Sunday, 16 August 2015

Back to School [2015]


Source: http://www.kindredmedia.org/2013/07/the-yearly-back-to-school-push-to-vaccinate/

It is no surprise that everyone has a hard time going back to work after a long vacation, and teachers are no different. Vacation means we get to spend uninterrupted quality time with our families and friends doing what we like to do.

In addition to enjoying a lot of unstructured time during the summer, I often participate in professional online book clubs and other self-selected professional learning activities. I know many teachers who do the same. (See this post for a glimpse of what I did this summer.)

Nevertheless, I often find myself having mixed feelings when summer break is finally over. Although I love summer because I'm on my own time and I can do with it as I wish, I love going back to school because I get to start fresh every year. I can reinvent myself and support my students as they reinvent themselves, too.


Source: https://www.pinterest.com/donornation/teacher-quotes-motivational-inspirational-quotes/

So, what follows are five affirmations, of sorts, about why I look forward to going back to school.

(1) I look forward to going back to work because even though I haven't checked off everything on my mental summer to do list, I feel satisfied about what I did do and how it has made me better prepared for the new school year and a new group of students.

(2) I look forward to going back to work because right around this time, I begin to get a little bit bored. I love lazy summer days, but I also love teaching. I miss being in the classroom. Call me a nerd, but it's true!

(3) I look forward to going back to work because I miss the excitement of connecting with students and colleagues. I miss the aha moments in the classroom. I miss the learning.

(4) I look forward to going back to work because I get up early while everyone is still sleeping. I use the extra time to read, write or mentally prepare myself for the day ahead. It's a good way to ease into the day.

(5) I look forward to going back to work because I have learned to enjoy and appreciate summers off with my family. The break allows me to go back to school refreshed. I am particularly grateful for every moment of every day this summer. I have no regrets.

So, here's the truth, guilt free and unapologetic: I wish I could have another week of vacation, or even just a day, and I'm glad to be heading off to school tomorrow.

This week I have the privilege of starting a year-long collaborate relationship with two awesome colleagues. Next week I get to meet my new class and immerse myself in learning. I can't wait!

What are your affirmations for the new school year?

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Summer PD - #CyberPD - Digital Reading, What's Essential in Grades 3 - 8

I'm on vacation mode right now, and I don't just mean that I'm on vacation since that's the case for those of us who happen to be classroom teachers. What I mean is that, at the moment, I am blogging from the comfort of my oldest daughter's apartment in the heart of Manhattan, near Times Square. I grew up in NY and during the '70's and '80's you just didn't go anywhere near Times Square at any time of the day or night. The fact that this is no longer true still astounds me to this day. So, even though many of us are enjoying the summer break from school we aren't necessarily just lounging around doing nothing even as we travel to faraway destinations. In fact, many of us are participating in a variety of online #summerPD events. See the images below for a smattering of the PD that I am involved in this summer.






But back to #CyberPD and summer vacation...The fact that I am not at home makes it a bit hard to concentrate on all of the summer virtual professional experiences I've signed up for. Let's face it: NY is a major distraction and family time is a priority. However, I am getting up early to take advantage of some alone time to catch up on reading and writing. I aim to reap the benefits of so many wonderful summer learning opportunities!

Today I am writing about the first two chapters of Digital Reading, What's Essential in Grades 3 - 8 by William L. Bass II and Franki Sibberson. I attended a session that Franki and William Bass did at the NCTE annual conference in 2014. It was super exciting because it was a precursor to their book and I am not disappointed by the final result! I had a lot of aha and yes moments while reading chapters 1 & 2. I look forward to continuing to read this book and to learn with and from other participants this month.

Unfortunately, I finished reading the first two chapters a couple of days ago and none of my comments and highlighted sections were saved on the PDF version of this book. Aaargh! Nevertheless, here is a list of my biggest takeaways so far from memory.

  • Reading on a digital device requires similar strategies and skills as any other kind of reading.
  • Reading on a digital device requires new ways of approaching reading instruction.
  • We want students to be strategic and intentional when reading on digital devices as we do when reading print books.
  • We need to observe our students carefully in order to understand how they are approaching digital reading in order to provide instruction that is timely and appropriate.
  • Digital reading offers many more distractions than does reading print books. Therefore, we need to teach students how to navigate the world of digital reading so that they use and benefit from digital links and similar connections.
  • Reading must be authentic (meaningful and relevant), intentional (readers make careful and intentional choices as they read) and connected (reader connections). This is true for any kind of reading that kids do.
Happy reading!


Tuesday, 9 June 2015

End-of-the-year student surveys


I took the plunge this week and asked my students to complete a survey about our year together. The questions didn't ask for direct feedback about my teaching like some other surveys I've seen. Instead, I asked about specific units and events that happened in our classroom during the year. I wanted feedback, but I wanted safe feedback. Nevertheless, the last question was open-ended; I simply asked if there was anything else they wanted to tell me. 

I had already decided not to ask for feedback this year but changed my mind after reading two posts, one by Pernille Ripp and the other by Bill Ferriter, two educators whose opinions and voices I respect. They wrote about the importance of asking students for feedback to help you become a better teacher. Although I know this is true, I wasn't feeling all that safe doing a survey.

Why did I think students were going to be negative? I'm not sure, but I know it had to do with how I've been feeling about myself as a teacher after two years of getting no recognition for my work.

So, I started reading the surveys today. They were amazing! I learned so much, and I smiled in recognition at some of the comments because I agreed with them. It is one of the best things I've done this year in terms of student feedback.

Two highlights of the surveys:

  1. When I asked my students if there was anything they would change about the language arts time, several of them said they would get rid of the reading response requirement. I have always felt conflicted about this requirement because I rarely write a reading response when reading a book. Instead, I try to replicate similar reading events in the classroom that I myself would naturally engage in. And what I often do as a reader is talk to other readers about books. This year, asking for a reading response has felt like pulling teeth. For the most part, the responses have been unsatisfying and a chore. So, why didn't I stop sooner? I guess it's because I couldn't think of what to replace the reading response with and so I simply didn't make a decision. Also, I do see a purpose for occasionally writing a response but perhaps this can be a book talk or a book trailer. Maybe this can happen when a student finishes a book rather than having to do a response several times a week. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I decided to go with reading responses, but I am so glad my students spoke up.
  2. Another thing that kept coming up over and over again was that there wasn't enough writing happening in the classroom, at least not enough opportunities for self-selected writing. Again, I agree. I was conflicted on how much choice to give my students even though I strongly believe that students need lots of choice in what and how they write and read. Obviously that didn't happen this year; I need to go back to my roots and reread the work of Donald Graves and follow my heart, rather than letting what's going on in other classes deter me from what I believe is right for my students. I didn't listen to them enough with my heart; I won't make that mistake again next year. 

The most heart warming comment was written by a student who took full responsibility for his lackluster performance and exonerated me from any blame. I won't post here what my student wrote because even though I don't know who made this comment, it would feel like violating a trust if I published his or her words for all to see. Suffice it to say that this comment honestly made it all worthwhile.

I am already thinking about how to improve this survey next year in order get some more direct feedback about my teaching. I even thinking of asking my students to fill out a survey mid-year rather than just in June.

Did you do an end-of-the-year survey this year? What did you learn? Please share.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers, Tuesday Slice of Life

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

End of year reflection

It's June 2nd.
School ends on June 19th.
That's only 17 calendar days away;
13 school days until summer vacation,
and, I dread saying goodbye to my students,
even though we're all more than ready to leave school behind for fun, lazy summer days.

I will miss...
greetings in the mornings.
unsolicited hugs.
my crown and the title of class monarch.

I will miss...
Socratic Seminars.
reading aloud to my students.
quick writes.
and collaborating with my grade level partner.

I will miss...
trips to the library.
lunchtime conversations.
professional talks with colleagues.
and my goofy, exasperating, brilliant students.

I look forward to...
moving from grades 6 and 7 to grade 5.
a new group of students.
teaching the PYP.
ramping up technology in my classroom.
keeping my students for the whole day.
teaching math and science.
and some stability for the next few years.

I look forward to...
new collegial collaborations.
Genius Hour.
Mystery Skypes.
global connections.
and many more hugs and laughs.

Here's to a smooth end to this school year,
a restful, productive summer,
and the anticipation of a new beginning to a wonderful school year.

Here's hoping the same to all of you.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers, Tuesday Slice of Life





Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Small Reading Group Conversations #2

As I wrote in my last post titled, Small Reading Group Conversations, I have been giving my students in grades 7 and 6 time to engage in small group conversations about books and reading. The latest iteration of these small group conversations in grade 7 has resulted in students selecting their own groups.

Today students in grade 7 met in self-selected groups based on the following categories: fantasy, the Divergent series, graphic novels, Percy Jackson, and realistic fiction. As I stood back and watched the groups engage in their discussions, I was encouraged by the buzz in the room. Every group exhibited a charge of sorts as students talked with each other. Some students said they would want to stay together but many others said they preferred to change on a daily basis. The grade 6 students weren't able to get themselves in groups that made sense to them and to me. So, we have postponed making any changes for another time.

As I walked around today, I heard my grade 7 students remind each other to comment on what someone else had shared before moving forward. I heard authentic conversations among kids about books. I saw kids cover their ears as others shared spoilers from books they have yet to read. And, I observed some kids standing back looking sullen or disinterested. I don't expect perfection or total buy-in. Nevertheless, there has been progress. This little experiment is working.

I will keep watching, listening, asking.

Next time, I will bring my students voices to the fore to share their perspective on this new modality in our classroom.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Small Reading Group Conversations

   
Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/327073991664852654/

     This year, I have spent too much time and energy trying to manage a silent 10 - 15 minute daily independent reading time in my grade 7 classroom. I haven't given up because I value independent reading: I know this is the best way to get reluctant readers to love to read. At this point, you may be entertaining two conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, you may be thinking that silent is unrealistic and, on the other hand, that 12- and 13-year-olds should be able to sit and read for less than 30 minutes without having to be redirected. A disclaimer: I believe that asking grade 7 students to read silently for 10 - 15 minutes, without getting distracted, shouldn't be an unrealistic expectation. But, alas, that is not the case. However, to be fair, I am only talking about 5 or 6 of my students, or 1/3 of the class. Although this is still a large percentage, it's rare that all of these students are distracted at the same time. Let's just say they take turns...in pairs.

Source: http://www.ultimaterob.com/2009/10/21/reading-the-disc/

     You may have already guessed that these 5 or 6 students are boys. At the beginning of the year none of them could stay with a book for longer than a few minutes before getting distracted or distracting each other. Although this situation has improved greatly - they are now able to find books they like and are rarely dissatisfied with their choices - I would predict that, if given the choice, they would still rather do anything else than read. That's OK. My goal for them was that by the end of the year they would like reading a little more than they did at the beginning of grade 7, and that they could identify books and/or authors they enjoy reading. Some now have a book or two on their to-read list.

     Nevertheless, I recently stumbled onto (and, yes, stumbled is precisely how it happened) a way for us to have our cake and eat it, too. I discovered that by incorporating just 10 minutes of partner reading conversations after independent reading, students could talk about books in a relaxed but focused environment. Admittedly, the first few times, students were at a loss as to what to talk about; they are gradually finding ways to keep the conversation going. To help them do this, I guide the class through focused reflections at the end of every partner conversation period. We talk about was hard and/or what went well. In this way, much like adult problem solving conversations about how to have an effective book discussion, we brainstorm solutions to stumbling blocks such as, not knowing what to talk about and avoiding spoilers.  For example, my students suggested, and we adopted, having groups of three instead of pairs as a way to increase the talk on books. During our last debrief, several trios talked about how they had piggy backed on another student's talk rather than immediately sharing about their book. So, they are learning to extend conversations and respond to each other rather than simply sharing without engaging in a true dialogue.


     Many adult book groups have a group created question or two to guide discussions. I plan to teach my students how to create generic questions for their book talks since they will be talking about different books. A possible next step could be to allow students to self-select partners based on having read the same book, series or author.

     I'm not sure if the no-talking-reading-all-the-time expectation has gotten better or not, but I find other aspects of our literacy workshop have improved. For example, more students are writing reading responses based on that day's group discussions of books. Their reflections, as a result, are more interesting, to them and to me, and provide a natural formative assessment opportunity. Also, the level of student conversations and what they are getting out of them has improved. One of the biggest payoffs is that they are recommending books to each other. As summer approaches, they are using these suggestions to make mental plans for their summer reading.

Source: 
https://globalvoicesonline.org/2014/07/12/summer-reading-global-voices-french-contributors/

   




Tuesday, 12 May 2015

It's the little things...

It's the little things that matter.

The unsolicited hug from a student...

The student who watches me intently,
trying to read my mind or having already read it,
in order to decide how she can revise
and adjust her group's presentation for the next day.

The very simple question, "What was hard about this activity?"
And, the very profound and honest responses
that lead to revisions and improvements in learning.

The collegial conversations, formal and informal,
about assessment, attitudes, unit planning,
and all the other issues that occupy teachers' work space.

The student that I still can't figure out,
though I've tried,
who suddenly talks about liking to read.
He writes about the first time he understood
what it's like to be disappointed
when the book you really want has been checked out from the library.

The birthday gift from the student who others have mostly given up on.
Despite many setbacks, he is still eager to learn.

The laughs, inevitable and so important in middle school,
that say,
"Everything's going to be all right."

At the end of the day,
I sigh and feel good about what I have accomplished,
and think ahead to the next day's learning,
and all the little things waiting to happen.
None of this can be measured but all of it is valuable.

It's the little things that matter.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday