Episode 84 – Jennifer Wolfe

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Meet Jennifer Wolfe

JENNIFER WOLFE is a mother, writer, English and AVID teacher, Google Certified Educator, hyperdoc fanatic, and WeVideo Ambassador. She teaches 7th, 8th, and 9th grades at Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High School in Davis, California. Her subjects include English, Reading, and AVID (more on that program to come). She was actually a student at this school herself – super weird when she first began teaching there!

A Year to Forget 

Jennifer recalls a year in the classroom when a parent of one of her students decided to make her a persistent target of scrutiny and unreasonable criticism that amounted to bullying. “I always believed I would teach until it wasn’t fun anymore,” she says. Well, this ordeal took the fun away from the job, and Jennifer seriously considered leaving the profession for good.

Yes, dealing with parent conflict is an inevitable part of the teaching process, but this experience was especially difficult for Jennifer because she lacked the administrative support that she critically needed. She took some extended time off that year to ask herself if teaching was really what she wanted to do, and although she returned to finish the school year, she was at an all-time low of dissatisfaction.

Somehow, despite all of this turbulence, she was awarded teacher of the year! Even with that recognition, however, she realized that in order to keep teaching, she would have to care for herself in ways that would allow her to actually care properly for her students. This ethic of self-care, proactivity, and consistent growth has helped shape her practice ever since.

*If you’ve had a difficult year and feel closer to burnout than on fire, check out a podcast called Dear Teacher, Don’t Give Up.

Advancement Via Individual Determination

Jennifer is an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) educator, and she’s a big fan of the program. AVID is a national program currently in place in 47 states, with over two million students enrolled in 7,000 schools. By 2025, the goal is to bump the number of enrolled students up to five million.

The focus in AVID classes is academic success through rigorous student-centered learning environments and inquiry-based classrooms. Students also receive academic, emotional, and social supports that meet them exactly where they are.

The AVID program has been transformative for Jennifer, helping to move her from test-based instruction at any cost to looking first to the learning needs of the student. It’s also been transformative for her learners, helping them to pursue areas of learning that traditional systems may have ruled out for some students.

The Magic of Hyperdocs

Jennifer clarifies the nature and purpose of hyperdocs in the 21st century classroom, and explains how they can enable greater student choice and agency in learning. Hyperdocs should promote creativity and curiosity – they are much more than just Docs with links. They support the 4 Cs and are made to satisfy the learning needs and progress of all learners.

What is going to capture student interest? How can we engage student learning in ways that move away from teacher-focused instruction? We need learning activities that move away from Googleable information toward activities that require critical thinking, analysis, transfer, explanation, and further curiosity.

WeVideo and the Kids Take Action Podcast Unit

Her district provides her students with WeVideo licenses, which they can access via their Chromebooks. One of the most illuminating breakthroughs to come from their work on WeVideo was podcasting! (Check out her Kids Take Action podcast unit.)

Jennifer noticed that her students can be very self-conscious when it comes to recording – especially on video. But after Jennifer crafted cardboard boxes as miniature recording studios and Brian Briggs set up the class with more advanced recording equipment, the students felt empowered to create great content.

WeVideo got so excited by her learners’ work that they appointed Jennifer as a WeVideo ambassador and has since enhanced their capacity for students to record audio-only content on the platform! WeVideo has also showcased audio recordings made by her class, and their content has been heard by other learners around the world as a result.

Jennifer has been so energized by the authentic work and communication produced by her students – including higher-level reasoning and debate over controversial issues. She’s also been using Wakelet to help curate student podcast episodes. Although her student podcast content has not yet been widely distributed and available on podcast platforms, that is a step Jennifer looks forward to.

Jennifer’s Core Values

Jennifer talks about the history and heartbeat of the tagline you’ll find on her blog: loving fiercely, teaching audaciously, and thinking deeply. Each of these values is precious to her and together they represent what she is all about in education. Everything she does – whether it’s edtech, writing, professional development, and speaking – are wrapped up in these three core values.

Professional and Personal Goals

Jennifer became an AVID national staff developer this year – the realization of a long-time professional goal. She’s also had the satisfaction of seeing her message and profile gradually grow as her blog and work attracts more interest from other educators. She was thrilled when Lisa Highfill (@LHighfill), a recognized innovator in hyperdocs, actually recognized her at a conference and shared that she had been following her blog!

Jennifer is also excited by the prospect of an empty nest at home and three books currently on the go. Wow!

Personal Passions Away from Education 

Jennifer is a huge reader and challenges herself to read all sorts of books across all genres. This connects with her love of writing, and most of her outside-of-teaching times are spent on these two activities. She also loves to travel to other countries, and is passionate about a campaign that she’s been a part of that is helping to restructure the education system in Nicaragua. Last but not least, she rides her bike to work daily, which provides a regular workout and a prime opportunity to listen to podcasts.

Keys to Productivity

Jennifer’s best productivity hacks include daily gratitude, journaling, proactive planning, organization, and maintaining firm boundaries. She’s a big believer in intentionally letting go of the things that we can’t control so we can be fully present and engaged with the people and work right in front of us.

Voices and Resources That Inspire Her Practice 

On Twitter, Jennifer recommends following hyperdoc master Lisa Highfill @LHighfill.

Jennifer’s pick in edtech tools is Wakelet, a content curator that’s still free to use. Follow the company on Twitter @Wakelet.

A book that has been instrumental lately is Inquiry Mindset: Nurturing the Dreams, Wonders, and Curiosities of Our Youngest Learners by Trevor MacKenzie (@Trev_MacKenzie) and Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt (@rbathursthunt).

Jennifer’s podcast pick is called Check This Out, a podcast produced by edtech experts Brian Briggs and Ryan O’Donnell. Visit their podcast home and follow the show on Twitter @CheckThisOutBR.

Jennifer also shouts out the Educational Duct Tape Podcast, produced by the legendary @JakeMillerTech.

Over on YouTube, a channel that never fails to capture her students’ attention is TED-Ed. If you haven’t tried their content lately, it might be worth a visit and a subscription!

We sign off on this conversation, and Jennifer gives us the best ways to connect with her online. See below for details!

Connect with Jennifer:

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device.

iTunes | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Follow the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media.

Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.

The Power of Authentic Writing

Some incredible things happened in my 8th grade English classroom today.

Photo Credit: Brad Neathery

I’ve been slowly making my way through Sparks in the Dark on my Kindle this year, and every time I return to this book I’m inspired to facilitate more authentic writing in my middle school classroom.

I mean, my students write every day. But how much of that writing is meaningful, passionate, or authentic? How much of it do they personally care about? I know I need to create more space for this kind of expression.

Last week, I asked my students to respond to lyrics from any song that held personal meaning or significance for them. Our learning target was “I can think critically, creatively, and reflectively to explore ideas within, between, and beyond texts.” Today, I asked for volunteers to share their pieces with the class.

Two boys accepted the challenge.

Boys. In 8th grade. In a gradeless classroom, with zero extrinsic motivation.

Sometimes we need to rethink our beliefs around middle school boys. But that’s a thought for another post. I digress.

One of the boys read a reflection about Natural, by Imagine Dragons. The other read a reflection on a song called Reluctant Heroesby Hiroyuki Sawano.

These boys spoke passionately about the human experience: the hardships we face, the expectations we bear, our families and the relationships that matter most.

And get this. As he read a closing paragraph about his family, one reader broke down into tears. If that wasn’t enough, both boys quietly sang all or most of their selected songs.

Their unfiltered emotions were on full display. They were powerfully vulnerable. Their classmates gave each of them standing ovations. I could have cried myself.

I mourn all the moments like these that I’ve missed in my 17 years of teaching, but today’s experience only deepens my resolve to do more authentic writing in the years ahead.

Because this was awesome.

“When you teach someone how to read or how to express themselves using the written word, you change a life. You introduce them to magical worlds, teach them how to access the voice within, and empower them to affect that same change in the lives of others.” – from Sparks in the Dark: Lessons, Ideas, and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us by Travis Crowder (@TeacherManTrav) & Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd)


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