Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Learning About Engagement

I’ve been thinking a lot about engagement lately. I helped a special education student teacher plan a unit so that she could teach in my reading classes. Topic? Graphic novels. Using Terry Thompson’s fabulous book, Adventures in Graphica, we sketched out a two-week unit on the components of graphic novels. The cumulating assessment has the students creating their own comics and reflecting on why they made the choices they did for their comic.

When I co-teach, I add to the conversation during the mini-lesson, but I also move around the back of our group a lot, checking in on the students I can’t see as easily from the front of the carpet. What I’ve noticed throughout this unit is that they don’t need a lot of direction to stay on task – these kids are engaged.

Today we detailed what we were asking for in the final piece of the unit. They are to create a rough sketch for their rough draft – planning out panels, speech bubbles, think of perspective, etc. After working through that planning piece, they will move on to a final draft, adding detail and color as they go. I’ve done my own rough draft, and during our work time today, I finished my final draft.

Sitting at the round table in the front of my room during work time, I glanced up and looked around the room. We’d had our mini-lesson for reading and writing and I had listed the projects students could work on for workshop time. Looking at the clock, I realized that almost thirty minutes had passed. I stood, stretched, and glanced at the kids who I was sitting with. We had been quietly chatting as we worked and their comics were amazing.

Moving around the room to check in on other groups, there was a quiet hum of conversation coming from every corner. Kids were working on their comics at various stages – rough drafts (due tomorrow), final drafts for those already ahead (due Friday). There were some kids working on their book of Heart Poems which was due Friday, but I had extended the due date by a week due to some technology issues we’ve had. Regardless of what part of the room I visited, they were working hard.

After moving around the room, I returned to my group and my table to finish my comic. Reflecting on the class, I thought through the parts of the workshop that made it easier for the students to focus and work. They chose where they were sitting and whom they were sitting by. They chose how to use their time and which project to work on. And while they didn’t get to choose the assignment, they had a great deal of choice on how they completed it.

Choice obviously has a great deal to do with the focus I saw in our classroom, but I still think I can do more. This weekend I watched my oldest son, a fifth grader as well, spend well over two hours creating another video for his YouTube channel. He scripted the video, filmed it, edited it in iMovie, uploaded it, and created a trailer. (You can be entertained by it HERE.) The only part that I taught him in the beginning was a five-minute lesson on the little I knew about iMovie, the rest he taught himself.

The same day I stumbled across a beauty blog written by a former student. While not in my homeroom, I had her for one class and wouldn’t have thought writing was her passion. Reading her blog, I was stunned. It was well done and she had obviously put forth a lot of effort into the look and feel of the entire site.

Thinking of my son and former student, I couldn’t help but think of my current class. They show so much promise at times – like this week. But looking at Luke’s YouTube channel, or this girl’s blog, I feel like we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg at school. How can we change our classrooms to really allow our students to flourish? What can we create that will really make them think? Inspire? What can I do to facilitate that type of learning? I feel like I’m hovering around the answer, but not completely there. Looking at my class today I knew that what we were doing was awesome, but I think we’re ready for the next level. Now I just need to figure out what that is.

Sunday, April 27, 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?

Last week I didn't get a ton of reading in, but did find time to read some terrific books. My favorites were Grandfather Gandhi, which I also read to my reading classes, and Seeing the Blue Between, which I've shared a bit of each day in Writing Workshop. 

This is the same photo of my "to read" stack from last week. I did manage to read through the Disney guide - and thanks for all of the recommendations! I'm halfway through Revolution and am in love with it, although I want to strangle the character of Sunny at times. My goal is to finish that today and move on to Readers Front and Center next.

Hope you have a great week! Happy Reading! 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Celebrate This Week

I’m joining up with Ruth Ayres for her weekly link-up, Celebrate This Week. Check out all of the posts linked up at her blog HERE. Thanks for starting this, Ruth!

A Celebration in Pictures

A full week, an excellent week. First, thanks so much to so many of you that have reached out to talk to me about classroom management. I appreciate every comment, message, and email. (Referring to this post HERE) Still mulling over the topic, prewriting in my mind. 

As for this week - I love the mosaic to recap the week, so I went with it again. 

Row 1: Liam's birthday. Love how funny my boys find my great uncle. And on Easter - enjoying strawberry daiquiris and time with cousins.

Row 2: Family shot from Easter, my students learning about a K-9 unit, and a student teacher sharing her knowledge on graphic novels with my reading class.

Row 3: Celebrating Poem in Your Pocket day with Mr. Schu's second graders and spotting Boy+Bot

Row 4: Liam's beautiful work from his Open House, Luke reading his poem to his reading teacher - me, and Luke and Liam with their amazing third grade teacher, Ms. Plecki. 

What an amazing week. Can't wait to see what this weekend brings! 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Slice of Life - Bits of Fur

Vacuum in hand,
I roll back and forth
Over the kitchen floor.

Dust gets sucked up,
Some dirt,
A bit of a brownie,
A stray Cheerio.

Then I see the fur,
Tumbleweeding across the floor.
It goes with the brownie and the Cheerio.


Each swipe of the vacuum,
Finds a bit more stray fur.

I know,
There will be none left.

It doesn’t matter,
I tell myself.
As I continue to move through the kitchen.

It doesn’t matter,
It doesn’t matter,
It doesn’t matter.

Wiping away tears,
I know that’s a lie I tell myself.

Who knew fur meant so much?

Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers. For the month of March we are posting a slice each day on our blog. Join in!

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?

It's been awhile since I have joined the It's Monday posts. Took a bit of a blogging break, but am back and feeling much more organized. 

Last week I read:

I loved each and every one of them. For my students, my favorite might be Bugged. Great non-fiction book and I'm still telling people odd facts I picked up while reading it. 

This week I'm going to read:
We're heading to Disney World this summer. Any tips? I've been three times as a kid, but this will be the first visit for my boys. (They have been to Disneyland once.) Are you an expert? Let me know anything we shouldn't miss. (I believe we're staying at Animal Kingdom, if that helps.)

Have a great week!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

If Not For Franki...

Today is Franki Sibberson’s birthday. I am thrilled to get the chance to gush unabashedly about this amazing person. Franki is a person that I only met in real life three years ago, but feel like I have known my entire life. When I was asked to reflect on what this crazy person has done for me, I was a bit overwhelmed.

If not for Franki,
I wouldn’t have run three 5Ks
In the last two years.

If not for Franki,
I would have been ashamed of my turtle pace,
Plodding to the finish line.
She cheered me on,
And helped me find the positive.

If not for Franki,
I wouldn’t have gone to All Write.
Met so many of my friends in person.
Became the teacher I was meant to be.

If not for Franki,
I wouldn’t write for Choice Literacy.
Fearing my writing is inferior,
That I don’t have a message worth sharing.
That my writing doesn’t belong there.

Franki is the world’s best cheerleader.
Best friend.
Best force for positive energy.

I can text Franki and ask for advice,

She will research,
Find connections,
Give me direction.

If not for Franki,
I wouldn’t have half of the dreams,
I am now reaching for.
I wouldn’t know many of my closest friends.
Or be pushing myself each day,
To grow in a new way.

Franki – happy, happy, birthday.
I hope it is amazing and full of friends, family,
and lots and lots of laughter.

You have made me a better teacher,
Guided me,
Pushed me.

If not for you, this world sure would be one dull place. J
Thanks for everything!


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Celebrate this Week

I’m joining up with Ruth Ayres for her weekly link-up, Celebrate This Week. Check out all of the posts linked up at her blog HERE. Thanks for starting this, Ruth!

A Celebration in Pictures

This week has been filled with emotions - sadness over the loss of our dog, celebration in the classroom and at home. I thought the easiest way to sum it up, was with a mosaic. 

Row 1: We said good-bye to Bally last Saturday. She was our child before we had children. It was hard, but I was so touched by the outpouring of love online, in my classroom (these flowers are from a student), and in the mail. We sure miss her, but are beyond grateful we got to love her for almost 14 years.

Row 2: Excitement and joy throughout the week - letters from former students in anticipation of Teacher Appreciation week, author Jaleigh Johnson was kind enough to visit, and it was warm enough to go outside for an extra recess! 

Row 3: Researching in anticipation of our author visit, spine poetry, and hanging with family - perfection.

Row 4. We have a nine-year-old in the house! Liam's gifts from us all involved the word Nerf. Jaleigh Johnson, the author that visited our classroom, is also our neighbor. I wonder if she would have wanted to come in knowing how many more Nerf darts will be stuck in her bushes after this weekend. The second picture is Liam's gift - Luke wrapped the Nerf items to look like a vacuum. Hilarious. And finally, our nine-year-old. He's getting so big! Liam gave his presentation on Walter Payton this week. I couldn't help but remember the three-year-old who cried when he went to school. All. Day. Long. Who had the speech teacher hold him because he was afraid. Who didn't speak for the first year of pre-school. Time flies. 

And if you didn't see my post yesterday, I'm contemplating on writing a book on classroom management and the importance of relationships. I'm looking for feedback on what is the biggest struggle you see with classroom management. For me, one I think of is the outdated belief that a silent classroom is a well behaved classroom. How about you? Thanks for all of the comments and emails already. You all rock! 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Reaching Out: Thinking about Relationships and Classroom Management

So sorry for the radio silence here, are you all still with me? I love the Slice of Life month, but I tend to be tired of daily writing and publishing after thirty-one days straight. I’m sure there is some lesson there for my students. J

Also, we have a little guy turning nine in my home today. Our last two weeks have been filled with celebrations and parties – including one hosted here tomorrow.

And sadly, our beautiful dog, Bally, left us after almost fourteen years last Saturday. It has been harder on me than I expected. This is all to say, I haven’t written, but this blog has been on my mind.

If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you know I am contemplating writing a book for teachers. I’ve started and stopped more drafts than I want to admit. I’ve known for some time that I want to write about the importance of relationships, but I’ve been searching for a frame. I think I might have found it.

Each year I go to the University of Illinois to speak to a group of student teachers. This year I was told that they were struggling with classroom management and was asked to speak to that. I laughed. This seems to come up a lot, and I’m asked to speak about how I manage a classroom often, but I abhor the term “classroom management.” I have no rules posted in my room, no management system. There are days that my students are so chatty that I feel like I’m losing my mind. There are days that I struggle with the concept myself. That being said, if you took every evaluation I’ve had since I began teaching until now, the area of classroom management always has the highest marks. My former principal wrote once that my students are always focused, on task, and seem relaxed without a strict system in place. Thinking of these new teachers I was preparing to talk to, I realized there was only one reason my classroom ever seems that way – and it is the one thing I’m interested in writing about – relationships.

As I spoke to these students I realized that maybe this was the book I needed to write – classroom management in the workshop classroom. My room is seldom quiet – and I think that is the old concept – that a quiet room is a well-behaved room. I do think I have some ideas about what I would include in a book like this – if there is ever one that I acutally get written. (I have a lot of big ideas at times!) But I wanted to reach out to you. What are you looking for in a book like this? Or, what would you have liked to read when you were starting out? What struggles do you still have with classroom management? How do you think classroom management has changed over the years?

I’d love to hear anything you want to share with me! If you want to leave a note in the comments, that would be awesome. If you want help with a scenario or have a longer comment – feel free to email me. The icon at the top right of this page will take you to my email.

Thanks so much for helping me brainstorm! Please share this post if you get a chance. I’d love to hear from as many teachers as possible.

Have a fabulous weekend!