Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Professional development, 140 characters at a time

Like many teachers, around this time of year, I start eagerly adding books – both professional and very-much-not-so – to my pile of summer reading. At the same I find myself coming across ideas, practices, and resources I can’t wait to try out next year.

This year, many of the ideas and resources that have the crazy-teacher part of my brain skipping past summer and already launching into September have come from Twitter, via great connected teachers whom I follow, like Sarah Mulhern Gross (@thereadingzone) and Catlin Tucker (@Catlin_Tucker), to name a couple.

Twitter isn’t just a giddy form of social media; it’s an enormously valuable venue for teacher-driven, self-directed, just-in-time professional development. By participating in any of the numerous weekly or monthly Twitter chats, like #engchat, #engsschat, and #sschat, you can meet the mentor or like-minded colleague (or several) you always wished you had down the hall at your school! 

Just the other day I jumped into a Twitter chat (#njed, Tuesdays, 8:30pm ET) and came away with a reinvigorating combination of validation, energy, and concrete teaching ideas, thanks to fellow teachers from near and far.

If Twitter is too much for you, then find and follow a few teachers who blog, like Vicki Davis. Or, join one of the immensely valuable, if a bit slower-paced, online communities for educators, like NCTE’s Connected Community or the EnglishCompanion Ning.

One particular area of interest for Audrey and me is great text pairings that link literary texts with informational texts in meaningful and engaging ways. Through the abovementioned #njed chat, we learned of @NatalieFranzi’s pairing of the Ray Bradbury short story “All Summer in a Day” with sources from Newsela on bullying and of Walter Dean Myers’ short story “The Treasure of Lemon Brown” with articles about homelessness.

Franzi also mentioned linking what her students had learned about African history and the impact of religion in their social studies classes with a discussion of the kidnapping of more than 200 girls in Nigeria. Sarah Gross (@thereadingzone) shared that her classes had also tapped into this timely and compelling topic, making connections with relevant literary works, including Things Fall Apart and Purple Hibiscus. Gross’s students used the horrifying events in Nigeria to move from their reading in their literature circles to the larger phenomenon of so-called “hashtag activism.” While such timely convergences are very difficult to plan for, there are always contemporary connections that can enhance the study of the literary works we teach. Knowing where to go for quality resources is the key to planning rich, multi-faceted lessons and units and to jumping on moments when your curriculum and current events can come together.

Please share any text pairings you’ve used or fortuitous convergences in the comments below. We’ll be posting any we come across throughout the summer as well. And be sure to follow us here or @usinginfotext.

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