Monday, August 11, 2014

Remembering What's Important

The start of a new school year is filled with conflicting emotions. I love the beginning of school. I love new school supplies, setting up the classroom, and thinking about lesson plans. I love receiving my class lists and first emails from parents excited about our year together. Exhilaration runs through my bones, the year can’t come fast enough.

Except when it doesn't. The flip side of this impatience to begin the year is a panic that I won’t be ready. Looking around my room I’m hit with an ever-mounting to-do list that I know I can never complete.

This panic threatens to overshadow my joy about a new year. Luckily a few reminders today put the true importance of a new school year back in focus. I have been mainly working on my room at night during my son’s football practice. It seemed to make sense, I figured I had to be there already, why not use my time wisely? I realized today what was missing. 

Dropping by school to do just a couple of things in my classroom, I had the chance to visit with fellow teachers, custodians, secretaries, and my principal. I realized how much I had missed these friends this summer and how excited I was to get the chance to spend another year together. Of course, this meant I didn’t get as much done in my room as I would at night alone, but it was time well spent.

The other reminder came from a former student, Aaron. Aaron was in my reading class two years ago and had offered to come vacuum my carpet. Aaron has several passions. When he was in my class he educated me in the finer points of electric pencil sharpeners and vacuums on a regular basis. When Aaron found out that I was setting up for the year, he had his dad send me a message to see if he could clean my carpet with his vacuum. His dad, Dan, told me he has over 40 vacuums in their home. His favorite is a professional grade Electrolux. I’m not exaggerating to say that I think Aaron knows more about the Electrolux vacuum than their sales people do. I had a blast talking to him about it, seeing how appalled he was that I own a Dyson, and catching up in general. When I asked Aaron what advice he’d give my son who was starting 6th grade this year, he wisely shared that Luke should do his homework immediately after school each day and not put it off. Common sense, short and sweet, that is Aaron.

Friends, students, learning, and more. That’s what the school year is about. My panic is subsiding and the excitement is building. August 20th, it won’t be long now.

Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Be sure to visit Mentor Texts  or Unleashing Readers to learn more about It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

I got a ton of reading done last week. That being said, I learned something about myself as a reader or, even, as a learner:
  • I tend to do one thing, a lot, each week. Four weeks ago I worked on a possible book, the following week I blogged a lot, for the last two weeks I've tried to catch up on my reading. I've learned I need to find balance. This shouldn't be an all or nothing kind-of deal.
  • I really, really, don't like the beginnings of books. I read really fast, but am impatient to figure out what is going on. Finding books that I can relax and enjoy the beginning are rare and beautiful. 
  • I could spend my life happily in pajama pants, a t-shirt, and with a book. 
Seriously, here's what I read last week. Happily, I accomplished my goals from last week:

And with that, I reached 101 books for the summer. I'm not sure what I will be able to read this week. I start back to school on the 18th, the kids arrive on the 20th. (YAY!)  My goal is to slow down on the reading this week and find some balance. (Which was my one little word this year.) I hope to report back next Monday and be able to say that I read, blogged, wrote, exercised, and got ready for a new year. Here we go! 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Connecting Through Characters

I was talking with a former student at the pool the other day. I absolutely adored this child, even though I knew their early years in school were not a piece of cake. They reminded me that I always told them they were like Percy when they were feeling down. (Jackson, from The Lightning Thief, if you haven’t read it.) They also struggled with ADHD and dyslexia. I wanted them to feel empowered by their differences, not lesser because of them. The secret I didn’t share with my fabulous student was when I was frustrated, I also thought of Percy. He’s a character I adored, and if I loved him, I could make it through whatever struggle we were having that day. The connection of my student and a favorite character benefited us both.

I do that a lot; think of my favorite characters in my classroom and who they remind me of in my favorite books. I have many versions of Junie B. Jones, but also several Matties (from Hound Dog True). I might look out and see a Ramona or Clementine, but also a future Brian from Hatchet. Sometimes it is by knowing my students and knowing my favorite characters that I make my first connections during our school year together.

What about you? Are there any characters you see in your students year after year? Do you share that knowledge with your students? If you do, does it help you? Does it help them? Please share! This is a concept that I’m weaving into what may one day be a book and I would love to see if any of your characters are found on my lists as well. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Be sure to visit Mentor Texts  or Unleashing Readers to learn more about It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Super excited that I've passed my summer #bookaday goal and I still have thirteen days left. Last night I finished Muckers, which was book 90 for me. My goal had been 74 this summer. Hard to believe it is almost over.

Here's what I read last week:

Goals for the rest of the week/ summer? Finish up at least three more professional books. (Yardsticks, Morning Meeting, and ??) Also, I have seven state award nominees left to read. They are first up this week. They are:

The Clockwork Three (currently reading)
Saving Zasha
Almost Home
Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading

Happy Reading! 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Writing Notebooks

I’m excited to join Ruth Ayres and Christy Rush-Levine for their first #TandCWriters chat tomorrow night. This is their first chat in what will become a monthly chat I will look forward to, all about teaching and celebrating writers. Their plan is to hold it the first Sunday of every month at 8pm Eastern.

When they asked me to guest host this first one and shared that the topic was routines and procedures in the writing workshop, I will admit I was a bit excited. I love organization. I love the start of the school year. I love teaching my students the routines that will become commonplace, but also help them become the readers and writers they are meant to be. One item that becomes treasured in our writing class is our writing notebooks.

Linda Urban has been blogging lately about her writing notebook and I love reading her thinking. (Her blog is HERE.) One day I’d love to write a book just about getting kids to fall in love with writing. I’m not ready to write it yet, because I’m still learning with my students. But man, we’ve come so far.

It was May of 2013 that I knew I needed to change something. Gae Polisner had Skyped in with my class. She asked them two simple questions. First, she asked them to raise their hand if they loved reading. I’d say 22 out of 23 hands shot up. Then she asked them to raise their hand if they loved writing. A few hands went up; most spun their heads and looked at me. Gae asked them why they were looking at me and they shared that they didn’t want to make me sad, but most of them didn’t like writing. When asked why, my student Josh looked at me and asked if he’d get in trouble if he said what was on his mind. I replied no and he said, “Because writing is hard. Mine sucks.” Ahhh.

Gae shared with them some secrets. That all authors tend to think their writing “sucks” at the beginning. And it was then that I made my goal for the following year. I wanted the kids to use their notebooks more. To see that all writers are insecure about their writing at times. That revision was what made writing shine.

This past school year we had one main writing assignment each day. Write for ten minutes. I did not grade this. I truly just wanted my students to begin living a writing life. If they wanted to make lists, comics, write poems, it all worked. In some ways this worked great, in others, I still have room to grow.

At the end of the year when surveyed, over half – almost 75%  - of the students listed writing as something they loved to do. I think I’m on the right track, but I know I didn’t teach the procedures of keeping the notebook as well as I could have. That’s where I’m beginning this year.

We’re beginning the year with a slice of life unit to get to know our fellow classmates. We’ll be writing in our notebooks, picking one slice to extend on our blogs once a week. I want to teach the following with our notebooks:
  • Finding a time each day to spend thinking and writing.
  • The idea that our entries can be narrative, comics, sketches, or something we tape in and write off of.
  • How to reread our entries and take a piece to inspire new writing.
  • What it is like to be inspired by your daily life and want to write about it.
  • How to be inspired by another author’s words.
  • How we will share our writing with classmates.
  • How we will respond to classmates’ writing.
  • When I will look at their writing (weekly) and how I will grade it (did they do it?)

I’m interested to see how writing notebooks continue to grow. I’m hopeful that they students will continue to grow to love writing as much as they love reading. I loved having them write for ten minutes daily last year – the ease at which most of them began to be able to sit down and write showed me that this assignment could have great benefits for all of them.

Hope to see you tomorrow night for what I’m certain will be a great chat. I can’t wait to be inspired by you all and grab some ideas that I could try in my classroom this year. The last part of the chat will be for all of us to share some celebrations about teaching writers. Let’s celebrate!
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