The most transformative idea Jenna Zucha took from her experience as a 2019 HP Teaching Fellow horrified her at first: showing her work. The English teacher at Clear Springs High in suburban Houston didn’t have a problem with sharing, per se. A passionate millennial blogger, she had, among her many forays into tech, started a classroom blog that had inspired other teachers and earned her kudos in her district. But showing her own writing process to her students? “At first I thought, ‘Oh, goodness. This is going to be a nightmare,’” she recalls. “‘I’m baring my soul and my spelling mistakes.’ But it shows them that while I may be the best writer in the room, I’m not perfect. I’m still learning and we can help each other improve as writers.”
“Teachers are learners, too” was one of the key messages for this year’s cohort of HP Teaching Fellows—26 primary and secondary educators who demonstrate powerful teaching and learning with technology. The fellows, who hail from the US and Canada and who were selected through an application process, shared ideas and experiences virtually and at a summer Digital Promise Challenge Institute in Monterey, CA. Zucha recently spoke with EdSurge about how the fellowship has changed her approach to teaching, how her students have made her a better writer—and Instagram’s surprising impact on grammar.
EdSurge: How was being an HP Teaching Fellow a powerful learning experience for you?
Jenna Zucha: At the Digital Promise Challenge Institute in Monterey, teachers were presented as not only instructors and leaders in their community, but as learners. I thought that was a really important message that I wanted to bring back to my campus and my district—this idea that if we make the invisible process more visible for ourselves as educators, that will naturally feed into our students’ understanding of the process as well. We used to just stand in front of the class and lecture or present an idea that we may have spent hours at home working on, but we never showed the students that process.
How have you implemented ‘showing the process’?
One of the ways that being an HP Teaching Fellow has changed the way I approach my writing instruction is I am no longer preparing pieces ahead of time. I’m doing a lot of writing—often the same quick-write assignments—with my students, in which I invite them to give me feedback. It’s terrifying! But when they see that I actually implement the revisions they suggest, it builds a classroom community that I don’t think I could recreate without that process. The vulnerability that I’m showing my students has created an amazing turnaround in the kind of work they’re willing to give me. They’re saying, “Miss Zucha is doing that. I can do that, too.”
If you are interested in becoming an HP Teaching Fellow, or would like to nominate an educator, please complete this Interest Form. Learn more about the program here and at our October 30 webinar.
Has showing your writing process to your students made you a better writer?
By leaps and bounds! Writing has always come easily to me, so I hadn’t really had the chance to deconstruct the steps I was following to get to that final place. Now instead of saying to students, “add sensory details,” I might say: “When I was reviewing this piece, I knew that my grandmother’s blanket meant a lot to my story. So I wanted to spend more time exploring what that blanket felt like, what it looked like—because that matters for my message.”
How does giving students an authentic audience for their writing help them become better writers?
One of the first times that I realized they actually cared about their grammar was about four years ago. It was April, poetry month. I had decided to do this activity where they produced a poem on Instagram, and we used the hashtag for poetry month. I showed them how the hashtag had already gone viral and all of the different poets who had been posting to that hashtag. I said, “Let’s get in on this. We can do this.” There were so many students who—all year—had not cared about commas or when to use a semicolon. All of a sudden, they’re coming up to me saying, “I have to get this right. My friends are going to see this.” That was an eye-opening experience for me. They get comfortable with you as their instructor. They know they’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to correct them, but the rest of the world is not going to be as kind.
In what other ways have you leveraged technology to teach literacy?
I’ve gotten into electronic portfolios, which I think are really important for career and college readiness. The writing the students are doing is not just for me. That’s what I try to tell other teachers. As soon as you open the door up and you’re no longer the main person receiving this information, the grammar problems go out the door. The procrastination goes out the door. You see their desire to speak out and use their voices. I think this time that we’re in is so amazing because they are seeing peers as influencers. They’re 14 years old and they have a million followers on YouTube! Kids want to get in on that. As a teacher, I’m just trying to feed their natural motivation to share their voices.
How has connecting with other HP Teaching Fellows impacted your practice?
In one instance, the fellows were on a group chat and I mentioned that I was getting into podcasts and thinking about bringing them into the classroom. Other teachers on the chat said, “I’ve got some great resources for that,” or, “This is what we did and here’s where we messed up, and here’s where you might have some better luck.” I think one of the reasons why the HP Teaching Fellowship was so important to me is that I had an opportunity to be around people who could show me some new things. As a leader on my campus, I was usually the one showing, and then I didn’t really have that growth. Being a part of this opened me up to, “What you’re doing is great, but look what these people are doing. They’re really exploring new heights.”
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