Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Reflection on a Day in Sixth Grade

Today was one of those days in my sixth grade class that I wished I could have recorded.

My students were on fire!

In the past, I've had to spend an inordinate amount of time disciplining students, and although today was not necessarily unique in that sense, it was qualitatively different. Although I had to stop every so often to interrupt one-on-one conversations and small lapses in attention, I began to notice that most of these were not off topic but, instead, were attempts to continue the conversation.

My students had comments, opinions, and questions about the book we're reading for #GRA14, One for the Murphys, and about the social studies lessons related to Early Peoples. I wish I could have recorded their comments (so insightful) and their questions (connected to the topic and digging deeper) so that I could savor the moment, over and over again.

Today I also made a short presentation for teachers at my school about what it means to be a connected educator. And, although I was nervous, much more so than when I'm teaching adolescents, I think it went well. I addressed social media tools that I use to become a better teacher.
It was a fast and furious session and, in some ways, I probably skimmed the surface of what being a connected educator is all about. If I would do this session again, I might zero in on one social media tool at a time and have teachers experiment by setting up an account and exploring its potential for themselves.

As I was telling my husband about my day, I kept coming back to my sixth graders. Even when class was over and it was time to go home, clusters of students stood about arguing a variety of issues. Who was more humane in their treatment of animals - the Natufians or modern day people? Was Carley, in One for the Murphys, a brat and mean to Mrs. Murphy or was she trying to defend her mother by her actions? How did the Early People's know that hunting animals would provide food for them? How are Carley and Esperanza, in Esperanza Rising, similar and different?

I could go on and on about my students' brilliance. However, the point of this post is to reflect on what was it that made my students so engaged in their learning, even as they were typically unable to sit still for long? As teachers we want to figure out what we did to help our students learn better and be excited about learning. We spend way too much time blaming ourselves when things don't go well but not nearly enough time pinpointing what we contributed to make a lesson go well. So, I'm going to have a go at this right now.

I think that what hooked my students in the learning is that not only were the materials engaging - One for the Murphys is just an excellent book for adolescents that touches on so many universal themes about life, and learning about our ancestors is something kids are curious about - but at the end of our discussion of One for the Murphys and before our social studies time, I commented that I was genuinely amazed at their thinking. I told them that they were brilliant because they were thinking thoughtfully and helping the rest of us understand the novel on a deeper level. I told them that they were teaching me things that I hadn't thought about until they shared their thinking. Now, what kid doesn't like to one up their teacher? More importantly, what kid doesn't like being recognized as "smart" by their teacher?

Yes, I know about Carole Dweck and others who caution against telling kids they're "smart" because this could lead to a fixed mindset. However, I really do believe that my students are brilliant. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. Some of them don't think they are smart or have never been recognized as such. And, some know they're smart but because they have quirky personalities, they get labeled as odd balls or even ignored by well-intentioned but misguided teachers.

I'm on a mission: to unleash my students' potential. To bring out their brilliance, as imperfect and tentative as it may be. It's going to be a wonderful year! As I said in a previous post, the reason I became a teacher is to inspire and be inspired. Today was one of those days.

Here we go!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Being a Connected Educator

I am preparing a brief session for teachers at my school on what it means to be a connected educator. I plan to talk about social media in general as a segue to discussing PLN's. I am going to talk about particular sites (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc) by sharing how I use each of these sites to enrich my own learning. I thought this might serve as a useful introduction. My hope is that teachers will participate in an internal Twitter chat to support each other in this process. I am looking for suggestions, cautions, aha moments, reccomendations and any other useful insight you can offer. Pleae leave these in the comments section below. I will share your wisdom with my colleagues.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Why I Became a Teacher

Sometimes I  forget why I became a teacher. 
I undervalue my expertise and experience.

I find myself going through the motions of teaching but my heart is not in it. 
Something is missing. 
I don't feel right.


This often happens when I follow somebody else's ideas or plans that I've had no part in creating. 
This happens when my confidence starts to get a little shaky.

I start to question myself.
I worry that I'm not doing enough, or the right thing.
I worry that I'm too soft or too hard.
I forget that teaching is a verb and it doesn't exist in isolation.

When I remember why I'm in the classroom and to whom I'm talking, my confidence returns. 
I can see who is in front of me.

My students are whom I see.

I meet them where they are, physically and metaphorically. 
I engage them in brief conversations about learning.
I provide quick words of encouragement.
I give specific feedback in the form of a compliment or a suggestion.
I look at a student's work to see what they're understanding.
I redirect them if necessary.
I smile a lot.

It is at these moments that I remember why I became a teacher.

I did not become a teacher to follow a teacher guide
or someone else's neat plans that when executed with my students don't turn out to be so neat and awesome as they appeared at first glance.
I did not become a teacher to then forget why I became a teacher.

I became a teacher to inspire and be inspired.

I became a teacher to work with young people because they are full of wonder and curiosity.
That's inspiring.
I became a teacher to take part in helping to shape the next generation.
I became a teacher because I have hope and faith in our youth.
They inspire me.
I became a teacher to make a difference.
If I am successful, then the long hours, the mountain of work, the endless meetings, the exhaustion, and what seem like unending insecurities will all have been worth it.





Sunday, 21 September 2014

55 minutes

I have approximately 55 minutes to teach language arts.
It's not enough time, of course. But then how much time is enough time?

As I work through this dilemma, I have decided that some routines are non-negotiable. Independent reading and read aloud need to happen every day, and my students need time to write and explore different writing techniques in a writer's notebook. So far, I've been able to stay the course even if we've had to skip read aloud on occasion.

In the meantime, here are some things I've noticed so far:

Most of my students come in at the beginning of class and settle in around the room with a book; they know that the first 10 - 15 minutes are for independent reading and they take this time seriously.

I have my work cut out with some students who don't like to read, or so they say. What they don't know, or at least don't think I'm serious when I tell them, is that my goal for this year is to make sure that everyone loves to read or, at least, likes it a lot more than they do now.

Some of my 7th grade students choose to write any chance they get. I've started calling this group of six kids, "the writing circle". They don't object.

I've heard my students groan when I tell them we need to stop reading during an specially poignant part of Out of My Mind.

At the beginning of class, my 6th graders ask if we're going to read Esperanza Rising today. They don't yet trust that reading aloud is going to be a fixture in our classroom. After reading a couple of chapters, one student says, "Hey, this isn't a bad book at all." Music to my ears!

We are talking about some universal themes in literature and writing about the one(s) we are noticing in our independent reading books.

We update our reading status every day and share what we're reading with each other. By doing this, the kids are getting to hear about books that they might want to read. (Thanks to Donalyn Miller for sharing this idea in her book, Reading in the Wild.)

My students are starting to keep track of books read, books to read, and books abandoned on Goodreads.

We have launched our classroom Twitter account though that needs more thought and fleshing out on my part and with my students.

I will be figuring out how to maximize our 55 minutes so that every moment counts. How I'm doing that will be for another post. What matters is that over the next few weeks I will have solidified those 55 minutes so that we don't run out of time for what's important - reading, writing and talking about literature. But, for now, I think we're doing fine.



Thursday, 11 September 2014

Celebrations

We have a new principal at our school.
He has come to us with a mandate: to change the culture of our school.
He is a man on a mission and I like where he's going.

Every week our principal asks for celebrations.
We write up anything we notice during the course of the week that is cause to celebrate and send it to him via email. You can celebrate yourself, your colleagues or your students.

Source: https://bookweek-for-beginners.wikispaces.com/celebrations

Since school started a couple of weeks ago, we've done only one of these celebrations yet it has changed the playing field for me. So many positive noticings are contagious. It feels good to be acknowledged and it feels even better to recognize and appreciate others.

Our principal is committed to celebrating everyone as often as possible. I for one, look forward to these weekly celebrations. They're fun and uplifting. So much so, that I think I will
find small and big ways to celebrate my students AND get them to celebrate each other.

A new tradition is taking root.

More on that another time.


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Reflections on a Rough Patch

OK. So, today I experienced a rough patch with one of my classes.
It made me realize how important it is to be patient and to make measured decisions, not just occasionally but every single time.

I'm not sure how things started to get out of hand or when I started to get impatient. I was giving instructions for a school-wide writing assessment, and I thought I was being crystal clear in my directions. I was taking pride in the fact, or so I thought, that I was being pro-active by anticipating all potential confusions. Then, the questions started coming and they didn't stop.

I watched myself getting more and more frustrated by a situation that was quickly getting out of control. And, I was left to wonder what had gone wrong.

So, here are my take-aways from today's experience.

  1. I gave too many instructions in a short time. 
  2. It would have been more effective if I had asked the kids do a think-pair-share after giving two or three instructions.
  3. I should have started the writing assessment right away. Allowing students to read independently before the writing assessment deflected attention from writing. Although the kids will have more time to finish tomorrow, it would have been better if we had spent the entire period on the assessment.
  4. Finally, I assumed too much, which is the worst mistake I can make, especially at the beginning of a new school year. We all need to ease back into school and some kids need more time than others.

Tomorrow I will walk into my classroom and try to get it just right...again. After all, as I wrote a few days ago, there is always room for new beginnings.