by Amber Rain Chandler
CCSS ELA-Key Ideas & Details (RL.8.1): Cite textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as make inferences drawn from the text.
If this makes your head swim, you are not alone. This standard was my nemesis last spring. After sitting down with my principal to debrief the year, this was the new “power standard” based on the data from our middle school. Where do you begin when you are trying to shape curriculum for a 6-8 school with over 1200 students? How do you differentiate to reach all populations? What about student engagement?
Luckily, I knew about ShareMyLesson, supported by the American Federation of Teachers. This amazing free resource, as its tagline states, is “by teachers, for teachers.” Teachers can upload lesson plans, unit plans, handouts, videos, MP3’s, PowerPoints, links to websites, presentations, activities, flashcards, assessments, and other ideas to use with students.
After potential resources are uploaded, every 8 weeks or so, there is a SML Marathon weekend (I’ve participated) where expert teachers are flown in from around the country to spend the better part of 40 hours vetting the materials, aligning them to Common Core Learning Standards, and providing comments that will help teachers best utilize the site.
As unorthodox as the Marathon weekends are—it feels like cramming for an exam: up at 3:00 am, dance breaks, lots of coffee, and watching the sun rise—the beauty is that teachers are helping teachers. We are collaborating to plan lessons and activities that are challenging and aligned.
The ShareMyLesson (SML) site is user friendly with explanatory videos and a platform that is easy to understand for both those uploading to share AND those downloading to use. The resources are tagged in several ways, including by grade levels. There’s an FAQ page and a community forum where you can let off steam and also find human help.
Powering up that standard . . .
To return to my RL.8.1 dilemma, which for my building was predominately about the ever elusive skill of making inferences, I’m happy to say that my fellow teachers were “on it” thanks to SML.
I didn’t waste any time with my search. By simply typing in RL.8.1, immediately I had 39 resources. The resources for texts were diverse: everything from Farewell to Manzanar to Holes . I have two inclusion classes where nearly half the students have an IEP, so the range of lexiles was helpful.
I then “favorited” the relevant lessons for future use. When I do that, they become a part of “My Resources” which you can email to a colleague, which is exactly what I did. I sent it to the inclusion teacher, the members of my ELA department, and cc’d my principal.
When we gathered for our next department meeting, we were able to discuss the pros and cons of different texts, take a look at the materials, and basically have a beginning point for tackling standard RL8.1, instead of just staring at it.
Other SML advantages
As I’ve used SML, I’ve discovered some possibly unintended benefits. For one, I have uploaded nearly 200 resources myself, creating an online portfolio that I can share. You can check them out by searching AmberRainChandler on the site.
I find it’s a great reflective activity to decide to share your work. For every upload, I took a good hard look at what I was sharing—some of the material was many years old—and often updated links and sources, changed the document to more readable fonts, or combined information.
I found myself on a virtual “trip down memory lane,” as I have taught everything from 6th grade Academic Intervention Services all the way to AP Literature. What was most rewarding was figuring out how I could pass a lesson on to a fellow teacher I knew, simply by emailing it to them.
Another fringe benefit is the ability to use the site with new teachers. I mentor Glen, a new health teacher. As he was preparing for his formal observation, I was a little nervous about giving advice. It has been a long time since I have even been in a health class!
At SML we did a search narrowed down to “7th grade Health” and ended up with 147 resources. We then sorted further because the unit was on Anger Management. We found a lesson called “Stress—What Stresses You Out” which, with a few adaptations, fit perfectly into to his unit. For me, I could be at ease, knowing that I had provided him with quality support.
The website allows reviews, ratings and comments, which was particularly helpful in Glen’s case. The lesson we zeroed in on had three reviews. All three were five stars with positive comments. I suggested that Glen upload his adaptation of the lesson, simply giving credit to the author. Encouraging a new teacher to participate in the greater teaching and learning community is yet another benefit of SML.
A parent angle
Just this month I stumbled upon a different use for ShareMyLesson. A student’s mom was concerned that her daughter did not understand how to recognize literary devices. She knew the definitions, but couldn’t actually understand how to identify them in an author’s work.
The mom sent me an email that said she’d been printing off worksheets from the internet, but she wasn’t sure they were helping. When I took a look at what she was doing, it was clear why she was confused. She was using a range of worksheets of wildly varying quality and lexiles. They were almost exclusively about informational texts, while we were focusing on literature.
I quickly searched through my uploaded lessons, then did a quick global search, narrowed it down to 7th grade, and within seconds I had appropriate content.
Teachers leading the profession
On a national scale, SML is a part of a pervasive movement to let the “experts” lead the way. Collectively, teachers’ realm of influence grows every time we share and collaborate, as well as support one another.
One of the major critiques of the Common Core is the lack of professional development both before and during the implementation, as well as the lack of materials. No matter your political opinions, teachers can all agree that when teachers are given the opportunity to “step up to the plate,” everyone wins.
I can say from personal experience that the teachers who work on the AFT site feel honored to be a part of something larger than themselves – leaders, not employees. As budgets continue to be depleted, teachers are finding new ways to fill the gap, and as unfortunate as it is, gathering and sharing our own aligned materials may be a necessity at this point.
I readily admit that seeing how many “views” and “favorites” my lessons have received is energizing. I’d like to think that we’re all in this together, no matter how clichéd that may sound.
Teaching can be extremely isolating. Who hasn’t felt, from time to time, that we just “close the door and teach”? However, technology and lesson sharing sites like this have the ability to open those doors as wide as the world.
Amber Rain Chandler teaches 7th grade English Language Arts at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg, NY, a suburb of Buffalo. A certified School Building Leader, Amber also teaches Methods in English Teaching at Medaille College and leads staff development on Differentiation for the Southtown Teachers Center. She blogs at AFT’s Voices from the Classroom and her own website. Follow her on Twitter @msamberchandler