Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Magic


Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating a place to share our Slice of Life. Read more slices or add you own here.

Have you all seen this years Christmas commercial from Kohl's?  I am such a sap when it comes to books and commercials, especially Christmas commercials. Hallmark and Maxwell House coffee at Christmastime just do me in.  Take a look at this one if you have not seen it yet.



Christmas is such a magical time.  The other day I was talking to a colleague about how much I love experiencing Christmas through the eyes of a four year old.  Those years were simply the best.

My children are now 18 and 22 and the magic of Christmas has changed.  Yes, it is sad, but I have always said that each stage of raising children has its own wonderfulness.  Those of you with toddlers may not understand this yet because it is so hard to imagine their lives as teenagers and young adults.  But it will happen.

Although I still get to see the magic, it is through a different lens.  My daughter will be student teaching in just few short weeks.  She is extremely nervous because she does not like the unknown.  She likes to have her ducks in a row, and sometimes with life (and teaching), the ducks just don't cooperate and line up as we would like.

Last night she attended a meet and greet with supervising teachers, cooperative teachers, and other student teachers.  She was given a couple of compliments by teachers which made her feel more confident, and I could tell she was excited.

And then it happened.

I saw the magic.

No, it was not Christmas magic.

I saw the magic of life.  The magic of being on the threshold of the real world, anxiously awaiting the crossover.  There is no greater happiness for me as a mom than to see the magic - at any age.  I am smiling like the dad in the commercial, believing in magic and knowing everything will be fine.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gratitude



Every Thursday Holly Mueller from Reading, Teaching, Learning, creates a place where readers can share their spiritual journeys.

I have to admit something - I cheated a little today.  I used part of a post from Slice of Life as my gratitude post today because the words are worth repeating,

A few weeks ago, I came across a tweet about a girl named Brittany Maynard. Brittany was a young woman who had a terminal brain tumor and chose to end her life on her own terms before the cancer did it for her.  This story grabbed my heart and did not let go.

This post is not about what she did because it is not my place to judge.  It is about what she said.  I am sure being face to face with one's mortality would be the catalyst to change and the inspiration to very deep thinking.  As I read her obituary, I was inspired by her words.

It is people who pause to appreciate life and give thanks who are happiest.  If we change our thoughts, we change our world!  Love and peace to you all." ~ Brittany Maynard

Her words made me question whether I am pausing or am I racing through this one life I have.  Am I assuming the people in my life know I am thankful, or am I letting them know before it is too late.  I like to think I am a grateful person, but I know there are many times when I do not pause.

Reading Brittany's words gave me a nudge.  She knew her days were numbered.  I know my days in this life are numbered too.  The only difference is she made the best of those days she had left.  She chose to change her world by changing her thoughts. Seems rather simplistic, but the magnitude of her words could be life changing.

Today, I pause.  

                        Today, I reflect.  

Today, I thank.

                        Today, I challenge you to do the same.

"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." ~Colossians 3:17

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What Kids Are Reading - Questioning the Data

I have been working on a post about Accelerated Reader.  It was not planned as a post criticizing AR, but rather my thoughts as a teacher surviving in a school which incorporates AR into their reading program.  Yesterday I came across a tweet about a post on the Renaissance Learning blog.  My AR post will have to wait because this one needs to be written first.

Renaissance Learning published the 2015 edition of "What Kids Are Reading and Why It Matters."  If you have not seen this, then I encourage you to look at it quickly before reading more. The beginning of the document explains how reading skill acquisition is closely related to daily practice and reading volume.  I don't think any teacher would argue with that point.  

But as I read more, a red flag went up because this data comes only from students who use AR.  I find this interesting.

 Mining data on daily independent reading practice and achievement from millions of students who use Accelerated Reader allows us to address important questions about independent reading practice, including what makes it so vital for helping children become successful readers.

According to their own research, there are three variables to independent reading which influence reading growth: comprehension, volume, and challenge.  I would agree with this.  They also state:

When we examine less skilled or struggling readers, we see that those who read a lot of appropriately challenging books at high comprehension tended to experience accelerated growth throughout the school year and thus close gaps. (Bold print is my emphasis.)

What they call challenging text is one part of their research which concerns me.  I believe in challenging my students, but how does one define challenging text?   How do we decide which books are appropriately challenging?  Do we go by AR reading levels?  Do we go by the number of points assigned to a book, or do we go by professional judgement?

It is my understanding that AR defines challenge by ZPD or a range of recommended reading levels for students.  According to the reports from AR that I use in my classroom, a student's ZPD ranges below and slightly above the grade equivalency.  For example, I have a student at a 6.2 grade equivalency, but her ZPD is 4.1 to 6.3.  How does this play into appropriately challenging text?  Is the majority of challenging text below their grade equivalency?  Do we take into consideration the maturity level of the student when determining challenging text?

This report also includes a "bona fide list of popular books kids are reading by grade and gender."  As I read this, I remembered this data was coming only from the students who use the AR program and who took a test.  It does not include non AR readers or readers who chose the book simply for enjoyment.  Yes, the red flag was waving.

I moved down to the top 25 most popular books by grade level.  Since I teach 6th grade, I went to that list first.  It was no surprise that several books from The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series were on the list as well as Harry Potter, because those books are popular in my classroom too.

I then began looking at the AR reading levels.  They say that challenge is important to reading growth, but not one book on the list was above 5.7 for 6th grade.  I am not saying those books are not challenging for my students, because many of them are.  I am just questioning the data and find it interesting.

I believe independent reading should be for enjoyment first and foremost.  Because of this, my students are not strictly tied to reading levels.  I only use them as guidelines and not requirements.

According to AR levels, this book and all of the books in this series

ATOS reading level 5.2

 are at a higher level than this book.


ATOS reading level 4.8

That is why I don't pay much attention to their book levels.  Again, I am only questioning their data and their definition of challenging books.

Looking at the high school average book levels, two things from the report puzzled me.  One was the average book levels for each high school grade.

9th grade - 5.5
10th grade - 5.6
11th grade - 5.6
12 grade - 6.7

Again, they say challenge is important, but all of these average book levels are well below grade level.  The only reason why the 12th grade was so high was because it included Frankenstein, Hamlet, and Macbeth which are all above 10.9.  I don't focus solely on book levels, but this data raises many questions about their claim that challenge is important.

This leads me to the second part of this data which puzzles me.  Several classic books made the top 25 on the most popular lists for high school.  To me, popular means the books kids want to read.  I had to ask myself, how many of these classics were assigned reading and students had to take the AR test.  If you think about how many high schools read these as assigned texts, then of course they are going to show up on the most popular list. That does not mean students chose them or enjoyed reading them.  It simply means they took the test.

I know AR is a controversial subject, and many do not agree with me.  I am OK with that.  I respect all opinions, but this report should prompt valuable and much needed conversations among teachers who use AR and should also cause teachers to ask questions about the data put out by Renaissance Learning.

My next post will be about surviving in the AR world.  In the meantime, happy reading!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Making a Difference - Continued

I went to school today with a different attitude.  My day started off as it usually does. Hit the alarm, eat my peanut butter toast and chocolate milk, read my emails and blog posts.

As I read down to the end Colby Sharp's post, I stopped - all because of a simple paper plate, and it completely changed my outlook on my day.

Yesterday, I wrote a post for Spiritual Journey Thursday about making a difference. There are many days when I ask, does what I do really make a difference?  Today, I was reminded of the answer.

A former student of Colby's very tragically died last week.  I first heard about it from a tweet he sent.  Today, as he celebrated with Ruth Ayres, he celebrated the life of the young girl.

But for me it was a celebration of making a difference.  When he had this beautiful young girl in class, he awarded her with a "Super Star Award," an award made from a paper plate.  When he attended the funeral, the paper plate award was there on a display.  Obviously, that paper plate made a difference in her life, or she would not have kept it all these years.

So, this morning, I have been giving out extra smiles, making it a point to speak to certain students and asking about their day, and yes, I even gave a little extra time to students who didn't have their assignment done.  We never know when that little something extra will make such a difference in the life of a student.  We never know if we will have another chance.

Thank you Colby and thank you Lauryn for showing me that yes, we do make a difference - one student at a time.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Make a Difference



Every Thursday Holly Mueller from Reading, Teaching, Learning, creates a place where readers can share their spiritual journeys.

Be a difference maker!  

When I started playing around with this post, I landed up in the middle of the 12 disciples.  You may think that is a strange place to end up, but think about it.  The 12 disciples were quite the difference makers.  But I am sure they didn't think that. Imagine Andrew, sitting in his boat, doing what he does every day - fishing.  The next thing he knows, he his dropping his nets and following the one they call Jesus of Nazareth.

Here were twelve men with their flaws and shortcomings, going about their daily routine.  They were ordinary people, just like you and me.  All of sudden, their lives were about to change in ways I am sure they never imagined.  They were asked to spread the news of the gospel to the world - they were asked to be a difference maker.

And here I am doing what I do every day, guiding young minds and wondering, "Do I really make a difference?"  

I believe that in many ways, we are all called to be difference makers, just like the 12 disciples.  But do we answer that call?  Do we hear God's whisper? Do we feel His nudge?

In this season of gratitude and thanksgiving, my thoughts lean toward making a difference.  But I need to do this during my ordinary days in ordinary ways.   Some days it may be something simple, such as giving someone a smile or a hug.  Other times it might be something bigger.  God sees all of these.  I believe that in His eyes, it does't matter if we are a fisherman or a teacher, we can all make a difference in this world.

"In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven." Matthew 5:16

Friday, November 7, 2014

Instant Inspiration


Day 7 and I am still going strong with @TeachThought for a November blogging challenge - Teaching Through an Attitude of Gratitude.  Please click here if you would like to join in the reflection.

November 7 - What new learning has inspired you in your career?

In the short-term, I would say Twitter has been my latest inspiration.  The learning that takes place in a simple 140 character message is amazing.  Every day I read a tweet which makes me think and reflect.

Or I see an idea or a new way of doing something that I want to try in my classroom.

Or I hear about a new book that I just have read and place in my classroom.

Or I learn about a new piece of technology or app.

The teachers I have virtually met have merged into a PLN that I never dreamed of having.  It is instant inspiration, and it has totally changed the way I learn.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

My Favorite Quote, My Mantra


Woo Hoo!  I am on my sixth day with @TeachThought for a November blogging challenge - Teaching Through an Attitude of Gratitude.  Please click here if you would like to join in the reflection.

I am a teacher of reading.  I am a lover of books.  Building relationships with my readers is key to creating a classroom where reading is a priority.   I believe in the power of books.  

Several years ago, I was reading Igniting a Passion for Reading by Steven Layne and came across this quote.

"Never underestimate the power of a great book in the hands of a teacher who knows how to use it."

This has become my mantra.  It is what I believe.  Students need teachers who read and use books in a positive way.  They do not need rewards, or reading logs, or consequences for not reading.  They need to know books are powerful.  Sometimes it just takes the right teacher to ignite that passion.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My Strengths


This month I am joining fellow bloggers and @TeachThought for a November blogging challenge - Teaching Through an Attitude of Gratitude.  Please click here if you would like to join in the reflection.

November 5 - What are your strengths?  Which are you most grateful for?

Talking about my strengths is not easy for me to do.  I think this is because I am my worst critic and I am extremely hard on myself.  I tend to look at my weaknesses and many times focus too much on those.

Because I am such a critic, I am also a constant learner which I think is a strength.  I am a teacher who wants to continuously learn new things.  Buying professional development books is an addiction, but there is always something I want to be better at doing.  

Being reflective is also important to me.  Looking to see what worked and what didn't work and then making changes is also a part of my learning process.

I love going to workshops.  I feel that if I can take one thing back and implement it in my classroom, then it was worth the money.  Many people laugh at how much I am on Twitter, but it is because I am always looking for ways to learn.  

I have been called a nerd because of my thirst to learn - but I am proud of it!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A "Heroic" Teacher


This month I am joining fellow bloggers and @TeachThought for a November blogging challenge - Teaching Through an Attitude of Gratitude.  Please click here if you would like to join in the reflection.

November 4 - What was the nicest gift you ever received from a student/parent/colleague?

As a teacher, I have received my share of candles, body wash or lotion, or flavored popcorn.  I have always been grateful for all gifts, but I will have to say that any handwritten note has to be my favorite.

Last year while I was reading to my students, the word "heroic" was in the book.  For some reason, I just could not pronounce that word.  No matter how hard I focused on it, I kept saying the "oy" sound.  The kids were laughing right along with me.  It just would not come out of my mouth.  That little joke carried on for the entire school year.

At the end of the school year, I received a gift card (from Barnes & Noble - my favorite!) and in it was a note from my student.  This student and I shared a very special reading relationship.  He loved to read and I loved sharing books with him. Here is his note.  Being called a "heroic" teacher is something I will always treasure - not because it is true.  But because he remembered.


Capturing Gratitude


Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating a place to share our Slice of Life. Read more slices or add you own here.

A little while back Terje at Just for a Month, sent me a tweet challenging me to capture gratitude by listing 100 things I am grateful for.  I kept putting it off until I read a tweet Sunday.  This tweet intrigued me.  I followed the link to the story of Brittany Maynard. Brittany was a young woman who had a terminal brain tumor and chose to end her life on her own terms before the cancer did it for her.  This story grabbed my heart and did not let go.

This post is not about what she did.  It is about what she said.  I am sure being face to face with one's mortality would be the catalyst to change and the inspiration to very deep thinking.  As I read her obituary, I was mesmerized by her profound words.

It is people who pause to appreciate life and give thanks who are happiest.  If we change our thoughts, we change our world!  Love and peace to you all." ~ Brittany Maynard

Her words made me question whether I am pausing or am I racing through this one life I have.  Am I assuming the people in my life know I am thankful, or am I letting them know before it is too late.  I like to think I am a grateful person, but I know there are many times when I do not pause.

Reading Brittany's words gave me a nudge.  She knew her days were numbered.  I know my days in this life are numbered too.  The only difference is she made the best of those days she had left.  She chose to change her world by changing her thoughts.  

Today, I pause.  

                        Today, I thank.  

Today, I reflect.

                        Today, I challenge you to do the same.

Here is my list of 100 things I am grateful for...in no particular order.
  1. my husband of almost 25 years
  2. my daughter
  3. my son
  4. my sisters
  5. my brother
  6. my niece
  7. my nephew
  8. my mom
  9. my grandma
  10. my grandma's noodles
  11. the time I had with my mother and father-in-law
  12. my log cabin-like house
  13. sunny days
  14. blue skies
  15. pool days
  16. the four seasons
  17. comfy pants
  18. books
  19. reading glasses
  20. flannel sheets
  21. silent snowfalls
  22. smiles
  23. fresh peaches
  24. a clean house
  25. writing days
  26. reading days
  27. Slice of Life
  28. fellow bloggers
  29. my students
  30. my principal
  31. my teacher-friends
  32. falling leaves
  33. the smell of freshly cut grass
  34. Twitter
  35. bubble baths
  36. EJD's (my high school friends)
  37. new notebooks
  38. technology
  39. sticky notes
  40. yellow highlighters
  41. uni-ball pens
  42. porches
  43. quilts
  44. rocking chairs
  45. vacation days
  46. vegetable soup
  47. pillows (I sleep with three)
  48. country music
  49. book stores
  50. first fire of the season
  51. snow days
  52. khakis
  53. my PLN
  54. sunsets
  55. sunrises
  56. cold drinks 
  57. sleeping in
  58. black-eyed susans
  59. God's grace
  60. my health
  61. the beach
  62. sunscreen
  63. freedom
  64. my spiritual journey
  65. hot showers
  66. our local produce market
  67. comfy shoes
  68. holidays
  69. laughter
  70. electric blankets
  71. doctors
  72. medicine
  73. our middle school Fellowship of Christian Athletes
  74. Next Chapter Book Club
  75. people with disabilities
  76. life lessons
  77. people who can sing
  78. homegrown sweet corn
  79. homegrown strawberries
  80. my teacher's bible study group
  81. sweatshirts
  82. freshly baked bread
  83. the smell of coffee
  84. mentors
  85. McDonald's french fries
  86. celebrations
  87. watching my daughter coach basketball
  88. watching my son play his guitar
  89. cleansing rains
  90. passion
  91. the color green
  92. family dinners
  93. the smell of Christmas trees
  94. opportunities
  95. conservative values
  96. giggles
  97. sprinklers
  98. my ability to cook
  99. memories
  100. words
This month I have joined fellow bloggers and @teachthought for a November challenge - Teaching Through an Attitude of Gratitude.  This month is a wonderful time for reflective thankfulness, but after reading Brittany's story, I want to have an attitude of gratitude not just for this month, but every day.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Attitude with Gratitude Catch-up Posts


This month I am joining fellow bloggers and @TeachThought for a November blogging challenge - Teaching Through an Attitude of Gratitude.  Please click here if you would like to join in the reflection.

Since this is a catch-up post, I am writing three days worth today.  They are short, but I am caught up!  Hopefully this won't become a trend!  I, like most of you, really do not have the time, but please check back Tuesday for my Slice of Life to read about why I decided to participate.

November 1 - What are the best aspects of being a teacher?

For me, the best aspect of being a teacher is the relationships with the students. When I was student teaching, I wondered if my supervising teacher even liked kids. To be in that environment for eight weeks was difficult.  I learned then, that creating those relationships was important to not only having a successful classroom but also to being a happy teacher.  My students make me laugh, make me cry, make me think, and make me happy.  

I was asked a similar question during an interview and my answer was, "The kids, of course!"  I am convinced that answer helped me get the job.

November 2 - What is one small delight in the day that you always look forward to?

My small delight at school is my third period dark chocolate M&M's.  That is my prep period and I keep a bag in my desk drawer.  It is that perfect pick-me-up!

My small delight at home is my time spent reading in the tub!  My "bath time" has been sacred since my kids were little...and they are 22 and 18.  That's a lot of bubbles.  

November 3 - What are you most proud of to date in your teaching career?

Actually becoming a teacher is what am most proud of.  I returned to school at the age of 40.  Prior to that I was a retail district manager and a stay-at-home mom.  The decision to return to school was not an easy one, but one I have never regretted. Sitting in a classroom with 20 year olds was not easy either, but so much fun!  

That decision has led me down a wonderful path.  I never imagined I would be where I am today, challenging myself to reach higher and dream bigger.