Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Intent - OLW 2016

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for creating this space for me to share my corner of the world.

The year will soon come to a close, and I am sure many slicers today are reflecting on their one little word for 2016.  My OLW was all forms of intent - intention, intentional, intentionally.  

My goal this year was to be intentional about looking at the snippets of my life to focus on what was important.  

My purpose was to focus on my personal life, to take the time to breathe, to love, to laugh.  But I realized that I am made up of many people.  I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister.

But I am also a teacher, a reader, a writer, a Christian and I needed my OLW to encompass all parts of me - not just my personal life.

I cannot separate all the people who make up my life, and that is what I tried to do with intent.  

As I say goodbye to 2016 and all of its intentions, I look toward finding a new word which will guide all of me for 2017.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Students as Writing Decision Makers

Today I am participating in Digital Learning Sunday with Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche.  This week Margaret has encouraged us to celebrate.

I stated on a previous post how I am a "BBC" workshop teacher, meaning I have never been officially trained.  I have trained myself through blogs, books, and conferences.  So when I experience success, it is a celebration.

Before Thanksgiving we finished up a unit on historical fiction, and I taught this unit almost entirely through workshop.  I taught mini-lessons, students wrote and we conferred together both face-to-face and through comments on Google docs.

My students grew as writers during these three weeks because they were set free from prompt writing and writing rules.  They learned writers make decisions, not the rules.

I have included some my students' writing that demonstrate what was taught in the lessons, but also demonstrates their new found freedom as writers.

"At this point I was on the couch hugging one of the pillows like a ribbon holding tightly to its box."

"My heart shattered into a million pieces, my soul ripped in half."

"My mother has bright blue eyes that twinkle like the nighttime stars.  But then I noticed that there was a single tear coming from one of those eyes; it ran down her face until it met the floor."

Later that night as I was still picking weeds from the garden, I watched the bright sun fall in the sky like a pad of butter melting on a warm stack of pancakes.

When I walk into the back room, I see a couch. A long couch with three cushions and two small pillow at each end. It is covered in soft red velvet. The legs are wooden with swirls at the end and little carvings all down the side. Then to my surprise Franklin sits on the couch and motions me to come sit down. I sit down on the couch and I feel the couch cushions squish over the side of my legs.

Ellis and I raced up the screeching stairs. It wasn't until we heard mothers faint screams at the end of the stairway, we broke into a sprint. If we'd known that would be the last time we heard her, we would’ve ran back.
We made it to the edge of the fire escape. I grabbed Ellis´ hand, and we chased down the fire escape. We´d met the old, icy alleyway, not turning back. As we ran, Ellis tripped over a slim, snowy brick, crashing on the hard iced rock. I dragged her behind a bushel of tall weeds. A man in a jet black soldier uniform heard her wails of pain. He switched his head toward us, my heart fell from my chest. There was a vibrant red patch wrapped around one black sleeve. It was marked with black symbol, a Swastika. I pulled Ellis by the arm, forcing her to move. But she wouldn’t budge. She was as still as a statue. Her snow coat was drenched in the beautiful white frosting. As the Nazi grew nearer, Ellis’ eyes broke tearful. She was mortified. I hadn’t heard the dreaded sorrows, until Ellis looked straight ahead. Bloodshed. Bodies covered the snowy streets, there were few unrecognizable, but we knew one. We loved one.

Thank you for taking the time to read my students' writing.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Middle School Christmas - Celebrate #24

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

Christmas is magical.  For me as a parent, nothing was better than Christmas through the eyes of a 4 or 5 year old.  While teaching 4th graders, Christmas became tricky because certain discussions were avoided.  While teaching 6th graders, Christmas is altogether different.  Seems there is little time for celebration and "fun stuff" as my students would put it.

But this year was different.  My school held a door decorating contest, and I saw Chrstmas through the eyes of middle schoolers.  

They were democratic as they nominated and voted on an idea.  They were creative as they worked out a plan to accomplish the task. They worked as a team and delegated jobs.

But most of all, they had fun.  They sneaked around to see what other classes were doing, and created rumors that classes would be eliminated because teachers helped them (it was to be student-led). They talked smack and strutted around bragging and believing they would be declared the winner.  Just as middle schoolers do.

Unfortunately, none of these doors are mine, but I celebrate a great ending to our last week before break.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

One Little Word Check-in

Spiritual Journey Thursday is a small community of bloggers who write about our spiritual lives.  Holly Mueller at Reading, Teaching, Learning began the community, and it slowly grew.  We took a hiatus for awhile, but Irene Latham at Live Your Poem has brought the group back together.  All are welcome to join us on the first Thursday of the month to share spiritual thoughts around a common theme.

This week we are checking in with our One Little Word for 2016.

My word was intent.  I cannot say that my word fit me this year like Search (2013), Reach (2014) or Turn (2015) did in previous years.

I wanted to slow down and enjoy life in the snippets of the every day.  We are only granted the present, and I felt like I was so wrapped up in the everyday chaos, that I was missing what was most important.  I wanted to focus on those small parts of life that mattered.

My blog is about a day in the life of a teacher, a reader, and a writer.  Those three people make up a large part of the person I am.  Those three people make up a large part of the chaos in my life.

Looking at life in snippets made me realize I cannot separate myself from those three people, no matter how much I try.  It was among the chaos when I became the most intentional.

When I look over the words I wrote back in January, I understand I must be intentional to not lose sight of who I am.  

But I know now, that includes all parts of me.  I cannot separate one from another.

I am ready to move on with another word in 2017, but I am far from finding it.  Please consider joining us next year as we explore and share our journey.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Gift - Celebrate #23

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

It is Friday afternoon, and I have spent the day grading narrative essays.  As I dig my way out of the deep, dark grading hole, I find celebration.  

I just finished reading a student's narrative, and I see evidence of some of the lessons I taught. That is cause for celebration.  

But what I celebrate more is the teacher in his story.  "David" moved here from another school, so I do not know much about his teacher.  What I do know, is this 1st grade teacher made a difference in his life by giving him a gift, a gift he calls his best gift ever.

I will never know the story between David and Ms. Corner, but I can read his words,

and I understand,  

and I celebrate.

Have you ever received a great gift?  I got my best gift at my house and I was so happy.  When I was in 1st grade my teacher gave me a Christmas gift.  

One day I was talking to my teacher, Ms Corner that I wanted this car for Christmas. On Christmas morning I was so excited to open gifts, but I had to wait for my mom and dad to get up. When my mom and dad woke up my dad  handed me my gifts from under the Christmas tree.  In the middle of opening gifts I saw a gift that looked like the car.  When I found the gift I started ripping the paper open. When I saw the car it made my day! It was the best day in the world! The car so cool and it was the best gift I have ever got for Christmas and I was so happy.
The mustang is blue with a white stripe from the front to the back. The car can go fast and you can ramp it. It can go high up in the air and when it comes down onto the ground it goes really fast.  When you push on the gas it does a backflip. The car was the best car I have ever got.
I gave my mom a hug.  When I got done eating me and my mom went outside and played with the mustang. At the end of the day my aunt and my cousin went home. It was the best gift I have ever received. I thought that I got it from my mom, but really it came from Ms Corner. When I got back to school I said thank you so much for the gift and I gave her a gift that was a box of chocolates and a cup that said you are the best teacher in the world with a happy face at the bottom she was so happy that i got the cup for her and she gave hug and sid thank you for the cup and I made her day. :)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Dinner Table Book Talks

Creating a literacy environment is a goal of mine at the start of every school year. This year I have struggled reaching that goal.  I believe many reasons have caused the struggle, but the most prominent one is the lack of talk.  I have not been consistent with book talks; therefore my students haven't either. And as a result, reading has been on the decline, and this is below my expectation.  I knew I needed to do something.  And fast.

I began thinking about the All Write conference I attended last summer and the author's dinner.  I sat at a table with bloggers and teachers whose passion is literacy.  It did not take long for our dinner table conversation to turn toward books. We talked about books we had read and new releases which were in our never-ending to-be-read pile.

A few weeks later I began reading In the Middle by Nancie Atwell.  In the book, she talks about a time she and her husband sat around the dining room table with some friends and "gossiped by candlelight" about a book.  She compares her dining room table to a literate environment where people around it talk about literacy.  She states "We don't need assignments, lesson plans, lists, teacher's manual, or handbooks.  We need only another literate person."

I understood the connections between books and the dining room table, and I knew I had to bring that connection to my classroom.  I knew I had to find a way for my students to pull up a chair and talk.

I gave each student a paper plate, but did not tell them what they were for.  Now, I am not a "language arts and crafts" teacher, but this one time I wanted to give them a chance to be creative.  I told my students they could use these plates however they wanted - they could draw a new cover, create a character or setting sketch, or just write a summary.  The only requirement was that they used the plates to talk about their favorite book they had read this school year.

I was amazed at the artwork by my students.

Monday I covered my desks with table cloths to create a dinner table look and passed back the plates.  My students pulled up a chair, sat around the table and talked books.  We created a literate environment around the "dinner table." And the best part of this activity was that everyone came back with a few new books they wanted to read.

My goal was to place talking about books at the head of the table, and that was exactly what happened.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Act of Writing

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for creating this space for me to share my corner of the world.

I am a "BBC" workshop teacher, and I am not a very good one at that.  I have been trained by "Books, Blogs, and Conferences", and I have never seen workshop in action. So when something goes well in my classroom, I am thrilled.  

We just finished a unit on historical fiction, which is not an easy genre to write.  I planned my mini lessons based on what I thought my students would need to be successful in the unit, along with lessons based on observations I noticed in their prior writing.  

We spent three weeks writing these narratives - the longest time most of my students had ever spent on a piece.  I am sure this seems odd to many of you, but you have to understand that my students do not come from workshop classrooms. They come from prompt writing, and many are very good prompt writers.

But this week I set them free.  Free from the restraints of formulaic writing.  Free from the rules that bind them to writing prompts.  Free to completely immerse themselves in the act of writing.  And it was wonderful.

After the unit I asked them to list two things they learned about writing in these three weeks.  Yes, I had many who listed the mini lessons I taught and the rules I told them they could break and why, but I also had students who learned lessons I didn't teach. The lessons they learned by simply writing.  Here are some of their responses:

  • "I learned that you can twist the writing rules a bit for your story."
  • "I learned that you can write a one sentence paragraph."
  • "You can start a new paragraph when you want to make the sentence before stand out."
  • "I learned that writing is to entertain people."
  • "Writing isn't just putting words on to a piece of paper."
  • "I learned that you don't have to write with guidelines like we do with a prompt."
  • "I learned how hard it is to write."
  • "I learned that writing is a very complicated process."
  • "I learned that you can use sentence fragments when you want to emphasize something in your writing."
  • "I learned that you can't just write a story and be done."
  • "Writing takes a long time."
  • "That it is hard and takes a lot of work, but it is fun."
That is what teaching writers is all about.

(I am in the process of adding student writing to a new page on my blog.  Click here to read one of their narratives.)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Glimpse - Celebrate #22

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

Sometimes I think God prepares us for what is to come by giving us a small glimpse in the present.

Ethan is out of town visiting his girlfriend and experiencing a new kind of freedom.

Megan is at the gym with the coaching staff preparing for the girls' basketball game tonight.

My husband is at the cabin at the river...doing whatever men do at river cabins.

I am sitting here writing, taking time to do what I want to do and being thankful for a glimpse of the empty nest. 

I am thankful that my children are young adults who can navigate their way through their world and are happy with their life decisions thus far.  I am thankful that my husband appreciates his time away and understands that I need mine as well.

Today is a glimpse of what's to come...and I am OK with that.

Because I have reminders that the nest isn't empty yet...

        the humming of the washing machine with the weekend's first load of laundry

        the unwashed dishes on the counter from yesterday's late night snack

        the shoes laying by the door haphazardly kicked off

        the backpacks and school bags sitting on the couch

Yes, it is just a glimpse....and I am OK with that for now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

My Megan Mum

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for creating this space for me to share my corner of the world.

I love fall.  I love every single thing about it.  

The sweater weather, 
the pumpkin spice, 
the sound of crunching leaves, 
the first fire,
the color palette.

But there is one thing that doesn't love me - mums.  Have you ever tried to grow mums?  For me, it is not easy.  Yes, I have them sitting in pots on my porch, and many times I have tried to plant them in the ground in hopes that I could enjoy them the following year.  But in most of my efforts, I have not been successful.

When I was pregnant with my son 20 years ago, my mother-in-law bought my daughter, Megan, a flower.  It was a mum, a "Megan" mum. (Yes! That really is its name!)

Knowing my luck with planting mums, I decided to plant it NOT in the landscape by the house, but down in a place that we call the point, just in case it didn't make it.  I have wild Black-eyed Susan's and monkey grass planted there.  It is an intentional place that doesn't need much maintenance.  

Well, that little Megan mum has come back year after year after year...

for 20 years.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Why I Stopped Reading Ms. Bixby...For Now

Ms. Bixby's Last Day has been a book of false starts for me.  

According to Goodreads, I started this book on September 3rd, and it is now October 16th.  I would read a few chapters, and then another book would find its way on a higher rung of the To-Be-Read ladder, leaving Ms. Bixby back on the nightstand.

I had read the reviews from other teachers, and I knew this was my kind of book - heart fiction, the books I devour.  I even learned the author was from my home state of Indiana.

But the book still sat on the nightstand...until last night.

I decided to give it another try, and this time, I could not put it down.

I read to page 232.  

And I stopped.  

And I cried.

"We all have moments when we think nobody really sees us.  When we feel like we have to act out or be somebody else just to get noticed.  But somebody notices, Topher.  Somebody sees.  Somebody out there thinks you are the greatest thing in the whole world.  Don't ever think you're not good enough."

I fear how this book is going to end.  And a part of me doesn't want it to end.  But I stopped because I want to be Ms. Bixby.  I want to be one of the good ones.

I thought about those students who sit in my classroom day after day and feel unnoticed or act out in order to "be seen."  I want to see them, really see them, maybe for the very first time.  In my mind I went through the roster of former students, and I saw Steve and Topher and Brand looking back at me.  I want to think I made a difference, but I aways question, "Was it enough?"

My heart has been altered by reading this book, which is one of the reasons why I read.  I have always believed in the power of relationships.  When I read a book about a teacher like Ms. Bixby, it reminds me of why I became a teacher in the first place... 

and all that I aspire to be.

Thank you John David Anderson.  

Friday, October 14, 2016

Change - Celebration #21

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

Change brings celebrations.

Our first grading period ended.  We get to take a few steps back to reflect and refocus so that we can take steps forward.  Any time we we get to start again, whether it is the changing of a new day, a new week, a new season, it is a celebration.

Fall poked its head out this week.  Temperatures dropped, delighting us with a slight chill in the air.  Color kissed the edges of the tree lines, leaving behind its lipstick stain among the green. But fall is such a tease, because warmer temperatures are returning later this week.

I am working on a one day workshop that I will be presenting in January.  It focuses on teachers as writers and the impact on instruction in grades 3-6.  Because all of you are writers, you understand why we write.  But many teachers do not.  They are not comfortable teaching writing or feel they are not effective writing teachers.  My hope is that this workshop will give them the confidence to become a better teacher of writing through experiencing the process of writing, building their own community of writers, and understanding how this will impact their students' learning.  I have a lot of work to do, but I am celebrating.

And celebrations bring about change.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Passion - Celebrate #20

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

Today I celebrate passion.  

The subject of a Twitter chat this week was creating literacy communities.  This topic just happens to be my favorite to talk about.  I guess you could call it a passion of mine.

Passion is like kindling.  It sparks an idea into action.  It flames the fire of action into a movement.  And the results of a movement can be life altering.

I think about those teachers who have shared their passion with me.  When we share our own passion, we build passion within others.  When we fan those flames, potential for a wildfire exists.  When we don't, we are left only with small sticks in our hands.

I love to share my passion for literacy with others, especially when I never know how it might be that spark for another teacher.

This week I received this message from a friend who is a curriculum direction in a county school.  She has a friend who is a teacher in other part of the state.  

Little did I know this teacher was watching my tweets and following my passion.

I shared this tweet again this week during the chat. I have shared this many times before, and I even said I am sure teachers are tired of seeing my door!

But this tweet got 15 retweets and 55 likes, more than any other time I have tweeted it.  

It's NOT about sharing my door; it is about sharing my passion.  And for me, that never gets old.

I love this quote about purpose and passion.  I know Ruth is trying to finish her book and share her passion for writing and story with others.  Her work builds my passion.  

And we must continue to do the same for others. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Agency - It's Not Just for Students

Digilit Sunday

Today I am participating in Digital Learning Sunday with Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche.  This week Margaret has encouraged us to write about agency.

It is funny how when a topic is chosen, it seems to turn up in my teaching life.  Or maybe it is because I am more open to looking for the topic of discussion.

Yesterday I had the privilege of watching two live sessions of The Edcollab Gathering. The first was Katherine Bomer's session about writing essays, the topic of her new book, The Journey is Everything.  She talked about giving students space to think about what matters to them.  

The second session was Kim Yaris and Jan Burkins, the authors of "Who's Doing the Work?"  One part of the discussion was about how work such as confirming and crosschecking while reading, needs to be the work of the reader, not the teacher.  

Both of these sessions were about student agency or when students become their own teachers.  Research shows that students learn better when they take charge in their own learning.  Agency empowers students to believe they have the capacity to learn.  During Kim and Jan's presentation, they showed how easy it is for teachers to "do the work" for students.  I am guilty of this. Sometimes it is much easier and quicker to step in.

These two sessions led me to reflect about agency in my classroom.

How am I creating space, time and opportunities for my students to be agents in their own learning?   

How am I lessening my role in the classroom so I am not promoting learned helplessness?

I am also reading Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie for a book study.  This book has me thinking about teacher agency.  

The big idea throughout Hattie's book is that we, as teachers, need to see our primary role as the evaluator of our effect on learning, not the evaluator of our teaching.  

As teachers, we often dwell on why students can't learn.  Is it because of their backgrounds, their lack of motivation, their learning styles, their inattentiveness, their refusal to take medication, or the lack of supportive parents?  

Hattie implies that focusing on these explanations is the root of deficit thinking, and we cannot change them.  Could this be learned helplessness?  

Instead, we must think of ourselves as positive change agents.  Hattie stresses that "teachers' beliefs and commitments are the greatest influences on student achievement over which we have some control" (25).

If I am to believe that these changes are within my power as a teacher, I need to ask myself these questions from Hattie's book:

How am I creating an optimal classroom climate for learning?
How am I monitoring learning and providing feedback?
How am I organizing content so students have a deep understanding of the content?
How am I setting expectations for all students to reach success?
How am I setting challenging student goals instead of "do your best" goals?

If student agency is a way of empowering students, then isn't teacher agency just as important?  The more students become teachers and teachers become learners, then the more successful are our classrooms.