How would your students describe your literacy program?

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There’s nothing that makes you question yourself more than a job interview. It’s a truly soul-baring experience.

When else do you answer questions like, “How do you see yourself stepping into the roll as a mentor to your colleagues?” or “What is your biggest strength?”

Even the “simple” questions can cause some squirming if you haven’t thought about it in a while.

The one that caught me off guard in my recent interview for a leadership position at my current school was, “Describe your literacy program.” This is a basic interview question for elementary teaching. It’s so basic, it probably follows “Tell me about yourself” as the most common question asked in a teaching interview!

I’m actually more than a little embarrassed that I choked on that one and just talked about a bunch of projects we do. Upon reflecting, I realized that the reason I’m being so hard on myself is that I actually think I’m a pretty good ELA teacher. It frustrated me that I wasn’t able to articulate succinctly how students are learning in our classroom. This is not to say that I don’t see room for growth. Quite the contrary. I already have at least 10 major changes for next year in mind.

So, if I had a do-over?

I’d describe my literacy program as incorporating all the elements of a balanced literacy approach such as read aloud, shared reading, independent reading, guided reading, word study, and writer’s workshop using a variety of unique cross-curricular approaches.

For example,

  1. We practice nonfiction reading skills and creative writing skills in SS and sustainability project-based learning projects.
  2. We also form book clubs for reading fiction that are a hybrid between lit circles and guided reading groups.
  3. We collaborate to build persuasive arguments around meaningful issues such as mixed gender education and consumerism to present and convince peers and teachers.

My literacy “program” in short implements the balanced literacy best practices in a variety of student-centered ways that engage students and differentiate for different learning styles and academic needs.

What am I working on? I’m always looking to increase student agency, help them find authentic audiences, problem-solve and find ways to make a difference in their community as well as facilitate deeper learning. That will never stop.

Bam.

Well. It’s definitely been a good reflective exercise. I believe it’s okay to be eclectic, to employ lots of strategies as long as they’re student-centered and belong to a larger, cohesive structure.

It’s easy to get bogged down in planning and forget how to articulate what you believe. We need to continually reevaluate what we believe and whether the new unit or next activity fit into that framework. If not, we could be curating a beautiful collection of great units with no soul or connection, no story.

A better interview or reflection question could be, “How would your students describe your literacy program? What would be their story about learning in your classroom?”

Hmmm… It would require us to dump the edujargon and get to the heart of it.

I think right now, my students would say something like: “I learn strategies to read and write better, do fun projects and we help each other learn.” This is fine. But I want more.

As, I said before, I’d like them to extend that story to include more agency, “I understand that I’m in charge of my learning, no one else.” And more deep problem-solving around real life issues and the opportunity to present solutions and learning to authentic audiences beyond just the classroom and their peers, “I helped make a difference.”

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