachers cannot strike, or we risk having our teaching licenses revoked. We are the only district in Pennsylvania for which this is true.)

There have been many times on this blog when I have described the community that is SLA, from the thank you notes I write to students to the “safety net of actual human care” that has helped me in the last month. But then last night I got this e-mail:

Hi Ms. Pahomov,

Hope this email finds you well. I was wondering if I could turn your tweet, the one in the attachment, into a poster for the student strike tomorrow

Thanks for your help!

Nikki 

And then, she did:
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I also received the following e-mails from my student assistant teachers while they were striking in front of the school:

Hi I’m outside protesting for you guys. If you need me I’ll come up.

Hiii Ms Pahomov, I’m outside protesting right now but if you need me to help next band I can come up, I don’t want to leave you if you need me.

These are students who I teach and care for — but in a very real and concrete way have cared for me as well, in the last month since I returned to work, and in the years prior to that as well.

As I said to a reporter earlier today, this is not a Hallmark card. This is a situation where both their education and my livelihood are under attack. But in the best version of school, teachers and students have a reciprocal level of trust and respect that allows them to continue to learn and be human — even in the face of crushing adversity.

So why do I keep showing up to work, even though my contract is supposedly canceled? Because I’m trying to be as thoughtful, wise, passionate, and kind as my students are to me.

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Teaching After Surgery.

At the end of July, I had hip surgery. Nothing about this event or the condition that caused it were life-threatening — I had a tumor in my femur that we already knew was benign, but it still had to go. However, I am new to the recovery game.

Many people have already experienced their own personalized version of this game. (If you haven’t yet, here’s a spoiler: it’s not linear.) My version of the recovery game involves a cane, a boatload of physical therapy, and a joint that will occasionally ping me just to announce its continued existence.

On our first day of school, despite a great day overall, the recovery game meant that I spent a good portion of my prep period cuddling with an ice pack, face down on a couch in the counselor’s office.

My principal casually poked his head in and asked how I was feeling.

“I’m awake!” I replied.

“It wouldn’t be a problem if you were asleep,” he said.

This may sound like one educational Kodak moment, but variations on this scene played out several times (right down to my advisees checking out the x-ray of my newly installed hardware, or one of my senior student assistant teachers telling me to stop walking around already.)

For some of you in caring school environments, your reaction may be something along the lines of “yeah, duh.” But at the end of today, I am acutely aware of why this stuff matters. In my analytical moments, I might say to myself “well, I’m just getting back what I have put in,” but that’s applying a very corporate approach to a culture that is anything but. Banking your sick days is one thing. Having the safety net of actual human care is something else entirely.

Book Club Toolkit

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The wish for book clubs in my 10th grade classes came out of a mid-year survey. Students reported that they were enjoying picking their own books, but that they missed being able to have class discussions about their reading. (We did read short stories and essays in class, but it’s not quite the same.) 

To those ends, we decided to give our students fewer choices than you would for a typical book club. They could read either “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston, or “Passing” by Nella Larsen. Both were required titles in last year’s curriculum. We gave them time in class to physically browse both titles, and then wrote down who picked what in order to place them in groups of four.

The next day, we revealed the groupings and then gave them the basic instructions.. Click on the role titles for the job sheets.

Welcome to your Book Club!

You club will be meeting twice a week: on Mondays and Wednesdays. There will be seven meetings starting Thursday, Feb. 20th (one time only) and ending Wednesday, March 12.

Before each meeting, you must…

1. Decide on your page assignment before you meet. If the readings were divided evenly, Passing would read 19 pages between meetings, and Their Eyes Were Watching God would read 27 pages between meetings. Keep this in mind when making your schedule!

2. Pick Roles via the worksheets. There are four possible roles right now:

Questioner, Note-Taker, Clarifier, and Connector.

If your group has fewer than 4 people, make sure you have a questioner and note-taker, they’re required! If your group has more than 4 people, you can double up on clarifier and/or connector.

3. Read and prepare for your role. Before the day of the meeting, you must complete the reading, as well as fill out the worksheet to prep. (Note-takers are the exception: they take notes during and after the meeting instead!)

During the meeting, you must…

1. Fill your role, but mix it up too. Book club will run at least 20 minutes each time you meet. Don’t just go around in a circle and spend 5 minutes on each role. A good group contributes spontaneously and comes up with new ideas on the spot!

2. Play devil’s advocate when needed. If everybody is agreeing, don’t be afraid to try out the opposing viewpoint. You never know where it might take you!

3. Cooperate. It’s a club, not a war!

Additional notes

1. You must play each role at least once. Once you have tried every role, you may repeat.

2. You may do independent reading alongside your book club book. The assigned reading may not get you to 30min/night 5x a week. Just make sure you get your book club reading done first! We will still have reading journals, so you can tell us about either book in the journal.

3. If you’re struggling, read with a partner! Read out loud to each other, review before class. And try listening to the audio as well — both are posted on canvas.

Book clubs are a common practice, including at SLA, and I take zero credit for any of these ideas. Our resident book club expert is Alexa Dunn — everybody who adopts the practice goes to her for materials and advice! After consulting with her and Matt Kay, I figured out a way for book clubs to work in my independent reading setting.

More on how it went in a later post.

What do you need to know about the SLA model?

Today is the first day of EduCon. The school is full of visitors, getting tours from students, poking their heads into classrooms, observing the teaching and learning that goes on, finding inspiration.

It seems as good a time as any to announce that, if all goes at as planned, there will be a book published about the SLA model by this time next year!

 (ASCD approached SLA about the project last summer, and they’ve been fabulous to work with. Our goal is to have it published in time for EduCon 2015.)

The overall goal of the book is to provide a how-to for both individual teachers and schools/districts to transition to this kind of learning model, especially when they are taking the leap of going 1:1.

I feel incredibly humbled by this task. At SLA, we already have a culture of transparency and sharing, but the project has given me a good reason to do some extensive exploration the practice of my colleagues. Technically, I’m the “author” of this book, but I feel more like a compiler of the collective knowledge and practices of the school.

Of course, the book isn’t for us — it’s for all of you!  To those ends, I would love your answers to this question:

What would help you understand and implement the SLA model in your own school?

Folks often walk away from EduCon feeling inspired, and this book is intended to give people the advice an guidance needed to kindle that inspiration back in their own buildings.

I feel a little bit funny publicizing a manuscript so far in advance — but any thoughts from potential readers would be appreciated. Leave your comments here, or track me down on Twitter or in person at EduCon this weekend.

EduCon Session: Reading Writing Workshop Gone Digital

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Sometime last summer, I decided to set my sophomore English students free.

Well, that’s not entirely true–it started earlier than that. Heather Hurst put the thought in my head last year, when I got to read her dissertation based on research in my classroom and it blew my mind a little bit. She had already used a workshop model back when she was a classroom teacher, which made it seem less impossible to me.

And then I spent a couple of weeks communing with Nancie Atwell’s “In The MIddle,” which, as Lehmann put it to me sometime this fall, is the book that everybody reads in graduate school, thinks it has great ideas, and then shelves it in favor of a more traditional approach.

That was me for five whole years. I was exactly like Atwell herself, before she transitioned into the workshop model. And her assessment of that life rang true to me: “I didn’t learn in my classroom. I tended my creation.”

So, after a lot of hard thinking (like, the furrowed-brow-this-hurts-my-brain kind) and sketching out of routines based on the “In the Middle” model, I decided to take the plunge. On the first day of class, I told my sophomores:

This is going to be a grand experiment that we embark on together.

Here are the next four things I told them:

  1. This year, you will read what inspires you and write about what moves you.
  2. We (Ms. Pahomov, Mr. Kolouch, and your Student Assistant Teacher) are here to instruct and support…
  3. …But you are in charge of your own learning and improving as a writer and reader.
  4. Constant Check-ins = more feedback and help when you are learning, instead of when the project’s done.

Of course, I meant to blog our progress starting in September… but now, in January, I’m happy to report that we are still living in (and loving) reading writing workshop.

If you had told me even two years ago that I would be doing this, I would have unequivocally responded: you are crazy.  And yet, here we are. Students participate in independent reading full time. They contribute pieces of writing to their portfolio each quarter, and they decide what genres and topics to tackle. I get to give more individualized, formative feedback that students actually use. More than ever before, I can say that I really know my kids.

Interested in learning more?

A whole group of us will be talking about this “grand experiment” during our EduCon Session this coming Sunday, January 26th at 10:30 AM Eastern. We encourage you to join us in person, if you are attending live, or via the live stream that will go out via the website.

Additionally, we would love to hear what your particular questions or areas of interest are for our presentation. Here are two questions we plan on addressing so far:

  • How do you scale this model for a public school classroom of 30+ students, and an overall grading load of 120+ students? (The workshop model is often seen as viable only in a smaller private-school setting.)
  • How do you blend digital and analog tools to make the model more meaningful and efficient for students? (The most recent edition of Atwell’s book is from 1998, so reference to technology is minimal–I think there’s a mention of having students word process their final drafts.)

Feel free to send us your thoughts in advance, via this site or the EduCon write up. Or just show up and join in the conversation!

Letting people in the door.

I recently discovered Peg with Pen, and in particular her post “A Quick Guide for Resisting from Within for Educators.” I appreciate this list for a variety of reasons–especially her exhortation to take the high road, when educators have good reason to go for low blows–but it was the second item on her list that caught me:

Open the door.

In the context of the post, opening the door is about letting the greater community see the goodness and light in your classroom, instead of seeking to protect it from the potential harm that could be brought by outside forces.

In my head, however, this statement was also about opening the door as an individual teacher, to yourself and your practice.

I’m fortunate to work at a school where we (literally) keep our doors open all the time — and I work with colleagues who I trust to wander in, jump into class discussions and activities, and give me useful feedback whenever they feel like it.

But in the last year or so, I’ve also opened my door to other parties. I’ve scaled up the Student Assistant Teachers in my classroom so that I typically have one in every section that I teach. I said yes to a university researcher, who took transcripts in my class for two years, blew my mind with her doctoral thesis, suggested that I write an article (published) and apply to a national conference (accepted), and eventually inspired me to overhaul my entire approach to the 10th grade curriculum (more on that later). I had no idea that partnership was going to be so fruitful for me. At the time, it didn’t even occur to me that it could turn into a partnership.

This year, I also finally took on a student teacher from the same program I completed six years ago. I got a freshly-minted colleague from September until April, and my students got an addition to their “teaching team,” which usually means three people. I cannot emphasize how awesome this is.

Despite the ongoing threat that my school district will crumble into dust, It’s been a really good year, thanks to the folks around me that were willing to step into my classroom and professional life.

So, who can help you? You should really open the door for them.

(Admittedly, the second half this year was not such a good one for this blog… considering a more regular schedule for 2014.)