Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Spreading the good news! Star stories from the beginning of the year! By: #thehairbowgirls

Change of Plans by: Lauren Chi

One of my favorite experiences as a student is when my teachers change their lesson plans to let their students teach themselves. In one of my English classes, my teacher had originally planned for us to do a Socratic Seminar on a one-page story. We had twelve prompts to discuss and we took turns going into the middle circle to discuss the prompt. There was four people in the middle circle for each prompt and everyone else was on the outside circle writing down notes based on the conversation on the inside of the circle. The middle circle had eight minutes to discuss the prompt before the topic opened up to the outside circle. Once the conversation was open to the outside circle, we continued the discussion until we couldn’t come up with an idea or comment on the topic. My class got really deep into the conversation that we didn’t even notice the time. It started as an eight to ten-minute discussion to a whole class period, which is an hour and twenty minutes. My favorite part about this class was that my teacher let us continue the great discussion though the whole class and didn’t stop a great class discussion to continue the Socratic Seminar because we were running out of time.

My teacher even added information or questions to think about in our conversations. That’s how our discussion went on for the whole class. One of the best things for education, in my opinion, is when a teacher goes the extra mile for their students. My teacher wants every single student to understand our curriculum thoroughly. If I don’t pick up one of the topics at first, my teacher will slow down and explain to me. That’s one of my favorite things about this class. The classroom is open to any questions, comments, or concerns.

Love Your Teachers by: Sophia Coulopoulos

I’ve never hated a teacher. I’ve always been one to believe that hate is a harsh word. Yes, I have disliked some teachers, but generally I like all my teachers. There have been a few who I loved, and they all seem to have some things in common.  

These teachers have been my 6th grade social studies teacher, my 8th grade civics teacher, and my french teacher this year. They are all kind, they respect their students (although they still expected respect from us), genuinely wanted to create a bond with their students, and have a great balance of responsibility and efficient learning and having a chill, fun experience in their class. With all the stress from my other classes, it’s always nice to have a place where I can take a breath and have some chill fun, but still learn efficiently.  

I’m sure any student can relate to this. We love it when teachers find that perfect balance of learning and a chill environment, and that’s one of the main things that make teachers lovable. 

My favorite moment of this school year so far has been my french teacher making her class a stress free environment. She does an amazing job at making sure we’re learning, but not stressing us out, and students appreciate that. When you can walk into a classroom and just relax, you feel like you want to learn.  

It impresses me even more because it’s a foreign language class. It’s not like English or Math, which we’ve been learning our entire lives, it’s filled with completely new concepts. The fact that she chooses to balance efficient learning with a chill environment shows she wants her students to actually learn and enjoy her class. 

Thrilled about Theatre by: Gabi David

The beginning of high school was quite a scare for me, as well as many of my friends. It was my first day of freshman year, and I was on my way to theater class! I was excited to see what was in store for this year and when I arrived to the classroom, the chairs were organized in a circle with free choice seating.

The teacher began class by introducing herself and then we went around introducing ourselves and our dream role! She then began going over rules, and I was eager to get up and start working on something theater related! Later, we were told to stack our chairs out of the way, and form two lines facing each other. Once we were in our organized lines, she explained that we were playing a game called “Honey I love you, can you give me a smile?”. This was a game where one person says to the person across from them, “Honey I love you can you give me a smile?”, and the person across from them must respond without smiling or laughing, “Honey I love you, but I just can’t smile”. We went down the line one by one, and then the winners competed against each other! This game was fun for us, and you could tell everyone enjoyed it!

So many laughs were shared and new memories were made that we can laugh about later! It was so funny to watch each person use their unique and quirky talents to make the other person laugh. The atmosphere our teacher created was a place where people weren’t afraid to jump out of their comfort zone. I enjoyed this activity and I thought it was a great way to meet new people and bond together. Our teacher explained to us that in order to put on a good show, we need to be well acquainted with our cast mates! This game was popular for our class and I think all teachers should try new games to have the class get to know eachother!

Happy Birthday Homeroom by: Elizabeth Grace

I think my best memory from September is on the 14th, (my birthday is the 15th) my homeroom teacher got the whole class to sing happy birthday to me. This really showed me that my homeroom teacher was invested in me and cared about me.

I feel like if  more teachers built up relationships with students, I think more students would care. They would put more work into the class because they know the teacher on a personal level.
Now, I have had many very good teachers in my middle school, but when I am disconnected to them I do not care. But when a teacher puts in effort to make me have a good day, or say happy birthday to me, it really makes me feel like they care.

I think that if more teachers had personal relationships and really invested in their students, students would not just care more about the teacher, they would care more about the class. That way, the teacher would know that each student is really trying their best. Even doing something small, like asking how the students day was, or asking if they need help studying for a quiz or test. By doing a small thing, my homeroom teacher made me really happy.

That was my best moment in September. My homeroom class singing happy birthday to me. That just goes to show that even the smallest things can make a student very happy. And you want to know the funny thing? I have not been late to homeroom because I feel like she would be disappointed. That just goes to show that because I feel like she cares about me, that I put a little more effort into being early to her class. That alone shows that by putting effort into students, teachers will get effort back from students.

Just by doing something small, you can make a students day, and make them feel more invested in a class.

DRAMAAA by:  Sarah Lehner

I find it very important to get the students more involved by doing activities together as a class.  Coming from a growing young adult, getting involved is very important to me.  I attend Belmont Ridge middle school and I take 8th grade Exploratory Dramatics.    

Drama is a way for students to be themselves and express their feelings in Art.  It isn’t just about learning about the history of plays or writing scripts, but it’s a way to connect with your peers.  On the first day of Dramatics, I was really nervous and didn’t know what was in store.  I sat down next to some friends I knew, and then, I never wanted to leave again.  I thought that Dramatics was all about learning about history and writing stories.  It was much more than all that.  On the first day, my Dramatics teacher got my class to form a big circle around some desks.  She handed out small cue cards, which really confused me at first, but I just ignored it.  They were all numbered 1-18 and everyone had a different number on it.  We had to work together to be able to put on a scene and use our common senses as a team effort.  

We learned how to work as a team and to be able to do something together that was very difficult for us young students to do.  My class was full of seventh and eighth graders so we had to learn how to get used to people besides our grades.  It was something that really impacted my life because I was forced to use my knowledge in a different perspective that I had never seen before.  Even though, I’ve worked with multiple grades in after school activities, I was able to learn more about the real world and its difficulties.   

Even though not everyone enjoys the theater, it is always a good idea to have a good perspective of learning on how to form a team and to be able to rely on your peers to get through tough times.  You’ll not just learn how to get along with other people, but you’ll be able to through things using a different perspective.   

Helpful History Homework by: Leila Mohajer

In a typical class you have a teacher, students, and a lesson. The teacher gives a lesson and the students listen to and take notes on whatever subject is being discussed. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this method of teaching but can it be improved?  My Pre-AP World History teacher seems to think so.
            As homework every night, each student must outline a certain chapter from our history textbook. The text within the chapter gives information on something we haven’t actually learned yet which makes it all the more interesting. This means that we write down only the information that we feel is most important. However, this does not mean that we can write down two sentences and be done with our history homework for the night. The first thing we do when we come into the class is take a formative quiz on the material that was written in the chapter. The only notes we can use while taking the quiz are the ones that we wrote down for homework. This means we must read through the chapter thoroughly and take very detailed notes.
 When I took my first quiz on the homework section it didn’t go so well because I didn’t take enough notes. But as time went by, I got more and more used to reading comprehension and it really improved my skills as a reader. Not only did this affect me in a positive way as a reader, it greatly improved my writing skills which are used in other classes apart from history. I noticed a drastic change when writing my essays in English and started to get compliments on my homework papers from my teacher.
I, along with many of my classmates, believe that this is one of the best ways to teach us the material as reading something and writing about it is one of the best ways to obtain information. After doing this for a few nights, the information started to actually stick with me because in a way, I was teaching myself the lesson by reading about it. The history teachers at my school most likely took into consideration that this subject can sometimes be boring for students to learn for an hour straight. They then decided to come up with this way of having us teach it to ourselves.
It is a wonderful thing to see when teachers try to make learning as easy and fun as possible for their students. When my teacher explained this method to us along with saying that she felt it would help us learn the best, I truly felt rejoiced and knew that I was lucky to have her as my teacher. I hope to see more and more teachers like these come to our schools so that students can learn the way that they want in an easy, simple manner.

Games and Thrones by: Sabrina Rice

This school year is pretty good so far.  My favorite teaching moment of September has been playing interactive games.  Trying to remember quotes in order to get a prize really makes you think about the things you are learning.  When there is something to gain involved, the students will learn better because they are focused on getting the prize.  If they have to know the curriculum, they will spend more time learning and less time talking.  

Also, if a teacher does more enjoyable teaching methods for the kids, the students will respect the teacher more because they don't want the fun to stop.  I have experienced this first hand, as the teachers who do interactive learning get more attention and focus from the students.  My teacher is very interesting and connects things from the past to things of today, which makes us understand the ideas better, as we can see what it would be like in our own lives.

Engaged in English by: Chrysa S.

As the month of September comes to a close, I can say that a star moment for me came from my English class. My English teacher this year is a very eccentric, energetic, and enthusiastic person. She is the foundation for my star moment because her class exhibits a very close and caring environment. In class we discuss the book we are currently reading: The Glass Castle. When we do these discussions, she finds a way to include everyone’s thoughts and ideas, and even the shyest kids in class have their hands shooting in the air, with hopes to share their opinions. That gives me a lot of admiration for our teacher and hope for the future of our education. 

Success in Civics by: Madison Whitbeck

As a girl raised by a lawyer and politician, I have grown a love for history and civics. When I first walked into my civics classroom, I was a little skeptical. My teacher, Mr. Buttrick, was very down to earth and fun. He explained to us that he would hardly give out homework as long as we did the homework he assigned and let us leave class whenever we feel like we needed a break, but only for 5 minutes. This intrigued me. Mr. Buttrick swore to us that we would not only enjoy this class, but learn from it. I thought, there’s no way that this middle aged man could possibly know how to keep 13 year olds entertained for an hour and a half while teaching us history. He told us he understood that sometimes, class isn’t fun, but he tried his best to make it fun for every student.

About once a week, Mr. Buttrick changes our lesson to a fun competition and rewards kids with small things as simple as jolly ranchers. In his competitions, to receive the prize, you had to be not only quick, but accurate and in turn, students want to actually try. I thought that this was very clever. I find that it is much more motivating when you have something to work for, whether it be an actual prize, or just the satisfaction of winning, and I think my classmates agree.

I got to talking with my older cousin who also had Mr. Buttrick as a teacher when she was my age and she said that even now, at 22, she remembers him. She told me that she very much enjoyed his class and how much effort he put into entertaining his students in a way that will help them learn. She finished off the conversation about Mr. Buttrick by saying that I will learn a lot in civics and a lot from my teacher.

I look forward to civics class every day to see what the lesson is going to be about, and how Mr. Buttrick can put a modern and entertaining twist on it. I can confidently say that almost any student who has him as a teacher, enjoys him and his class.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Hellos from the #hairbowgirls !

Lauren Chi (Freshmen) @lauren_nc22 (2018-Present)

I am a 9th grader at Riverside High School. I play travel softball and I also enjoy participating in my high school’s theatre program. As a student and a member of #hairbowgirls, I like to see changes in my school. Some things I enjoy seeing is when teachers not only teach the curriculum, but get students involved in their learning.

I believe that school should not only be educational but also enjoyable for all students. Children around the world sit in classrooms for about nine months a year for eight hours a day, five days a week. I believe that if you spend so much time in a place for that long, you should be able to enjoy it. I feel that if we make classrooms an enjoyable space, then the room will appear to have more excitement and an urge to learn. Some students learn differently than others do. So are visual learners, and others have to be hands-on. My goal as a #hairbowgirl is to change education to help students want to be in school and enjoy themselves.

Sophia Coulopolous (Freshmen) @sophia_irini (2018-Present)

Hello! I am a 9th grader going to Riverside High School. I’m a choir and theatre kid, and love it with all my heart. I’m trying to do as much as possible freshman year. Auditioning for the musical, the improv troupe, going to a cappella club meetings, staying after school on so many days… It has been relentless so far. Generally, teachers don’t really understand that most students have busy lives. We try to get our work done, but even for perfectionist students like me, sometimes we can’t do it all.  

Being as busy as I am and trying to get all the work done, it leads to staying up until 3 in the morning almost every night, which logically is very bad for my health. That results in me almost falling asleep in class, and not learning what I need to learn. This happens with too many kids. A lot of the problems in the American education system like that one are fairly easily solvable, and it starts with teachers wanting to not only help us learn, but wanting to help us live the best life we can. 

I’ve had some amazing teachers in the past, and the common theme between them is they genuinely care about us as people, and not just their students. Creating that bond automatically makes students love their teachers so much. They’ve also realize us students have busy lives outside of actual school. Little things like assigning less homework, or trying to get to know us as people, they go the extra mile and help us have an enjoyable school experience. With those teachers, I don’t stay up to 3 in the morning doing homework, and I genuinely enjoy their class, and them as a person. I, and many other students, love it when the person teaching us is less of a teacher, and more of a friend. My goal is to help inform teachers what students love in a teacher, and to help students feel happy at least a little bit each day at school.

Gabi David (Freshmen) @gabriellainsley (2018-Present)

Hi! My name is Gabi David and I am extremely passionate about the arts. You can almost always find me on the stage singing, or backstage directing. I have won a National Youth Art Award for ‘Outstanding Direction’ and a nomination for ‘Supporting Actress’. I spent most of middle school being in musicals. It was there I learned, what a passionate teacher was. My director has dedicated his life to teaching and directing kids. He has influenced me to not only be a better actress/director, but a person. So many kids have been changed because of these experiences. He puts in time, effort, and love into what he does. He teaches and directs with an ambition and that is what I look for in a teacher. I am looking for a teacher that loves what they do and takes the time out of their life to help me understand the curriculum and learning objectives.

No student should leave a classroom with an unclear understanding of the content. They should feel safe enough to talk to the teacher with no fear. The relationship the teacher makes with the students starts on day one. One of my most memorable teachers started their day off with a quote each day. The first was, “You only get one chance to make a first impression”. It’s when the teacher takes the time and effort to decorate the room, set up fun games to play, or get to know you verbally that the student has developed a good relationship with their teacher. Students always remember the first day of school. Your first impression often determines how you are perceived. I still remember walking into one of my 6th grade teacher’s classroom covered in quotes thinking, “I already like this teacher”. Students come to school seeking to be inspired, and should leave the school as a better person.

Elizabeth Grace (8th grade) @eliza_bethgrace (2018-Present)

My name is Elizabeth Grace. I am in the 8th Grade at Belmont Ridge Middle School, and I am 13 years old. I do Musical Theatre and I love to sing and act. My favorite thing to do in my free time is read and write. As a member of the Hair Bow Girls, I hope to change the education system so it works for EVERYBODY.

Sense I was in the second grade, I have always had a harder time learning than everyone else. I started noticing that I had to work harder than the other kids when I was about 7. We were learning about subtraction and I never got the right answer. I am so glad I told my teacher about it. As it turns out, I have ADHD. Because of that, I learned how I work the best.

I am now in the 8th grade, and I have learned so much sense I was diagnosed. I have learned that I am a hands on learner, and I can not stand still. I have had the best teachers, and they have really helped me learn the way I can learn the best in a modern day classroom. It was hard at first, but with the help of many great teachers I found my way.

In the beginning when I did not really tell anybody about my issues. I struggled, until I told my teacher. She knew that I was struggling, and was actually the one to tell my parents I should be tested. I was always a socially awkward kid, and once I was tested for ADHD and ADD, they recommended a social skills class. This class changed my life. I learned how to communicate in a classroom environment and I was happier because I learned how to communicate my feelings to my teachers and peers. I still needed my teachers help sometimes, but I could mainly function on my own.

I do not know where I would be today if my teacher didn't tell my parents to be tested. I don't think I would be doing the things I love, like singing, or my school musical. That just goes to show how much a teacher could change somebody's life. I am so thankful for my second grade teacher, because without her, I think I would be functioning at a second grade level.

Sarah Lehner (8th Grade) @SarahAnne080 (2018-Present) 

My name is Sarah Lehner and I am 13 years old.  I attend 8th grade at Belmont Ridge Middle school.  I love to perform at my schools' musicals. I’ve done Dracula, Mary Poppins, Crybaby, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and 13.  I’ve also done local musicals for ICE Collaborative Arts. I spend a lot of time online watching different genres of television/and or showscoming up with new story ideas, and especially great deal of time on social media.  I have a passion for movie screenplays and writing stories.  Writing is a free way to express yourself as an individual and no one can tell you how to write your stories because you make the story come to life.  As a #hairbowgirl, my goal is so that young learners can write their own stories and have the voice to openly speak on their behalf of their educations. 

Most students struggle in school if they can’t understand the content they are being taught.  And most students may learn in many different ways, so it is hard for teachers to figure out how to get every student to learn in the right way.  School is a place for students to build themselves up and be able to explore opportunities to learn.  It can be hard for the students to do that while being overwhelmed with piles and piles of schoolwork brought upon them.  I plan on helping those that struggle learning the lessons they are taught in school, and not have to stress about the work.

Leila Mohajer (Freshmen) @LeilaMohajer (2018-Present)

My name is Leila Mohajer and I am a 9th grader at Riverside High school. I typically enjoy school and getting involved in school activities-when made fun to do so. I have been playing volleyball for the past four years at the Northern Virginia Volleyball Association and within those years have played on two select teams. Volleyball is an extraordinary sport that I take great pride in and plan to continue playing. I also enjoy the Fine Arts. Whether it comes to watching or actually taking part in a production, the theater is my happy place where I can escape and watch the people around me shift into a whole new world.

Last year, I was a part of the Young Entrepreneurship Academy where I learned a lot about the business world. YEA is for students from 6th-12th grade and it gave us the opportunity to actually start our own business and pitch our product or service in front of a panel of investors. It was an amazing experience and I was truly honored to take part in it. This year, I am a proud member of Humanity First, a community service club that is a part of my school. The main goal of the club is do aid human development by assisting communities that have been afflicted by war, poverty, or natural disasters. 
My main goal as a Hair Bow Girl is to help build and grow our education system so that every student can experience learning in a way that they see is best fit for them.

Sabrina Rice (8th Grade) @_SabrinaRice (2018-Present)

I'm an 8th grader at Belmont Ridge Middle School.  I enjoy participating in theatre and making a difference through charity work.  I also play guitar and trumpet.  I love hanging out with my friends and family.

My goal is to make school a place that people can look forward to.  School can be a place that nurtures to everyone's individual needs, instead of just focusing on one standardized way to teach.  I hope to make a difference in the school system and try to help progress the way teachers teach and the environment in which they do it in.  School should be a fun place, as we spend most of our young life inside of it.

I'm very excited to be able to do something with the ideas that are in all students heads to make learning a enjoyable activity, just as much as a sport or an art.  The effort needs to be given by not only the teacher, but the student, and with the new ideas that are being made, that can be possible.  School should be focusing on all aspects of learning, which will make students learn and feel like they matter, instead of making them feel like they aren't good enough.

Chrysa S (Freshman) @chrysa_sk705 (2018-Present)

As a student, I’m constantly trying to exercise ambition and diligence while juggling classes, homework, tests, extracurriculars, and a social life. I know many kids who feel the same, as they work their way through the education system, and I believe giving them a voice in their own education can really alter their outlook on schooling.

On the topic of classes, homework, and tests, I get to experience all of these challenges from two different schools. On “A days” I attend a typical high school; it gives off an atmosphere of timelessness that I find most high schools do, and there’s something really special about that to me. On “B days” I take a bus that sends me to a separate school, or magnet academy, that offers a variety of high level classes. The academy has a completely different feel than my home school, especially considering there are greenhouses where a football field should be. The academy focuses on many innovative concepts that would be atypical at a normal high school, and the building itself feels very new and crisp.

When referring to my extracurricular and social life, I suppose you could call it varied. I’m on the cross-country team, I play the french horn in my home school band, I golf with my family, and I participate in many musicals. Though it’s a lot of work to participate in all these activities, it’s work that I enjoy.

When I was asked to join #hairbowgirls, I wasn’t exactly sure what that would entail. I knew of the male counterpart, #bowtieboys, but not much more than that. Once I knew what our mission was, I was ecstatic! I cannot wait to become a part of something that will so vastly affect the lives of both students and teachers alike. My personal mission is to do as much as I can to help students find the motivation to succeed, and for hardworking teachers to be able to have a learning environment that serves all.

Madison K. Whitbeck (8th Grader) @MadisonKate22

I am a girl who firmly believes in fair education for every student. Not just sitting in a classroom, blindly filling out notes, and then the kids who do not fully grasp the lesson, fail. I believe no matter how you learn or what your strengths are, you deserve a fair chance to not just pass the class or test, but excel with flying colors. That is my ultimate goal out of the Hair Bow Girls because I have experienced low grades when I did not grasp the lesson and in turn, feeling worthless in that subject and ready to give up. I don’t want that feeling for any student of any age.

School is supposed to be a place where students learn valuable information that will help them in their future with teachers who they can look up to and will help them grow and learn. Not a “One Size Fits All” system. I believe students will truly enjoy school and put in the effort to learn from their teachers if teachers put in the effort to learn from their students and what’s the best way to teach each student. Every human has a different brain which means every student has a different learning style that works for them. I propose a more specialized learning system using technology as well.

Other than advocating with Hair Bow Girls, I partake in many musical theatre productions with my school (RiverHawk Productions) and in a separate production company (Imagine, Create, Explore Collaborative Arts).  I have also been recognized by the National Youth Arts in 3 nominations and 1 award. In my future, I hope to go to college in New York and major in the performing arts and pursue musical theatre for as long as I can in whatever form it may be.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

New Year, New Lines, New Kids by: Jason Augustowski

Greetings, teacher friends!  At this point I feel safe in assuming that all of our school years have begun.  For some of us the beginning was August and for others, perhaps, right after Labor Day weekend.  Regardless of when we all began, one thing is for sure: at this point, we are off to the races!

I sincerely hope that all of your years are off to as amazing of a start as mine!  At the end of last year, I thought I would be teaching five preps (I requested it) but perhaps I hadn't realized that teaching so many different classes would have resulted in less attention to detail in the planning phases for each course and could have impacted the overall quality of instruction and assessment.  Upon re-entering for the professional development days that take place before students return, I was able to trade my freshmen, senior, and creative writing classes for another sophomore class and two sections of AP language respectively.  Now, with only two preps, I am able to hone my best ideas to establish the frameworks of the classes rather than spread these ideas thinly across five.

The following will be an account of what we have accomplished so far and how the students have reacted:


I have 14 trapezoid tables in my room and 30 rolling chairs.  I have positioned these into a square with two breaks in the shape (one in the corner of the room by the door for egress purposes) and one on the opposite side of the square.  All of the chairs are positioned on the outside so the students face towards the center of the classroom.  This allows us to establish a "circle" style of environment where all students are equal and discussions provide for an opportunity where every voice can be heard.

In tenth grade this has been important as we have read our first anchor text: And Then There Were None by: Agatha Christie in an effort to answer our first essential question: How does guilt impact our conscience? (More to come on that under "instruction").  However, this arrangement has allowed all of the students see each other when they "portray" the ten different characters in the story.  As we have been reading, and they have been annotating, the setup has allowed students to look up from the words and witness the facial expressions being employed by those students playing the characters.  Even with limited class discussion so far (we have read a lot so that students understand the content and won't have to read a teacher-selected text for homework).  We have also just analyzed the article Is Guilt Good for Us from ABCNews and had our first "circle discussion."  Of course the arrangement has helped maintain equality and flow during activities such as these.

In AP Lang the setup has allowed for several different applications.  These students (and the tenth graders as well) engaged in fun ice-breaker games on the first day of classes (punctuated by the course syllabus) in the center of the square (a 12x16 area).  The juniors have also already participated in two spider-web discussions (utilizing the skills discussed in my previous post) to argue the cultural and gender implications within Dave Berry's article Timeless as well as rhetorically analyze Jack Handey's piece: This is No Game.  When students practice the multiple choice portions of the exam, they are able to work with their shoulder partner to read and make sense of the questions, but then are already set up to correct and discuss as a class.  When students practice writing essays, we rearrange the room to make the 14 trapezoid tables meet in 7 groups of 2 (to virtually create roundtables).  Groups of four sit at these tables, write their essays, and then are able to experience peer revision and table grading very similar to what occurs at actual AP grading sessions by teachers.

Aside from arrangement, we have a bulletin board where the high schoolers can hang their extra-curricular schedules so their classmates can support them, we have an advice board where my upperclassmen from last year posted a ton of great "how to be successful" tid-bits for the incoming students.  I hang a lot of posters, have a lot of stuffed animals, boast a decently sized classroom library, have a patio set for flexible seating, have a gorgeous assortment of decorative plates featuring grammar rules (donated by an awesome parent), and a hutch with two Keurig machines so students can make their own coffee/tea/hot chocolate.  I list all of that not to brag, actually to do the opposite.  Most of what I just listed is never utilized in my classroom - it can be if desired, but it typically is not.  However, it serves a much greater purpose.  Students enter my room and go "whoa, cool" - and with that buy-in we are able to start building rapport and ultimately dig in to our content together.


I have been teaching in my community for eight years and am pretty active within the school's extracurriculars so most kids already know me before they enter my room.  I run the neighboring middle school's musical program, co-sponsor our student mentoring program (PEER), advise SAPT (student advisory planning team) where kids plan our school's homeroom lessons, and coach travel competition paintball (yes, that's a thing) in the community.  This year was especially different because all three of my AP Language classes were comprised of about 25/28 students per block who I had already taught in either seventh, ninth, or tenth grade.  Memorizing names was very easy.  ;-)  In my sophomore classes I had many new faces since I have only taught about 6/60 students prior.

Regardless of the climate there are a few simple things I like to do to build rapport.  I greet students at the door and as cringey (to use their language) as it sounds, I give each of them a high-five as they leave along with wishing them well.  I make sure students know that I am available for them before and after school as well as during their lunch times.  Students can come and see me during their study halls or during my planning blocks.  I just try to be available.  I also try to gauge their stress levels and when I can tell (especially with juniors) that they are feeling overwhelmed, we may stop content and re-center as people.  We may have a vent circle so people can safely and professionally voice frustrations/concerns, or share highs/lows, allow people to share coping strategies/success stories, anything that puts smiles back on their faces.  This goes hand and hand with inserting humorous personal anecdotes during instruction and a healthy level of self-deprecation on the teacher's part.

Building a good rapport has helped me to hold students to high expectations for their own behavior, treatment of each other, dedication to work and deadlines, engagement in activities, etc.  It's an age-old maxim: "It's hard to learn from someone you don't like."  I really like my students and try to give them an environment and experience where they can like me.  I have just found that this creates the most enjoyable and productive working atmosphere so that everyone can learn/work in a safe space where they know their input is expected, appreciated, and entirely valued.

Instruction, Assessment, and Grading:

In tenth grade we are engaging in inquiry learning.  In order for the students to understand each of the components, I told them that I would model (by making all of their decisions) in the beginning of the year, and will slowly dial back to scaffold them into their own fully free inquiry.  As mentioned above, our initial EQ is "How does guilt impact our conscience?" Chosen by me.  Our anchor text is And Then There Were None.  Chosen by me.  Our article was Is Guilt Good For You?  Chosen by me.
Our song is If I Could Turn Back Time by: Cher.  Chosen by me.  Our poem is Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden.  Chosen by me.  Our movie is Big Fish.  Chosen by me.  Their product: an essay and brief presentation synthesizing these sources to answer the EQ.  All chosen by me.  Muhahahaha!

BUT: in October, I will choose the EQ, Anchor Texts, Supplementary Texts, and THEY will choose the product.  In Nov/Dec I will choose the EQ and Anchor Texts, and THEY will choose the supplementary texts and product.  In January I will choose the EQ and they will choose the rest.  Once second semester begins, they are on their own to read, listen, watch, explore the topics of their own choosing with a deep knowledge of how to read, select sources, synthesize, and create.

ASSESSMENTS:  Student hard products (papers, projects, etc) and presentations (keynotes, panels, roundtables, pecha kuchas, etc)  GRADED: first with rubrics created by myself and then with rubrics created by the students and approved by the teacher.

In AP Lang we are engaging in the four key components on a weekly rotating basis.  My thought process is, this will keep all of their learning fresh (and hopefully they will retain the material better).  So, after our icebreaker/syllabus day, we have discussed good argument writing, read and argued an article in the spider-web style, written and graded an argument using the AP scale, discussed rhetorical analysis, collaborated on the devices used in an article using the spider-web style, written a rhetorical analysis, and engaged in two multiple choice practices.  The next cycle will be discussing synthesis, then synthesizing six articles within a spider-web discussion, and finally writing a synthesis.  Once these lessons are complete, the ENTIRE cycle begins again with argument.  This will be the flow for the entire year (giving students the chance to engage in eight discussions for each of the three styles, eight papers for each of the three styles, and sixteen multiple choice practice tests).

The thought process behind ordering their lessons in this way is as follows: argument then rhetorical analysis then synthesis because those styles are in order of easiest to most difficult.  We punctuate each rotation with a multiple choice practice to divide the different styles of writing and to avoid multiple choice.  The order of the lessons within each style is relatively self explanatory: we begin with direct instruction and guided practice in the style, move to the students taking control of their own learning (reading and annotating an article and then discussing with zero teacher involvement aside from during the debrief), and then into the independent practice of composing a piece of writing (in that style) and immediately grading/offering feedback for future improvement.  My hope is that constantly changing directions will ensure that no style becomes stale in their eyes nor will they forget any style from having been away from it for months.  When we return to a style, we are able to look at past data, create lessons together that will differentiate for different student mistakes and can continue to develop individual craft.

ASSESSMENTS:  Style activities, spider-web discussions, in-class essays, multiple choice practice.
GRADED:  AP rubric (0-9 scale) for essays and multiple choice.  Activities and discussions based on team-created rubric (teacher and student).

The students reaction has been pretty positive thus far.  The sophomores really enjoyed starting with a murder mystery (and an accessible entrance point to British literature).  We had a great discussion about biases, reliable sources, and fact vs opinion after reading our article, and they have begun constructing their papers (ready to soon incorporate out song, poem, and film as well).  In AP Lang we have a solid mix of teacher/student participation.  Usually the first day of a cycle will involve a lot from me and a little from them, the next day will be the flip, and the third and fourth days will allow them to engage in the discipline and receive immediate feedback.  I know that this is my favorite year yet and I look forward to continued positive and productive classes.  Next month will feature two more textbook takeaways!  Until then, hope hearing our story has helped you think through yours.  Above everything else, I sincerely hope you are enjoying your students and are off to a great year!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Summer Assignments by: Jack Michael

As a student, summer assignments are gifted to you in all their glory at some point in your educational career. There are many silent and non-silent objections towards these assignments made by students. These objections mostly stem from the stress over losing the assignment, the amount of time completion will take, and student’s understanding of the topic on the assignment.  Summer Assignments receive little to no love from the student body. Although if a summer assignment is formatted correctly I believe it can provide much needed reinforcement for every type of student, but how do you format a summer assignment correctly?  
First start off with providing a “Backup” for students to use. This will entail having extras of the assignment being on hand or accessible to the student in some way. This way as a student moves along their summer if the assignment is lost they have the ability to attain another copy. Doing this allows an immense amount of pressure to be relieved from student’s shoulders by providing the reassurance that losing their packet is not the “end all, be all.”
The second recommendation I would give would be to make the assignment small. Students stress constantly over the amount of time the assignment will take. If the assignment is long, students will be deterred from even attempting the material. They also move to find answers elsewhere because the assignment needs to be turned in for a grade. As a student, when I receive a smaller assignment I am always more inclined to complete it because it feels like I have gotten a large quantity of work done during the summer. By shortening the assignment; students will not only be more inclined to finish it and they will be able to fit the packet into their busy summer schedules.
My final recommendation to create a summer assignment would be to make sure there are resources available for students who don’t understand the topic that is on the assignment. It is one of the worst feelings to look and an assignment and not understand what is on it. To relieve that area of stress make sure to provide ways for students that don’t understand material to either refresh their memories or to be re-taught what is being asked on the assignment. This can be done with YouTube videos, step by step tutorials or just checking your school email over the summer if a student might have a question.
As a student when a summer assignment is handed to me, my initial reaction might not be a positive one. Although if a assignment is formatted the way I have just described. My reaction at the beginning of the following year will be of gratitude and not of stress.

People Always Leave by: Dawson Unger

It’s that time of the year. When people go to college and start a new chapter of their life. I always want to be upset when I think about all of my friends leaving, but in the end I look at it as a good thing; a new chance to start over and to build stronger relationships with new people. When you settle, you stick to what you are comfortable with, but sometimes that is what holds you back from a better version of you.

Building new relationships is never an easy task, whether it’s with a friend, teacher, or a romantic relationship. It is always a new challenge since nobody is the same. With some people you will connect immediately, others it can take months to grow a connection, but in the end it is always worth it.

So when your friend, child, student, or significant other leaves for their next chapter in life. Remember that it will always be for the better and don’t give up, because it is better to heal a wound then to leave it open, even if it hurts a little more at first, in the end it will feel better.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Summer by: Rishi Singh

10 days left of summer and I did nothing. I just laid in bed and watched movies. At first, I was kind of hype for summer. Then I found out I wasn’t going anywhere but home. My hope for having a fun summer was destroyed. I barely hung out with any of my friends and never had the time to do anything. The only place I went was to my tutors. When I come back home, I just go back into my room and lay in bed. Honestly, it wasn’t that bad, but once you repeat doing the same thing every day, nothing is fun. I keep seeing stories on SnapChat about how amazing people’s summers have been. I look at those stories and don’t seem to care.

I can’t wait till summer is over though. This is one of the first times I’m excited for school. I can finally hang out with all my friends and I can get out of the house. The new school year may be terrible for me. Junior year is probably the hardest year overall. I have to take the SAT which is going to kill me, and I have to make my college resume. I’m very afraid of my junior year because I don’t know how I will do. On the other hand, I could get my license. I can’t wait to get out of the passenger seat and drive.

Nothing really happened to me this summer and I’m alright with it

Woofers & Rufers by: Sam Fremin

This summer a lot of my time has been dedicated towards taking part in musicals. Throughout July, I took on the role of Glen Guglia, a disgustingly materialistic Wall Street type in The Wedding Singer. After that show closed, I was right back into it with a production of Thirteen as the lighting designer. The former was a cast full of high schoolers and the latter was a cast full of middle schoolers. Almost every aspect of the two shows were different from each other (the plots, the age of participants, the style of music, the roles I would play, etc.), however one thing remained constant throughout: a sense of community.

Theatrical shows are full of collaboration. Everyone is onstage, attempting to bring the same text to life for an audience’s entertainment. Without successful teamwork, the final product would be a mess. If an environment hasn’t been created where kids feel comfortable with one another, they are far more likely to take a more self-serving route to success, leaving the team on different pages. Conversely, when castmates are comfortable with their peers, they are more likely to solve problems together and lift each other up.

Much the same way, seamlessly functioning classrooms take place in environments where students feel safe and comfortable to branch out among the community. It is practically cliche at this point, but the ice needs to be broken early on. Although students can get to know one another through ‘icebreaker’ topics such as favorite ice cream flavor and favorite vacation spot, by a certain point every student has gone through that array of questions. It becomes tedious to have to answer the same ‘get to know you’ questions every year and no real bond or memory is created out of that experience. Through the musicals, I tried a different form of breaking the ice.

During one of the days of Thirteen’s production, I was tasked with getting all of the energetic middle schoolers hyped up. While it would be important to get them excited, it was also important that whatever I had them do was engaging and helped build the community between those involved. I had a strange idea. There was a line in the show that had gained cult popularity among the cast where one of the lead characters barked like a dog. Every time it was delivered, it received a laugh, so I wanted to use that pre-established inside joke as a building block for my activity. Then, I thought about my target audience. As I’ve said before, they were an energetic bunch. Rather than try to avoid that energy for controlling purposes, I figured it would be easier (and more fun for them) to tap into their excitement. The final step was coming up with a plan for how I would respond if the kids veered too far away from a healthily exciting environment and devolved into chaos.

On the day my quick activity was scheduled, everything had been planned out. I had the room split into two groups, by walking through the middle of everyone and designating who was ‘group one’ and who was ‘group two.’ I then had them all get to know their groups, but to their surprise, I disallowed them from communicating with human language. They had to become dogs. The kids had to crawl around and bark and shake paws to get to know their teams. Once they were well acquainted, they were pitted against one another in a barking match. One team was full of “woofers” and the other side was full of “ruffers,” to ensure we could declare a winner. After the competition, we all joined together to howl at the singular light in the room that refused to turn off.

Of course, this example of an icebreaker is a little bit out there. The absurdity of it all may be a bit too much, but the end result was arguably a success. Although the activity was ridiculous, that’s what made the kids bond. If nothing else, every kid walked away with a memory or a story from that experience, an instantaneous conversation starter. I would even go as far as saying a good portion of the kids enjoyed it and connected with others who felt the same. When everybody in a room is simultaneously making a fool of themselves, there isn’t any space for people’s guards to be up. While rounding up students and asking them to combatively bark at each other might not necessarily be a successful icebreaker, I would recommend using similar elements when planning your beginning of the year activities. Find ways to immediately push students not just to step out of their comfort zone, but leap out of it. It’s kind of funny how it works. On the first day, when kids are pushed to interact in a healthily uncomfortable environment, they will be set up for a more secure classroom experience in the long run.