Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturday Sayings: My Promise

Recently my school's instructional coach asked our staff to ponder Lucy's question.  She asked each of us to make a Writing Bill of Rights, so to speak.  While I have no idea how others reacted to her request, I was thrilled.  It's a conversation we've needed to have for a long time now.  I'm anticipating what the teachers at each grade level will say  and what enlightening shifts can be made due to future discussions.  Making my list was easy.  Here's my promise to each parent. 

I promise that...  
  • there will be a structure or plan to your child's writing time.  It will begin with a mini-lesson, followed by time to write, and finished with an opportunity to share and celebrate what's going well. 
  • Every mini-lesson will teach them something they can try in their writing that day. 
  • I will give your child feedback.  I will acknowledge what they're doing well and nudge them to try something that will hopefully improve them as writers, not just improve the piece they're currently working on.
  • your child will be constantly writing during writing time.  There will be no waiting for me to read everything they write.  When they finish one piece, they'll start another.
  • your child will write for a variety of authentic audiences.
  • your child will frequently see me model the writing process.  They will also share the writing process with me as the class writes together.
  • your child will study the work of mentor authors.
  • your child will experience writing a variety of genres.
  • your child's use of conventions and spelling is important, but their ideas and content will be valued first.

(Did I miss something?)

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Satuday Sayings: Avoid the Pitfall

"How much crying do you allow before you just stop making your 8 year old do homework? I feel like the only thing it is accomplishing is making him HATE creative writing."  These are the words I found on Facebook this last week from a sweet cousin of mine.  My heart sank when I read this.  I thought to myself, "We've done it again."  I apologized to her on behalf of all teachers.  I might have also commented "Homework, schmomework."  Sometimes we teachers miss the mark, and as a result, our kids can suffer.  Later on down the line of comments, she said this:   

"I think it's a combination of the bulk of homework he is assigned.  He's given a packet of math homework for the week and he's supposed to do an online math assignment daily. The online math doesn't take any time, and he doesn't mind it - but the paperwork is usually a large math sheet, which I could consider 'busywork' and a creative writing assignment which is supposed to be a paragraph.  It's not that he isn't creative.  It really is that he gets SO mad about having to do it.  He spends most of his time angry, frustrated, crying, anything but just writing.  The thing is...I think he would be awesome at writing, if he could write more freely.  He is endlessly creative and really intelligent. I feel like these writing cues bore him."

First off, I cringe whenever I hear the word "packet" used in an educational setting.  It oozes the thought of busywork.  I'm unsure of what packets and homework accomplish in the lives of little ones, except for, in too many cases, anger, frustration, and tears, like in the situation explained above.  I only ask my children to read every night, and I don't even call it homework.  It's just what readers like us do.  Sooner than later they'll be faced with homework of all shapes and sizes.  I don't see the need to place similar demands on them at this age.

Secondly, this little guy is immensely talented, creative, and intelligent.  He's my third cousin, and I've spent enough time with him and heard enough stories to know this is true.  He has a wonderful way with words and the writing I've seen from him proves it.  But from what I can tell, forcing him to write to prompts has turned writing into something it was not meant to be - busywork.  Like many young writers, his creativity is stifled when pushed into writing about something he has no personal connection to.  The whole experience is obviously stealing his love for writing and learning, instead of igniting a passion for how these things can benefit his life.  

As Regie reminds us, what we ask of our students must be worth their time and contribute to their growing literacy.  It's fairly obvious, neither of these things is true for this little guy in this particular situation.  We simply must tread carefully.  The pitfalls of busywork will bring out the worst in our students, not the best.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Unexpected Inspiration

I have to be honest.  I'm not sure why some young poets are asked to write poetry that rhymes.  If I had it in my brain that poetry must work that way or really any way at all, I'd write some pretty stinky stuff.  Trapped by the limitations of rhyming words, my creativity would for sure suffer, and I know the whole process would frustrate me.  (My cousin Kent can make most anything rhyme it seems, but I think he's the exception to the rule.)  For the average young poet, rules and limitations do not inspire them, and if they're not inspired, neither am I.  I love teaching poetry because of the unexpected inspiration I find in their work.  We just started our poetry unit last week and even though they still have some work to do, they're catching on.  I'm already finding little nuggets here and there.  

A Butterfly
A butterfly
I am
through the
(I love the word choice.)

Run fast
lay down
chew on bones
chase balls
bad dog
just a puppy
(What a great last line.  This comes from the writer who drew scribbles the first several weeks of writing workshop.)

in the 
I love
the cold
make me
fall down
in the winter
whee! whee!
(I love how the snowflake is doing the talking.)

I am
a mountain
the ground
(Such imagery!)

the sea
the ponds
and the
(This one has great rhythm and a clever ending.)

Easter Easter
it is coming
soon it will be here
happy happy
(I love the use of repetition.)

sit with
(Seriously?  You're 7, but it is adorable.)

like pillows
soft and
(I like the imagery and rhythm.)

A Cat
A cat
purring like a 
soft and
furry sitting
on your lap
(This was her first poem and the one that helped everyone else get the idea too.)

My Nike Socks
Put me on
put me on
I have
to look at
with me
(Being the Nike fan I am, this one is a thing of beauty.)

I'm so glad they don't think that poems must rhyme!

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Contagious

The world will have to make room for some additional future poets, because we started our poetry unit this week.  It's my all-favorite writing unit.  After two days spent simply looking at ordinary objects and jotting down fresh, new ways of seeing them, day three arrived with the great expectation that they could all write poetry.  After a mini-lesson and a shared writing experience, I let them go for it, knowing full well that many would flounder but not for long.  

"Hey guys.  You've got to hear this.  Listen to the poem Cassie just wrote."  Constantly interrupting young writers during their workshop time is not necessarily ideal, but I've discovered the power of sharing what's going well while they're all still in the midst of the process.  We don't have to wait until all the folders and pens are tucked away before spotlighting what a few authors have accomplished. 

When I threw them into the deep end on only day three of the unit with high expectations of "Go forth and write poetry," I knew it would require more than my mini-lessons to pull this off.  I knew they would end up teaching each other how to be poets.  And I knew I couldn't wait until author's chair to make that happen.  Sharing successes during writing time is so useful.  I want to be careful about interrupting their flow, but at the beginning of a new unit, especially one like poetry, it's pivotal that they hear what's going well with other poets.  As the quote says, their breakthroughs are contagious.  After reading Cassie's poem came the words, "I bet you could try that too."  And some of them indeed did.  Glad I didn't wait.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What Time Is It?

I've got another classroom book to share.  Last year I made a similar book about the concept of time with watches we made.  Check it out here.  I wasn't in the mood for watches this year and didn't really have time anyway.  Instead each child held my big yellow clock.  By the way, each of their times was different and matched Common Core standards for first grade.  Enjoy!

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Self-Imposed Hard Parts

It's been a year of unavoidable hard parts.  I'm surely not the only one who can say that.  It's difficult to be a teacher without facing hard parts that are completely out of one's control.  Here are a few examples inspired by Regie Routman's list.  

My district and principal do not restrict my movements, but I know many out there do, placing requirements on their teachers that make it difficult to be a professional who's free to make choices about their classroom.  Required testing is completely unavoidable, and I feel for the 3rd through 6th grade teachers in my school who are faced with the challenges of the new testing beast that accompanies the CCSS.  New curriculum mandates come and go but can turn a teacher's life topsy-turvey.  Overall, I'm fairly pleased with the CCSS, but it's obviously messed with a fair amount of teachers out there.  Here's the one I currently know the most about: challenging students.  One doesn't teach for 20 years and not know the difficulties students can bring to the classroom.  I've experienced this unavoidable hard part on a whole new level this year though.  Then there's the myriad of ways we impose hard parts on ourselves, making the unavoidable parts even more challenging to deal with.     

Come January of this year, I had to start doing something nice for myself.  I gave myself two goals: leave school as soon you can on Fridays and don't let yourself have too much homework over the weekends.  Thankfully I've been able to accomplish both and as a result, breathe a little more deeply. I also made the choice to simplify my most recent writing unit celebration.  The project I had originally planned takes an extraordinary amount of teacher time to pull off.  It was a pleasure to do last year.  This year it would have been a chore.  

The trick is to get rid of the self-imposed hard parts.  We all have our own list that's tailored to what we've become accustomed to.  Routman provides some good examples.  During an already difficult season of the unavoidable, some of those things can go.  If you're in one of those seasons, find ways to simplify.  I'm ready for the school year to be less stressful and more fun, and I understand that I'm partly responsible for making that happen.  

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Agree or Disagree? (freebie)

My mathematicians recently measured and worked with place value at the same time.  I have Math Their Way to thank for this activity, so I receive no credit except that I fancied up the sheet you'll see soon.

I designated several things in the room that I wanted measured with unifix cubes.  All the objects were varying lengths but longer than ten cubes.  Partners visited a spot, measured the object with cubes, broke their long train into tens and ones, and placed them on a place value board.  

At each station they recorded their results on an Agree or Disagree sheet.  The first pair to visit simply wrote their answer in the box at the top.  Everyone else who came after them, did their own measuring and then wrote their names in the correct column based on whether they agreed or disagreed.  If they disagreed, they had to write the answer they got by their name.

I've used the recording sheet for all kinds of math concepts. It's rather versatile.  Feel free to use it as well.  Just click on the graphic below.

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