08 March 2019

Up & Moving with a Physical Barometer Debate in the Classroom

Sipping our tea and coffee my teacher friend and I chatted about how our students need more access to high quality discussions and debates. I had recently wrapped up a physical barometer debate with my students, and in their written reflections of the learning experience, I noticed how several students thought the debate wasn’t fun because it was too structured and didn’t allow them to speak whenever they wanted. There were other students (the majority), however, who enjoyed the debate experience and offered reflection on how the structure helped them learn better to share their thoughts and opinions confidently and safely without fear of being attacked for their opinions. It also afforded them the opportunity to be up and moving.

The whole debate activity came about naturally. As I’ve written about before, students in my classes write daily in their journals to build habits of mind associated with disciplined writers. The journal topic for the day came from a recent tweet by the Prichard Committee’s Student Voice Team who had been in Frankfort speaking out about corporal punishment that still occurs in some of Kentucky’s public schools. I showed a screenshot of the tweet to my students and asked for their opinion on the topic. Most students in my classes were incredulous about the issue. Even those who thought paddling is okay, wondered how could it be true that in 2019 students are still punished by paddling?

Interestingly enough, my classes were almost equally split on the issue, with more boys thinking corporal punishment is an effective deterrent against breaking school rules and more girls finding it mentally, emotionally and physically harmful. However, not all boys agreed with paddling and not all girls disagreed with it. I honestly didn’t expect the class to be so equally divided nor did I plan to hold a physical barometer debate that day. But as you know, sometimes teachable moments just present themselves. We had been studying speeches and rhetorical appeals and techniques, so the debate went along with our overall lesson objectives. Because it happened so naturally, students were 100% authentically engaged throughout the debate.

Here’s how things went down for our physical barometer debate

Students wrote individually in their own journals first, giving reasons to support their opinion on the topic. Then I had them congregate in two large groups (13 + people in each group) standing around two white boards at each end of the room, one group in the back, and the other group in the front. The goal was for them to state their claim and then list as many pieces of evidence as they could create, making sure they had at least one piece of evidence for each person in their group. They also had to think about what the other group might present as counterarguments. I set a timer and they began working, collaboratively and thoughtfully. I told them they had to keep each other on task, and they rose to the occasion, with the more extroverted students taking the lead and pulling in some of the introverts and with the natural leaders pulling in stragglers who really wanted to spy on the other group.

After the groups had time to develop reasons and evidence, they assigned each person in the group with a piece of that evidence to state when their turn arrived in the physical barometer debate. They also wrote an opening statement and determined who would deliver it, and finally, they selected the person to speak last, and that person had to be prepared to listen carefully and offer the final wrap up and rebuttal of the other team's ideas.

Connections to rhetorical techniques being studied
Because we've been analyzing various speeches for rhetorical techniques, I asked students to think about how they could use some of those techniques (Ethos, Pathos, Logos, Repetition, Parallelism, and Allusion) in their presentation of their evidence during the debate.

The actual debate
Students stood in two long lines, shoulder to shoulder facing the other team (with about 3 feet in between them). The first student from Team A stepped forward one step and stated her/his opening statement in favor of paddling in schools. Then the first student from Team B stepped forward one step and stated his/her opening statement against paddling in schools. After the first two stated their claim, they stepped back and the next two students from Team A and Team B stepped forward and presented the first piece of evidence, and we continued along down the line until every group member had an opportunity to speak. At this point, even the more reticent students were confident enough to speak, and the structure made it easier for them to participate. Only one person could talk at a time, and each team had to listen attentively to the other team's ideas.

Since Team B had 3 more members than Team A, some Team A members had to speak more than once before the final Team A and Team B members provided the rebuttal and wrap up.

Reflection following the debate
After the debate while students made their way back to their seats, I quickly typed up and projected on the screen reflection questions for students to provide written responses about their experience.

1) What did you think about the physical barometer debate?
2) How did your team do?
3) How did you effectively use rhetorical techniques in your debate?
4) What lingering comments do you have that you must mention?

What I thought worked
In typical NBCT analytical fashion, I spent time thinking about what worked and what didn't work in this lesson. Overall, I think the physical barometer debate worked really well, especially since we're working on scaffolding students oral speaking opportunities before they deliver full argumentative speeches later this month. The physical barometer debate provided another small step for reticent speakers. I also think the strategy allowed for students to listen carefully to one another, something that we all need more and more practice doing these days. I like that students had the opportunity to stand and move about the room. I like that the activity brought the class together even while they debated. There was sense of camaraderie among the students.

What I thought could be better
I would like to create success criteria for a physical barometer debate, so if we do this on the fly again in the future, I have the success criteria ready to share with students in advance. I might also have students work in smaller groups first, with each student having a role to play and then run two debates simultaneously so there could be more back and forth on rebuttals. Maybe I would do that? Maybe not. I'm always experimenting with new possibilities. What about you? How have you used physical barometer debates in your classrooms?

02 February 2019

Have Fun Out There: Reflections on My First Trail Race

As the Golden Gate Trail Half-Marathon (Winter) approaches, I'm taking time to reflect on my own running journey. Three years ago this week I started running, and I thought it appropriate to reflect on my running history by re-reading excerpts from my journals over the past three years. Reflections from my most adventurous race to date were the most fun to read. I ran the Golden Gate Trail Half-Marathon (Summer) in Sausalito, California and saw it as a personal endurance challenge.

Here's what I wrote in my journal following the race on July 7th, 2018.

I can't believe I did this, but it was totally amazing. Sometimes I just want to test myself to see what I'm capable of doing--I did it! I ran 13.1 miles in a trail half-marathon.

So--the breakdown.

I was up by 4:45 am. I didn't sleep super well but slept plenty. Wicked nervous stomach--scared too--scared that I was in over my head, that I would be the last person to finish, that it would take me 5 or 6 hours, but also I was ready and confident that I could go the distance, even if it took a really long time.

At 5:15 I woke up Ethan [My 17 year-old son was also running the race]. We both ate bagels with honey and peanut butter that we got from the breakfast bar at the hotel the day before and saved them in our room. Because of my nervous stomach, I only ate half a bagel, drank 2 ounces of hot tea, 4 ounces of water and 2 ounces of Gatorade. [We carried Clif Bloks with us and water for in-between the aid stations].

My husband dropped us off at Rodeo Beach at 6:30 am and we picked up our bibs and milled around a bit, stretching and waiting, looking at the ocean.

The 50K and 30K runners took off at 7:00 am and the marathon and half-marathon runners at 7:15 with the 5 milers starting after us. [There were some moments when I asked myself if I should have dropped down to the 5 mile race]. As we lined up, my nerves were calmer, but I was still somewhat in disbelief of what I was about to do.

Elevation for the 1/2 marathon

A younger woman and her partner asked me about the ribbon colors to confirm the trail we were to follow. I remember with confidence, because I was afraid of getting lost, pink for the half marathon, blue=wrong way & polka dots = a turn.

Ready, Set, Go, and we were off with an immediate steep climb. I ran slowly for a few hundred feet before I started hiking. Up, up, up, we climbed. Ethan was ahead of me, of course, and when I looked far above on the mountain, I noticed that even he was hiking. In fact, everyone was hiking. The first two miles were all uphill and they took me about 40 minutes. My first mile was 24 minutes. At this point, I began some serious internal positive self-talk because I was thinking I'd be out there past dark at that rate. Thankfully, I read Deena Kastor's book Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory on the plane, so I had plenty of positive mindset mantras to recite.

2 miles up, up, up

Then there was an opportunity to run on a dirt and gravel trail, and I ran for a while picking up speed before some downhill where I slowed again because of a feeling that I'd fall and tumble right on down the hill head first--yikes! But it was an exciting feeling at the same time. Here's the crazy thing--I kept noticing animal scat and in my horse country Kentucky mindset kept wondering how on earth they would ride horses in that area. It was only later (thankfully) that I realized it was likely not horse scat I saw, but rather bobcat or mountain lion. SO glad I didn't think about that while I was out there running my first trail race.

I had brief moments of wonder for how long my run was going to be, but everyone was so positive and encouraging with a focused "Have Fun Out There" attitude--amazing!

Even the bibs were encouraging

Around mile 5, shortly after the first aid station (where I stopped to relieve myself) I was hiking up another steep gravel road and I kept hearing a clicking sound. I looked to my left and I saw a fox (at least that's what I think it was) staring back at me. I hiked faster and faster and started talking aloud to myself and praying because I wasn't sure it was a fox and I was scared and not super happy that I was alone at that point--but onward and upward, talking to myself!

Eventually some people running the ultra loops started passing me, and I felt better with others in closer proximity, but I was mostly still alone. I didn't even listen to my music at all because I wanted to see and hear my surroundings, the other runners and nature, too.

Sometime around miles 6-8 I was high up above the Golden Gate Bridge and then in a lush green jungle looking area before more dirt paths and then a wildlife area with a sign that read "Wildlife Preservation Area--please move through this area quickly and return to the fire road." No need to tell me twice. I ran FAST through that area and to the next road where I started encountering a few more runners and then at mile 10 there was another steep climb up and toward a youth hostel and potentially more wildlife.

Single footpath for a couple more miles and the last mile of the race was near the lagoon and ocean. Here my watch battery died at mile 12.5. It saved my run, I hoped, anyway. As I approached the beach I saw my husband waiting for me and other runners who were finished cheering and ringing a cowbell for all who passed. Again--positive, fun, encouraging.

I finished with a smile on my face. As I crossed the finish line someone said "Good job, Renee" and handed me a medal. Later I learned my finish time was 3:34 (an hour longer than my usual road race half-marathon times--I'm not fast, but I can endure). Ethan finished 25 minutes before me. He ran a half-trail marathon with little training (Not advisable, he'd later say). His half-marathon road race time is 1:42. We both like to challenge ourselves, and share common traits of determination, persistence, and endurance. Wow--the things you can do when you set your mind to it!

Happy, Accomplished, Tired, and Dirty

Mon & son all cleaned up & ready for a
family feast at a local restaurant

26 January 2019

Tips for Recovering from Hurry Sickness

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention. 

Be Astonished.

Tell about it.

---from Mary Oliver's poem Sometimes

After a middle of the night Emergency Room visit for my son and the hurry to create sub plans for my students earlier this week, I found myself asking--why am I always rushing around?  Always is hyperbole because I have managed to slow down the mental rush in the past three years. Even still, it's easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of to-do lists, tasks to accomplish, and goals to tackle on a daily basis.

Learning to slow down and become more mindful has not come easily for me, yet the more I've learned to embrace life and enjoy every moment, the more I have lived with joy, hope, peace, and optimism, even in difficult moments.

Tips for Recovering from Hurry Sickness

1. Be mindful of that rushed feeling. Pause and listen. Pay attention to the moment.
In my classroom, I use at Pause and Listen as a call and response technique when I need to gain students' attention after they've been working collaboratively. I say "pause" and they reply "and listen." Prior to this year, I had never used a call and response technique, but I'm liking it because it works and it reminds us all to literally pause and listen for a minute.

2. Be realistic and accept help from others when it's offered, and set guidelines for what you can do instead of layering on more. In other words--say no more often. Three years ago I was stressed to the max with work, networking, and professional pursuits, caught up in the rat race that even educators succumb to at times. (e.g. If I could just get one more conference proposal accepted, schedule one more PD webinar, fly to one more meeting across the country, facilitate one more workshop, speak at another convention, write one more contract, draft one more article, etc.)

3. Create a gratitude list. Be specific with it. Something as simple as noticing the beautiful sky on a cold morning can change the way you feel at a given moment. Driving to work one day this week, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a gorgeous sunrise. I took that moment and allowed myself to feel grateful for the beauty and that gratefulness led to more feelings of gratitude as I noticed how much I appreciated the solitude on my drive, and then when I arrived at school, someone held the door open for me, and then a student brought me artwork she created for our kindness and gratitude bulletin board. One moment of gratitude led to many more moments of gratefulness throughout my day. 

12 January 2019

Releasing Judgment

Standing in the hallway of my new school, on a break during a professional development day for new teachers, I listened to the nurse navigator as she relayed the news “you have cancer... I know you’re starting a new job and have limited time available, so I set up appointments with a surgeon and an oncologist for after school...”  I called my husband and knew there were others to call, but I needed to get back into the PD session.  I returned to the classroom and went through the motions for the remainder of our day while in my mind asking “why me? Why now?”

And then the self-judging took over. I compared myself to others, and I continued to ask why this was happening. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I run half-marathons. I eat nutritious foods. I lost 50 pounds in 3 years and maintain a healthy weight. I go for my annual check-ups. I am healthy and I feel better than ever. Why me?

Instead of trusting that it was all part of the plan for my life, I let fear rule, and I judged myself and my journey. It’s easy to do, and difficult to stop. I’ve been thinking more lately about judgment and ways and reasons for releasing it. Releasing judgment is an ongoing process, one in which I cycle in and out.

When we judge ourselves, we bring more stress and suffering thinking we’re not doing enough, being enough, etc. We “should” on ourselves, telling ourselves what we should or should not do. Judgment comes from fear, a fear that we are not worthy, but we are worthy. By surrendering ourselves to a higher power, we can find inner peace and freedom from judgment.

How do we release judgment?

  • We understand that we don’t have all the answers.
  • We remain flexible and open-minded, accepting of ourselves and others.
  • We change our language and avoid dwelling on our mistakes.
  • We practice compassion and remember that compassion and judgment cannot co-exist.
  • We remember that we can't always believe what we think, especially about our need to be right.
  • We value individuality and uniqueness.

What happens when we forget to do these things? We avoid dwelling on the negative or the fact that we believe we've fallen off track.  We acknowledge it, accept it, and move forward, forgiving ourselves and releasing judgment.


01 January 2019

5 Important Lessons Learned in 2018

If this best nine image looks a bit sloppy, it’s a perfect representation of 2018. Beautiful and messy. We often showcase the best "Instagram worthy" images to represent our lives, and I would contend that's fine as long as we remember there's always more to an image than meets the eye. Life is about perspective.

From switching teaching jobs, to supporting a son with an often debilitating illness, to surviving treatment for breast cancer, some might say 2018 was a tough year for me, and I wouldn’t disagree. But, I’ve also learned deeply about life.

Here's my perspective on what I learned in 2018.

1) Life is messy and beautiful and worth living.

Amidst the day to day living, you really never do know how much time you have on earth, so make the most it. Love fiercely, take risks, and say “no” if you don’t or can’t really do something.

2) Inspire others by being the best version of yourself.

Live authentically. Define your values. Keep an open mind. Remember, who you are evolves and changes because you are a work in progress, so you can only be the best version of yourself that you are at any given moment, and that's okay.

3) People you never expect to help often step forward to offer support, and people you expect to help might not.

When life obstacles come our way, keep your expectations for others in check because unrealistic expectations of others can lead to more hurt or over-thinking. Why didn't _____help out? I never would have expected ___to be so generous.

4) Commit to process over an event/milestone.

When life is going well or not going well, it's easy to get excited or to become eager about the next event or milestone. If, however, you commit to process rather than the event/milestone, you can develop a system of healthy habits and daily living that helps you throughout life. This means you need to understand your WHY (your motivation) for what you are doing. Why are you training for a half-marathon? Why are you saving money for a family vacation? Why are you cleaning up after the dog for the umpteenth time today? Why are you taxiing your kids all over town to meet up with their friends over Christmas Break?

5) The greatest gift you can offer others is your own joy and inner peace. 

Remember that you are uniquely and wonderfully made. You are loved. You are supported and protected. Remember that JOY is an attitude that requires courage, commitment, and strength. Even if you feel like you're lacking in those areas, you can choose where you place your focus. You can choose to be grateful for small things and in those small things you find more courage, strength, and commitment. #ChooseJoy