Tuesday, 5 August 2014

New (School) Year Resolutions: August is a teacher's January

Setting Goals with Intention: Students First
Before Labor Day weekend, I get to see their faces.  Those smiles, still in sundresses and flip flops.  They are the little people who will fill my world with wonder for the next two years.  Putting students first continues to be the most important priority for teachers.  All our intentions and motivations at the beginning of the school year need to be about developing a relationship with each child.  Getting photos of each child with their favorite book is a task I hope to complete at Open House.
Eating an Elephant One Bite at a Time: Mapping Out the Year 
There are so many decisions to make.  So many teachers online are sharing back to school routines.  These are critical for promoting independence and collaboration in the classroom.  But, I feel an urgency to get the long term planning and goal setting out of my head and onto some kind of document.  Otherwise, my head is going to EXPLODE! Hopefully, I can sit down with several of my colleagues so we can pool our thoughts to focus on the essentials across the year.  Since I am trying to use Evernote this year, I am wondering if I could take a screen shot of a calendar, import it into Skitch, add notes as needed throughout the year.  There are so many ideas and visions swimming around in my head.  I need to remember to build in a gradual release model in my planning for everything.

Integration of Content: the Old and the New
Its always helpful to look over the curriculum with fresh eyes.  Of course routines are going to take first priority.  There are artful ways to do this well.  What have I done in the past, and how can my students explore the content and processes in new and exciting ways?  I'm excited about creating an email "turn in bin."   Creating an email for my class to use to send all digital assignments is a practice Kristin Ziemke introduced to me at a Reading Workshop.  This and many other tips can be found in the book she coauthored with Stephanie Harvey, Anne Goudvis, and Katie Muhtaris,  Connecting Comprehension and Technology http://www.heinemann.com/products/E04703.aspx  
New Year's Resolutions:  August is a teacher's January
Each summer I spend my August longing for a magic recipe to mix the lovely pace of summer with the insanity of a productive school year.  Keeping up on posts on my blog goes well for September.  But, all of a sudden its March and I am madly blogging with the Two Writing Teachers for the Daily Slice of Life Challenge.  Instead of blogging for myself this year, I'm going to try blogging with my students.  Hopefully, first graders can see the power of writing for an audience starting with their parents.  Next, we will try and communicate with authors and illustrators.  Or, maybe we can even try and correspond through questions to experts.  It's another school year.  I'm fresh and ready to learn right along side my first grade kiddos.  

Friday, 25 July 2014

Engaging in the Digital Learning Community: Playing Full Out

Over the last few days, I have been inspired to go deeper into the on line educational professional community!  How?  Engaging in conversation using Twitter, reflecting about the conversation through blogging, and curating my learning with my own personal digital tools. This is a pretty big commitment.  But, I feel like the two classes I took this summer have me primed for the challenge.

There were a few connections with people to push me into this challenge. First, I have to thank Meenoo Rami, teacher, educational coach and ringleader extraordinaire.  I am only now, through your work on Thrive, getting to know you and the power of one.
Chris Lehman's announcement to coordinate a learning community on line: The Educator Collaborative.    I am thrilled to be able to meet him next week at Hope College.  My final inspiration for all this action is my excitement about the learning I will get from Kristen Ziemke.  After blogging for eight years, I finally feel like I know where I'm going next.  Where I'll end up?  Who knows?

Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Complex Forest of Reading and Writing: What have you found on your journey?

Saugatuck, Michigan
This summer is yet another journey into deeper learning.  My insane teaching friends and I try to stay away from "shop talk" aka "teaching talk." But, to no avail,  our passions rise to the surface.  We are caught in our free time reading and talking and reflecting about teaching.  After many summers of trying to fight it, take a break, create some distance, I have finally accepted that the passion for teaching and learning is a deep part of who I am and not just what I do.  My deeper learning this summer is around reading and writing.  If you are not in education, this may sound too broad a subject to undertake.  But, as a life long goal, teachers are not only caught in the day to day objectives and test questions associated with reading and writing.  It is so much more than that.  The image I have chosen, taken in the deep woods of Michigan serves as a metaphor for the study and reflection  about reading and writing.  The depth of language explored in message between author and reader continues to surprise me, scare me, excite me.  Making a connection between the beginnings of language development with my little people ages 5-8 (first and second graders)  with my own language journey through my adulthood truly connects to the image of the seed growing into a plant maturing into a young tree and finally changing as an adult plant.  That is one way to see the image of the forest.  We are a community of writers and readers, interacting with each other as a growing body, each of us trees.

So what am I learning?  First, the act of reflection never loses its power.  No matter where you are in any career, you are a human being, created with the power and will to create and make meaning!  So, upon entering my 20th year of teaching and learning, I am going deeper into the woods of writing.  This is a dense, complex forest.  Sometimes its hard to see and you have to feel your way through, making your own path.  Part of my path as a writer has been continuing to blog about my learning.  What can you teach me?  If you write, please share your struggle and lonely journey.  In our age of technology, it does not need to be a path of solitude.  We have enough teaching solitude in our classrooms (not that I don't adore spending my days with the little people.)  Please jump into the conversation!  Even if you are not so sure of your online presence, take a risk. If you have the courage to engage on Facebook, Twitter, email, Instagram, heck, texting, then take a leap to share your learning in these contexts.  This is real reading and writing people.  We have this opportunity to share all we do for 180 days in our mini communities.    Don't be afraid to celebrate your amazing journey through the woods.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

School's Out: So How Come I Can't Stop Learning?

I must be mad.  There was a week of moving my classroom.  Yet, here I am taking a class, blogging, reading articles, reading books.  I can't stop myself.  There are so many people I don't have time to follow during the school year.  Now, is the time.  I know it won't last forever.  It never does.  But, I have really missed writing about my learning.  There has been other writing getting done, just different writing.  Over the last two years challenging myself to develop a deeper relationship with God has steered me in the direction of writing as reflection and prayer.  This is a new kind of writing for me, a new genre, if you will.  It's powerful and personal and transformational.  But, like everything else we learn to do, we need to dig in hard with all we have, then pull back and look for balance.  Maybe everyone else doesn't do it this way.  Maybe this is just the way I do it.

As I continue to grow wiser (not older, right - who needs that?) my hope is to continue to find balance in my writing as in everything I do.  I guess its wise to notice that life doesn't work that way - in perfect balance.  Life is an ever changing unpredictable journey.  We just have to trust we are doing the best we can with what we know now and what we have in front of us.  Otherwise we are doomed to live in the world of what ifs.  But, that's not really living, is it? 

Friday, 18 April 2014

Play, for the sake of it!

I am so serious when I teach.  I really need to loosen up.  One way I try to laugh more is reading funny books.  Right now I'm reading The Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin.  There is a ton of sarcasm which requires a lot of inferring.  So, it's a great interactive read aloud.
    Lately, I feel like all the joy in learning is being sucked up by data analysis and close reading.  Don't get me wrong, these teaching tools have a place.  But, like anything else in education, once a shift has been made we educators, and our community, tend to beat a dead horse with the latest educational practice.  In protest, and just to play it up on a Friday, I decided to turn on a song that reminded me of the characters and tone in this book.  The song "Ain't Nobody Here But us Chickens"  is a jaunty tune that requires one to shake a tail feather just a little while listening.  Some students just sat there or hid under a table, because they were literally floored by my behavior.  Others relished the opportunity to dance and celebrate a little. If you need a happy little tune to lighten your mood, try listening to this forgotten gem.  If you are teaching second grade or higher, I recommend this book for some clever writing and mysterious twists.  The characters are simply hilarious.  

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Secret to Success: Keeping students motivated at the end of the year

My lesson plans were complete.  But, I just couldn't predict how productive my second grade kiddos were going to be on the first day back from break.  After attempting to write the schedule on the board twice then erasing it, I came up with an ingenious plan.  "What if I told them all we had to get accomplished today, but let them talk out the schedule?"  I was completely honest with them.  I told them I wasn't sure what their stamina for learning was going to be like, so I decided to ask them what they felt like they could do in each subject.  Their eyebrows went up.  Some of them even sat up on their knees, they were so engaged.  Truly, I saw a physical change in the group.  I even asked about the amount of time they thought was a good amount of time.  Since these second graders are just starting to grasp the concept of time and how long something takes, it was perfect and relevant learning!

Then today when the math lesson didn't allow for enough time to spend on two step story problems I tried the schedule strategy again.  "How many of you feel like you need more time with these two step story problems before the review? Lots of hands went up in the air. "So, looking at our afternoon schedule, what can we take out or move to another day?" Kids just started talking.  Lily said, "We should get rid of word study.  "Why?" I asked.  Most kids chorused, "We don't like it?"  But, I explained their opinions needed to have reasons more convincing.  So, Lily tried again, "We could skip word study for today because we have it for homework." That one made sense.  But, here is the most crazy part.  As soon as I said yes, I would prepare some math two-step story problems instead of word study, they actually cheered!  I glanced slyly over at the Hope College student who practically had her mouth hanging on the floor in total disbelief.  That's how it's done, baby!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

You can do it, teachers!

This is my cheerleader post!  We know its going to be busy.  We know it's like starting all over at the beginning of the year.  Kids get excited, with longer days, more time outside to play.  Thank goodness.  With the winter we had, should there be any complaints?  I think not!  What if we were as thrilled to welcome the spring and the warm weather as our students?  So. . . let's take on this time of the year with joy!  Let those little minds fill us with the energy we need to make it fun!  Relish the creativity and the wonder.  Learn along side them.  Pull up a chair and ask questions, "What made you think that?"  Guide their wonder.  Use all the energy we saved up during this long winter to let our learning communities explode with enthusiasm.  We are the experts.  Don't let the masses discourage you by picking apart the joy in learning to diagnose every little test question.  Yes, reflection is important.  Yes, we need to look at data.  Let's make sure we focus our energy on the right data, the data that will give us the biggest bang for our buck!  There is still so much yet to discover.  Instead of going out with a fizzle, go out with a bang!