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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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday Sayings: You're Somewhere in the Future

I once heard a pastor say, actually rap, "You're somewhere in the future and you look much better than you do right now."  I was reminded of his words on my way to work yesterday when I was thinking about the future selves of these little people I work with each day.  I am going about the business of shaping their futures.  How will first grade change their lives forever?  The answer to that question is what truthfully determines my impact as their teacher.   

My hope is that because Miss McMorrow gave them daily opportunities to say, "I am full of greatness," that these kids can one day resist the one who approaches with an opportunity to experiment with or do something, that under the guise of being "cool," really only closes life's doors.

My hope is that they won't dream of slipping a hand into the till when the boss isn't looking, because in first grade they learned that character is doing what's right even when no one is watching.

My hope is that they surround their own children with books, because they learned how to love reading like they love breathing in Miss McMorrow's class.  

I have many similar hopes, and none of them hinge on report cards or test scores.  Those scribbles will be quickly forgotten, discarded, and replaced by new ones - leaving hardly an impression on their futures or the generations to come.  What truly matters is what I sew into their lives and how over time beautiful things take bloom.  That's the impact I want to make - the kind that outlives my career.

You're somewhere in the future and you look much better than you do right now.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Measurement Misconceptions (Freebie)

Studies show that even up into middle school, measurement misconceptions are rampant.  For years I thought my kids understood how to use rulers.  It wasn't until the past three or four years that I discovered the misconceptions.  They're easily hidden unless we dig a little deeper.

I've been working on fixing the issue.  I've shared some strategies I'm trying on previous posts.  Read about one of those strategies here.  After you do, what I'm sharing below will make more sense.

Here are some additional opportunities for kids to practice measuring when the object is not lined up at zero.  What if we move the zero to another spot on the ruler?  Can they still measure that object?  If so, they understand how a ruler and units work.

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Test Prep

All kindergarten through third grade students in my state take a timed reading test at least two times a year called the IRI (Idaho Reading Indicator). By the end of first grade, my students are expected to read at least 53 words per minute on the IRI. The numbers all these little people produce form this test have much clout at the state level with dollar signs, reprimands, parental anxiety, and media attention attached.  

As with anything that drizzles down from the state level, there are rules and regulations that don't always make sense to those of us in the classroom.  For example, there's a certain window they call it, when our kids can take the test, and this year our window is around mid-April instead of its normal home of mid-May.  In fact, the first window they assigned us was in early April, which was changed to a few weeks later after much begging and pleading.  

With a state test in the near future, arriving sooner than normal, I'm certain teachers are feeling the heat.  I've for sure got a few readers who could use an extra few weeks of instruction under their belts before being asked to read 53 words per minute.  It's safe to say all classrooms have those kids, and their scores will greatly matter to someone, somewhere, resulting in teachers who feel the stress. I get it.  Even though I view this assessment with a grain of salt, I'd like my scores to reflect well on my instruction too, but bringing out the stop watch and random reading passages isn't the way to go.  That tactic might or might not improve scores, but it for sure won't teach them anything about being more strategic readers.  My goal for these learners is quality instruction and authentic practice.  Will they get to 53 words per minute by mid-April?  Maybe.  Maybe not, but they will have learned something long-lasting along the way.

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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Rigor - Use Caution

I firmly believe in high expectations.  Heroes of my profession, like Donald Graves and Regie Routman, have made it clear that expectations must be high and are rarely high enough.  Having said that, I'd be willing to bet the farm that both Graves and Routman would echo Burgess' cautionary thought about the word "rigor."  

That word put a bad taste in my mouth from the first moment I heard it used to describe what should take place in my classroom, as well as in thousands of others across the nation.  After reading its definition in Burgess' book, it's no wonder I had that reaction.  Check out these synonyms: strictness, severity, stringency, toughness, harshness, rigidity, inflexibility, intransigence.  Like Burgess points out in his book, the educational world obviously wouldn't intend for rigor to translate into the classroom exactly as it is defined in the dictionary, yet I ask, "What exactly does rigor look like?"  The possibilities for misinterpretation scare me, as do the potential byproducts.

Does rigor simply mean ten times more of the same, resulting in quantity over quality?
Does rigor turn into regurgitation?
Does rigor lead to meaningless busy work or "stuff" about learning instead of real learning?
Does rigor produce a stiff and sterile environment?
Does rigor result in jumping through hoops instead doing what's best for kids?
Does rigor lead to more high stakes testing?
I could go on.

Rigor doesn't have to result in any of the above side effects.  What if rigor invites kids to rise to the challenge due to content that is so relevant and meaningful to their lives and their futures? That's surely something Graves and Routman would most definitely herald.  My worry is that the opposite occurs, and its misinterpretation will cause irreparable damage to our system but more importantly to our clientele.  Use caution.  The ever-present question of "Why?" must keep us grounded.  

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Sunday, March 1, 2015

February Reads

February was not my best month of reading.  I kind of got stuck on a book I wasn't enjoying, which slowed me down considerably.  I know I could have put it down, but I was already over halfway through when I came to the conclusion that the plot was going nowhere.  I have a hard time quitting, so I trudged through to the end.  I did though quit on another read but I wasn't very far in before deciding it wasn't for me.  (By the way, that one's not included below since I never finished.)  Anyway, I'm looking forward to March's reading already. 

This one slowed me down.  I didn't prefer it.

I thoroughly enjoy Sarah Addison Allen's books.  This one was just as good as the rest.

I've been slowly reading this one for a while.  Now that I've finished, I need to keep it near so I can apply it to my daily practice more and more.  Great book!

Fantasy is not my typical preferred genre, but this story drew me in.  It's longer but worth reading.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Sayings: It's Smart

Do I make it smart to ask questions?  Honestly?  Sometimes yes and sometimes no.  

Sometimes yes:
Last week I was reading a picture book about George Washington.  I asked the kids to show me one finger if they understood the text and two if they didn't.  If I spotted two fingers, I stopped and let that person ask their question.  "It's so smart of you to know when you don't understand something."  

Sometimes no:
A parent recently relayed to me that her daughter was expressing frustrations about not understanding some of the math concepts we had been working on.  I met with the little one, supported her through some math practice, and said, "It was so smart of you to let Mom know you didn't understand.  If you ever don't understand something, let me know too.  You can even write me a note."  The next day, one arrived in my box.  "Miss McMorrow, I don't understand math in the morning."  We've met a few more times since that note, and every time, I've reminded her how smart it is that she tells me when she doesn't understand.

This is a "sometimes no" situation because if I had done my job right, she would have already known how smart it was to speak up about her confusions.  She would have told me about them herself.  This latter experience begs the question. "When have I ever been explicit about the need for my mathematicians to speak up about their confusions?"  This has to be an intentional, purposeful, and ongoing move.  Some issues will present themselves in daily work, conversations, and formative or summative assessments, but I also believe others can remain dangerously hidden.  My kids need repeated reminders and invitations to open up about their uncertainties.  It is my job to make it smart to ask questions.

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