Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Teacher Feature - Alissa Helm

Hello readers! Let me introduce you to this week's featured teacher, Alissa Helm. 

 First, tell us a little about you: I currently teach 7th grade language arts on a STEM/AVID team at Cheney Middle School in West Fargo, ND. This is my 10th year teaching, eighth at the 7th grade level, but all at the middle level. I love being involved in an interdisciplinary team developing projects and meaningful learning experiences. I enjoy integrating the content areas and helping kids make connections between writing and reading and all other content. This summer, I will be teaching at our first ever Cheney STEM Academy summer school, trying out new ideas I can use during the school year. I will also be attending an AVID conference in Minneapolis focused on critical reading strategies. I became involved in the Red River Valley Writing Project in 2010, and I have continued to be involved ever since. The connections I have made with colleagues at different levels have been especially meaningful. In fact, I have developed a
strong friendship and working relationship with Kelly Sassi, NDSU professor, after meeting at the RRVWP. She has opened up so many opportunities for me, including
presenting at NCTE in Chicago and lobbying in Washington, DC for the National Writing Project. We continue to collaborate; currently her pre-service English Ed. students are in my classroom collaborating on a novel study. Our partnership has led to amazing experiences for all of our students!
What are you currently reading? I am currently reading Crooked House by Christobel Kent. This is a new author for me, but I am loving it. I devour mysteries, and I love a great twist ending.

Why do you read? I read to learn, relax, and escape.

How do you encourage your students to read? I encourage my students to read through book talks, library visits, discussing books, sharing books, and inquiring about their reading.

What do you write outside the classroom? Outside of the classroom, I mostly write to-do lists, examples for my students, reflections for classes I take, or for professional writing groups I’m involved in. Honestly, I am more of a reader than a writer, but I do enjoy the opportunities I have had, especially during the Writing Project, to write for myself.

Who encouraged you to be a teacher? No one, really. I was an English major, and I didn’t know what to do with it! I chose teaching, and now I think I enjoy teaching more than my content some days. I sometimes wish I could teach something with more freedom and less strict expectations. I could bring literature and writing into any content area!

Who currently inspires you? My son, Asher. He is 20 months old and just discovering the world and language. Watching him discover new ideas, new words, new books (everything is new), just brings me so much joy. He is also a book lover, and I hope we can help keep that love alive for him.

Have you published anything? No. I haven’t even tried. If I did, it probably wouldn’t be anything personal. I do a lot more professional writing.

How do you write with your students? I model writing assignments, and I write alongside them and share my writing.

What is your favorite writing assignment you give your students? Hmmm…I like them all! One fun thing I just tried a month or so ago was a Superhero creative writing assignment. The kids collected traits of two superheroes or villains and used their science knowledge in Punnett Squares to determine the traits for their new “superbaby." We then practiced our summary writing skills to explain who their character was (using the traits) and wrote a poem using figurative language related to their character.

How do you have fun with writing? I don’t know that I always have fun with it. I try to make it fun, though, by giving students choice and many creative writing opportunities that speak to their interests.

If you could have coffee with any writer, who would it be and why? David Sedaris, probably. Agatha Christie is up there, too. Oh, and Faulkner! But he would make me cry. Sedaris is just so funny. I think we would get each other. :)
If you were to write a book, what would it be about? It would be a creepy, weird mystery or a personal life experience. One would be a fun, creative piece and the other would be more therapeutic.

What are you currently writing? This! I am writing daily (email, student feedback, reflections for professional development), but I don’t have any pieces I’m really working on currently. I have some pieces in process, but they sit and wait.