Saturday, October 29, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Just Because it Works

"I have no original thoughts of my own." I periodically borrow this phrase from my cousin David. I suppose those words are not altogether true, but I do often rely on the wisdom of mentors who seem way smarter than I could ever be. Having said that, the phrase below is actually mine. 

Just because it works doesn't mean it's good for kids.

I'd like to define "works." I imagine most stakeholders would equate "works" with acceptable test scores. If the numbers are good, then the instruction must have been also and kids are in good shape for the future. Herein lies the misconception. If children score well but the methods used don't inspire them, then it was definitely not in their best interest and they are essentially no better off than before instruction began. 

I believe it's possible to drag a class of students to good scores while leaving them blind to the joys of learning. I could most likely spend the majority of my day killing and drilling my students to good fluency reading scores with pure phonics, isolated sight words, decodable reading passages,  meaningless worksheets or activities, and then topping it off with pointless homework without them really ever learning the joys of time spent listening and interacting with amazing read-alouds or reading independently or in partnerships or in book clubs with real live books in their hands. These students might get good fluency scores, but they won't be in love with books and most likely quite the opposite will be true.

As Burgess says, building a love of learning in our students takes priority over anything else, and our instruction must reflect that. What indeed are we nurturing? 

Great test scores or students? 

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Building Bridges

I'm a bridge builder. When I tell my mathematicians "Don't let yourself freeze up. You have strategies you know how to use," I'm building a bridge, since I'd already used that same language in reading workshop. When I say, "Christopher, thanks for throwing away your candy wrapper. Our new clean-up crew will so appreciate how you take care of trash," I'm building a bridge because the day before a crew from our class spontaneously started cleaning up the playground at recess. 

My day is a giant web of bridges. I'm constantly making connects between ideas, words, actions, learning, and even students. These connections add invaluable layers of meaning to the learning, inviting all participants to cross over to new understandings and application. In other words, bridges increase sticking power.

I'm intrigued by the realization that though building bridges is pivotal to my teaching, I'm rarely intentional about it. I've never written these connections in my lesson plans. Nor have I jotted them down on my palm for easy access before the day begins. (As if I'd ever write on my hand.) I seem to create connections subconsciously. It happens in a split second. In the moment, I seemingly know what connection to make and how to make it, like I did in the above examples. This happens all throughout the day. 

I don't want to give the impression that I'm a master at connections and have no room for improvement. Intentionality is a must, so I should be challenging myself to view bridge-building in a more purposeful context. I would imagine we all should think more purposefully whether making connections comes naturally or not. If recycling ideas and content in repeated and sometimes unexpected ways helps make our teaching stick and increases student understanding, it's something worth thinking more intentionally about.

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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Cool to Ask Questions

This year I'm part of a cohort of Idaho teachers called The Coaching Network. We met for the first time in early August for three days of professional development. As I sat and soaked up all I could from our four coaches, I also took mental notes about the quality teaching strategies they were using. I'm learning from all four coaches, but I found myself latching on to a consistent strategy used by one of them in particular. She repeatedly said these words:

What questions do you have about...?

Pretty much, without fail, she would ask that question after she finished teaching or giving directions. The frequent use of this phrase let me know it was cool to ask my own questions, to ask for clarification, or to admit a misunderstanding. 

I also made note of her wording. Whereas in my classroom the phrase would sound more like, "Do you have any questions?" there is an element of intentionality in her wording that though subtle, seems important and powerful. The assumption is that asking questions is not only welcome but expected. 

After hearing her ask this question repeatedly throughout our three days together, I made myself a goal to do the same for my own students. I can say I've done a fairly decent job and plan on making it a habit, as it is with my coach. When given the chance, even first graders have insightful questions to ask, and learning that it's cool to ask questions is the message I want them to hear loud and clear. 

P.S. I now have a Facebook page. Click on the graphic to come say hi. :)

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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Find Your People

There's a lot of talk about tribe these days. Last year I relied on mine. I was in a place of frustration and doubt, that in my eyes, overshadowed my 21 years of experience. 

When I couldn't see the forest for the trees, my tribe offered perspective. 

When I needed to vent, they listened. 

When I needed to cry, they let me and hugged on me as well.

But they never left me as is. 

They couldn't alter my situation or manipulate my circumstances, but they repeatedly spoke truth into my life, that at the time was nearly impossible to recognize on my own.

I remember a particular poignant and inspiring moment about halfway through the school year when my cousin Laurie offered me a completely different perspective to consider. It didn't change my circumstances, but it began a gradual work of healing in my heart and mind. Following this conversation, maybe within a month's time, I woke one morning after another frustrating classroom situation to a revelation of my own. It felt like a breath of fresh air. Again, my situation didn't change, but my burden felt lighter. Without a tribe that was offering me a different outlook, I doubt I would have been in the right place to receive my own revelation in a time when I needed it the most.

I told a group of new teachers at an orientation meeting this Fall to find their tribe. The same advice could be offered to teachers with countless years of experience. We must all find our people. Who are yours? 

P.S. I now have a Facebook page. Click on the link to say hi. :)

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