Time to Reflect #sol19

Screen Shot 2019-12-09 at 4.31.14 PM.pngTime to ReGroup (& Reflect) #sol19

December 10, 2019

We’ve come to the time of the year when it’s time to take stock.  Prepare for our New Year’s resolutions so to speak.  Take some time to consider how far we’ve come from the aspirations of early fall to the reality of early winter.  A new season of school is upon us.

We can no longer attribute difficulties to ‘summer loss’ or ‘adjusting to the school year’, now it’s all on us (collectively).  What are the reflective questions to ask ourselves?

For me, so much about this tenth year in this same school is similar and yet it feels so different.  With a dramatic shift in the personnel around me and the allocation of my time, I find myself carefully considering many things about both my yearly trajectory and my day-to-day practice.  I believe this happens to those of us who work in education quite frequently.  Mostly, it’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing because the less stagnant we become, the fresher we are for those around us.  I have a lot of experience in literacy and elementary school, but I work best when I approach each new challenge with fresh ideas and a full toolkit.  Success is more often the outcome when I listen, I observe, I carefully consider, I remain true to my overall philosophies of learning, and then, only then, I offer suggestions.

We have a child study team at our school, similar to many other RtI practicing schools.  I am well known for taking copious notes and always offering up some out-of-the box ideas along with the standard fare.  Thinking about something we haven’t tried keeps us focusing on the uniqueness of each student, each classroom, and each situation that comes our way.

One challenge that remains stubbornly consistent over the last years is spelling.  Spelling?!?  Not word-solving in reading to any extent, but spelling.  If I am being honest, I used to think, spelling?  That’s what spell-check is for.  It will work itself out with technology and practice.  Through happenstance, I decided last week to take spelling head-on.  What can we consistently do to improve the spelling of individual students and our students overall?  Is this perception or reality?  How is this global issue related to others that seem to be perennials in the landscape of our school lives?

What do we do when we try to solve a problem?  We get right in there.  But for some reason (I think I know why),  I decided this time, this time it wasn’t going to be about me swooping in and solving a problem by offering a solution to a teacher and most especially, a student.  This time was going to be about me listening, reflecting, creating agency in the student herself.  So instead of asking, what’s up with this?  I asked,  what are you already doing well?  Hey, kiddo,  spelling (insert difficulty here) is a big elephant of a thing.  What do you think you are doing ok?  How do you know?  Then, and only then, did I ask, what do you think you might work on right now? 

Here’s what it looked like on paper.

IMG_5455It isn’t magical.  It isn’t an amazing piece of insight.  Honestly, it might not work.  The look on the student’s face as she created this alongside me was everything.  I hope it will be a game-changer, but I’m at peace if it isn’t.  There will be something else to try, to tweak, to discuss.  What all of this is about is moving forward, giving something a go, building agency and mindset and all those things that will stay with a learner long after she’s left me behind.

Here they are, her ideas in my handwriting.  As we move forward, I hope she will see it as her success as well.

 

img_0602 I write in the company of the writing community created by Two Writing Teachers.  I thank them and all my fellow writers for building agency in me and helping me feel my own success.

The Truth about Teaching #sol19

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The Truth about Teaching #sol19

October 29, 2019

This morning, I had a plan, a plan to join some third graders as they began to explore persuasive writing and speeches.  A wonderful new book on my desk, I began to reread to plan out my stop and talks.  It occurred to me after I had read about ten pages that this particular book wasn’t really going to work.  #hatewhenthathappens   All my other persuasive text for the most part were loaned out.  What to do? 

I dug out another book.  Screen Shot 2019-10-29 at 1.52.47 PM

Truthfully,  I’ve been thinking about a way to use it.

I arrive at the class with a sharpie, my big notebook, some index cards, an anchor chart and this book.  Ok, kiddos, I say.  You were writing opinions yesterday right?  (mediocre answers) . So today,  let’s see how this author tells us his opinion.  

The book is amusing, full of side comments by the bears.  5 pages in I ask,  what kind of book does this seem like to you?  The kids look at me incredulously. Perhaps they think their thinking isn’t quite right.  Finally a brave students says, it seems like informationalYep, I said, the author is telling us a lot of facts about bearsWonder why?  Let’s see if we can figure it out.   We finish the story and I ask again, what was the author hoping we would do?  Again, hesitantly they say,  he wanted us to know about bears and teach other people.  Why? I asked.   Silence… then… he wanted us to help the bears.  Why?  So they would have food and some place to live.

Then I ask them, is there something you could teach me about that would make me care more about it?  Some students stayed on the bears.  But two stole my heart.

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So Grandpas don’t get embarrassed.  

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People should close their trash cans so plastic doesn’t go into the water and turtles can be safe. 

They may need finesse, but I’d say these people know how to have an opinion.

As I circle the room, one student is writing facts down about guinea pigs.  Hmm, I say, are you thinking people should own guinea pigs?  In my old school, I had a guinea pig.  You did?!?!  the table group erupts.  We should have a class pet!

We sat down as a group to have a chat about the opinion we should have a class pet.  First they want to discuss what kind of pet. Rattlesnake, monkey, dog, cat, guinea pig. They think about the pros. We can pet it when we are sad.  It will be something to talk to.  It will make kids want to come to school more.   And then,  one student says, there are reasons why we shouldn’t have a pet.  Sure, I say.  What?  We have to clean up after them.  People are allergic.  Counterargument.  Not taught, just caught. Messy, all over the place, student led learning.  Do you think we can really get a pet? they ask.

 

Total Effort #sol19

Total Effort #sol19

Just arrived. I’ll set up

I sent this text this morning, but it could have been sent most mornings over the last 20 years to be honest.  Wildly overcommitted… today.  But today, the overcommitment mentioned above created a sandwich with a very satisfying day of professional development for our staff.  Each grade level, an hour and a half of deep discussion, planning, and trying it out.  It’s a perfect combination.

It’s also messy.  Here’s a small story of today’s mess.  Our staff developer has worked with us for two years.  This is her first year with the primary grade teams, but she is well known to me.  We planned out the skeleton of this learning day last week.  As a team, we work well together and are willing to give most lessons with most students a try at the drop of a hat.

A small story about that attitude.  Often this drop-of-a-hat planning requires a quick trip to the literacy center for any number of books, office supplies, grand conversation notebooks, mentor texts, or notebooks.  Today, we got the idea (her, not me) that we should use an actual Big Book instead of a document camera or a picture book.

Aghast,  I said,  I didn’t purchase any of these books.  They’ve been here forever… I’m not sure.  But we were committed to Big Books, so she began to riffle through the collection.  Finally, she began to sort books out onto the literacy center floor and I noticed that they were books that we probably both used when we first started teaching.  Ones that we remembered fondly, but haven’t looked at in quite a while. See where this is going. 

So we brought the books back to the training room and lined them along the chair rail around the room.  I noticed then that they were all by a particularly famous author of guided reading texts, all decades old.

One by one the teachers encouraged by us, picked up a book to read and then fairly quickly returned them to the shelf. This book is weird, they said.  Hmmm. We read a few.  They were odd in that out of date sort of way.  The two of us undaunted, chose one to read ourselves and demonstrate to the class. (First Grade) . The book was filled with animals, when one laughed at the other, the other would threaten to eat them and then do just that.  Page after page of one cantankerous animal being eaten by a slightly larger one. That dog can’t eat the cat. said one very astute first grader.  As you might guess at the end of the story, the alligator gets the hiccups and much like that little old lady, all the animals rejoin.  In the end, all the animals go happily off with each other.  Crazy, inappropriate book.

The students were astounded that we offered up this crazy tale, but by page 2 were reading along noticing word endings and becoming more and more fluent.  All of us enjoyed the reading, not because the book was great, but because the company was.  A passel of first graders, some enthusiastic teachers, a moment of time, and a sketchy plan with a purpose.  A almost perfect combination.

How does this relate to my wild overcommitment or my last minute searching and planning?  Perhaps this is what they mean by not letting the good get in the way of the great.  We didn’t need a perfect book, a perfect plan, or even a perfect amount of time.  The readers showed what they knew,  we gave them a chance to try out their skills, and the two adults (and perhaps the observers) had a jolly good literacy experience.  Next time, a teacher will try these ideas out.  That teacher might have a better plan.  She might have the tools all perfectly set out.  He might have a better book. (I hope so… I’ll be buying some this week).  Or maybe they won’t.  Maybe they will get the idea to try this on their way to school,  they will read through a book they have quickly, plan out a lesson in ten minutes, and artfully deliver some magic all before lunch.

I hope so.

I’ll be wildly overcommitted tomorrow as well, but if you have a wild idea to try, I’m all in.

Paint Chip Poetry #playingwithpoetrynpm

A paint chip poem inspired by Elisabeth Ellington who was inspired by an I am exercise in Susan Goldsmith Woodbridge’s book, Poemcrazy, Freeing Your Life with Words.

Paint chips are amazing. Go on over to the hardware store and load up. I want a second set right now. Devoid of verbs, paint chip names abound with adjectives and nouns. To complete this exercise like the mentor, I transposed one title and added articles, prepositions and the sentence stems from the exercise. This was fun.

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Poemcrazy exercise

Just pile on words. Don’t think. See images. Daydream with words. Wander. Go crazy defining yourself…

 

 

 

 

What I Am

I am seasoned salt,

the pencil sketch of early September.

The clear vista of my heart

is a stargazer on a September morning.

I am every growing season

keeping promises of a new day on

a distant shore.

I don’t know soft secrets or solemn silence.

I’m a blazing bonfire in the

Chicago fog,

a summer dragonfly at a lawn party.

I want to be a rolling pebble,

A sand pearl, a hush in beach grass.

Nail Polish Name Poetry #playingwithpoetrynpm

Playing with poetry further, I took Elisabeth Ellington’s nail polish name poem as a mentor. I have a box of nail polish, apparently ripe with racy innuendo. This wouldn’t be an elementary school project. Here it is. Each line of poetry is a nail polish name in my collection.

Nail Polish Poetry #playingwithpoetrynpm

April 7, 2019

bahama mama

aruba blue

haute in the heat

berry naughty

bikini so teeny

The girls are out

Breaking curfew!

wicked wild (nude)

no more film

e-nuf is e-nuf!

Reflection: The Fuel #sol19

For the month of March , I will be participating in the Slice of Life Challenge (#sol19) sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. I will be slicing each day for 31 days inspired by my work as a literacy specialist and coach, my life, and my fellow bloggers.

Reflection:  The Fuel #sol19

March 27, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-03-26 at 8.59.58 PMFeeling a little tired after facilitating a curriculum meeting yesterday after school yesterday, reflecting on my retired colleagues’ happiness displayed over dinner last night, and three  problem solving meetings before ten,  I am definitely out of sorts.  Not an acceptable way to be in an elementary school.

Heading down the hall after missing a few groups this morning,  I stop by the door to pick up my 10:20 appointment.  His whole face lights up with a smile.

Here I am, he says.

After sending him back to fetch the book we are discussing together, we head off down the hall.  I haven’t noticed yet but my mood is already starting to lift.  We sit down head to head to catch up with Sugar and her chicken squad.

Chapter 6?  I say.

Chapter 7! my companion says assuredly.

I flip through the book pages, reading our thoughts from the preceding days. Sugar is the kind of chicken who likes to make plans that help herself.  Sugar is the kind of children who takes charge.  Sugar is the kind of chicken who has lots of ideas.  I remind him that we are the kind of readers who want to solve the mystery, but know our work for this book is to think about the character and how she changes.  We read another chapter together, whispering when the character whispers, being loud when she is loud.  Soon it is time for our final thoughts and back to class.

See you tomorrow, he says.

Can’t wait, I say.

Off then to another third grade where they are comparing two books,  Nerdy Birdy and A Bike Like Sergio’s.  One of our writers exclaims that he can’t possible write or remember all of our thinking…  Give it a try, says his teacher.  Practice with Mrs. Kennedy.  Soon my time with them is up,  then on to the next class, where we are tackling a story mountain considering Peter’s motivation for running away from home and returning.

By the time I return to the literacy center,  there is a spring in my step, happy thoughts fill my head and a smile graces my face.  The intervention teacher working in the center turns to me and smiles back.  Oh, I sign,  I need to remind myself that the cure for everything is a little while with the students.

Yes, she says, you do need to remember that.

Monday Bookshelf: Fairy Tale(ish) Edition #sol19

For the month of March , I will be participating in the Slice of Life Challenge (#sol19) sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. I will be slicing each day for 31 days inspired by my work as a literacy specialist and coach, my life, and my fellow bloggers.

Monday Bookshelf:  Fairy Tale(ish) Edition #sol19

March 11, 2019

If you are reading this, you might have the same problem I do.  Bookshelves bursting at the seams and an organization system that works one day, but not the next.  Welcome to my Monday bookshelf, where I will organize a stack of books within a category.  Hopefully this stack will resonate.

Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 4.31.28 PM.pngStack 2:  Fairy Tale, Folk Tale, Fable, Traditional Tale… Any Book with Strong Archetypes and a Lesson

Being a little tired of most fairy tales where the female character is at the whim of the male power character,  I branch out to other books that have a traditional tale feel without actually being one.  All except The Three Little Pigs, which could be either gender and seem to work with every demonstration lesson ever.  (Don’t believe me.  It’s Tammy Mulligan’s theory.  Give it a try)  For that story,  you don’t need a book.  Every single person knows what happens.  Here is a collection of books with a strong lesson, strong characters, and character change. 

 

Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.28.17 PMA Camel in the Sun inspired by a retelling of a traditional Muslim hadith, or account of the words or actions of the Prophet,  this is the story of a camel whose owner only realizes his selfish ways when the Prophet appears and tends to the camel humanely.

 
Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.27.05 PMThe Wolf, The Duck, and the Mouse   This is a crazy tale where the victims change the tables on the villain.  Who is the bad guy in this story?  Perfect for the student who loves a twist.

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Little Tree  The little tree stubbornly refuses to let go and faces the consequences.  There is a strong message here about change.   Very simple text and beautiful illustrations.

 

Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.24.39 PMThe Uncorker of Ocean Bottles   I’m not sure what kept me from this book until now.  The Uncorker has the solitary job of retrieving bottles from the ocean and delivering them to the appropriate persons until one day…

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Horrible Bear   As in many of Ame Dyckman’s books,  the obvious bad guy just isn’t.  Misjudged,  the bear isn’t the one with the lesson to learn  See also  Wolfie the Bunny and Misunderstood Shark

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Chopsticks  I kind of want to include an AKR book into every category I make.  They can be used for so many.  Chopsticks think they can only work together, until… See also Spoon and Exclamation Mark.

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Bloom  is a fairy tale with an anti-hero.  She’s the solution that no one wants.  She doesn’t have to be the one to save the day,  she can give her powers away. Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.20.31 PM

 

 

 

 

Also in the Stack:    Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.58.55 PMThe Princess and the Pit Stop a delightful mashup of many tales where the heroine definitely makes things happen  Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.59.55 PM

After the Fall    a familiar tale with a much more satisfying ending

 

 

and  Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 4.01.26 PM.pngWe Don’t Eat our Classmates

I have never seen this problem in a classroom and yet, I think we can all relate