Saturday, January 31, 2015

Saturday Sayings: I See You

In a school of over 1,000 teenagers it's easier to be lost than found, but the seniors in my cousin Laurie's AP Lit classes know that she sees them.  From day one, her message is "I see you."  Her motto is even on the wall of her classroom.  It's one thing to verbalize or even display but completely different to live out, and that's what she does on a daily basis.  

Her practice challenges me to do better.  Even though I have a fraction of the students she has, there are times when it feels like some of the little people are slipping through my fingers.  I'm doubtful there are really any good excuses for this.  Sometimes though, I'm distracted by the clock in my head, and honestly it's simply easier to see the strengths and personalities of some more than others.  Then there was last year when I was overwhelmed with survival.  For reasons such as these, it's possibIe to lose sight of the most important job I have in the classroom -- seeing all 23 of my students in all of their greatness.

I'm doing better.  Every day I find three beautiful things.  Ninety-six days into the school year, and I have found, taken pictures of, and shared on my class website 288 beautiful things.  What's more, I know I've repeatedly found beautiful things showcasing all my students, because I keep track on a spreadsheet.  All this has forced me to see the silent ones who so easily slip through my fingers.  I'm paying attention.  (By the way, if I had a challenging collection of students like I did last year, looking for beautiful things wouldn't necessarily fix the situation, but I'm convinced it would compel me to see them in a different light.)  An added bonus is that they see each other.  Each day a different student is responsible for finding three beautiful things for our class website, and they take the job seriously.  How about this one:  "Lawrence doesn't give up even when it is hard."  

Regie Routman precedes the above quotation with this thought.  "I'll never forget seeing the blockbuster movie Avatar and being struck that the word love was not in the Avatar culture. To express that emotion, a character would say, 'I see you' which translated to 'I know who you are,' 'I understand you,' 'I value you.'"  My cousin Laurie naturally sees all her students.  I've discovered my way.  What's yours?  

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Smell, Taste, Hear, and Feel Books

I tell my kids, "Reading is better than going to the movies."  In fact, I say it often enough they can finish my sentence for me.      Letting them in on the beauty of seeing the book like a movie in the mind is of course a key ingredient to reading enjoyment.  The piece that I touch on but need to delve even further into is how the reader uses all the other senses at the same time.  A reader who can do that is pretty much a goner.  They're lost in the book, which is exactly where I want them.

Today I introduced the idea that readers don't just visualize.  They smell, taste, hear, and feel while they read.  We practiced by way of four poems from Where the Sidewalk Ends, a chart, and some small post-its.  For example, I asked them to think about what they could taste while I read "Eighteen Flavors" twice through.  Then each one quickly wrote what they could taste on a post-it and attached it to our chart.  I quickly reported on some of their answers, and we moved on to the next section.  By the time we were finished, our chart looked like this.

I sent them off to Read to Self thinking about what they might smell, taste, hear, and feel during their own reading.  After Read to Self time, a few readers shared.  Carson could feel himself in the wind of the tornado he was reading about.  "Wow!  Only readers get to hang out in a tornado while sitting in a first grade classroom!  How cool!"

This discussion is definitely not complete.  We'll be returning to it repeatedly, because I want them fully and completely lost in their books...forever.

P.S.  Here are the four poems I chose:
        Eighteen Flavors - taste
        Rain - hear
        Pancake? - smell
        Boa Constrictor - feel

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday Sayings: It Still Matters

A few of you noticed that Saturday Sayings disappeared for a while.  Thank you for noticing by the way.  It wasn't easy putting the breaks on 149 consecutive Saturday posts.  In fact, it was disappointing, but I felt possibly we all needed a break from my weekly opinions.  When I woke up this morning wishing I had something to post, I decided maybe today is the day.  Be forewarned.  My opinions are making a comeback.

Yesterday was National Handwriting Day.  I happen to have a natural inclination for handwriting that prompts people to ask, "Is that typed?" so celebrating handwriting is right up my alley.  When I posted about this special day on Facebook, one person responded with, "If only it was celebrated in schools!" I can't speak for anyone else, but I celebrate it in my room every day.

Having said that, talk of handwriting is rarely a focus of mine during writing workshop unless we're specifically focusing on readability, it's becoming an issue with a certain student, or we're publishing.  Otherwise, my writing workshop is focused on clear thinking of ideas and details.  Yet I believe their handwriting during writing workshop is greatly affected by making handwriting a priority at other times of the day.  Besides some short, simple letter formation lessons at the beginning of the year, I also believe handwriting can be taught and practiced authentically.  So it's no surprise that the stack of handwriting workbooks in my room has yet to be touched.

There have been moments in my career when I've felt a tinge of guilt for retaining my fervor for handwriting in my classroom, but then I read Routman's words and feel validated.  She speaks of the writing confidence, stamina, and fluency that comes with formal handwriting instruction.  I'll add to that the readability and respect it shows for the audience which speaks, "I have something worthwhile to say, and I want you to be able to read it."  

One of my goals as a teacher of writing is to convey to my students the power of their written words and the effect they leave on an audience.  It matters not whether the writing is a small moment, persuasive letter, poem, procedural piece, an all-about book, or a love note.  If the audience can't read it, the point is moot.  Handwriting still matters.

P.S.  Here's proof that kids can learn to use great handwriting without a workbook.  Handwriting can be authentic and integrated. 

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Discovering Efficiency

We use the word "efficient" in math a lot.  I want my mathematicians to know that math isn't about shortcuts, but it is about efficiency.  Setting them up to discover efficient strategies is what I'm striving for.  I could simply show them, but if they take responsibility for the learning, we're all better off in the end.

One day I handed out addition boards (see below) and counters.  I told them to put counters on their board but one of the parts had to be zero.  The other part was up to them (within reason - they were encouraged to keep the number small and different than their neighbors).  They left their addition boards on their desks and traveled around, collecting as many equations on their whiteboard as they could.  In other words, they wrote the equations they saw on other addition boards.  5+0=5, 0+7=7, 0+9=9, and so on.

(Imagine one part with 0 counters and the other part with a small amount of counters.)

After about five minutes of collecting equations, they brought their whiteboards to our living room.  They saw the chart below, although at the time it was blank except for the +0 at the top.  I asked volunteers for equations from their whiteboards.  I then wrote on the chart.  Then I asked them to discuss in partners what they noticed.  A few people shared with the group as we acknowledged their thoughts.  It only took a few comments to get to the person who noticed a strategy for adding zero.  I got out my highlighter, drew some arrows, and wrote down the person's strategy.

Imagine the above lesson repeated for +1 the following day.

When it came to +2, we didn't get out addition boards and counters.  We looked at our +0 and +1 charts.  "How can +0 and +1 help you know +2?"  We made some discoveries and then practiced using an efficient +2 strategy with their foreheads.  Each child had a +2 equation on their head.  They walked around and collected as many equations as they could.

Given the opportunity, they can make discoveries about efficient strategies.  They just need the right conditions.  

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Classroom Book Strategy

Here I am back with more to say about classroom books.  I can't seem to leave the topic alone for very long.  This week I tried a new classroom book strategy.  I worked with small groups to write the text together.  Each child was able to contribute, because they took turns writing words.  I was able to focus on several skills:

segmenting sounds
clapping syllables
spelling patterns 
snap words (a.k.a. sight words)

I've a feeling this book will be a popular one among the bunch for a while.

Gotta love classroom books!

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Sunday, January 4, 2015


I'm back to work tomorrow, and although I do love my class, I'll miss spending my days on the couch, under a blanket, with a book.  Just in case someone is looking for a good read, here are the books I devoured in December.  

This is a mixture of Christian, historical fiction, and romance.  It was okay.

I gave this 4 out of 5 stars.  I enjoyed the characters and their story.

Here's my favorite of the month.  It was hard to put down.

This is my second favorite.  It's wartime historical fiction set in a French town that I've actually visited.  

This one is not my cup of tea.

This is an enjoyable YA fast read.

A local author and teacher wrote this.  I liked it.

This short book is based on a true story.  It's an interesting story but the author didn't thoroughly capture me.  

Here's a historical fiction that I really enjoyed.  

I found this to be entertaining with a touch of dark.

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