Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saturday Sayings: Focus

(Click above for more Saturday Sayings.)

This one can be difficult to pull off.  When it comes to writing, it's easy to look at a piece and see all the things the writer is not doing.  What they are doing can be covered up by everything else.  

One of my little writers was more than reluctant when we first started writing workshop.  Defiant would be a more appropriate word actually.  He's come around and stays very busy during writing workshop.  When I look at his pieces, I don't see any thought put into the letters he's writing.  The random letters are a problem, and I'm nudging him to show me what he can really do, but more than anything I'm celebrating what he is doing.  He's opening up his writing folder.  That's a big step for him.

Another one of my writers has an incredibly difficult time staying on-task during writing workshop.  She's lucky to accomplish anything and so are her neighbors who she enjoys distracting.  As a result, she and I had the opportunity to spend a few lunch times working together this week.  It allowed me to see what she's capable of.  She can mostly hear the beginning and ending sounds in words, which unfortunately seems lightyears away from where I'd like her to be right now.  The last few days she's been able to mostly hold it together during writing workshop.  I was able to celebrate the fact that mostly on her own she heard some sounds in words.  A few letters on the page might not mean much to anyone else, but to me it spells success for this little one.

It takes effort and a little patience to sort through all the things we wish they were doing in order to see what's actually going well.  It's worth it, both for them and for us.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Pair of Respectacles

I'm a big fan of Barbara at The Corner on Character.  Her thoughtful and inspiring blog is definitely worth your visit.  She inspired me recently with this picture.
It's an audience full of people wearing respectacles.  Click on the picture to find out more.  You'll be glad you did.

I happen to have a pair of my own respectacles. 

Last week they helped my kids learn more about respect.  I started the day wearing them, and I told the kids that my respectacles would be on the lookout for someone who was showing respect.  That person then wore them for a bit before passing them on to some other respectful person.  This actually went on for two days, and the kids loved it.

This week I asked each child to draw a picture of respect.  I took a picture of them wearing the respectacles while holding their respectful picture, and it's turned into a class book.  (Shocking, I know.)

Thanks Barbara for teaching me about the power of a pair of respectacles!

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Borders Both Functional and Meaningful

There are a lot of things my first graders must take away with them when they leave my room in June.  All the must-have skills are obviously important, but there are some ways of thinking and being that I sure hope stick with them no matter what.  A few years ago I found a creative way to display some of the favorite messages that I hope will sink into their hearts.  Here are a few pictures.

As you can see, I use them as borders around my calendar.  It's nothing fancy, but it is functional and meaningful all at the same time.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday Sayings: Cherished Bits of Life

(Click above for more Saturday Sayings.)

As I think about teaching writing in my classroom, my own writing experiences rarely stray far from my thoughts.  As an adult writer, I've never been fond of writing about someone else's topic.  In fact, I'm really quite bad at it.  In most cases, my writing juices simply dry up, and I'm lucky if my pencil squeezes out a complete sentence.  True story.  Even though I'm 35 years older than my students, we're really not all that different in some ways.  (Yeah, that's hard to admit.)  I think they might be more adaptable than I am, and most of them can grow accustomed to writing about supplied topics when that's what they're consistently fed, but I don't believe they learn where writing actually originates.  They don't learn that it comes from their "own cherished bits of life" instead of an outside source.  Their very own lives are worthy of sharing.  If they write more about others' topics than their own, I'm afraid they won't make that discovery.

"When we help children know that their lives do matter, we are teaching writing."  Lucy Calkins, The Art of Teaching Writing 16.

"Often our first goal is to fill these youngsters with a sense of 'I've got so much to say' and 'My life is full of possible stories.'" Lucy Calkins, The Art of Teaching Writing 27.

When I watch them choose their own topics and lives as the subject of their writing day after day, I can't help but think that they feel very much in control and empowered.  Isn't that part of what writing is all about?

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Need Some Inspiration?

I don't typically do this, but this little post isn't about school.  It's about life.  It's about inspiration.  It's about being healthy.  Sometimes health is the last thing on a busy teacher's mind.  If that's where you find yourself, then this post might be for you.  My best friend lost 133 pounds and has an amazing story to tell.  She's changed her life and has kept off the weight.  She's been sharing her heart on her blog and inspiring hundreds of people to find joy in their weight-loss journeys too.  Since I was on her support team during her transformation, she asked me to write a little something from my perspective on her blog today.  I invite you to come over and meet my friend Paige.  If you're in need of some inspiration, you'll find it there.  Just click on her picture.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Learning Fairy

There are few things more frustrating than a little person who doesn't want to participate or try.  Sometimes it leaves me with the feeling that my hands are simply tied.  While there are some who at a young age have already come to the conclusion that this is how it is, there are others who just don't know they are in charge of their own thinking.  Luckily for us, they are willing to change.  We just have to show them how.  During the first few weeks of school, I use several little tools and tricks to teach my kids about being in charge of their thinking, and I repeat these things over and over and over.  Most of them follow through and the participation rate greatly improves in my class.  Here's what works for me.  Maybe something here will work for you and your thinkers too.

Nothing here has been earth shattering, but I hope it's been useful.  I'd love to add to my collection.  Please do share if you've got your own tricks for teaching kids the importance of building their brains!

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Take a Smile

I found this little guy on Pinterest and decided he would be an appropriate addition to my classroom.  There are mornings, afternoons, and sometimes whole days where a smile is much needed on some faces.  If you and your kids could use some cheer, please help yourself to a smile as well.

(my version)

(Pinterest version)

(Click on the picture for your own copy.)

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday Sayings: The 90 Percent

(Click above for other Saturday Sayings.)

Lucy's quote here has intrigued and saddened me for years.  I could say it's even haunted me at times.  Obviously she's making a point that most of our kids show up to school as five-year olds thinking they're writers.  Somehow and somewhere along the way, not many years down the line most likely, they forget they ever thought such a thing.  It's the furthest thing from their minds in fact, and too many of our 90% become children whose belief in their writing is quite dismal.  Even many of us adults don't remember those early, numbered days of believing in our own writing abilities.  Wouldn't you agree with the following statement?

"It's interesting to me that many, many adults will define themselves as 'readers' but not as 'writers.'" Katie Wood Ray, The Writing Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts 31

How does this happen?  I want to point my finger somewhere, and I don't know where to point it.  Is it the curriculum?  Is it a writing program that's at fault?  Are parents part of the problem?  Are we teachers to blame?  Maybe it's a combination of factors.  I do have my own hunches, but I'm going to keep them to myself (shocking, I know).  In any case, I don't want to point my finger just for the sake of pointing my finger.  I want to know the source of this sad dilemma.  I hope we can find out and fix it, because the 90% deserve better.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

A Pete Moment

I love a good Pete the Cat project, not only because he's so cute, but also because the sooner we can learn that it's all good, the better off we'll be.  When I found simple step-by-step directions for drawing a cat on pinterest, I snatched up the opportunity to turn it into a Pete moment.  Here are a few examples.

Aren't they cute and full of character?  Below is a picture of the directions I found on Pinterest.  I just modified the eyes so they'd look more Pete-like, since it's all good!

(Next year I'll be adding a skinny neck.  Pete's not the same without one.)

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

First Day Book

I'm all about another great classroom book.  My kids are too.  In fact, they love them so much that sometimes the books bring out the worst in them.  Even our favorites need to be shared.  Anyway, I made one of those first day frames that are all over Pinterest, and it found its way into our first classroom book of the year.

Yep, that's me on my first day too.  I do my best to sneak my way into every class book.  I think it sends an important message to all the little readers and writers in my room.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Making Your Teaching Stick

We teachers love our alliteration, rhymes, and catchy phrases, but I haven't come up with one for this situation.  At each group of desks, one person is in charge of collecting and passing out various tools and such to their group for the week.  As boring as it may sound, they're called table monitors.  This year, I've come up with a handy way of pointing out who those people are.  See the next picture.

Each table monitor has this blue cube thingy on their desk (Target $1 special).  Throughout the year it will be holding onto various things.  Currently, it's holding a small table version of our latest writing workshop anchor chart that's printed on both sides, by the way.  It's one that I wanted kids to think about even after they left the mini-lesson and days after as well.  I found the idea of making small table versions of charts in the book, A Guide to Making Your Teaching Stick by Shanna Schwartz.

So far the table charts are indeed working like a charm.  Just the other day, a boy pointed it out to his neighbor who didn't seem to know what to do next.  I've used them during my conferences as well.  Of course, as we progress through writing workshop and create new anchor charts, this one will certainly be replaced by others that I feel are important enough for kids to see over and over.

(Click on the picture for your own copy.)

If you don't have blue cube thingies, there are other creative ways to display table versions of charts.  The book suggests making table tents, so voila.  Of course, writing workshop doesn't need to dominate this idea.  What about reading charts, math charts, vocabulary words, or words of character?  I'm thinking there are endless options here, and they can all help our teaching stick.

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Saturday Sayings: Not on the Table

(More Saturday Sayings are a click away.)

From the moment my kids show up on the first day of school, everything about the way I run my classroom, from my actions to my words, simply assumes that they're all experts in smartness and will love it here.  You're readers.  You're writers.  You're mathematicians.  Did you know that Mr. Graves only sends me the best kids in the whole school?  This is what I preach before I even know them well enough to memorize their names.  Thankfully, they believe me.  The power of persuasion is a wonderful tool in first grade.

Three days ago though, I came across a non-believer and honestly, it brought me to tears.  There's a whole sad behind- the-scenes story that I obviously can't share, but basically after only two days in my classroom (having missed a week of building confidence, routines, and stamina) I heard this student angrily talk about their hate of reading, books, writing, school, and themselves.  I found myself thinking, "Wait a minute.  This kind of talk isn't even an option in my class."  As Donalyn says, it's "not on the table."  How does a six-year old even come to the point of thinking such things?  How do they know that a complete and all-out refusal to try is a choice a person can even make? I know there's a lot in this little person's life that I can't control, but I pray that what I can do is prove them wrong.  The road of life ahead is going to be a long one if I can't.

"Believing they can read is the first step towards children's reading success."  Regie Routman, Invitations 29

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