Monday, August 18, 2014

Greatness Happens Here

Last year on the first day of school I told my kids that I was surrounded by greatness.  The idea stuck and grew throughout the following nine months.  (Go here to read more.)  This year I want my new little crew to know that they're full of greatness too.  That's why something new is on my door to greet them.  By the way, that's an inexpensive table runner from Big Lots.  I'm crossing my fingers it will still be intact after 23 uncoordinated little bodies and their backpacks march in and out of the doorway day after day.  No worries though.  Greatness will still be happening long after it comes down.

Thanks Tara for the linky!

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Professional Passion

Last year took the wind out of my sails a bit.  It wasn't enough to make me reconsider my choice of profession.  Teaching is what I do.  It's what I need to do.  But I needed summer too.  I needed time to simply catch my breath and think about something other than being a teacher.  So I let my cravings for fiction take over my life.  I read a few excellent professional books along the way as well, but there was one teacher book I had to read before my summer was over.  So last week I started Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.  I knew just enough about it to know it was the kind of read that would remind me of why teaching is what I do, as well as challenge me to push to the next level because there's always one waiting.

Burgess asked me to think about my professional passions.  After twenty years in the classroom, the list could get long.  I purposefully kept it concise.  

I'm passionate about literacy.
I'm passionate about real world instruction instead of school world instruction.
I'm passionate about their hearts.
I'm passionate about their lifetime love of being a reader, writer, mathematician, scientist, etc.

It's one thing to create a list of passions.  It's another to find evidence of their existence in my room.  Do my professional passions affect my classroom?  If this is an honest list, and I believe it is, it should carry considerable weight in every decision I make regarding my students.  Our passions inspire.  They challenge the status quo.  And though it borders on sounding corny, they create a "burning hot passion for the awesome job and responsibility that lies before us."  This is unquestionably true for me today, and no, it's not corny at all.

What are you passionate about?

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Use but Confuse

You.  are.  the.  best.  teacher.  in.  the.  whole.  wide.  world.

"I" "love" "you" "Miss McMorrow."

You probably teach early elementary kids if you've ever seen punctuation in student writing similar to this.  Approximations make me smile.  Most of the time.  At least that I'm aware of.  The ones that show up in kid writing make the biggest impression on me, like the sentences I shared above.  Periods and quotations marks are intriguing tools for emerging writers.  You never know where they might end up.  Another favorite is the use of a specific spelling pattern like "ee" that finds its way into every word with a long e sound.  Whether first grade or twelfth, learners make approximations.

When it comes to approximations, a phrase from forever ago comes to mind, although I can't remember where I nabbed it.  Use but confuse.  What do students use but confuse?  It's tempting to be either completely distracted or frustrated by these things.  I was taught to celebrate what students use but use incorrectly.  Approximations are proof that someone is listening and interested in what they're hearing.  Even better, it means that with the right scaffolding, they're ready to make a shift in their learning of the particular skill they're experimenting with.  It's in that moment, when the best learning can take place.  They're ready for it.  If we respond correctly, like Laminack points out, the things they use but confuse will lead to more learning and continued risk-taking.  If we allow them to catch a whiff of any frustration with their approximations, we're likely to see a system shutdown, maybe only in that moment but possibly in the future too.  How we respond is surely a powerful thing.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014


"I crave fiction."  That's what I posted on Facebook earlier this summer.  My July list of reads proves that I love a good novel.  I just can't help it.  If you're looking for a book, maybe one of my recommendations will satisfy your craving.  (By the way, I was out of town for part of July which was all good, but my reading time suffered a bit.)

I loved this series.  By the end, I felt emotionally attached to the characters.  It took some time to recover from their absence.

This one didn't blow me away, but it wasn't a waste of my time either.

This is an engaging YA book.  The young female protagonist is so lovable.  Great read!

Donalyn Miller is amazing.  Enough said.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book of historical fiction set both in WWII times and in the present.  I need to read more from this author.

My best friend asked me to read this.  Otherwise I wouldn't have picked it up.  It's not my typical read.  Even though it's disturbing, it's inspiring as well.

Read on!

Thanks Deanna Jump!

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Saturday Sayings: It's That Important

First grade has changed considerably in the 20 years I've been teaching it.  I believe that's a good thing.  Even though I've never taught kindergarten, I believe the same is true for that grade level.  This is an oversimplification, but in many classrooms, it's gone from naps and snacks to being a miniature version of first grade.  Some might argue that our littlest learners aren't experiencing enough of that important play they used to get.  I would tend to agree with some of this argument, but that topic is for another day.  Instead I'm interested in something else I wish kindergarten students were getting more of.  

For many years I've been wishing for more writing in  kindergarten classrooms.  I don't mean worksheets.  I don't mean filling in the blank or finishing a prompt either.  I wish these young ones could choose their own topics and freely write small moments about their lives.  I wish they could write persuasive letters about topics that are important to them.  I wish they could write how-to pieces explaining procedures that they're experts in.  I wish they could write free-verse poetry with their innocent and beautiful words.  I wish they could experience the power and accomplishment that comes from being writers.  I don't simply wish these things because it would make my job easier.  I wish it because I know that kindergartners are able to accomplish these writing tasks with the right daily supports and would benefit greatly as readers, writers, and thinkers if given the opportunity.    

I've kept my thoughts to myself about this topic for a long time.  I'm not a kindergarten teacher, so what do I know?  Melissa, a kindergarten teacher extraordinaire, gave me the boldness to speak up.  I've been admiring her writing instruction for a while now.  Recently she posted about the need for daily writing workshop in kindergarten, and I thought, "If she can say it, so can I."  This is an excerpt from her post.

I have two boys in kindergarten this year. It’s amazing how quickly the year goes by.  Prior to entering kindergarten if I had only one wish for my boy’s school year it would be that they have writing workshop. They have had a wonderful year in kindergarten. They have learned what it means to be a listener, a friend, a student, a reader, and many more important things, but they didn’t learn to be a writer.  

My kids did lots of worksheets that “prepared” them to learn about reading and writing. I do not believe worksheets teach kids anything about reading or writing. I think worksheets keep kids busy.

I think writer’s workshop should be happening in every kindergarten classroom, if we expect students to learn how to be confident readers and writers.

She mirrored my thoughts exactly.  Kindergarteners don't need to be prepared to write using artificial means.  They don't need to wait until they know all their letters.  They don't need to wait until they have better control of phonological awareness.  They need to write every single day.  I don't mean to insinuate that teaching five-year-olds to be writers is a piece of cake.  Since I teach six-year-olds, I know better.  From someone who's in the trenches though, Melissa proves that it can be done.  She's got credibility.  Even though I've never watched her teach, I imagine that she accepts and celebrates approximations.  At the beginning of the year, the writer who can only write a story through pictures is celebrated as much as the one who easily writes most sounds in words using complete sentences.  She understands the many levels of writing represented in a classroom and knows how to nudge each one to next appropriate steps.  The bottom line?  She knows that writing in her classroom will markedly influence the next twelve years of the lives in her care.  It's that important. 

Please visit Melissa's blog and read her whole post.  She's an expert at what she does.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Long Obedience

It's likely that I've shared this quote before.  With over 100 Saturday Sayings, it's getting increasingly harder to keep track of all these quotes.  If indeed I've mentioned this one before, I think it's worth bringing up again.  In fact, it's probably worth revisiting on a yearly basis.  I was reminded of it recently when I read an excerpt from Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild.     

"My friend Jim who lives in San Francisco told me that maintenance workers continuously paint the Golden Gate Bridge.  Workers paint as well as they can as far as they can every day, accepting any conditions that affect their progress such as the fog, which limits the number of hours in a day they can paint.  When they are done painting in one area, they start on another.  The crew never really finishes the job; they just continue."  

My teaching career is the Golden Gate Bridge.  Talk about a giant undertaking.  I'm not sure what I would have thought twenty years ago if I had really understood what I was up against.  What would I have done if instead of a ceremony and diploma, I'd been metaphorically plopped down in front of the Golden Gate Bridge and told, "Your classroom will be like this bridge.  Here's your paintbrush.  Now start painting."  I would have probably said, "You're kidding me, right?"  Even now after years of experience working on this career of mine, from where I currently stand I can hardly see to the other side and to what's awaiting me there.  Admittedly at moments I can feel overwhelmed when I look up to catch a glimpse of how much I still have left to accomplish.  It can be both intimidating and exciting at the same time.  To complicate matters, the conditions that affect my progress are many, unpredictable, and often out of my control.  In spite of the daily problems that impede progress, like the Golden Gate Bridge, this journey is a beautiful thing though, partly as a result of the determination it requires to pick up that brush day after day, knowing there's never a moment of completion.  My Uncle Burt would call it, "Long obedience in the same direction."  

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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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