Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Teacher Feature - Kurt Reynolds

This week, learn a little more about our featured teacher, Kurt Reynolds.

Tell us a little about yourself: 

 I currently teach Lit and Language 9R (a remedial reading class), College Composition I and II (both college in the high school classes where students are dual enrolled and earn college credit through NCTC) at Lincoln High School in Thief River Falls, MN.  I also teach summer classes at our Area Learning Center and an introduction to education class, Teaching and Learning 250, in the fall semester at UND.

My most recent accomplishments were that I presented a roundtable session at NCTE 2015 in Minneapolis called "The Book Report is Not Dead: The Sticky-Note Book Report in a 1:1 MacBook Air Classroom.  Or An Alternative to the Traditional (Boring) Book Report."

I also presented at TIES (a technology conference in Minneapolis) last December on "The Five Digital Tools I Can't Teach Without" and "Digital Culture in

a 1:1 Macbook Air School."

I first became associated with the RRVWP in the summer of 2004 and then later in the summer of 2007.

What are you currently reading?

I'm constantly reading. During the school year, I try to read one book a month. In the summer, though, I try for 3 books per month. My days of reading fiction have come to an end, and I now read almost exclusively nonfiction. Currently, I’m reading Design in 5 by Nicole Dimich Vagle, The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros, and Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle.  

Why do you read?

I read to stay current in my field.  I am always hounding my students to read, so why would I be a hypocrite and not read myself?  Sharing my reading with my students is a great way to model many of the strategies I teach.

How do you encourage your students to read?

One thing I do (and I got this from former RRVWP alum Judith Sheridan) is called "The Sticky-Note Book Report."  I pass out a note card and ask students to write down three subjects they are really interested in or want to know more more about.  I also ask them to list two subject areas they don't want to read about. From that list, I choose a book for them to read.  In my College Comp I class (mostly juniors) and my College Comp II class (seniors) I choose nonfiction texts for them.  In my remedial reading (9th graders) I choose either high interest lit or engaging nonfiction. I give students a full week to read the book and annotate it with at least 50 Sticky-Notes.  Then, students turn in the annotated books.  For my seniors, I have them turn in their books and also write an essay or create a blog. Here are some examples if you're interested.

What do you write outside the classroom?

I keep a blog where I post quite often.  I also periodically attempt to publish articles.  I was featured in two anthologies, with thanks to the RRVWP, who shared the opportunities via the listserv.

Do any of your writing interests translate to your teaching?

Yes. I often have students create blogs.  I constantly write about writing and how I teach writing.  I am a believer in the old adage that the best writing teachers are writers themselves (this is something Kittle proposes in Write Beside Them).  Just today during my prep, I wrote a model
expertise essay for my later composition classes.  I read it to them and shared with them my struggles in writing it and what I was hoping to accomplish.  Then, because we are a 1:1 MacBook Air school, I shared it with them via Google Drive and gave them all access privileges.  I made comments in the margins trying to show my thought process as I wrote.  I analyzed my transitions, how I tried to envision the audience, how I injected the piece with style and voice, and so on.  I think this approach is invaluable in helping my writers learn the craft of writing.

Who encouraged you to be a teacher?

My grandmother, Myrtle Baril, was an elementary school teacher in Thief River Falls for years.   My uncle is a retired English professor from Western State in Colorado.  I had an amazing first year English teacher when I was a freshman in Red Lake Falls, MN.  Her name is Amy Christianson.  She teaches at one of the middle schools in Grand Forks.  She was the first person who connected my passion for reading and writing outside of the school to the reading and writing we did in class.  That transformed my life.  I am a teacher because of her.  In fact, Mrs. Christianson taught for one year, and three of us from her class have become English teachers! I also had two exceptional college professors: Dr. Diane Drake from Northland Community and Technical College and Dr. Mark Christensen at Bemidji State University.

Who currently inspires you?

My students, especially those who go on to become teachers.  My wife, Kristie Reynolds, who is a passionate, lifelong learner and allows me to bounce ideas off of her.  Plus, she puts up with all the hours I have to spend grading student papers.  And my principal, Shane Zutz, who has built an amazing culture here at LHS.

Have you published anything?

Yes, two essays: “The McEssay”, about the dangers of teaching scripted formulaic essays (namely the wretched five-paragraph theme) and “The Myth of Teacher” about how a teacher--in many ways--is very similar to Sisyphus in Albert Camus's "The Myth of Sisyphus."

How do you write with your students?

Again, I always write to model texts for my students.  I share my work with my students via Google Drive.  I will add comments to show the students what I'm thinking about as I write and what effect I'm hoping to have on the audience.

What is your favorite writing assignment you give your students?

That's an easy one: the multi-genre research paper.  I have had a lot of success with this over the years and the students have blown me away with their products.

The multi-genre research paper is a creative approach to the traditional research paper.  Students select a topic and then they choose four different genres (one of which must be research) to write about the topic.

I have had students write about a favorite TV series (Teen Wolf). They have a research paper where they analyzed how Teen Wolf puts a modern twist on the traditional theme of lycanthropy. Then they wrote their own episode (fiction). They had a series of top ten lists: favorite episodes, death scenes, characters, and scenes (lists). They had a narrative about staying up one night at a friend's house to binge watch the entire first season (personal narrative).

Another student wrote about her part-time job as a waitress at a local diner.  She held the job throughout high school and as graduation neared, she was quitting.  She researched the health effects of fast food vs home cooking.  She wrote a fictional account of what her life would be like in 20 years, if she decided not to go to college and, instead, worked at the restaurant full time.  She chronicled all of her Tweets about work and wove them into the piece.  She also had a series of short narrative pieces woven into the essay to illustrate her favorite random acts of kindness,
her favorite customers, the worst of the sleazy pickup lines she heard from creepy old men, and some of the fondest memories she had of her co-workers.

Here is another example that a senior wrote about concussions after receiving a particularly brutal one in football.

I have done this assignment with my College Comp 2 class, and I tried it last year with my Teaching and Learning 250 class that I teach at UND. Here is one example from that class.

Students are initially reluctant because of the overall length (many reach 20-30 pages), but once they get into the project, they really write their hearts out.

How do you have fun with writing?

In class I inject a ton of passion into writing to make it fun for my students.  We read a variety of example essays, including my examples, professional examples, local examples (from the newspaper and such), and both past and present student examples.  I also give students a ton of feedback immediately on Drive.  Once they see their writing evolve quickly, they can see the potential and development of a piece, which I think that makes it more enjoyable for the students. In my College Comp 2 class we also write a weekly column in our local newspaper.  The kids are always a bit surprised when random strangers come up to them to comment on their columns.  They really enjoy that.

Personally, I blog often.  I used to just post random thoughts, but what has really made my blogging more effective is that I've narrowed my writing on the blog to one of several categories: Teaching Tips (This summer I wrote a series of "teaching tips" exploring a wide range of topics: grading, student engagement, classroom set up, culture, core values, professional articles and videos, discipline, and inquiry.  This totaled over 125 pages.  So, I post one to my blog every school day); What's Going on in Room 205 (Every couple of weeks, I chronicle what we are doing in class and why); Today's Reads, Views, and Links (a list of the latest professional development I have come across, mostly as a result of my Twitter feed); and Personal Happenings (where I write about my life outside of the school).

Do you have any recommended online resources for writing?

I reference OWL at Purdue for research writing and knightcite for citation.

If you could have coffee with any writer, who would it be and why?

Probably Diane Ravitch. I'd love to pick her brain about her experiences helping craft NCLB and how she became one of its harshest critics.

If you were to write a book, what would it be about?

Well, this idea popped into my head by accident.  This was a few years ago when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters were all the rage.  I was reading an Entertainment Weekly review on a book called The Radleys.  It was about a family of vampires.  When I saw the title, I initially thought it was the next in the series of adding monster to classic novels (in this case To Kill a Mockingbird).  However, the more I read of the review, the more I realized this wasn't the case, but still the idea stuck.

I've taught To Kill a Mockingbird for years (having read it close to 100 times now), and I grew up on Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker, and Dean Koontz, so writing To Kill a Mockingbird with the idea that Boo and his family really were well-intentioned vampires would be a combination of two of my great passions. That would be a true labor of love!

What are you currently writing?

Just sample essays with my class.  During second block I hammered out an 11-page personal narrative on an expertise that I modeled for both my third and fourth block College Comp classes.  It was a blast.

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