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Susan Barber  @susanclaireb

Susan Barber @susanclaireb

I am a caffeinated educator with the incredible privilege of teaching high school English and serving as a school leader. This is my seventh year at Northgate High School on the south side of Atlanta where teach AP Literature and also lower level American literature. Having taught in public, private, and home schooled, I am a believer in the system and striving to be a positive influence among both students and educators. At the end of the day, I am glad to settle down to watching something on Netflix with my husband and three kids.

Posted by on in Education Resources

As a proponent of choice reading, I am always looking for ways to get books into the hands of my students and have them build their reading list, and what better way to celebrate Valentine’s week than having your students speed date books? Inspired by the speed dating scene in New York where single people met potential dates over a brief, timed conversation and ranked them, speed dating books is a way for students to quickly put their hands on several books in order to find one of interest.

To kick off each semester, my students speed date books. I’ll give our media center specialists a little information about my class, and they go to work pulling high-interest books. When we arrive in the library, several books are arranged on tables and students find a table and sit with their guided note page. I set the timer for anywhere between two to four minutes depending on the students, and the book dating begins. Students make notes on first impressions of the cover, the inside jacket blurb, and possibly even the first paragraph or two. The timer buzzes signaling students to move to another table and start the process with another book. We may repeat this process between five and ten times depending on student interest and the time of year. After students have completed the process, they will rank books deciding which book to begin reading immediately and which ones to add to their reading list.

I have experimented with book speed dating several ways. Books may be grouped at tables by genre helping students learn different types of genres and seeing the variances within a genre. Faculty members may choose books which have been personal favorites for students to browse or students may each submit a couple of their favorite books for others to choose from. Today my students will speed date books on Valentine’s day complete with chocolate and candles. The possibilities are limitless.

As a follow up to speed dating, I carry the analogy further by discussing dating the book. A book may start slow but grow on you as the more you read it, so I encourage students to not give up too quickly on a book. Sometimes, however, the book does not live up to the hopes and expectations of a student, and students have permission to break up with a book and try another one. Life is too short to trudge through a book without connecting to it especially for choice reading when there are so many other choices.

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Posted by on in General

Growth mindset. Student learning objectives. Student success. These terms are referred to frequently in education today, but how does a teacher empower students to take control of their own learning and feel like they are active participants as opposed to simply being consumers in the classroom and school in general? As the end of a nine-week grading period marking the halfway point in the class came to a close this week, I knew this was an opportunity to give students a chance to reflect on their learning process and their grade through a midterm mini-conference. Here’s my process: 

I created a quick but reflective survey administered through Google forms. The survey asked students to consider what gains they had made in the class as well as areas of continued struggle. Students also answered a couple of questions about what activities have been most beneficial thus far and how I as an instructor could help them grow in their skills. Since I wanted students to answer questions about the class and my instruction honestly, surveys were submitted anonymously.

After the surveys are submitted, I conducted quick conferences in my office (the hall) with students. Each student came out one at a time while the others remained inside the classroom working independently. The first question I asked was, “Based on your effort and growth, what grade do you think you deserve for this grading period?” I like this question because it forces them to reflect on their contribution and effort in their personal learning. This question doesn’t catch them off guard because they have already considered this topic by completing the survey. Hearing students reflect on their effort and progress can be very enlightening. I am often made aware of issues in their learning and come away with a better understanding of how I can best help students meet goals they set at the beginning of the class. The conference also offers them an opportunity to speak to me privately about their concerns or frustrations.

The most beneficial aspects of the conference for me, however, are twofold: student have a voice and I am able to speak encouragement to each student. These conferences also force students to think about adjustments they may need to make at the halfway point of a course. Sometimes I receive questions about how I am able to justify instructional time taken away from reading and writing for conferring about grades; the question, however, is how can I not take time for conferences if I am moving students toward lifelong learning.

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Posted by on in General

class of 2016 2

This year I had the privilege of teaching 80 seniors; however, there were 81 students in my class this year because I learn every year alongside my students. Here are my main takeaways from the year:

Rigor and fun can go hand-in-hand – My classroom tends to be marked with laughter, but this class took having fun to the next level. Laughter is often the result of student silliness, but the Class of 2016, granted they had their fair share of silliness, also had the unique ability to mix fun with work.  In my AP classes in particular, we work hard, but this class managed to seamlessly move in and out of fun and hard work knowing the boundaries of productive and healthy fun and unproductive silliness. These students reminded me that learning and hard work can still be fun.

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Choice Reading is important – Traditionally, teachers have students read the same work at the same time in spite of the mountains of research supporting students improve reading skills by having the ability to read books of their choice. Because of my age and the way I learned in school, I have been assigning novels for whole-class reading and will continue to do this. However, I have been experimenting with allowing students to choose novels, short stories, and poems for independent reading and am seeing the benefits of this. Students read more enthusiastically, have more to offer in class discussions, and are able to recommend novels to each other. Instead of me being in control of the content, students now see themselves as co-owners of the classroom and have a voice in their learning. Sometimes teachers are intimidated by giving up control in the classroom, but seeing students choose novels and dive into them enthusiastically makes this teacher’s heart happy.

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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies

refocus

The return to school in January for many marks the halfway point of the year, so reflection and refocusing are in order to finish the year well. When thinking about the things I want to be true of me and my classroom for the rest of the year, these five things come to mind:

Less is More

Teachers love to overdo, but many times the overzealous teacher takes the joy of learning from a student by excessive information. As the year gets closer to the end I am tempted to give just one more article, another pre-reading activity, or one extra exercise to reinforce a concept. This often becomes information overload. I have to continually remind myself that I am not the last stop in learning for my students, so I don’t have to answer every question or expose them to every theory or idea. I will do my best to cover my content within the time I have and not worry about what I don't have time to cover. 

Relationships matter

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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies

The Things They Carried

Brave New World

Of Mice and Men

Walk in Room 128 on any given day, and my students could be reading these books. Add The Catcher in the Rye to the list if it makes it through our approval process. These books are all on the top 100 most frequently banned books, and I want to defend why I teach banned books since this is National Banned Book Week.

Books are a way for students to learn about life, the world, different ways of thinking, injustice, and growing up. When I teach books, I am not only teaching my students literary devices and analysis but how to think. If I give students books of the same genre, theme, complexity, and issues, students will not grow in their thinking. What if a person ate only broccoli at every meal? Broccoli is healthy and good for you, but only broccoli doesn’t make for a well-balanced diet or healthy person. The same goes with reading. Students need a variety of books for their intellectual development. Isn’t this the basis of education to expand our thinking and expose ourselves to new ideas?

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