Monday, April 10, 2017

Give Them a Pencil

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

Saturday morning I had the privilege of listening to Ruth Ayres present at the EdCollabGathering, a series of online PD sessions.  She talked about students who come from trauma, the significance of giving a student a pencil and the filling of a student's need.  I have heard parts of this presentation before, but hearing it again Saturday tore at my heart.

I have had students whose home lives I knew were not good.  They didn't sit down to family dinners.  They didn't have parents who tucked them in at night or saw to it that they ate a good breakfast before sending them off to school.  Sometimes, they didn't even see their parents in the morning.  They didn't understand the definition of a family or a loving relationship.

I have had students who didn't want to go home after school, dreaded the weekends, and hated Christmas break.  Some have come from abuse of all kinds.  At times I have avoided sending home behavior notices or making phone calls to parents for fear of what would happen when they arrived at home.

I knew the last thing they thought about was having a pencil.

Each day my students arrive at my door, and I am given a gift.  The gift to inspire minds, to challenge thinkers, to motivate unbelievers.

But with this gift also comes a huge responsibility.  Our students come to us and expect to learn, to be respected, and to feel safe.

And many times they need a pencil.

At the end of each day, we tell them "Goodbye! See you tomorrow!"  And we assume that we will.

Last week in our community, a five year old little boy said goodbye to his teacher when school was out.  He didn't see her the next day because he never returned.

I know evil exists in this world.  I read about it in the newspaper, and I watch it unfold on television every day.  This week evil found its way into my hometown and took the life of this little boy.

This evil was his father.

This evil one tried to smother him with a pillow, wrapped a cord around his neck, and when that didn't work, he placed his 300 pound body on top of him until he stopped breathing.  According to the newspaper, he had planned it all.

Teachers, school officials, and neighbors report abuse, but sometimes reporting seems to not be enough. When tragedy like this happens, many questions surface, and teachers go through so many "what ifs."  Guilt consumes, and blame is thrown about like candy in a parade.  But in this case, no one is to blame but the evil one.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness and preventing child abuse.  It is a time to take a step back and not only identify those needs, but to try and fill them as well.

And maybe it is time we give them a pencil.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Digital Poetry ~ #DigiLitSunday

Today I am participating in Digital Literacy Sunday with Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Techewhere we are talking about digital poetry.

Summer is almost upon us.  Time for summer activities.  Time for summer camps, with many of those being sports camps.  We have camps for football, basketball, soccer, tennis, baseball, and golf.  If a child plays a sport, then we can connect him or her with a sports camp.

For the past several years, my school district has thought outside the box and has offered an academic camp, SPARK (Super Powered Activities to Recharge Kids) for our high ability students.  Students have the opportunity to feed their curiosity, their creativity, and their innovativeness with the use of technology.  

I always teach sessions on writing poetry, and yes, sometimes it is hard to compete with drones, spheros, ollies, 3D printers, and 3Doodlers.  But I need to provide an outlet for creative writing because we live in a world of writing-for-the-test.  

I have used Google slides in the past to incorporate technology into my sessions.  Students write their poems and collaborate on Google slides, but I am looking for new ideas.  

I work with 2nd and 3rd graders in one session, and 4th and 5th graders in the other.  Do you have any apps or ideas on digital poetry to share that I could try this summer?  I have many students who come every year and we need something new.  I welcome your suggestions. 

Also, if any of you are still in school the week after Memorial Day and would like to collaborate, Skype, and share poetry across the miles, please leave a note in the comments.  

In the meantime, please enjoy our work from summer's collections.  

Saturday, April 8, 2017

What do you mean, they hate to read?

One morning this week as I was walking down the hall to my classroom, two teachers stopped to tease me about a comment I made at our faculty meeting the day before.  I had asked our principal if students could just stay on the computers after our practice test session instead of reading.  They all know my passion for reading, and thought this was quite the oxymoron.

In our conversation, one teacher mentioned how much her students hated to read. She looked at me and said, "Well, you had them last year, so you know what I mean."

The conversation ended, and I continued down to my room.

Then I stopped.

And I thought to myself, "What do you mean these students hate to read?"  These same students I had last year who read over 2,400 books?  My one half of an entire grade level who read more books than each of the total 7th and 8th grades?

This is a problem.

What happens after students leave my classroom?  Why do kids read in 6th grade, but drop off in 7th and 8th grade?

Maybe a better question is, What do I do in my classroom that motivates kids to read?  What do I do that is different from what they do?  I am not in their classroom, and I don't know how they motivate kids to read.  But I do know how I have been successful.

I talk about books.  I have conversations about books with my current students, as well as my former students, every day.  I have a segment on our morning show where I feature books to our entire school.  I celebrate other students' reading lives by having them on as guests.  Reading must be part of our conversations and our relationships with students if we want them to read.

Students have easy access to books in my classroom library.  Spending my own money on books is not something I want to do, but it is something I need to do.  Before our spring break, the librarian sent out an overdue book lists.  Out of the 132 overdue books, I had three.  Most of my students find books in our own library.  When a student needs a book, it is much easier for them to find one in our classroom.  Plus, it is easier for me to match kids with books when they are easily available.

I make time to read.  I try to start my class every day with 10 minutes of independent reading time.  When a person values something, they make time for it.

I expect students to read.  My students know I expect them to read two hours a week.  I let them manage their time by not requiring daily reading, but weekly reading instead.  Middle school students' schedules are busy, and I understand that being flexible is key to motivation.  But that is the expectation, and students will rise to the expectation which is set.

I share my literacy life.  Students need to have literacy role models in their lives.  Having a teacher who reads should not be left to chance.  All students deserve teachers who read.  When I read, I can't wait to share my thoughts about books with them.  I usually have several students in my mind who just might like that book.

This is how we build those reading relationships.

This is why my students read.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

#BestSchoolDay ~ Celebrate 2017 (twelve)

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share the celebrations from our week.  

Best School Day - how many times have you said this?  Officially, I can say it was this week. On Wednesday, the Donor's Choose organization, along with 20,000 generous donors, supported 11,459 public school classrooms.  Through their #BestSchoolDay campaign, these donors gave over $2 million to projects created by teachers.  

Thanks to Donor's Choose, Aspect Ventures who matched donations, and a very special author, my classroom was one of them.

When I moved to middle school from 4th grade, I took many of my books with me. However, many of these books are geared toward middle grade students, not middle school, especially my nonfiction and poetry books.  

Earlier this year I created a nonfiction project, and it was funded by our local electric company.  Just a month ago, I created a poetry project.  

Middle school can be a tough transition into the teenage years. My 6th grade students try to balance school, home, friendships, parents, relationships, and extra-curricular activities, while keeping their emotions in check. 
One day my students are trying to outrun their childhood, and the next day they are thankful being a teenager is not within their grasp.
For my students, no day is typical, and each day is different. But literacy is the one thing that can help hold it all together.  My hope is that poetry will build empathy, allow for personal expression, and open their minds to different perspectives.
Today, I celebrate those who donors who are giving my students this chance.  

I celebrate those businesses who support literacy and freely give monetary resources to help teachers. I celebrate my author friend and other authors who support the hard work that teachers do each and every day. 

And as National Poetry Month begins, I celebrate poetry. 

These are just a few of the books which will be arriving in my classroom this month.