Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday Sayings: The Right Thing the Wrong Way

This week I received some peer feedback on a unit I wrote that has me thinking about the feedback I give my students, as well as the kind I might give to colleagues. My experience begs the question: 

How often have I said the right thing the wrong way? 

First off, I don't believe the feedback I received was entirely correct. I think the reviewer overlooked some vital information. Secondly, and more importantly, at times the tone felt patronizing and judgmental, as if my teaching abilities were under a microscope instead of the unit I created, which no doubt was not her intent. As a result though, the tone compromised my emotional ability to receive what the reviewer had to offer. I was too caught up in the reviewer's approach to consider her viewpoint. 

As a teacher I give feedback daily, all day long. I nudge my writers. I confer with readers. I meet with mathematicians. I talk with students about behavior. I even give feedback byway of facial expressions, body language, and physical touch. I wish my feedback were always on target, but I know at times I judge too quickly without seeing the whole picture and get it wrong. Negotiating recess drama is a perfect example. 

Then there are the times when I'm right but my approach misses the mark. At that point, growth is compromised, because the student can't hear what I have to say. Just this week, in the midst of literally being sick and tired, one of my students responded to directions in a way I wish he hadn't. I showed no outward anger, but my approach didn't offer him a strategy for growth either. I said the right thing in the wrong way.  

Today I plan to tackle my reviewer's feedback. I owe it to my unit and my students to look passed the tone and mine out the parts that could raise the quality of my work. And in the future, as I give feedback to both students and colleagues, I must remember that even if the feedback is right, the wrong tone can sabotage everything.

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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Wantability: Book Recommendations

I started the year thinking about reading wantability, and I'm still stuck on that word. Wantability increases the odds that my students will want to use all the skills and strategies we spend so much time practicing. Without wantability I'm simply dragging children through hoops. I do believe I've convinced most of my readers that all this work to become readers is worth it, but I refuse to assume my students have reached wantability satiation. I'm pushing myself to continually give them more reasons to love books, and so I again I'm wondering how to open the door to the literacy club a bit wider. 

Sometimes the answers to our classroom questions lie within our own experiences, which is how I decided on my most recent wantability project. 

I love book recommendations. When I get a good one, I typically can't wait to get my hands on that book. This is the exact feeling of wantability I desire for my students. So I began asking myself how I could use book recommendations with my readers. 

I eventually want my students to recommend books to each other, but first they need to experience what it's like to be on the receiving end. They also need some mentor texts before it's eventually their turn to write them anyway. So I gave this letter to the staff in my building.

Within hours of sharing this letter books starting showing up, and readers in my room fell in love with more great books. 

The story is unfinished. More books are on their way. Wantability is growing. This journey is never ending. I'll keep you posted.

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Wantability (Again)

This year I've tried some new strategies for making books irresistible. I think I've decided there's no such thing as too much of this, so I'm determined to continually push myself to expand my repertoire of ideas.

Most recently I took a tip from the public library. I wrapped up some read-aloud books and wrote teasers on the covers. 

I just can't get away from the thought of wantability - a term from Kylene Beers. Wantability can help make up for lack of skill. It won't automatically fix reading deficits, but it sure can make the hard parts worth doing which can then lead to better skills. 

How are we doing at making books something that our kids, from youngest to oldest, want in their lives? I know I can do better.

P.S. Feel free to come see me on Facebook

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Snowballs and Math

We have plenty of snow outside. We just can't play with it, because it's just been way too cold to go outside. Fortunately, though cooped up inside, they're hangin' with me fairly well. It helps that we take lots of breaks. Today we took one that they'd love to repeat often. I didn't invent the idea, but I did take it up a notch by adding a simple math component.

I split the group in half and sent them to opposite sides of the room with their paper snowballs. At my signal they let them fly. The winning team is the one with the fewest number of snowballs on their side when time is up, so they did their best to get those snowballs on to the opposite side of the room. At my signal, they stopped throwing and two chosen collectors gathered up each team's snowballs. Here's the best part. Instead of simply counting them up, we created a visual. It was easy, meaningful, and so quick, we grabbed our snowballs and played one more time.

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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Saturday Sayings: The Language We Use

Teacher lingo is a real thing. It's a language all of our own, filled with buzz words, acronyms, and teacher-friendly terms. IEP, IRI, SBAC, formative assessments, pedagogy, etc. It's a foreign language to the world outside of education. In fact, I've often worried during IEP meetings whether the parents could understand half of what was being said. Sometimes it's easier to smile and nod.

I'm convinced that we speak this language without hardly thinking about it, because it's our culture. And if we did stop to think about it, maybe we'd find opportunities to revise our language, like in these examples: 

He's a low reader. 
She's in the low math group. 

Haven't we all said something similar about a student at one point or another and hardly thought twice about it? We're culturized to describe them that way. I understand that it's simply a descriptor, not used with any malicious intent. I've been using the word "low" most of my career, and I've never used it offensively. Yet it's been causing me some angst of late, because I stopped to think about how it sounds when it's attached to the name of someone who's in my care. And because it's on my radar, I notice how often we teachers use it to describe our students. A lot. 

Some might argue that it's merely a matter of semantics. Will a different adjective fix the problems these students face or how we go about helping them? Maybe not, but is there a better word we could use? I've got a few in mind. Maybe I'll never find a replacement that I'm completely comfortable with, but on behalf of my students who struggle academically, I'd like to use my words concerning them more carefully regardless of the fact they'll never hear me describe them that way.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

80 Books

I'm an avid reader, but I suppose even avid readers have to put their books down every so often. Unfortunately, this school year has been one big reason to put books down. I've simply been amazingly busy and haven't had much time for anything but school. Thanksgiving and Christmas gave me a small respite, so I tried my best to make up for all the books I haven't had time to read since school started. Here's my journey. (FYI: These are all young adult and juvenile fiction books.)

5 stars 

 3 stars

 3 stars

4 stars

4 stars

4 stars

2 stars (Readers on Goodreads loved this book though.)

5 stars

3 stars

4 stars

5 stars

2 stars

3 stars

3 stars

4 stars

3 stars

3 stars

4 stars

My favorites:

A Court of Mist and Fury - This is book two of a fantasy series. I didn't know I was a fantasy fan, but I've enjoyed this series a lot.

The Thing About Jellyfish - It's endearing and well-written.

Because of Mr. Terupt - I adored this book, and it surprised me.

So B. It - This story ranks at the top of my list, for sure. I loved it from beginning to end.

There are lots of good books on my list, and many of them had great Goodread ratings. Hopefully you found something here that you can add to your list.

P.S. I read 80 books in 2016. That's not a bad total, especially considering my August, September, October, and November.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017


Moo! by David LaRochelle is my new favorite picture book. More importantly, it's a crowd pleaser in my room. Without giving away too many details, because you really must experience the book for yourself, the plot is told so cleverly with one single word: Moo. Who knew one could tell a whole story by repeatedly using the same word? The author pulls it off though. With the help of picture clues, inferencing, and punctuation, the word Moo tells such a clever, engaging, and funny story. And I love that any of my readers can read it, and they do....repeatedly and loudly. In fact, this is the kind of book that readers will read with the kind of enthusiasm that is just a bit distracting, which is a great problem to have. It just begs to be read with a fluent, expressive storyteller's voice. Go check it out. Even better, buy yourself a copy. You'll be glad you did.

Click on the book to see it on Amazon.

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