Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Be Cousin Laurie



This is the time of year when I can find something inwardly frustrated about various issues I've consistently talked about with certain little people that really shouldn't be issues at this point in the ball game.  My inward dialogue sounds something like this...

  • Seriously, troubles with b and d...still? (Then there's p and q and other random backwards letters.)

  • Come on.  You know which way a 3 goes.  (Or a 5, 6, 7...)

  • How many times have we talked about how writers and mathematicians aren't lazy?  If they make a mistake, they erase the wrong answer.  They don't just write the new over the old.  Sigh.

  • This number is a 12.  Not 20, not even 21.  It's 12.

  • Wuz - I think we learned that word in week three. 

This is the short list.  It's a good thing none of this ever leaves my mouth.

I have a cousin Laurie, and she has an elevated view of my abilities.  She's not shy about verbalizing them either.  I've known her to repeatedly brag: "She's the best singer I know."  "She's the best first grade teacher in the world."  And she's not about flattery.  Laurie really believes these things and a myriad of other ideas about me, regardless of the fact I don't see myself as anywhere near the ideal she sees. She's a cheerleader.  Everyone needs a cousin Laurie.

Recently I witnessed her boasting about me again.  I walked away with the realization that my job title is to be cousin Laurie to each of my students.  I should have an elevated view of their abilities.  I must see their strengths, work from their strengths, and never be shy about calling them out.  

This is my late-in-the-game pep talk.  As I draw to the end of the year, my inner dialogue is feeling the effects of almost nine months of teaching.  Not only am I battling the issues that certain students still struggle with, like the ones I mentioned above, but I'm affected by fatigue, lack of time, loose ends, a long to-do list, school business, a few not-up-to-par assessment results, etc.  It can be easy to forget my role as the cheerleader, the one who continues to call out the strengths of my students in every situation to the very last second of the game.  Here's to being cousin Laurie.


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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Teacher Leader



This last week I remembered I have a math series, because I had to haul it down from its dusty position above my cabinets. The safety inspector was coming to town, and the two feet between the top of my cabinets and the ceiling is supposed to be clear.  (Only twenty-five perfect of my walls should be covered too.  Yeah, crazy.  I left that one alone.)  Needless to say, the safety inspector is gone and I was given permission to return my neglected published materials back where they belong - out of my way.

That math series was purchased before Common Core Math Standards came along.  New standards obviously brought a need for updated materials.  My district chose not to buy us a new math series.  I'm unsure if that decision was purely financial or whether there was a pedagogical influence as well.  Either way, three years ago we were thrown into a phase of making highly informed interpretations of standards. Writing units and developing lessons became a priority for grade level teams.  Digging into the standards and understanding every concept became a necessity.  Searching for sound tasks, reading professional books, and collaborating became essential.  Even though the ground work was laid three years ago, we've continued to revise units based on our continually evolving understanding of the standards and our mathematicians.  Our district opened the door for teachers to lead the way.

There's been a bit of murmuring at times about this whole process.  It takes time and commitment to do what we've done.  Some have wished the district would have supplied us with a complete math curriculum magically aligned to the Common Core.  I've chosen to keep my mouth shut during these conversations, because that's the last thing I would wish for.  I didn't want someone else leading me - telling me what my math units should look like.  I rarely have faith and trust in the faceless publisher.  I wanted to find out for myself what works and doesn't work; what I'm supposed to teach and how to teach it.  This way takes more work, effort, and time and it can be a little messy, but it's so worth it.  I know I'm a better math teacher, and I'd like to think my students are better mathematicians too, which is why being a teacher leader is thoroughly worth the hassle.


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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Literacy Success for All



Poetry is in full swing in my room.  We're exactly six days in, and my writers are officially poets now, more or less.  A few of them blew my mind on day one, especially Carson, who wrote, "A crayon is like a magical stick of a rainbow.  So pretty."  This guy is a natural.  Not every poem he writes is a magical-stick-of-a-rainbow kind of poem of course, but there's no doubt he's feeling satisfied with himself most days.  I wish that for all my writers.  If only I could surgically implant his poetic way with words into all their smart parts. Fortunately, under the right conditions, many Carson-like poets have emerged, but there are still those who are simply going through the motions.  They have yet to find their way.

I believe many of my writers are catching on because they've heard great poems by poets of all ages repeatedly celebrated and investigated.  They've watched me model (and muddle) my own way through the poetic process. They've "shared the pen" with me as we've written poems together during shared writing.  They've been part of daily mini-lessons and literally spent hours simply practicing their new-found skills.  

After all this hard work though, the question still remains.  How do I ensure they all experience the satisfaction that Carson feels when he finds a powerful poem at his fingertips?  I refuse to abandon any of the above strategies, but the one I know I need more of is shared writing. Routman grabs my attention when she says "literacy success for all." That certainly includes those who are just going through the motions.  The benefits of writing together is so lengthy I won't take time to elaborate here, but after several repeated shared writing experiences, the evidence of transfer should be apparent in each writers' personal writing in some way or another.  

When we've penned a poem together that's a magical-stick-of-a-rainbow kind of poem, the group's reaction is priceless.  The air of satisfaction is palpable.  That's how I imagine Carson feels most days, and that's what I want for everyone.  It will take more shared writing experiences to ensure that kind of successful feeling for all.


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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Validation



I rarely see commercials, but about a week ago I caught one I wish I hadn't.  Simply put, it told Idaho that I'm not a competent teacher and the children in my classroom are getting a below-parr education.  Fortunately I don't remember specifics or even the name of the organization who sponsored the add or their motivation for spreading this ugly news across my state.  Sadly though, numbers and statistics sound convincing to the listener without proper background knowledge, and too many will most likely believe that indeed the children of this state are doomed.  

I shook it off fairly easily, and that's partly because I think I have a knack for doing what Burgess advises.  I've always kept my nose to the grindstone so to speak when it comes to educational politics.  Those who know me best might even say I keep my head in the sand, and there's much truth to that too.  (My educator family members had to tell me which state superintendent to vote for.)  I don't necessarily recommend my extreme type of ignorance when it comes to what's being said or decisions being made "out there" in regards to education, but I also don't know that the benefits of reading every article, listening to every newscast, or being in the middle of each heated argument about education outweigh the negative residue or unrest that accompanies those situations.  

Even I can assemble the puzzle pieces and see that there seems to be a lack of understanding and support for teachers these days, and it's not the best timing either.  With all the curricular changes being made in schools across the nation, a few extra pats on the back might be nice.  I can only control what I can control though, so I hypothetically close my door to all the nonsense and simply teach.  Huddled together with my 23 little ones in the safety and sanctuary of my room is where I find my validation.  


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Friday, April 3, 2015

Poetry Greatness

I don't have my own kids to brag about, so I get to brag about my 23 first grade kids.  Today was our first official day of writing poetry, and they blew my mind.  Here are just a few examples.



With the right kind of front loading, modeled writing, and shared writing, kids can show their writing greatness in amazing ways.  (And this is only day one.)


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Monday, March 30, 2015

Number Line (a.k.a. Measuring Tool)

Math efficiency - what a never ending and massive goal to reach.  We chip away at it day by day, because moving drawers and tally makers to more efficient strategies is not an easy task.  When they start forgoing tallies for number lines, for example, it's a BIG deal and worthy of a shout out on Facebook.  (I've been known to do this on occasion.)  

For certain every year my mathematicians are grasping the number line better than the year before, which hands-down has something to do with the fact that I'm teaching it better.  It's amazing how that works.  

This year my number line Aha! moment came when I realized it's a model that's useful in various contexts, which of course leads to more meaningful connections.  Here are three ways my mathematicians are using the number line in our measurement unit.





Little did I know until I was in the midst of things that I was actually incorporating a few of the Practice Standards.  (Imagine what I could accomplish if I used them with intentionality.  Oh my.)   

Practice Standard 5: Use appropriate tools strategically.

I can't help but think that some of the dots are connected more securely for these mathematicians after strategically seeing and using the number line tool in a different context from what they're accustomed to.  

Practice Standard 7:  Look for and make use of structure.

They're also being exposed to the patterns that repeat themselves and hold various mathematical concepts together.  Math concepts should be integrated, not isolated.  I can honestly say I'm not nearly intentional about solidifying those connections as I could be, but this year's Aha! moment is helping.

I keep thinking that one of these years I'll have this math thing down.  I'm pretty sure I'm missing the mark in a myriad of ways, but I'm holding on to the idea that I'm moving in the right direction.  There's hope.

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Boring Things



Medina's a brain guy, so he's not referring to human nature.  He's talking about how the brain is wired.  When using the pronoun "we" he's not singling out those students of ours who have a difficult time showing any kind of interest.  "We" is referring to all of humankind.  The human brain does not pay attention to boring things.  Take a moment to remember the most dull inservice of your career, and you'll realize that Medina is talking about you and your brain. 

He's also talking about our students.  They can't help themselves. If it's boring, their brains shut down, as do ours.  Considering the weight of this fact is worthy of our attention, and it presents a challenge to those of us who make a living from dealing with brains all day.  The blank stares, distracting behaviors, and general lack of interest need to be considered as possible byproducts of brains that don't pay attention to boring things.  Honestly reflecting on these problems can be the impetus to a higher level of engagement and learning for all our students.  I don't believe teachers are in the entertainment business though.  I'm not about entertaining my students, but I am about engaging them, and I think there are a myriad of ways of reaching their brains.

I'm reminded of a real live example from my pastor, who incorporates many engagement strategies, like humor and storytelling, into his sermons.  A few Sundays ago he began a series of lessons on connecting - connecting to God and to others, and he used Legos to make his point.  He eventually gave everyone in the congregation their own blue Lego and sent them all on a scavenger hunt throughout the sanctuary to find their own hidden red Lego.  I think it's safe to say that every brain in the building, from the youngest to oldest, paid attention to that sermon, understood its significance, applied it to their own life, and won't likely forget it either.

We don't pay attention to boring things.  It's a simple but challenging thought that won't leave me alone, and I know it's because I must continually challenge myself to find ways to ensure that the brains in my room can't help but pay attention, understand the significance of what we do, apply it to their own lives, and never forget it either.





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