Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Living It

A few months ago a friend told me about someone she knows who is a running coach.  The coach hates to run.  I immediately thought, "How unfortunate.  If I were looking for a running coach, that's not the one I would choose."  I want the coach who can not only teach me about technique but who can and will inspire me.  Great form is essential, but function, purpose, and the knowledge of why running makes me a better me is what makes the form worth working on.  How can the coach inspire if she doesn't enjoy the act herself?  I'm sure Donalyn Miller would wholeheartedly agree.

As a teacher of reading, I find myself more and more reminding myself to read with my own teaching in mind.  When I appreciate and acknowledge what reading does for my life, I can more easily transfer that knowledge into my classroom practice with my own little readers.  Without a real love for reading, I'm left to teach reading sorely based on the opinions from some outside source.  My reading life creates purpose and intentionality if I pay attention to it.  What do real readers do?  Those are the authentic practices that must become the heart and soul of my reading curriculum, teaching my students the how of reading but more importantly, inspiring them to become readers themselves.  Students who catch that vision will know that reading is something worth doing for a lifetime.  It's hard for them to be inspired by someone who doesn't personally live that reality themselves.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

All Things Musical

This little linky is a first for me, but I'm joining up since I don't have much of anything else to blog about this summer.  Anyone else experiencing that problem?

This week I've been in Portland, OR with my cousin Laurie to work on some Christmas and worship CDs.  She's made two CDs on her own with my background vocal help.  We've also made a Christmas CD together.  This trip involves two projects - a Christmas CD and a worship one.  They're both EPs, which I don't know much about, but I do know they're shorter in length at 4 - 6 songs per CD.

This is Dean, the producer.  He's the mastermind (a.k.a. mad scientist) behind the project.  We spent an evening and the next day working at a recording studio called Dead Aunt Thelma's.  (There must be a story behind that name.)

This is Jeramy on the drums at Dead Aunt Thelma's.  He makes those drums sing.

This is what I've been doing all week - sitting, reading, playing on the computer.  Vocals don't happen until instruments are finished, so we'll have to plan another trip over later.  I'm perfectly happy about that.  I tend to lose my voice when I don't use it much over the summer.  

Now Jeramy is playing bass at Dean's own studio.  These fellas are full of talent.

This is Daniel.  He's the guitar man, and an amazing one at that.  His creativity on those strings makes me smile.

Thanks for letting me share a little about our musical week in Portland.  

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

June Reads

At the end of the school year, I had several opportunities to answer this question.  "What are you going to do this summer?"  I had two responses:  sleep and read.  Oddly enough, I've come to the conclusion that I sleep better and longer on a school night than I do in the summer.  As for reading, I'm meeting that goal quite nicely.  Since readers share their reading lives, I decided to use this post to share my June reads.  The rest of the summer's reads will wait.

I loved this.

Baldacci is one of my favorites.

I enjoy Grisham a lot, but I didn't adore this one.

I posted about this book here.  Great stuff!

This book is by a local educator/author.  I enjoyed it.

I didn't love the language at all, but the plot is riveting.  Five stars!  Go read it now.

I kind of feel ho hum about this book.

This one was entertaining for sure.

Talk about an amazing true story.  It's coming out in theaters later this year I believe.

Thanks Deanna Jump for the linky.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Readers Need Readers

My best friend Paige recently finished reading My Story by Elizabeth Smart. Elizabeth is the one, who as a young girl, was kidnapped in the Salt Lake area but was eventually found and returned to her family.  Paige admitted that as a mother of a young beautiful daughter, it was a disturbing read that hit her in a sensitive spot.  Then she begged me to read it too.  "I need someone to talk to," she said with urgency.  I admit disturbing reads aren't typically at the top of my list, but readers need readers, so I'll read it with the knowledge that my windows are securely locked.  I've a feeling we'll have some interesting conversations about this book in the near future.

In addition to this situation with Paige, I see repeated evidence that readers need readers when I think about my own interactions with books this summer.  Books like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Veronica Roth's Divergent series begged to be discussed.  It's what real readers do, and if it's what real readers do, it's what young readers do as well, or at least need the opportunity to do.  I can't help but reflect on how I foster a community of readers in my classroom.  

I'm reminded of an activity I do within the first few weeks of school inspired by Kathy Collins.  Each reader brings their favorite book and gets the chance to talk about it with the class before there's free time to simply enjoy these treasures.  I take it as an opportunity to verbalize the connections I see between readers in this new community.  "Hey Shawn, I noticed that both you and Brodee love books about Star Wars.  You should totally get together and have a Star Wars book club.  If anyone else in the room loves Star Wars books, I'm sure they'd love to have you too!  This is exactly real readers do."  

As the year progresses, I know there are a myriad of ways in which I promote a community of readers who need each other, but when I read Donalyn Millers' thoughts, I'm challenged as well.  I must continually analyze my own reading life and the ways that I interact with other readers.  When I do, I see the lack in my own classroom practice.  I can always be more intentional in the ways I consistently and purposefully ensure that my young readers are authentically benefiting from other readers.  It's not simply an added bonus of reading.  It's a necessity.  

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Linky of Goals

I hear that Las Vegas is overtaken with teachers this week.  I am not one of them, and neither is Chrissy from Read Write Sing.  Instead she's doing a linky, and I'm linking up.

Personal Goal: Sing, sing out loud
The oddest thing happens when I'm on vacation from teaching.  I tend to lose my voice a bit, and it's certainly not from overly talking since I live by myself.  It doesn't entirely go away.  It just tightens up and feels strained.  I'd like to get it working at an optimal level though, because next week my cousin and I are heading to the studio to work on a second Christmas CD.  

Home Goal: Green green grass of home
It's pretty hot here in Idaho right now, and I have a few spots of grass that are in need of some TLC.  Since for some reason my sprinklers aren't doing the trick, I broke out my hose.  Every morning those spots are getting some extra attention.  I'd like to keep my lawn happy, so I hope this works.

Professional Goal: Gotta keep reading
I've read 14 books this summer but only one has been a professional book.  I've got some great teacher reads in my pile.  Even though I really do want to get to them, I think my challenging year put the breaks on my fervor a bit.  Plus, I've had a craving for fiction.  Regardless, I'll get her done.  

Thanks Chrissy for the linky.  Click on the graphic above if you'd like to share your goals too.

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Job Number 1

I've been such a blessed teacher over the years to work for outstanding principals who support teacher development.  (I just found out this week that mine is leaving to take the high school administrator position in my district.  I've already given him permission to come back if he doesn't like them there.)  Yet even the best of administrators is unable to spend a lot of time in classrooms.  We teachers spend the majority of our careers by ourselves without consistent feedback regarding our practice.  This is why I have strong opinions about student teachers and the responsibilities we have for their professional development.  

Around five years ago, Matea, a most talented intern, spent a semester in my room.  She did a beautiful job with my students.  They loved her.  Her classroom management was right on.  Her instruction was top-notch.  In fact, whenever given a suggestion, without fail, she'd incorporate the tip into her next lesson.  She was simply amazing.  And yet I remained in the room while she was teaching.  It's not that I didn't trust her; She'd proven how capable she was.  I chose not to leave, because I knew she'd never have an opportunity like that again.  Once she became a teacher, she'd spend the remainder of her career on her own.  So instead I positioned myself to ensure she had the privileges and benefits of a mentor, 24/7.  Not only did I stay in the room, I also chose to avoid my desk, work, and my computer.  Instead I watched her lessons and took notes.  I jotted down all the things she was doing well and would want to continue doing.  Then I listed one or two things she might want to try next time.  I was her guide on the side.  Her presence in my room was not my invitation to take a vacation from the classroom.  It was a call to step up my game for her benefit.  Her professional development was my Job Number 1.

On a side note, I chose to stay for the children too.  No matter how much I trusted Matea, the children were still under my care and were my responsibility.  My presence said to them, "Yes, Miss Gellings is your teacher right now and she's in charge, but I'm not abandoning you.  You are too special for me to simply disappear from your life.  What you're doing is important enough for me to stick around and watch."  My presence also reassured parents that I was overseeing all that was going on their children's education.

There will come a day for student teachers when they won't have someone like you or me to consistently confirm what they're doing well or offer suggestions for improvement.  Our feedback is a once in a lifetime opportunity for these future teachers.  That experience has the potential for being the best professional development of their career.

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Artificial

So far this summer has been about running and reading, which is exactly what my little life needed.  Besides the professional reading pile that needs my attention, I hadn't planned on thinking too much about school until I had to.  That all changed when I was asked to give a 90-minute presentation next week on my elementary perspective of narrative writing.  Between books, naps, a half-marathon, and a recovery trip to the ocean, I've been ruminating and planning how to squeeze all I want to say and do into an hour and a half.  That's easier said than done for someone who has a plethora of opinions about writing in the classroom.

The whole experience brought up an issue I have that most likely won't make the cut.  Besides not having the time to fit it in, I'm not sure I'm courageous enough to share these particular strong opinions with a room of K-12 teachers.  The poor audience will experience plenty of my other soap box issues anyway.  The topic has been on my list of things to post about for a long time though, so you all are the lucky ones who will get an earful.

The truth is I have an issue with graphic organizers, specifically in writing.  My worry is that they can feel inauthentic and steal precious time from real writing.  Two years ago I taught a unit on writing realistic fiction.  In preparation, I looked at a few resources available online written by other elementary teachers.  I was taken back with the excessive use of graphic organizers.  Day after day the beginning of the unit was bombarded with them.  I wanted to ask, "Now, when do the kids actually get to write?"  Needless to say, I didn't go that route.  After a bit of preparation and planning on day one, my kids were giving their best approximations at realistic fiction on day two and it only got better from there.  

Do real writers use an abundance of graphic organizers?  That's the main question here.  I'd like to consider myself a real writer, and even though I can't speak for us all, I personally don't break out a slew of graphic organizers before I write.  I recognize that I plan as a writer; it's an essential part of the process.  I keep it pretty simple though, and that's the way I approach the planning stages in my classroom.  Quick conversations and sketches are typical for us.  I want my writers to spend most of their time writing, not planning for it in artificial ways.  

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