Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Find a Connection

Yesterday I pulled Jake's name out of the hat.  His name, the most important word in the world to our friend, became our teacher.  Their names are powerful.  Anytime I'm wise enough to connect our learning to them, engagement unquestionably increases.  Here's a list of a few of the things his name taught us.
  • Use complete sentences when answering questions and when writing.
  • Writers return sweep when they run out of space.
  • Names are made out of letters, not words or sentences.
  • Names begin with a capital letter.
  • Words are made of tall, small, and descending letters.
  • Words are made of claps, soon to be called syllables.
  • Rhymers are good readers.
  • Words can be pulled slowly out of the mouth.
  • The letters in a word can't be mixed up.  That word will always be spelled the same.
  • The letter e at the end of a word is silent and can make the other vowel say its name.
This week I introduced writing workshop.  Writing is always centered around their lives, stories, interests, and topics.  All their abilities are different, but they're all engaged.  I can't imagine the frustration of convincing little people to become writers if daily writing consistently revolved around my interests, prompts, or topics.

A few days ago we used our math journals for the first time. "There are 10 boys, 13 girls, and 1 teacher in our class.  How many people are there?  Solve it in a way that makes sense to you."  They instantly began crunching numbers and solving in various ways.  Every problem we tackle in those journals this year will be about them.

There's another side to this story though.  I can also envision the times when I've worked way too hard to drag some interest out of them.  I've witnessed the glazed over looks.  I know what it's like to lose them and then try to teach, while putting out small but frustrating behavioral fires.  I suppose there are several factors to consider and analyze when situations like this arise, but maybe much of it could be avoided and time saved if I had thought through their interests first.  Here's what I want to keep in mind for the next nine months.  If there's a connection to be made, start there.  If there's not, look harder.  Find one.

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Monday, August 25, 2014


We call these fellows "spacemen."  That's because they create space between words.  All my kids use them at the beginning of the year with some of our handwriting routines.  Some kids choose to use them during writing workshop too.  As the year progresses, they're rarely used at all.  They're quite handy when first growing accustomed to spaces though.  I can't take credit for the idea.  I borrowed it from a creative kindergarten teacher years ago.  Now feel free to borrow it from me.

Thanks Tara for the linky.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Immerse Yourself

In my typical every day life, I'm married to routines and plans, but when I travel across the pond, I expect exploration and immersion, even the kind that leads to moments of being lost.  Five years ago I went on a Mediterranean cruise with my parents.  Our stop off at the Greek island of Mykonos was not nearly long enough.  All I really wanted to do was lose myself in the maze of circuitous narrow walkways encompassed by whitewashed stone buildings adorned with brightly painted doors and shutters.  That would have made for the perfect visit.  We simply weren't given enough time for the kind of immersion into the Mykonos life that I was looking for.

Now that I'm once again in the classroom, routines and plans are back in session.  There aren't too many lost minutes in my room.  I teach with a sense of urgency, as Regie Routman recommends.  I believe there are many benefits to routine and sticking to the well-marked path.  I know where we need to go and how to get us there.  Ah, but I also recognize the dangers.  When a fork in the road presents itself, which is more important?  My plans or my students?  

This week, my kids and I experienced our first two days of school together.  Before I met them, I found myself repeating some of the words from Dave Burgess' quote above.  "Just be.  Immerse yourself.  If something comes up that's not part of your original plan, just go with it."  I think I did okay with that, but I also know I missed the mark at one point and I want to kick myself.  Two of my boys requested I read a third David Shannon book, but all I could see were my plans and the clock.  I had a list of reasons why following their lead wasn't ideal.  Honestly it wasn't, but I won't go into all the details.  The point is, there was a fork in the road.  Considering how passionate I am about literacy, I took the wrong way.

Guess what I'll be doing this coming week?  I'll be tracking down that third David Shannon book.  I'll also be telling myself, "Expect exploration and immersion, even the kind that leads to moments of being lost."  Amidst routines and plans that I still believe are essential, I need to remember that sometimes losing oneself is the most memorable part of the visit. 

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Greatness Happens Here

Last year on the first day of school I told my kids that I was surrounded by greatness.  The idea stuck and grew throughout the following nine months.  (Go here to read more.)  This year I want my new little crew to know that they're full of greatness too.  That's why something new is on my door to greet them.  By the way, that's an inexpensive table runner from Big Lots.  I'm crossing my fingers it will still be intact after 23 uncoordinated little bodies and their backpacks march in and out of the doorway day after day.  No worries though.  Greatness will still be happening long after it comes down.

Thanks Tara for the linky!

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Professional Passion

Last year took the wind out of my sails a bit.  It wasn't enough to make me reconsider my choice of profession.  Teaching is what I do.  It's what I need to do.  But I needed summer too.  I needed time to simply catch my breath and think about something other than being a teacher.  So I let my cravings for fiction take over my life.  I read a few excellent professional books along the way as well, but there was one teacher book I had to read before my summer was over.  So last week I started Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.  I knew just enough about it to know it was the kind of read that would remind me of why teaching is what I do, as well as challenge me to push to the next level because there's always one waiting.

Burgess asked me to think about my professional passions.  After twenty years in the classroom, the list could get long.  I purposefully kept it concise.  

I'm passionate about literacy.
I'm passionate about real world instruction instead of school world instruction.
I'm passionate about their hearts.
I'm passionate about their lifetime love of being a reader, writer, mathematician, scientist, etc.

It's one thing to create a list of passions.  It's another to find evidence of their existence in my room.  Do my professional passions affect my classroom?  If this is an honest list, and I believe it is, it should carry considerable weight in every decision I make regarding my students.  Our passions inspire.  They challenge the status quo.  And though it borders on sounding corny, they create a "burning hot passion for the awesome job and responsibility that lies before us."  This is unquestionably true for me today, and no, it's not corny at all.

What are you passionate about?

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Use but Confuse

You.  are.  the.  best.  teacher.  in.  the.  whole.  wide.  world.

"I" "love" "you" "Miss McMorrow."

You probably teach early elementary kids if you've ever seen punctuation in student writing similar to this.  Approximations make me smile.  Most of the time.  At least that I'm aware of.  The ones that show up in kid writing make the biggest impression on me, like the sentences I shared above.  Periods and quotations marks are intriguing tools for emerging writers.  You never know where they might end up.  Another favorite is the use of a specific spelling pattern like "ee" that finds its way into every word with a long e sound.  Whether first grade or twelfth, learners make approximations.

When it comes to approximations, a phrase from forever ago comes to mind, although I can't remember where I nabbed it.  Use but confuse.  What do students use but confuse?  It's tempting to be either completely distracted or frustrated by these things.  I was taught to celebrate what students use but use incorrectly.  Approximations are proof that someone is listening and interested in what they're hearing.  Even better, it means that with the right scaffolding, they're ready to make a shift in their learning of the particular skill they're experimenting with.  It's in that moment, when the best learning can take place.  They're ready for it.  If we respond correctly, like Laminack points out, the things they use but confuse will lead to more learning and continued risk-taking.  If we allow them to catch a whiff of any frustration with their approximations, we're likely to see a system shutdown, maybe only in that moment but possibly in the future too.  How we respond is surely a powerful thing.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014


"I crave fiction."  That's what I posted on Facebook earlier this summer.  My July list of reads proves that I love a good novel.  I just can't help it.  If you're looking for a book, maybe one of my recommendations will satisfy your craving.  (By the way, I was out of town for part of July which was all good, but my reading time suffered a bit.)

I loved this series.  By the end, I felt emotionally attached to the characters.  It took some time to recover from their absence.

This one didn't blow me away, but it wasn't a waste of my time either.

This is an engaging YA book.  The young female protagonist is so lovable.  Great read!

Donalyn Miller is amazing.  Enough said.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book of historical fiction set both in WWII times and in the present.  I need to read more from this author.

My best friend asked me to read this.  Otherwise I wouldn't have picked it up.  It's not my typical read.  Even though it's disturbing, it's inspiring as well.

Read on!

Thanks Deanna Jump!

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Saturday Sayings: It's That Important

First grade has changed considerably in the 20 years I've been teaching it.  I believe that's a good thing.  Even though I've never taught kindergarten, I believe the same is true for that grade level.  This is an oversimplification, but in many classrooms, it's gone from naps and snacks to being a miniature version of first grade.  Some might argue that our littlest learners aren't experiencing enough of that important play they used to get.  I would tend to agree with some of this argument, but that topic is for another day.  Instead I'm interested in something else I wish kindergarten students were getting more of.  

For many years I've been wishing for more writing in  kindergarten classrooms.  I don't mean worksheets.  I don't mean filling in the blank or finishing a prompt either.  I wish these young ones could choose their own topics and freely write small moments about their lives.  I wish they could write persuasive letters about topics that are important to them.  I wish they could write how-to pieces explaining procedures that they're experts in.  I wish they could write free-verse poetry with their innocent and beautiful words.  I wish they could experience the power and accomplishment that comes from being writers.  I don't simply wish these things because it would make my job easier.  I wish it because I know that kindergartners are able to accomplish these writing tasks with the right daily supports and would benefit greatly as readers, writers, and thinkers if given the opportunity.    

I've kept my thoughts to myself about this topic for a long time.  I'm not a kindergarten teacher, so what do I know?  Melissa, a kindergarten teacher extraordinaire, gave me the boldness to speak up.  I've been admiring her writing instruction for a while now.  Recently she posted about the need for daily writing workshop in kindergarten, and I thought, "If she can say it, so can I."  This is an excerpt from her post.

I have two boys in kindergarten this year. It’s amazing how quickly the year goes by.  Prior to entering kindergarten if I had only one wish for my boy’s school year it would be that they have writing workshop. They have had a wonderful year in kindergarten. They have learned what it means to be a listener, a friend, a student, a reader, and many more important things, but they didn’t learn to be a writer.  

My kids did lots of worksheets that “prepared” them to learn about reading and writing. I do not believe worksheets teach kids anything about reading or writing. I think worksheets keep kids busy.

I think writer’s workshop should be happening in every kindergarten classroom, if we expect students to learn how to be confident readers and writers.

She mirrored my thoughts exactly.  Kindergarteners don't need to be prepared to write using artificial means.  They don't need to wait until they know all their letters.  They don't need to wait until they have better control of phonological awareness.  They need to write every single day.  I don't mean to insinuate that teaching five-year-olds to be writers is a piece of cake.  Since I teach six-year-olds, I know better.  From someone who's in the trenches though, Melissa proves that it can be done.  She's got credibility.  Even though I've never watched her teach, I imagine that she accepts and celebrates approximations.  At the beginning of the year, the writer who can only write a story through pictures is celebrated as much as the one who easily writes most sounds in words using complete sentences.  She understands the many levels of writing represented in a classroom and knows how to nudge each one to next appropriate steps.  The bottom line?  She knows that writing in her classroom will markedly influence the next twelve years of the lives in her care.  It's that important. 

Please visit Melissa's blog and read her whole post.  She's an expert at what she does.

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