Monday, September 30, 2013

Slice of Life - Rose-Colored Glasses

I was talking to a friend the other day and she asked me how my year was going so far. I replied that – like always in September – I was exhausted, but I loved my class. She laughed and said that I always love my class – did I really just get a great class each year?

That made me think. It is true, I always love my class. Many classes are challenging, and as a whole some might exhaust me, but when I think of individual kids, I can’t help but smile. Every kid I have taught – every one – has taught me something during our year together. Who can’t love that?

This was also on my mind as I then scanned Facebook. (Still on more than I should, but much less since my resolutions of last week.) Facebook makes me sad more often than it should. Whether it is looking at people bashing folks in charge of our town for one thing or another, to people complaining about where the new library will be built, it’s ugly. I don’t understand negativity. I don’t understand always looking for what people are doing wrong instead of what they are doing right.

I turned away from Facebook and shook my head. I am not na├»ve. I realize the people in government might not always make the right decisions. And I guess if people want to spend the little time they have on earth focusing on that, putting their time into pointing out others mistakes, that’s their choice. That will not be the way I will spend my time.

Last week our community lost another young person to cancer. Kyle was only thirty-one. He had many years ahead of him with his wife and two young children. I didn’t know Kyle well, I’ve only had the chance to meet him in passing. What I remember about him is his smile. He seemed happy and full of life.
Photo Credit - Jill Lubbers. You can see Kyle's impact.
Farmers lined their tractors up for the trip to the cemetery. 

Kyle was on my mind all weekend. I often think about things like how you are remembered. Will I be remembered as someone who brought joy to people’s lives or one who brought others down? I don’t want to focus on the negativity in this world, there is already enough of that to go around. I’m of the opinion that we get to choose where to put our energy. So that is what I’m going to continue to do.

I use this blog to talk about education, books, and my reflections on the classroom. I occasionally might throw out something in education that is making me crazy (hello CCSS.) And here’s the thing – there’s a lot in education that is making me a bit crazy, just as there are a lot of folks in my town who’s overall view of spewing vitriol on Facebook make me feel insane. I can choose to focus on that, or I can choose to make a small difference in my own way. That’s my choice and that is where I choose to put my energy. I will work to be a positive force, not a negative one. I have no expectations that my words will impact many, but I know my view of life will impact eighty children this year. That matters to me, so pass over those rose-colored glasses. I think they look awesome.   

Side note - Happy Birthday to Chris, my amazing husband who I'm always trying to get to wear some rose-colored glasses of his own. :) 

Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Two Writing Teachers

Sunday, September 29, 2013

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?

Another week gone and amazing books to be shared. Here’s what I read in the past week:

I recommend all of the books but especially Flora, Fangirl, and The Mouse. What a wonderful week of reading. On Thursday I will talk more about What If Everybody Did That? 

Up next? I need to finish Dream Thieves and a few PD books I’ve been reading. Also, according to Goodreads I’m still 50 books behind if I want to finish 400 this year. UGH! Need more time in the day. J

Teaching Reflection

Friday morning I began the day as I always do, catching up on blog posts. I read this one from Pernille Ripp on what her students wanted her to notice. It made me pause.

I always build in reflection into our day, week, month, year. I tell them over and over that the only way to become a better person is to think about where you are and where you want to be. We reflect on our effort in regard to projects, on our behavior in class, on my teaching, etc. When I read Pernielle’s September reflection I was intrigued by the last question,

For October, I wish Mrs. Ripp would notice

Wow. That question made me pause. What would they answer? For a second it worried me – would it show I had missed something big? And then I shook my head. If I have missed something – do I want to keep missing it or do I want to know what is going on? I wanted to know.

I handed out my September reflection – similar to Pernille’s with several questions about reading and writing thrown in. I read the questions aloud to each of my three classes and explained what our purpose was with this reflection. And then I waited.

For the majority of the questions I got the answers I expected. Several wrote how they have struggled with math and made it a goal for next month. (We’ve switched programs and are fully implementing CCSS, so math has been hard for them.) Several wrote how they feel they’re reading more than ever, which didn’t surprise me. Many kids shared that they’ve had some friend issues but are choosing to be kinder after some of our character lessons. One referenced the Walter Payton discussion I wrote about Friday and how he had thought of it during the football game. And then I reached the last question. I had written:

For October, I wish Mrs. S’s would notice…

Nothing, we’re good.

That some of us do choose to be kind, we’re not all mean.

I really am struggling in the other subjects.

I want to be kind, but others don’t. They are mean to me.

I don’t eat breakfast.

I have awesome reading skills.

I am trying.

I read so slow.

I try my hardest.

I am better than I look at things.

How much I read.

I love to read.

That we love her too.

How hard it is for me to find a book I love.

That I am worried because I still don’t love reading.

I am doing better than I was.

I’m trying.

And on, and on, and on. Eighty surveys. Eighty various answers. Some drew pictures for me and made my heart soar. Some made my heart hurt.

This class. This class I have heard about for six years in our district. This class that I have witnesses some of the most unkind acts at recess in my eighteen years of teaching. This class that is worming their way into my heart. I want to take so many of them home with me. I look at their smiling faces and know the sadness that some of them carry, the worries. How could I have been afraid of more reflection? Every piece of themselves they share with me teaches me something new. I grow more and more determined to reach each of them. To help them grow, change, and learn. This reflection was the best way for us to spend our Friday morning. I can’t wait to teach them Monday with the knowledge I have taken from this. And I absolutely cannot wait to see this group in May.  I think they have more potential for change than any group I have ever taught. Now I just have to get them to believe that too.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Teaching the Whole Child

When I look at the Common Core State Standards, I see a glaring hole. I see what I need to teach in reading and in writing, but what the authors of CCSS failed to see, what many parents don’t realize, is that I’m teaching so much more than the standards.

I know so many of you already know this, but teaching is not just about growing academically. Our responsibility as teachers is to teach the whole child. While I knew this before, when I became a parent this mission grew. As my own children have grown closer to my grade, the need to teach items not found on a list of standards has intensified.

It’s hard to describe what we do throughout a school year and have anyone else understand. I think it would be fascinating to write down the decisions I make and the discussions I have in a day and analyze them. For example, on a daily basis I help students find books, decode words, read for meaning, grow as writers, analyze words for spelling insights, teach technology apps, create projects, and more. I also sooth hurt feelings, have lessons on friendship, discuss peer pressure, hold mini-lessons on sportsmanship, dry tears, dole out hugs, and on, and on, and on.

This week is the perfect example of what I am referring to. On Tuesday I had lunch in my classroom, shoveling food into my mouth as I rushed to grade a stack of reading responses in the few minutes before the students returned. As I sat in my quiet classroom, voices drifted up from the playground below. I listened as a few girls in my class spoke unkindly about another child. My heart hurt as I wondered, once again, what makes children behave this way. I debated what to do, and decided to wait.

Wednesday I brought in two items that I had received in the mail on Tuesday. Both items were examples of kind things two friends had done for me the day before. Both friends hadn’t needed to do either thing, and expected nothing in return. I showed these examples to my students. I talked about how these acts told me a lot about my friends. What type of people they are. We talked about how the words we say and the actions we carry out make up who we are as people. While we can say that judging others is wrong, we do it. And the way we judge others is based on how they act and what we say. I shared with them the fact that I had overheard the conversation from recess. Some folks eyes got big when they realized I had heard them. We talked about the concern I have, some of the “meanness” that I have seen this year rocks me to my core. It is a new level for me and one that I am unsure how to handle. We discussed Julian from Wonder. They can all point out what he did wrong, but they do not see it in themselves and I worry.

Then the conversation took an interesting turn. Several boys in my rotation are in JFL – Junior Football League. They had their final game of the season that night. They began talking about sportsmanship on the field and trash talking, linking it to bullying and choosing kind. We had a great discussion over the fact that we don’t play dirty, trash talk, or find a need to do celebration dances in the end zone. Our actions show if we are the superior team. We even pulled in Walter Payton into the discussion talking about the example he set on the field. I didn’t realize how important this conversation would be.

A few hours later I was watching that game. My son, Luke, is on the team. I watched the other team take cheap shots, throw some punches in piles, and have personal foul after personal foul called against them. While I am not usually very competitive, I wanted our team to win. I couldn’t believe that fifth graders were playing this way and their coach was not benching them. It was ugly.

We won. I walked down on the field to congratulate the players – my students. One group rushed over to me and said, “Mrs. S – you need to go teach those kids about Payton and Choosing Kind.” I just hugged them and said congratulations.

Looking over my students the next day I shared that story with each class. The way we act matters. The words we use matters. The lessons I am pouring into them for the last six weeks cannot be aligned to any standard, but I am beginning to think that if I didn’t start here, we wouldn’t get where we need to go. This group that I am surrounded by each day is one I am growing so fond of. I know they can make better choices, I know they can be brave. There are issues, but there are so many bright spots when I look at their faces. I am simply blinded by them. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Embracing Close Reading

Have you been following the blog posts from Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts? They have a new book coming out on close reading. When I first heard the topic for their book, I was skeptical. I feel like CCSS and the focus on the tests have moved us away from what is important in reading and put too much emphasis on test taking skills. But then I read their posts and listened to their podcast with Franki Sibberson. I have to say, this is something I can support.

It was in listening to the podcast that I began thinking of close reading in my own life. When I teach reading and writing I’m often looking for authentic lessons. What can I teach my students that I actually use as a reader or writer? Chris and Kate talked to Franki about the ways we read closely in our everyday lives and I smiled. I had just read “closely” that very morning.

My husband and I are currently planning a trip to Disney World this spring. I’ve been scouring websites reading and rereading to learn about tickets, lines, lodging, meal plans, and more. I’ve researched from different websites, received anecdotal evidence from friends, and had experts send me information as well. I’ve taken notes and referred to them, forming decisions as I go. The first time I heard the term “close reading,” I dismissed it as a test taking strategy and not something I'd really use. In reality, however, all of the reading I was doing for our trip was close reading.

With that in mind, I thought about my students. I didn’t mind the work I did researching Disney World because it was a topic I was excited about. How could I tap into that with my students? What I decided was to incorporate some close reading with some research. My students are currently researching endangered animals with their Social Studies/ Science teacher. Fifth graders love animals and they beg me every spare minute they have to go use a computer and learn more about the animals they picked. Wondering how I could harness this excitement, I asked their teacher what their end product would be. In her class they need to create a poster with drawings and facts. I returned to my class. How would they feel about writing up a research paper, a brochure, or a slide to go with their poster on their endangered animal? They cheered. My husband thought I was joking when I relayed that to him, kids cheering at the idea of writing more? Doing more research? Yep, they sure did.

Tomorrow we will begin talking about how we read our articles and websites to gather information we need. We will discuss sources, note taking, and more. We will practice reading an article once, and then rereading to glean information from it. I am excited to begin and see what my students teach me along the way.