Friday, June 26, 2015

Does Your Classroom Show What You Value?

This is a series of blog posts I hope to write over the summer to reflect on my first year as a 6th grade middle school language arts teacher.  Teaching is hard.  Reflecting on teaching is even harder.  Reflecting points out my mistakes and flaws, but encourages change; it highlights my successes, yet motivates me to become better.

Does your classroom show what you value?

Last winter my principal came into my classroom with a consultant for our middle and high schools.  When my principal introduced us, he said, "Can you tell she likes books?"

He could not have paid me a higher compliment.  I want people to enter my classroom and immediately know what I value.  But what else does my classroom say about me?  

I value books and reading.  I have a rather large classroom library, and I display books everywhere.  I share my own reading life with my students by displaying books I have read and what I am currently reading on our classroom door.  Reading is who I am.

I value talk and collaboration.  I have my desks in pods or groups, not in rows.  I use turn and talk many times throughout my lessons and class discussions, and I think arranging my room this way invites talk.  This is important to me.

I value visible student thinking.  I use anchor charts, not store-bought educational charts, to build a literacy culture.  I use anchor charts to record the content and strategies I am teaching and the processes of student thinking.  Anchor charts keep current learning accessible to students and provide an anchor for new learning.  Because anchor charts are created by students, they have more ownership in their learning.  My anchor charts are my classroom wallpaper.

As I start to set up my classroom for next year, I want to look at it with new eyes.  I want to see if my classroom really shows what I value.  If I walked in your classroom, what would I see?  What do you value?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Reflection on College and Career Ready

This is a series of blog posts I hope to write over the summer to reflect on my first year as a 6th grade middle school language arts teacher.  Teaching is hard.  Reflecting on teaching is even harder.  Reflecting points out my mistakes and flaws, but encourages change; it highlights my successes, but motivates me to become better.

I had a conversation with a former student this week.  To protect the student's identity, I will call him Dylan.  He was on his way to sign up for classes are our local college.  Prior to registration, he had to take a test which placed him in remedial classes.  These results insinuated that he was not "college and career ready."  He was not pleased, and neither was his mother.

He asked me, "I graduated from high school, why am I not in college level classes?"

To me this seemed like a logical question.  Because I know this student quite well, I know his work ethic is not the strongest.  I also know his lack of effort brought him to where he is now.  But this conversation also left me with many unanswered questions.

Who is to blame for this?  I would like to say it is all his, but I don't think the blame solely lies on him.

Are the parents to blame?  Did they push him to do his best?  Did they let him take the easy way out because it would be easier than fighting him?

Is the school to blame?  Can a student go four years to high school and not have any red flags surface?  Should teachers be obligated to contact the parents and say, "Hey, I don't think your child is giving his best."  Or, "I am worried your child may not be college or career ready."

Is our testing environment to blame?  Are we starting to see the damaging effects on the students in the "testing generation?"  Did he just say I have had enough testing, and I don't care any more?

Are colleges and universities to blame?  Are students being forced to take remedial classes so that colleges can make more money by requiring students to take more classes?

I don't know the answers, but I do know this experience has given me something to think about.  I now have a different view about the students who will be sitting in my classroom this August.  I know I will have many "Dylans" looking at me, waiting for me to help them as they start their middle school years.  They may only be 6th graders, but this is the beginning.  I have a huge responsibility.

The next few weeks I will be asking myself many questions, reflecting on changes I need to make in order to help my students think about being college and career ready.  

Maybe my first question should be, just what is college and career ready?  

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Celebrate Turn #19

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share and celebrate events, big or small, from our week.  

This week I celebrate Summer PD.

Last year I attended All Write for the first time.  My colleague and friend, Kristen, went with me last year, and a few other teachers from our district came with us this year.  

Here we are with Seymour Simon.
Thanks Elsie for taking the picture!

This conference is quickly becoming one of the highlights of my summer, and is the foundation for the remainder of my summer PD.  I come back recharged and ready to change my teaching for the better. 

These past two days, I sat in sessions writing furiously, taking pictures of presenters' slides, and trying to absorb as much information as possible.  At the end of the day, I went back to my room, and Kristen and I debriefed and shared our learning.  I don't know which grew more, my books-to-buy list or my enthusiasm.  

Today, I sat on my porch and lingered over my notes.  I tried to wrap my brain around all I learned and all I want to do in my classroom this year.  I created lists...and lists of new ideas about book clubs, writing about reading, teaching punctuation and so much more.

This is what I do over the summer.  Summer PD fuels me; it motivates me; it helps me become a better teacher.  I think my students deserve that.

So today, I celebrate  summer PD!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Celebrate Turn #18

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share and celebrate events, big or small, from our week.  

This was the BEST week of far!  So many great events to celebrate, but I will start with family first.

Ethan's last stroke as a high school golfer was a tap-in.
My son finished his high school golf career at regionals this week.  Although the team did not advance, he played his best round of the season.  And on the same course where he made his hole-in-one!  So proud that he saved his best for his last match.  I have been watching him play since he was eight years old, and I will miss following him and that little white ball. 

My daughter passed her last two tests for her teaching license this week.  Plus, she will be hired Monday, pending board approval, as a third grade teacher!  I can't wait to start having teaching conversations with her and help her get her classroom ready!

Here we are with Margaret using an
image to create a collaborative poem
before she sent them to write their own.

I spent this past week writing poetry with high ability students at our SPARK camp.  One day we Skyped with Margaret Simon where we wrote haiku poems using mentor texts from Linda Baie.  In one little room in southern Indiana, my students had three teachers from three different states teaching them about poetry!  Collaboration at its best!  

Read her post about our visit here. 

On Thursday, my older group Skyped with Laura Purdie Salas.  Prior to her visit, I used the lesson about writing word play poems from her website.  The students were able to share some of their work with her, as well as learn about her writing life.   You can read my post about both visits and read my students' poems here.     

And then next week, I travel to Warsaw, Indiana for more summer learning at the All Write Summer Conference, catching up with some blogging friends, and meeting some other bloggers in person for the first time.  Another great week ahead for me!

I hope you have a great week and find many celebrations along the way!

Friday, June 12, 2015

My First Poetry Friday

Happy Poetry Friday!
This week's poetry round-up is hosted by
Jama's Alphabet Soup
I have never written a Poetry Friday post, but since I have been immersed in poetry this week, I had to share.  To learn more about Poetry Friday click here.)

I have spent this week working with our high ability kids in our corporation.  SPARK Camp (Super Powered Activities to Recharge Kids) is a great way for kids to work on projects which spark their interests and minds.  

The last two summers I have offered a writing session.  This year it was poetry.  I felt a little inadequate or boring because other sessions were using hour of coding, Rube Goldberg, 3-D printer, Augmented Reality, spheros and ollies and I used...a notebook and a pencil.

To enrich my session with technology, I decided we would Skype and create a "book" using Google slides.  On Wednesday, my younger group Skyped with Maragaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche.  Please visit her blog to read more about our visit.  I decided to use haiku with the younger group because I thought it would be an easier form that could be finished in three days.  We collaboratively wrote a haiku with Margaret, and then they set off to write their own using an image about a summer day.

The last two days we completed the Google slides.  Below are two examples from the collection:  Sparks - A Haiku Collection.  

These two poems happen to be about something they observed during our walk in our nature center.

Then on Thursday, my older group Skyped with Laura Purdie Salas.  I used her word play poem lesson on her website.   After a collaborative effort of writing one together, my writers chose their topics and and went to work exploring the thoughts and feelings of their word. They also published using Google slides in Summer Voices:  A Collection of Poems.  

This week was amazing!  My students and I were privileged to be taught by these three (including Linda's contribution of haiku) wonderful writers!  I hope this camp has SPARKed their interest in poetry!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Writing Camp

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

Summer has not fully begun for me yet.  The first two weeks I worked with struggling readers at our first annual Summer Reading Camp.  This camp was for elementary aged kids, and after teaching 6th graders all year, I have fully enjoyed my time with them.

Today we started our SPARK Camp (Super Powered Activities to Recharge Kids) for our high ability kids.  I am teaching a poetry session - something I love to write but feel so inadequate doing so!  Tomorrow we have a Skype visit lined up with Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche, and I am so excited about that!

My group of second and third graders are working on haiku poems.  I used mentor texts from Loree Griffin Burns and Liz Garton Scanlon.  I even showed them one I wrote last night in bed....thank goodness I remembered it, because I did not write it down!

An area of our town is being occupied by the 17 year cicadas.  I took a few pictures and decided to write a haiku about one of them.

say farewell to spring
a cicada serenade
ushers in summer

Here is a collaborative poem my second group wrote today using a word play idea from Laura Purdie Salas.


Popsicle is a messy word.
down my hands
like a leaky faucet
making my fingers sticky.
Reminds me 
of  summer days.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Who's Responsible?

This is a series of blog posts I hope to write over the summer to reflect on my first year as a 6th grade middle school language arts teacher.  Teaching is hard.  Reflecting on teaching is even harder.  Reflecting points out my mistakes and flaws, but encourages change; it highlights my successes, but motivates me to become better.

I am in a quandary, a dilemma, a state of confusion.  Hopefully writing about it will help me to think through the situation and find some answers.

As a first year middle school language arts teacher, I felt adapting was fairly easy, with one exception - the lack of effort or the lack of responsibility of students completing assignments on time.  It was common to have 20-25 students out of 100 to have missing assignments or late work.  In other classes, that number was even higher.  Regardless of the subject area, it was a common problem throughout the entire grade level.

I have read many articles and blog posts about teachers teaching responsibility and about assessing the learning or growth.  Unfortunately, reading them has left me with more questions than answers.

I know some of my students will not go on to college, but will be searching for jobs right out high school.  Being responsible is important in the workplace.  If they cannot be responsible now, how will they be 8 to 10 years from now?  Will they arrive for work on time?  Will they complete a task given to them?  These questions concern me and cause me to reflect on how I handled late or missing work.

So, here are the questions I am wrangling with and trying to answer so that I do not find myself in the same situation as last year.

Should students be penalized for late work?  If so, what should the penalty or consequence be?

Is learning the only significant outcome of the assignment?

Is it fair to those students who turn in work on time to give full credit to students who consistently turn in work late?  Is it fair to allow extra time?

If I do accept late work, should there be a time limit for turning in late work?

Am I enabling irresponsibility for not setting higher expectations?

Is it my job to teach responsibility when parents fail to do so?

I would love to have your insight on this situation.  My colleagues and I are discussing possible solutions to our problem, but I am just unsure of the right answer.

How do you handle late or missing work?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Celebrate Turn #17

I am so grateful to Ruth Ayres for inviting us to share and celebrate events, big or small, from our week.  I quickly wrote this post today, because I am off to the pool.  Please excuse the rambling thoughts, as I try to capture this moment as best I could.

Today I celebrate the struggle.

The last two weeks, I have been working at our Summer Reading Camp, an interventions program for struggling readers.  When the email came calling for teachers to participate in the program, I jumped at the chance to work with elementary students again.  

The camp is winding down, and Friday was our last instructional day.  I struggled with my plans for Friday.  The days were becoming too routine, they were tired, and they were getting bored.  (I mean it is summer break you know!) 

At the last minute I changed everything I was going to do.  Earlier in the week I read Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco, so I decided to read My Rotten Readheaded Older Brother, another book by her.  After I read the second one, they each wrote about something they were good at.  I was completely winging the lesson, and surprisingly it was leading into something much better.

At the end of the morning, I had some extra time and thought, "Great, now what am I going to do?"  So I did what many teachers do in this situation.  I looked in my box of read-alouds and pulled out another one:  Exclamation Mark! 

I love this book for many reasons, but today it put an "exclamation mark" on our last day of learning.  (Monday, our real last day, is a fun day!)

After reading the book, I told them, "Today, we read about a sister who always wanted to do something better than her brother.  She wanted to be good at something that he wasn't good at.  I know reading is not always easy for you, but look at what you wrote about today.  Each one of you is good at something:  playing sports, playing video games, and dancing ballet.  Not everyone is good at reading, or writing, or math.  But YOU are good something.   Sometimes, we are like the exclamation mark - we just have to find a way to make our mark."

Yesterday, I struggled with my plans for my struggling students.  It wasn't what I had planned, but ended up being one of the one best days we had together.  

Sometimes we have to go through the struggle in order to celebrate.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Yes, He Did!

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

Pomp and Circumstance begins,

and the audience stands as the graduates enter the auditorium.

I swallow the lump in my throat 

and squeeze away the tears I am sure will come

as I watch for him to walk in.

Just two hours ago 

he left the house with his friends

dressed in his graduation attire:

khaki pants, blue oxford shirt, Beatles tie, dress shoes and green gown.

There he is - marching in with his white gowned counterpart.

but wait...

that can't be him.


he didn't.


he didn't...

Yes, he did!

This picture was taken at our house after graduation.
Read here for the original story about Ethan's shoes.

Needless to say, 

the tears never came!

Maybe he knew just how to

keep his momma from crying.

Monday, June 1, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What Are You Reading?  Be sure and stop by to participate or see what others are reading and recommending this week.

What I Read This Week

The Missing Pieces of Me by Jean Van Leeuwen

Weezie is a ten year old who just cannot please her momma.  No matter what she does, it is not right or it is not good enough.  Her momma has kept the identity of Weezie's father from her, and Weezie thinks that if she could just find him, things would be better.  Or would it?

I can see middle grade readers connecting with Weezie through her sense of adventure, her desire to be loved, and her need to find all of the pieces which make up who she really is.

Honey by Sarah Weeks

Secrets are a terrible thing to live with, especially when you live in a small town and everyone knows the secret but you.  Melody's life has always been just her and her dad, and it has been a good life.  One day she hears her dad on the phone call someone "Honey," and it appears that everyone in town knows about Honey - except Melody.  Melody becomes determined to find out just who Honey is and in the end, finds a sweet surprise.  

This was the first novel I had read by Sarah Weeks, and I see why she is so well-liked.  With only 160 pages, I can see this being one of those books I book talk in the beginning of the year to jumpstart my students' reading.

How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny Rorby

This book was my favorite of the week.  The author has woven autism and animal rights into a beautiful story which I think many of my students will enjoy.  

Lily is the main caretaker of her little brother, Adam, who has autism.  Because of this, she has few friends and little time for herself.  To try and find Adam the help he needs, their dad enrolls Adam in a dolphin-assisted therapy program.  While Adam participates in the program, Lily begins to see the downfall of keeping dolphins in captivity and eventually becomes pulled between finding help for her brother and giving Nori, the dolphin, her freedom.

If You're Reading This by Trent Reedy

As I was reading this book, I could hear the country songs The Boys of Fall and If You're Reading This being played at the same time.  Mike is a high school student who wants to play football (against his mother's wishes) while coming to grips with the death of his father who was a soldier in Afghanistan,  Through a series of letters and videos, Mike's dad gives him "life" missions and helps him understand that his own dreams are important.  I really want to recommend this to my 6th graders, but I feel it is more for grades 8-10.  

On My Reading Radar

Happy Reading!