11 December 2016

Sunday morning teacher heaven

I love Sunday morning grading. I have had enough sleep, no one wants anything from me, and I can wear my slippers to read my students' writing. Let's not forget coffee.
But this morning, when I looked at my tools laid across the cocktail table, I realized what I love the most is my own student status when I read student writing. I have my highlighter, and two sizes of post it notes today, just like when they study. I spend this whole morning learning--about being a teacher, about their hopes and fears, about the topics they care about, and about myself. Best job in the world.

20 October 2016

English teacher, yoga master?

not the horse, only pic I have of me!

How do I reconcile myself as an experienced English teacher and beginner yoga student? I have been learning aerial yoga over the past 6 months and it is exhilarating. All our poses are practiced off the floor in hammocks and often upside down. Understand that at my age, expectations are LOW. It takes me longer to learn some of the poses without flipping out of the hammock in the most ungainly fashion.  I am learning new levels of humility in order to progress. Sometimes class has to stop for me to succeed. But I won't stop. When I open the door of the light-filled studio, each time I wonder if I will succeed at the Horse pose or now, the Standing Butterfly. My head rang with "I can't, I can't" the first three times we tried the Horse. My instructor kept saying, "you'll get it."

And then I did. Learned a big lesson about myself. But I can't help but wonder, as a teacher of teens often does, what are they thinking? Today we wrote an in class explication of a Shakespeare sonnet.Each person had their own sonnet and had spent a week "illuminating" it. So every student was as expert as any other person in the room, and still, I circled the class over and over again, cheering them on, telling them they could do it. Almost no one believed me: they all wanted to write a perfect paper, they wanted to know how many paragraphs, and what did I want them to say?! JUST TRUST ME. YOU'LL GET IT.

And so, they did. Why does the human animal fear growth so much? Why is belief in yourself so much harder than a Shakespeare sonnet--because it is, be sure of it. Today my English teacher lesson is to remember that it is more important to teach young people they CAN, rather than Shakespeare. I love my kids (and my yoga instructor).

01 October 2016


I was reminded today that one of my most important tasks as a teacher of literature is to exert only a light touch. A light touch, even when I am 2/3 of the way through A Tale of Two Cities in my AP Lit classes and it is so tempting to show them every single stroke of genius on one page of Dickens' masterpiece. How do I forget my own rule that every time a reader picks up a book and begins to read, a new conversation has begun between reader and writer and IT IS SACRED? My opinion does not matter then, only the reader's.

So thank you , R. Joseph Rodriguez,   for this poem as I plan next week's conversation about Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay.

“After English Class”         
by Jean Little (born 1932)
I used to like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
I liked the coming darkness,
The jingle of harness bells, breaking—and adding to—the stillness,
The gentle drift of snow . . .
But today, the teacher told us what everything stood for.
The woods, the horse the miles to go, the sleep—
They all have “hidden meanings.”
It’s grown so complicated now that,
Next time I drive by,
I don’t think I’ll bother to stop.         


30 May 2016


  I have wanted to talk about this for a while, but have been afraid to open the Pandora's Box. Cheating is one of those things that teachers don't want to talk about--you must be a bad teacher if someone cheats in your class.  And if you do talk about it, a monstrous administrative machine rolls into action full of consequences (mostly for the teacher), extra work and infamy. I am never sure that a young person has gained anything from that experience. These days, you are likely to have the parents question your content knowledge and teaching skills if you mention the word about their child--it is a slur on their character that cannot be erased. And the embedding of the internet into every school activity has increased the possibility that someone plagiarizes unwittingly a hundredfold. It's complicated. 

    I know many who ignore it. I have heard myself saying, "I pay attention to the kids who are doing what they are supposed to. I will not waste my time on those who cheat." It is a way to get through the day, honestly. You know that certain types of students will always take the short cut. I know I do not "catch" a great percentage of them.  If I kept track of every phone in a pocket or iPad screen just to make sure everyone was honest, I would have lost my mind years ago. And no one (including me) would ever learn anything. I would be a prison guard if that was what I did with my time. But what teacher has not spent 30 minutes at least once finding the webpage that the kid plagiarized? You KNOW he cheated because he is not good enough at it to leave no trace, but honestly, some of them do not care that I could prove it. This is just the way the game is played, in their minds. Maybe they are right. But I still believe that part of my job is to help my students find their path to integrity, and I am old enough to be proud I never cheated. So I can be a model, at least.
   So what to do? I used an honor code*  at my last school that students wrote and signed at the end of every major piece of work we did in class. I told them that if they could not in good conscience sign it, then they needed to come and talk about that with me.  I do not believe that the honor code stopped cheaters, but it puts everyone on notice that I care what they do. And if I witnessed an incident that is clear cut enough to mention, then I started by reviewing my own actions—did I set them up for bad decision making? The answer is pretty much always NO. So we have to talk. And the conversation starts like this:
"You are practicing at being a solid human being. You make mistakes, I make mistakes.  So what do we do now? What do you think our path forward should be?"
I do not excuse them—everyone needs to reminded that right and wrong are always playing in the backchannel of life. But how to recover? Official handling of cheating often leaves that out.  It is usually about punishment. So the conversation continues:
"Come tell me. We will work out a path together." 
And we do. Sometimes it costs them a grade or call to a parent, but then we role play how to manage a 0 or survive the talk with a parent. Sometimes the solution is just between us. Sometimes I end up involving official channels. It depends on the student, what they need to get past it. This might be the most important interaction I ever have with that young person. I want to help them, but I also need to protect our class family life. They need to see how to build personal integrity. It is uphill all the way in this culture--high school, the 21st century, America--whichever culture you wish to consider. I know that this lesson is the one that needs to stick. It is more important than The Aeneid or Shakespeare, for sure. And I still want to find hope in the bottom of this Pandora's Box...

*I promise on my honor as a XXXXX student that I have neither given nor received help on this work.   
Signature, Date

PD -scoring for AP Seminar

I have spent ~15 hours over the past two weeks practicing the scoring portion of my new AP Seminar class. It has been one of the most frustrating, anxiety producing experiences of my teaching life. Certainly I have gained a new appreciation of the test performance anxiety of my writing students. Even with a rubric attached, I know now how some of them must feel when they try techniques and strategies in their essays that we have practiced in class, and receive less than stellar grades. Practice and revision are paramount to the process, I tell them, and there are some who never rise above their first effort's grades. How frustrated they must feel!

No matter how I many times I review the rubric provided and the scoring evidence provided by the collegeboard, my scoring never gets better. What is most upsetting is that my gut reaction, my holistic judgment, is accurate. I am absolutely sure of it. The rubric gets in the way. When I began scoring (I have read or viewed 28 documents to date), I worked my instincts, and I was wrong, though close, most of the time. Now I am working the rubric instead of my gut, and my scores are approximately as bad as they were initially. Next stage is to analyze how this is happening.

1. Skills not clearly differentiated between points on rubric--especially the "engaging audience" rows for the TMP and IMP
rows 3 & 4 especially repetitive

2. Difficult to avoid focus on writing when it is bad (anecdotal)

3. Can find an example to contradict their example every single time! So evidence provided is unhelpful, not definitive

4. "low" scoring preso in IWA--was almost all 4s. That is a medium score!

5. no place to grade lack of explicit question (as vs. inexpertly created question), lack of address of major areas--the ADHD example mostly addresses anecdotal things, does not even research some important topics within the subject.
If the student is not even asking a question, then the quality of the entire project is compromised--and should be. 

6. Row 8 in individual preso- imprecise aspects to judge. Many of the kids don't solve a problem, so I don't know how to score this one.

04 February 2016

I guess this is a shared inquiry!

So many new classes, courses and routines this year--it has been difficult to find time to reflect when I am having so much fun. I am teaching a writing & composition class to both sophomore and junior level college prep classes. It is NOT one prep, as I have found out. But it is endlessly engaging my teacher brain. I strategize each writing task and the different ways to approach them, depending on the needs of 15 year olds and then 16-17 year olds. Most of my problem solving brain has been focused on them. Yesterday a colleague asked if I had issued a demerit for a uniform infraction (that I should have noticed) and I was dumbfounded. I had seen that child three times during the day trying to salvage what I could from an attitude outburst (hers, not mine this time) and had never noticed. She and I were working on different problems. I am fine with that.

But today my AP Seminar is on my mind, because we are experiencing this new AP animal as inexperienced first timers together. I don't like operating from a place of vulnerability, but every single teacher in the US who teaches the new Capstone courses is in the same position. The class requires a level of critical thinking and acceptance of responsibility that my first time AP students embraced slowly with some reluctance. As their questions get better, my need to own the content is more urgent. And now that we have hit the performance tasks to be scored by the College Board, I feel muzzled, unable to offer suggestions or glorify their small victories. They are doing fine without me, but it is still hard to step this far back.

I just finished writing them their second letter addressing my own reflections on a recent shared inquiry activity. This one step--writing them letters reviewing my own thinking on our experience has helped to model the questioning and team work so integral to the class. It addresses our success and "opportunities for improvement" without the specter of the score. They see me struggle with how to improve a project to become my best self teaching, and modelling the process is priceless at this point in the class. Here are two examples of my letters below.

23 January 2016

GRADING, quarter 2.


It turns out that grades DO mean something...not what we originally thought, that we now understood a student's command of the materials, his/her critical thinking skills, creativity, whatever. No, grades can make or break a student's self image, to the point where the anticipation of a particular grade is a self fulfilling prophecy by the student or the teacher.

This is not good. I am teaching a strangely divided schedule this year. All AP on A day, all CP on B day. Good for planning and pacing, but even better for getting the view from both ends of the spectrum. Some of my B day students have given up on grades and school, anticipating, as they have been taught, that their grade will be subpar. Given up! At the age of 15 or 16, how can we let that be? They are precious, wise, making their own way on the world. I learn from them every day.

Many of my A day students display a confidence that belies their preparation or responsibility. They advocate for themselves, as school teaches them, but they do not always recognize their lack of power in a situation where they are unschooled--such as an AP, college level class. They expect As, which they equate with being smart, successful, winners, elite etc. I am not sure that most of them are making their way in the world yet, as my B day students are. I remember reveling in my own ability to do anything as a child-I was a read/write learner in a read/write world in the mid 20th century. Of course I did well. But I also lived in a family where my parents expected all of us, regardless of potential, to do our best. And they also demanded that we understand our place in the world--if given a big brain, you appreciated the gift and used it. It did not make you better than someone else. Others had gifts you might not see.

I want all of my students to see their own gifts.

27 September 2015

Home by Toni Morrison

Two remarkable reading experiences this week: in the first one, my students and I read Frederick Douglass's speech "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro" and then followed it with Audre Lorde's "Graduation," a memoir about a sadly important July 4th in Lorde's young life.  Because this is an AP Seminar class, the focus of class discussion was form and function, rather than content. But we needed to talk about the purpose, for sure, and it was rough going. No one wanted to approach the topic as a personal one, so we wended our way through the minefield of race. The silence of the rest of the students when two of my African American students admitted that they had thought about the 4th of July this way was a great reward. Two historical essays about a past many of us do not want to own had brought us to this truth, that the past is not gone. It is not even past!

Examining the dark spots on our national personality is hard work, and seems to happen often in school. What do the children make of it?  School is often not their context of choice. When they read tragedies one after another, hear about our failings in history class, then must register the emotional impact of those failings in Lit class, how do they absorb these messages into their hearts? Not easily or well, I think. And what must it sound like, once more hearing your middle aged white teacher provide the reading, then wait for you to react honestly OUT LOUD and correctly (at least in her eyes)? Once again, the teacher provides the context for a part of history she does not share. 

So imagine my relief to be reading Toni Morrison's 2012 novel, Home, as I was teaching the two short texts: her voice, her history, her craft in a story that examines the pain and the joy in our deeply flawed history--and our present. Our greatest living writer tells a story so personal that it must apply to all of us. Frank Money loses himself during the Korean War and cannot bear to return home to Lotus, Georgia, after. He wanders through his life in an alcoholic daze, telling an unseen person of painful episodes from his childhood. He is belligerent, dangerous and in such pain that it almost raises the words off the page. As she often does, Morrison eschews a chronological, single narrator to tell a story that uses the heart of the protagonist to lead the plot. All the women in his life suffer the loss of him, just as he lives with the loss of them. His epic journey to save his dying sister and himself was fraught with uncertainty, temptation and danger. The truth of the bond between Frank and Cee drives this story to its heroic conclusion. And there I see the narrative that I can share with students--that our ugly past need not be our present-or our future. Home is on the reading list now. Thank you, Ms. Morrison. Again.

12 September 2015


  Watched the inaugural episode of Stephen Colbert's new Late Night show this week.  Best part of the show? He gave me my hook for this post: he spent the monologue crowing about his new home at CBS, the big money network, gleefully pumping the air because Superbowl 50 was going to be on HIS channel. Yes, that's it! That is how I feel at the close of my second week at my new school: I am working on the Superbowl School channel now, and it feels good. I am in the right place at the right time. On our first day, the director even reminded us "this is a school that reveres teachers." I (mentally) swooned.
how i see myself right now
   I don't really spend much time thinking about the Superbowl, but I imagine myself at the center of the kind of fanfare that accompanies it as I arrive every day. I have been visited (not observed) twice by the school director already and had a drop in during class by the principal. We can take care of business in the hall, no need for email exchanges that go on for days.  I have a department chair who always has the big picture in her head so I can deal with the nitty gritty of teaching. Another teacher in my department wants to talk about books every day and a third is calm and ignores the small stuff, a good model for me. My co-teacher is patient and unafraid to advise, thank heavens. I am the newbie, so the desks in my room are 70s puke green plastic, and teachers I don't even know are stopping by to sympathize. (I lived through the 70s: these desks are not a problem for me). I feel a bubbly laugh coming on.

  OK, I am still in panic mode-I am teaching NOTHING I have ever taught before and spent the summer in AP workshops. So no summer reflection for me, and now I am implementing on the fly. But everyone trusts me and the kids are great.  Still no printer or copier code. But, the path is revealing itself and I belong here. Do I miss my old school? Every single day--but change has always been my inspiration, so get ready. Healigan is on a roll.

19 August 2015


   A post from last winter.... still thinking about how learning happens, and who is in charge of it?

Here goes part 2 of my reflections on learning on the internet--and in this post, I think it is me that needs the lesson. Maybe "lesson" is the wrong word. What seems so clear to me is not so clear to all my students. Sometimes I need to address intent, other times the result is the issue. Certainly this particular conundrum arose because I created a new approach to my unit. It takes years to get them perfect! Here is the problem...

    Last week, all three sections of my Brit Lit classes were performing and then addressing thematic and structural ideas in various acts of King Lear. So I had three groups, for instance, choosing one scene from a certain act, performing it, and then presenting to the class their reasons for choosing that scene as representative of the act. So most of the presos  (2-3 minutes) mentioned thematic ideas and then also discussed in greater depth an aspect of drama that was a major focus for that act. I had some expectations that groups for Act 3, for instance, would mention the drama created by the seesawing set changes, but if they chose another element and defended it well, I could blurb on about those setting changes myself in the discussion afterwards. But what happened totally surprised me, though it should not have. Two groups (in different sections) gave the same presentation, though they did not dramatize the same scene. These are junior AP-level students, so they did their research. That's a good thing. But what bothered their teacher was that the order of sentences and the wording the students used was identical.  Not a problem for the other students--it made them focus their attention on critical issues in our study of Lear, which is what I wanted. They were good presos.

   But what concerns me is that I don't know whether any critical thinking happened--unless you count choosing a good answer from your look at Shmoop or Shakespeare-Online as critical thinking.  Since the wording was identical, I am assuming that they copied it word for word--no thinking involved.
And then they shared it, probably, which one of the students had told me anyway--"oh, yeah, Healigan, we talked about it." Did anyone think about whether or not they agreed with the website? I do not think so. And I am pretty sure I am right, because any good teacher can tell the difference between student syntax and scholarly website diction. (They never believe me when I tell them this.)
So while this is not cheating, it is not learning either. They are good kids, working hard to learn and achieve at the same time. Why do I have to mention learning AND achievement as if they are different things? Because perhaps school is set up as if these two things are mutually exclusive. My kids know it.

   I am absolutely sure that these two groups deserve good grades for their work. But I still don't know if either group is ready to move with me to the next step. How am I supposed to know? A high grade doesn't tell me.  I do not have the time to reteach or recast the unit--it is taking too long already. I think that lesson design is a significant portion of the problem, but I am not sure if all this collaborative work we are creating will be manageable for this teacher. To be honest, I had a perfectly good approach to this that the students were engaged in, except that it was entirely teacher-centered. It is my third year doing Shakespeare at the AP level, so it was time to tip the scales. Now the scales are tipped and I think I fell off the scale and hurt myself!

So Rusty

I have to start writing again: the kids arrive next week!!!!! I am so rusty at self-expression, so today's post will be a list of what has changed over the past three months AND what I did on my summer vacation. No wonder I feel "in over my head."

Costa Rica for 9 days: 4 teachers, 25 kids, 3 sloths, countless coffees.

AP Language workshop AT THE BEACH

AP Seminar workshop in Chicago with 2 new colleagues

NEW SCHOOL!! 3 new classes

daughter w concussion

12 books (2 more on the way)

Lost weight

Gained weight

Deep dish Chicago-style pizza for the first time. life will never be the same

36 college recommendations written, more to come

02 July 2015

BLACK SWAN GREEN, David Mitchell

One of my most memorable reads of the year, and my first David Mitchell, is still dazzling me months later. (Black Swan Green is actually the name of Jason Taylor's suburb. ) He is disturbed, eloquent, sweet, bawdy in a 13-year-old kind of way, unintuitive and unable to be anyone but himself. That last part is the trouble: no one accepts a 13-year-old who is true to himself, so Jason gets beat up on a regular basis. He has a rough time of it--an unrelenting stammer, a highly developed intellect which does not usually work in his favor, and a vicious internal life--he names his alter egos the Unborn Twin, Hangman and Maggot. But his talent for language (I know, ironic) and the picaresque episodes with unexpected allies put him in the driver's seat for the bildungsroman which is 8th grade. He emerges victorious, to take the challenges of 9th grade on--whether he wants to or not.
This is a YA adult book that treats the YA reader as intelligent, thoughtful and curious. Just  like most of the 8th graders I know. *****

15 March 2015


N.B. I wrote this as a reflection after a learning day at school.    

Friday was a professional development day at my school, and to my delight, we got some choice. I began the day with iBook Author, since I am planning to create my own British Literature textbook to take advantage of the 1-1 iPad initiative. I enjoyed my hour of screencasting, since the earlier tools I had used were outdated and limited in features. Screencast-o-matic is going to be great. So next I chose a webinar discussing student engagement and flipped learning. The presenters are well-known practitioners, having penned several “how tos” over the past 10 years, so it seemed like a good follow up to my screencasting workshop. I like the idea of flipped learning, because it gives students control by definition, but could never see how it would be much different than my traditional English classroom. Kids read at home, and then come to school and we discuss or make projects or write. What could be different about flipped learning for me? I knew that Khan Academy was not flipped learning, though videos were involved. So my plan was to listen to the webinar to discover more about flipping.

   Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams began by noting that flipped learning depended on relationships, and relationships meant engagement. The discussion was organized around the principles of engagement, the techniques to implement, the hurdles to success and training the teacher AND the children. They noted that fewer children arrive at school from “educationally privileged” households in 2015, so schools must work differently to capture those students and “meet them where they are.” This is not true at St. Mark’s, but even at our school, I have noticed less support of the academic mission at home over the past 5-6 years—no time? 

  My most important takeaway might have been their point about the Bloom’s taxonomy and how teachers approach it: if a teacher sends a child home to do the hard stuff alone (analyze, evaluate, create) then the teacher has relinquished her strongest learning tool. We should be doing the hard stuff together, in school. That is why students need me! I am feeling good about reading “A Modest Proposal” aloud in class together last week and then having students work on questions independently. What I modeled as we read was how to pick out particular strategies and how they complemented purpose. My independent practice questions required the rehearsal of that skill.

   The second point that rang true came when they discussed curated versus created content. This is where the screencasting will come in: the learning that happens at home must be tailored by the teacher for her particular students. This is not a tough point for me. Once I decided to eschew textbooks for anthologies a few years ago, I was forced to create my own ancillary materials. Even now, my students are always more successful when I tweak the curriculum and projects to fit the students I have, instead of the students I have had. If I am going to flip a class, the videos for independent learning must be mine. I am always surprised when teachers use boilerplate lessons or materials and then are irritated that students do not succeed. The only downside to created content? It takes time.

   Overall, this was a good introduction to flipped learning delivered by two experts. It was an overview of the purpose and process. Both speakers noted at the conclusion that they were planning more subject and grade level specific books in the future. I will check in on their website. To date, no one has done anything really good for secondary reading and writing in a flipped manner.

Flipped Learning: Gateway to Student Engagement
with Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams

13 February 2015

Cheating: Academic or behavioral issue?

Another chapter is my personal investigation of cheating...

Is cheating an academic or a behavioral problem? That question was posed to me by my principal last week, and I was not prepared for the myriad of questions and emotions it aroused in me. I do not think I can answer with either word. Here is what I do know:

1. Most students cheat or know and witness cheaters every day. They also know that teachers do not catch cheating 90% of the time.

2. Most teachers punish cheating with a call to the parent, a visit to the Dean or a point penalty, or a mixture of these consequences.

3. Students who do not cheat resent the lack of punishment for those who do. They doubt their motivation to be honest.

4. Honor codes are just window dressing, because they are not really enforceable.

5. When kids cheat, the teacher does not know if they learned what they need to learn to move to the next step. The teacher may not know that they are not ready, since cheating is so hard to document.

6.  A 0 on an assignment signals to a student that they have not achieved mastery. In my class, you only receive a 0 if you did not do the assignment or you cheated.

7. In my experience, it is the more adept students who cheat more regularly. More expectations for achievement--personal, familial, and school based, I suppose. Students with learning differences, on the other hand, often spend years being supervised as they practice study skills, sit in classes that are small and therefore more controlled. The result? They often possess stronger study skills, and more willingness to try on tests and essays. The routine of work is comfortable and something they can rely upon.

01 February 2015


   Just finished Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. Boy Novak is gifted with a snaky bracelet when she becomes engaged to Arturo Whitman. (Yes, that is right—no diamond.) She spends the months before her marriage worrying that Arturo believes she is evil and a witch because of this gift. Marries him anyway, and discovers HE is the one with secrets soon enough.
   She wonders over her stepdaughter, suspiciously named Snow (as in Snow White?) and sends her away when her own daughter, Bird, is born. An original contemplation on mothers and daughters fills this book, as I became more and more entranced by Bird and confused about who Boy Novak is and where she came from. Can't say more or I will spoil it.  Already have two students earmarked for this one.
   Can’t get this book out of my head.  http://mywildandpreciouslife13.tumblr.com/post/109773709735/minoan-goddess-priestess-just-finished-boy-snow

25 January 2015

Goodbye to Shakespeare

   I have had just about enough Elizabethan life for this year: our new schedule did not jive with my personal schedule, so I feel as if it has gone on forever. I am betting the students do too. This year was Macbeth, Lear and Othello. I am not sure how it went: I totally changed my approach to all three. For Macbeth, I focused on performance skills, but we have not been able to perform much because of schedule constraints. The best parts of Lear got swallowed up by Christmas break and midterms, so I am having trouble picking up the pieces. And in my first time with Othello, I decided to let the students be in charge. I think they enjoyed and learned, but of course this old read-write learner did not get her time in the sun as an expert. So I am recalibrating how I judge the unit.
   What is sticking with me this winter? I am chafing at the chains that come when I hold the control. My Macbeth classes do not happen to be filled with readers, so practicing the skills has been frustrating. Much of the end of the quarter was taken up by the kids who elected to "spark" Macbeth (and their personal reading too), and ending up cheating as a result. So I am sad that they did not give themselves a chance to level up their reading, and irritated that I spent my time on them instead of the students who came with me on the Shakespeare journey. But--sometimes those failures are the ones that provoke learning. Only time will tell.
   Lear was more satisfying, but we have not acted, and I don't want to let it go! At the same time, I can't wait for them to read Donne. This group will LOVE him. So I must navigate a quick ending and a new beginning for this week--during Catholic Schools Week. Argh. Othello was good with AP Lit; they appreciated and thought and analyzed. But I will have to get used to feeling good about their success instead of directing them. Old teacher, new methods. Growing pains.

29 December 2014


I have been in a self imposed Twitter embargo this fall: somehow discussing theory and strategy with other teachers was not what I needed. Information overload is real for me-my temperament demands that I be open, so I am always reading, talking, trying new things, in all parts of my life. But sometimes, I have to stop.  Since all my preps are familiar this year, I decided to concentrate on my lesson frames.  I figured that  I would focus on the business of teaching every day, doing the work every day. Seeing where it led for my skills-and theirs.

So it has been a relief to turn to my first, my core PLN, my students, as I travel this road. And last week, I was reminded in a big way of how delightful and fulfilling it can be to play the role of learner in the classroom.  A bit of setup: I am moderator of the Graphic Arts & Animation Club at my school, a hardy group of ~25 aficionados of anime, manga, Japanese culture, high school subculture, and gaming. It is the most diverse club in school ( and that is a big job in a parochial high school) and the guys and girls respect each other just as a matter of course. They are cool kids, and they try not to laugh at my anime inexperience most of the time. They even retweet my lame attempts at humor.

We held a Mario SMASH tournament to celebrate the day-before-Thanksgiving break and almost 50 kids showed up. I was the newbie in the room--and no one laughed at my questions, everyone shared their expertise, and it was my best teacher moment of the year, when they taught me about bracket strategy, the many decisions that go into choosing your avatar to complement your personal skills, and why SMASH is the perfect game. The games moved too fast for me to do anything other than marvel. Different kids laid out different strategies for me, because I asked the same questions over and over. Isn't that what a learner does?

Some of these kids have never spoken up in my class. Some of them had never spoken to each other in school. And here they were laying out the intricacies of game strategy for me, screaming at the top of their lungs during each match, waiting for their turns with no complaints, just loving what they knew and how it brought them together.

So what did I learn? I stink at these games. I dominate at building bridges. I am a good learner--games are as great a way to learn as a 1-year-old learns with peekaboo, a 4-year-old learns with T-ball or a middle school kid learns with a Nintendo DS (which I learned is only useful to get you through the day until you can get home to the system), and after that, every single team you practice with or game you play on your Xbox. So, yes, I am going to recalibrate my units to take advantage of the mastery my kids showed last week, the learning pathways that are embedded in their brains already. So much more useful than thinking about the Common Core testing.