Slice of Life Tuesdays: Back to Work/Back to School

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Slice of Life Small LogoBack to Work/Back to School

Yes, I’m back to work — back to school! Monday was the first “teacher day” and today I welcomed my 20th group of homeroom students into Room 138. Where does the time go? One of the first questions I ask students on the first day of school is, “Who likes to read?” Today, I saw a bunch of hands shoot straight up, excitedly reporting the data. Yes! We like to read! I’m so happy to start the year with people with whom I can share my passion. Passion is Powerful! (That’s Lucy Calkins’ phrase that I carry with me everywhere.)

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After introducing myself I gave a quick tour of the fairly empty room. My OLW, LEAN, works at school, too. I cleaned the clutter and the room is squeaky clean and quite bare at this time. Over the course of the next few days, my students and I will unpack boxes and discover the joys of new and old titles, of new and worn books. The magazine subscriptions will start coming in the mailbox. The charts and student work will hang on the bulletin boards. This is the most exciting time of the year — the discovery days that will move us forward.

In our meeting area on the rug, I read aloud BIG PLANS by Bob Shea and Lane Smith. Those two authors crack me up! The students listened intently as I shared my big plans with them. Reading! Writing! Learning! “I have BIG PLANS, Big Plans, I say!”

After reading, we wrote “about the tiger.” My school’s mascot is the Tigers, so I chose the large stuffed animal in the room to help me — allowing students to show me their writing style. I said, “Write about the tiger.” I will learn about their writing style, conventions knowledge, and stamina for writing time. I am happy with the work that students did today. We had a great day.

I apparently did not reveal enough details about my BIG PLANS, however. When I asked if there were any questions I could answer, a young inquiring mind from each class section asked me, “When do we go to the library?”

I love this group!

 

SOLSC Day 22: The Best Interest of Students

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Slice of Life Small LogoThank you to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers (www.twowritingteachers.wordpress.com) for hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge!

The Best Interest of Students

I listened to a podcast today where Kelly Gallagher talked about his new book, In the Best Interest of Students. (Of course, I’m waiting for my copy!) In the first minute of the interview, Kelly addressed a problem with the Common Core State Standards, and I agreed. He stated that (for high school) the standards are actually quite good. (There is mention that the lower elementary grade teachers don’t seem to think that CCSS is good because they are not developmentally appropriate; since I am a middle school teacher, I’ll leave that for a different discussion.) This part of the podcast focused on “Lesson 2: Recognize the Standards by themselves are necessary, but insufficient.” Kelly explained: “The problem is, you can write down any standards on a piece of paper, but that doesn’t ensure what happens inside our classrooms when the bell rings.”

The lightbulb switched ON in my brain. Yes! I have my set of standards (although mine are Indiana State Standards) and my teaching plan, but if I don’t connect with the students, if I don’t teach them, and they don’t learn, then those standards mean nothing. One of our classroom walkthrough points for administrators (on teacher evaluation checklists) is that teachers should post the standards in the classroom and refer to them, so students will know what is expected.  I don’t mind. I typed them out and posted them on a bulletin board, and I showed them to the students. But we must not stop there! If my administrator checks that box (“Standards Posted in Classroom” or whatever it says), that doesn’t mean I’ve taught those standards. That doesn’t mean the students are learning them.

Teachers need to show students the purpose of deep learning — why those standards should matter to them. I’m thinking of a simple standard: “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English: capitalization, punctuation, and spelling…” Just because those words are displayed in my room doesn’t mean I teach them. And how should I teach that standard, anyway? With DOL sentences? Just as I was thinking about that, Jeff Anderson showed up in my Twitter feed. “I call DOLs & their ilk ‘correct alls’ because you get the same result as you would if you took a Correct All.” LOL! No, I don’t use DOLs. They don’t work.  My students can state any error in any sentence, and correct the sentence, in isolation. They do NOT practice capitalization and punctuation in their own writing. Jeff Anderson’s books are still my favorite mentor texts for teaching grammar and writing: Mechanically Inclined and Everyday Editing. If you want your work published, you HAVE to capitalize the “I.” (It takes the place of your name. Names are capitalized because they are very important and specific.) You HAVE to show the reader where your thought ends. (Period) Right? (Question mark) Your voice comes through your writing in the form of punctuation. Do you want to pause? How long? Use a comma, dash, ellipses, depending on the voice and tone you want to convey.

Back to the podcast: Teachers must teach the standards so students will learn (notice how I’m NOT saying, “so students will achieve high scores“). In practice. Every day. Out there in the real world. School is a place for learning and growing; if the “necessary” Common Core State Standards stop at the classroom bulletin board, then they are “insufficient.” And that is not in the “best interest of students.”

(The podcast mentioned is from Ed Talk with Dr. Bob Bravo, Interview with Kelly Gallagher, Monday Night Live, 3/9/2015. You can hear it on ITunes.)

Slice of Life Tuesdays: Dreaming

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                                                                            Live Your Dream!

That was the theme of the first instructional window at school this year. Teachers tell students that nothing is impossible; dreams can become reality. All you have to do is learn to read and write (and know the way the earth works, and maybe some calculus), work hard, and make an effort, no matter what. And that’s why I won’t give up. I want to live my dreams, too.

Why should children and Martin Luther King, Jr. be the only ones who have dreams? All people need dreams. Gloria Steinem said, “Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities…dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” Teachers plan all the time. Why can’t teachers have dreams?

My dream is to write a book. Maybe a series (let’s not get ahead of ourselves now). Ok, one book — for now. Planning to achieve this dream gives me hope and excitement to live my life each day. Oh, the possibilities! Gloria Steinem was right.  I am currently planning the parts of the book. Each time I realize an idea floating around in my brain, I take out my Evernote app, log in to the notebook, “book,” and record my thought bubbles. Each note is one bubble that I don’t want to pop; I want the ideas to swirl around until I choose to organize them, to ground them into a page.

I love talking to my students about dreams. They have been reading and researching people who live their dreams: Ryan and Jimmy and the well in Africa…, Derek Jeter, and Samantha Larson, who climbed mountains — they all lived their dreams. Then I showed my class this quote by George Bernard Shaw: “You see things, and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and I say, ‘Why not?'” It was a joy to hear one student say to another recently, “Why not?” when asked about an idea.

Can you write about (insert topic)? Sure, why not?

Can you read that book in the library you have been eying? Sure, why not?

“Hey, Mrs. S, do you think you’ll really write a book?”

Why not? I’ll even dedicate it to you, my class of dreamers.

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: Writing to Stay Awake

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I just looked at the date for my last post: August 12. What a disgrace! How can I expect my students to write daily if I cannot write daily? Well, we talked about that today in a conferring session. I was sharing with a student who hates to write (her words). We discussed how writing is a mindful activity, one full of thinking and acting and thinking…it’s exhausting! I shared with her that sometimes I write just to keep myself going. Maybe I look at a favorite picture, then write to describe a part of it I have not viewed before. Maybe I write a “to-do” list for the next day. Maybe I send one of my kids a text with a little information and an “I love you” reminder. Anything to keep going, keep writing. All writing counts. My goal for her is that she will see writing as an outlet, and as an effective means of communication. I told her I wanted her to publish something great — whatever she wants!

I promised this student that we would keep in touch throughout the year. She will share her thoughts, experiences, observations, and writing with me, and I will do the same. I love that I am able to share my writing with students, and I look forward to reading their writing as we move through the school year.  For now, I continue to write, to stay awake.

For those of you starting a new school year with students today, Have a GREAT Year!