Saturday, October 3, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Triumph Changes Everything

This week a few teacher friends observed one of my writing workshop sessions. When I met with them later in the week, they commented on a specific conferring moment I had with one of my writers. They talked about what a great writer he was. Little did they know he has been my most reluctant writer and thinker of the year. They were completely surprised and never would have guessed that writing workshop typically induces his pout-pout face, helplessness, and very little output. That is, until very recently when he started believing me when I say, "You can do this."

Honestly, it hasn't been a pain-free process. From my observations, formative assessments, and conversations with his kindergarten teacher, I knew he had all the tools to pull this off. He simply had a can't-do or don't-want-to-do problem blocking his way. In some respects, that can be more frustrating than the child who is a can-doer but doesn't have enough tools in their toolbox yet. 

When he repeatedly acted like there was nothing on the planet he could ever write about, I reminded him that writers write about things they like to do and moments that happen to them and left him to it. When he dragged his feet about not knowing what to say about his pictures, I reminded him that writers look at their pictures for details and left him with the assumption that he'd figure it out. When he acted like there was no possible way he could spell the words, I reminded him, "If you can say it, you can write it," and off I went. I consistently refused to pamper or do the work for him (it was obvious that's what he really wanted from me) but instead repeatedly said, "You can do this." 

The point is that now he looks nothing like the writer I saw just a few weeks ago, so much so that observers in my room think he's one of my best writers. He finally believes me. I can't wait to tell him, "Remember those two teachers who visited last week? They were so impressed with what a great writer you are." Triumph changes everything. 

Pin It!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Words Are Not For Hurting

Words are not for hurting. Some first graders need a bit of help with this concept. 

Think. (Oh how difficult this can be.) Are the words I'm thinking going to hurt? 

If so, then swallow those words.

If those words accidentally (or otherwise) come out, make it right.

That's where this chart comes in handy, because first graders (and many adults) don't know how to make it right. "Sorry" is not a one-way ticket to get out of trouble.

Charts like this don't automatically fix issues, but they sure provide a helpful scaffold that can be referred to all throughout the year (Hopefully they'll catch on sooner though, right?).

Pin It!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Comparing Names (Freebie)

Keep it real. Keep it relevant. 

That's one of my math mottos this year. I'm not sure how well I'm doing on that, but it's a most worthy goal to keep in mind.  

Names are always real and relevant for first graders, so I invented a way for my kids to compare numbers using symbols with teen frames and their names. Click on the graphic below for your own copy.

Pin It!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Library Smarter Charts

Every year I figure out ways to make my charts smarter. Most of the time I think, "And why didn't I think of this before?" The charts above are this year's versions of my library charts. (They didn't start the year on the wall by the way. That's not the way good teaching charts work.) I like that they're easy for kids to follow, even kids who aren't readers yet. Charts won't be very useful if they're not friendly to everyone.

P.S. Have you read Smarter Charts by Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz? No? You need to.

Pin It!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Facilitator

This week I learned what a facilitator is. The teacher devotional I'm reading defined it as "one who makes things easy or less difficult." The words "accelerate, advance, enable, promote, and serve" were also included. The thought led me directly to the most obvious question. 

Am I a facilitator?

In this very moment, I have my doubts. Let's take writing for example. Although I have a passion for teaching writing, have studied writing from many of my favorite gurus, and have taught several teachers how to teach writing, I'm currently baffled as to how I can make it easy or less difficult for 20 out of my 25 students. 

I have a gift, as many early elementary teachers do, for reading the hieroglyphics of young writers, yet even I can only read the writing of five of my writers. I was hoping to use Calkins' new Units of Study this year. It's much too advanced, so I've put on the breaks and returned to her older units. Unfortunately, even the lessons there are proving to be a struggle. The required stamina, effort, and skills are missing in huge quantities. I've never run into this before.

Once I get over my woe-is-me attitude, and I must do that quickly, I have to find a way to make writing easy or less difficult for these 20 students. As Routman has referenced, their strengths are indeed initially small. It doesn't seem much to work with, especially compared to what I'm accustomed to, but comparison is the thief of joy. 

So they're not like any class I've ever had. What am I going to do about it? I have a responsibility to teach them, even if it varies from how I've taught before. I have to find a way to accelerate, advance, enable, promote, and serve this particular group of students. I must be a facilitator. 

Pin It!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Welcome to My Room

I've never shared pictures of my classroom in my four years of blogging. I'd like to think my room is welcoming, warm, and kid-friendly, not to mention very organized, but it's not all matchy matchy, cutesy, or themed up. The only major decor choice I've made is the color scheme of blues and greens. 

I'm courageously sharing these pictures simply because someone out there might wonder where I live. So, welcome to Miss McMorrow's room. 

P.S. The walls didn't have much on them when school started. They're starting to fill up with our thinking and learning now.

Pin It!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Desk Disorganization

First grade has attacked my living room, so if you walked into my house at this very moment, you wouldn't know how much I like organization. Piles are just not my favorite. A lengthy list of emails on my screen even feels like piles to me. So it makes sense that I like organization in my classroom, even inside those twenty-five student desks. I gasp inside when I see the disarray seeping from desks outside of the ones under my supervision. How can those kids find anything?!

Maybe I have OCD, but my fervor for organized kid spaces goes way beyond my appreciation for neatness. It seems obvious to me that disorganization slows down instruction. Precious minutes are lost if we have to stop and wait for the pencil, whiteboard marker, blue crayon, glue stick, etc. that can't be found. If this happens numerous times to numerous children throughout the day, those precious minutes add up fast. In my room, that pencil needs to be tracked down and ready to use by the time we've sung a song, recited a poem, or skip counted to 100. That doesn't happen if school tools are running around loose inside desks.

Some students are naturally organized like me. (Gotta love 'em.) For those who aren't, they learn to be if they're in my room. It helps that every Friday when the person who brought the Estimation Jar from home filled with delicious sweets, checks the insides of each desk before handing the candy over after our math lesson. Nothing can be floating - papers, pencils, erasers, crayons, you name it. This little trick is a lifesaver.

In my opinion, efficiency in the classroom can lead directly to student learning. (Routman would also agree. Gotta love her too.) We all have a boat load to accomplish in such a short time, often combined with insurmountable academic or behavioral challenges. Every minute counts, even the one lost trying to find that silly pencil.

Pin It!