Saturday, December 14, 2013

What KEEPS me from RW and WW?

With 5 schools days until Winter Break (yes, I AM counting!!), I am wondering why I am not ready to have the kids publish their personal essays (Writing Workshop goal) and why I am not ready to have the kids share their nonfiction presentations made using their stop and jot notes after reading multiple books on one topic of interest (Reading Workshop goal)??

Here's what I think got in the way of meeting our goal:
1. SNOW!!
It snowed some and in Northern Virginia that freaks everyone out so schools close. Monday and Tuesday were snow days and then Wed was a 2-hour delay (it was blue sky but still cold and schools got 2 hours to get the sidewalks salted and cleared!) So no chance of teaching RW or WW for 2.25 days.

One of my student spends his summer in Japan (his mother's family lives in Kyoto) and he attends Japanese school there. At conferences, the mother asked if we would be interested in exchanging cards with this school to help those students work on their English. I said YES because I loved having the opportunity for students to write authentically with friends across the globe. The plan was to make these cards on Monday but that got pushed due to the snow to distributing the cards on the shortened Wed and then more time was needed to write on Thursday and a few stragglers were still working on Friday and now they are in the mail! Due to this worthwhile distraction, I realize that only ONE writing workshop essay writing lesson occurred this week. But so glad we did the letters. One unexpected success - it allowed my student who reads at a DRA2 18 (beginning of 2nd grade level) to successfully write 10 simple sentences back to his Japanese pen pal without any assistance needed from me. I reminded the class to write using simple sentences as these students in Japan were just learning English. (It was even requested that we only use capital letters as they haven't taught the lower case letters yet - interesting!) This child wrote the most in one sitting that he has ever written and no prompting at all was needed from me. I love unexpected outcomes!! 

Unfortunately, I am not at a school or on a team that is fully invested in teaching using the workshop model to teach reading and writing. Daily I am realizing this is not ideal as I don't have much support. I feel a bit like an island and it is hard to stay motivated. Then teammates will suggest doing activities that I am constantly wondering WHY. There is a large bulletin board in our hallway. I suggested that I AM poems be written and hung for Back to School night in September. It was a quick writing activity to help build community the first day of school. So that went up and mine around the corner outside my classroom. Then as soon as the 1st personal narratives were written by my students, I hung these up. Then the 2nd and then a "___ is for Jamestown" page to share about something learned on our trip. And as soon as our essays are done, those will be displayed. This bulletin board - the I AM poems stayed up until Nov. Them a 3-D drawing of our house and an Indian Longhouse fan-like activity got hung. (WHY?? This seemed like a coloring activity so I didn't take time to do that) and now it was highly suggested that all the kids make a quilt square and add names of friends and add these squares to cover this board. (Again, WHY??) These activities are busywork in my opinion and I am never in need of just something to keep my students busy. Instead, I am trying to fit in strong RW/WW. But because all on my team are not on the the same page (or even in the same book) as me, I sit in team meetings (more time not used as wisely as it could if we all were on the same page) and listen and wonder why? So why did I choose to return to the classroom at THIS school? I ask myself this daily!! It seemed like a good idea last Spring. I worked at this school 12 years ago and the Principal welcomed me back and had a 4th grade opening, a grade I have taught before. I would not need to learn the SS material and I can do 4th grade math. And I knew he would not stop me from teaching RW and WW. I also came because the Reading Teacher is on board. She is a support. We have learned at TCRWP for the past 3 summers and attended a coaching institute together. I thought her support would be enough. Now I daily wonder WHERE I should be a teacher? I love being back in the classroom. I know I want to remain a classroom teacher and not return to being a Resource teacher. BUT I am not sure if it will be at this school? Unfortunately, the workshop model is not encourage in my district so maybe I need to change districts. Time will tell. I do think that a supportive team would help NOT take me away from workshop work and isn't just a "grass is always greener" mentality.

I was told that all in 4-6th grades were to administer a GEO-BEE, 7-rounds of questions, each child answering one question and me recording the results. The high scorer will represent our class in the SCHOOL Geo-Bee. This had to be done on Friday. There was also a Music Concert on Friday morning so finally at 1:30pm (after our one of two 30-minute weekly Spanish classes), I could start the BEE. I had planned it taking 30 minutes and then having an hour of Writing Workshop. I arranged the 27 students in a semi-circle and I began the questioning. All 7 rounds took 80 minutes!! So much for WW! I only had time to announce our winner and we packed up to go home. Is this a good use of time?? So many of my friends could NOT sit still and quietly listen and participate for 80 minutes. But really? They are 10 years old. So often, I had to stop, redirect, told those having trouble that they could leave the semi-circle and quietly read at their seats. Finally, all Round 7 were completed and one student answered ALL 7 of his questions correctly. It was the same student I talked about above in #2 who reads the lowest in the class! (My highest reader scored 6 out of 7 correct and I was so expecting him to win.) It was fun helping this winning student get into his car at Kiss and Ride and tell his mom, "You are driving home our class Geo-Bee winner!!" As I said before, I love unexpected outcomes!!

I also LOVE Reading and Writing Workshop expected outcomes...
While on break, I will reflect OFTEN to see if I can fit in enough teaching time to reach my expectations!

This is my last posting of BACK IN THE CLASSROOM in 2013.
Next Saturday, I'll be driving with my husband and 2 amazing daughters to Ft.Lauderdale to hop on a cruise boat stopping at four ports in the Caribbean. I am so looking forward to having so many days to talk and be with a team that I love (an architect, a public policy grad student, and a Drama major/French minor almost- graduate) and who DO give me support!! 

More reflections to come in 2014!!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Things that take me away from the classroom

This was a weird week...
Monday - in my district, the students leave at 12:30pm on Mondays so we can have time to plan and hold PD. This Monday, my Principal gave "The Gift of Time" telling us all that we could leave when the kids leave and take care of any personal December tasks we may need to do during our Monday contract time...

However, for me, I was asked by my district to represent our county by being a member of the 5th grade SOL Writing Committee and the committee was meeting in Richmond to work on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. So I couldn't leave with the kids at 12:30pm because I needed to write substitute plans for 3 whole days. The good thing - there was no line at the copier. The bad thing - the whole school felt like a one was around. It is hard to push on when one is ALL ALONE...

Then I spent 3 days away...
I wonder now, why?? As I age, I reflect more on what I do and why I do it. I guess because I have come to realize that my time is limited. And due to this, I want to make the most of the time I have. Did I need this distraction of three days away from my real job - teaching my 4th graders? Probably not. I will decline the invite to apply next year. Unfortunately, one usually has to do the task once and spend the time once to know they never will do it again...

Then I returned home Thursday afternoon and headed to school at 4pm. Friday was a big day in the 4th grade at my school - Colonial Day! In my room, students would come to do candlemaking and soap carving. Since I made it back home, I went to set up the classroom - move desk, roll up rugs, write the schedule on the board...I ended up working until 6:30pm, only to return to school the next day in my Colonial Day outfit at 6:30am.

Now it is Saturday and I reflect on this very different kind of week. My substitutes said the kids did a good job and worked hard while I was gone. I still need to look at all their worksheets (which I used more this week as it was easier to tell a sub to do this kind of teaching). Friday was SO fun and all had fun learning about history through the hands-on activities. But as I left school yesterday at 5:30pm I was exhausted...more so than the 14 hour fieldtrip to Jamestown, I think. I guess overseeing 25 kids dip candles and another 25 sit and carve soap in my large classroom space for five one-hour sessions, despite all the wonderful parent volunteers helping, just took a lot of my energy. But once I ate dinner and slept for 8 hours, I feel better today.

It wasn't the best week of learning for my students...but not the worst, either.

I still wish more was happening in my classroom:|
  • I wish I knew how to teach math well and had more than just four 55 minutes a week to teach math to a group of 23 kids who do not have strong number sense.
  • I told my strong readers that I'd be putting them into book clubs at their Nov conference. Now it is Dec. 7th and I wish I had time to get this started. I will, but when??
  • I am teaching strong mini-lessons but I wish I was having and documenting strong conferences in writing and strong conferences and/or small group instruction during independent reading in RW.
  • I wish I was not constantly giving my energy to guiding those students who constantly choose to make poor choices, causing my classroom management to struggle.
  • I wish I could find a balance to teaching ALL the subjects well. RW, WW, MW, and also science and social studies. Maybe it just takes time to figure out the content and how best to teach it in the limited days we have. I'll admit that my students ARE getting strong RW and WW instruction but not science and social studies...and math is a struggle, too...
So much to do, so little time...As I move closer to 2014, I need to ensure my time is being used wisely. This is my wish, the choice I WILL make!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Almost Thanksgiving - 5 Things I am Thankful For!

I am thankful for....

1. All 27 of my students...they are lively, have none-stop energy, all have different needs but as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, we are getting used to each other and really starting to produce strong reading, writing, and math work.

2. Those colleagues that have the same workshop mindset as I do. Sadly, I am not in a school where ALL teach RW and WW but a few friends in my building and others outside my building who I connect to through emails or phone calls on the way to work, keep me grounded in this important work. I do think life would be so much easier if I could find that school with more having my mindset but maybe that's just a pipe dream... maybe just an excuse that the grass is always greener...

3. Being a learner and a risk-taker, ready and willing to try new things. YES, the last 3 months have been SO hard. But it has also been the challenge that I need. YES, I wish I knew more about teaching using the workshop model but each day I get to practice and slowly am getting better. YES, I wish I had better classroom management, but once I do get their attention, I have them engaged and they are producing great work.

4. School Holidays... 4 for Thanksgiving and 16 for Winter break...and I am so looking forward to using some (not all but much of it) of this time to read ahead in the Units of Study books, time to plan out more for 3rd quarter, time to make guided reading plans and book club plans for my readers...I want to do a good job but there never seems to be enough time as I need to sleep some, too. Some may think I am crazy that I am looking forward to a break so I can do more school work! Maybe I am. But teaching is not just a hourly job thing to me. It is the profession I choose and as a professional, I value the time off as a way to further read and grow in my practice. I will have this gift of time in a few days and then in Dec! I might start to get a handle and be more than just one small step ahead of my students!

5. Saturday Reflection time - It is helping me to see both the pluses and minuses of the week and through writing, I feel I am treading watering and not drowning. I wonder if it will ever feel like smooth sailing ??!!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I survived the 14 hour fieldtrip to Jamestown!!

What a LONG week!!

Monday, we hosted 20 friends, most of them veterans or wives of veterans! We sang each of the Military songs to honor Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard. We ate blueberry muffins and had our posters hanging! My students did such a GREAT job!! So proud of them!!

Then Tuesday I had to be out at a county training and my substitute kept the group busy but admitted to me on Wed that I have a challenging group. I'm just glad that she said she would come to sub again!

Wed was all the prep work for the fieldtrip.

Thursday I met the kids at 6:15 in the school cafeteria and we loaded 4 charter buses and headed south for a 3 hour drive to Jamestown, Va and back in time to 1607. We arrived at 10am and spent the ENTIRE day outside walking and touring and learning. It was fabulous, just a LONG time to be outside and so much walking! We left at 3pm and immediately got in traffic...returning at 7:30pm, instead of 6:30pm. tired...and I will admit, I mostly babysat today...we reflected on our trip and made a page to go in an ABC book about Jamestown but I was TOO tired to be on and teach.

And now, I am happily heading to Charlottesville to be a mom - Anne's in a play at UVA!! So glad to just forget about school for today...Sunday afternoon I'll have LOADS of homework, but who cares. I NEED a break!!

But looking back at the week, I wouldn't change a thing. Sure, the Veteran's Day celebration was extra work and another thing to plan, but I LOVED giving my students a chance to shine and honor others. The 13 hour fieldtrip was LONG but such an important way to learn! (But I'll admit, I'm glad it is over!!).

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Face-to-face Parent-Teacher-Student Conferences are the best!!

All day Monday and Tuesday, instead of teaching, I had the opportunity to have 20-minute conferences about the work each student did during the 1st quarter of 4th grade. Present at each conference was me, the student and a parent, sometimes both parents. The mothers of two families who speak another language at home, brought along an older sibling to help translate.

Last Friday, I had each student sit and practice with me so we would be ready for the conference. I made them a sheet to talk from where they circled from a set of choices and/or wrote in the one thing in each subject they are proud of. Then they also wrote an academic and behavioral area of strength and area for growth.

I let the student begin the conference and it was so fun listening. I placed the sentence stem: In ______, I am proud of ______. at the top of their sheet of notes. Their notes set them up to share so much with their parent(s). Then the parents shared. And then I shared. Then I had time to share where we are going next in 2nd quarter and I gave the parents a sheet listing suggestions for ways to help at home and a leveled book list.

Sitting face-to-face and taking time to talk is so valuable!! We live in the age of emails and tweets and texts. Yet, to sit and orally share is a gift! I was so proud of each child. Then, always meeting the parent(s) add to my picture of the child. This format allowed the parent to focus on the positives first. Years ago, I felt like a conference became a laundry list of a child's inadequacies. This format got all to share the positives. Then we still talked about areas for growth. I always asked the child: "What can I do to help you learn better?" and asked the parent(s): "What can I do to help you help your child at home?"

And as Kathleen Tolan taught me at TCRWP, when students do what we teach, this is OUR feedback (as well as when they don't do what we taught...probably means we need to teach it again!). Sitting, listening, and participating in these conferences became the feedback I needed to motivate me to keep working hard for another quarter! I had taught these students SO much in 9 weeks. Agreed, lots can be improved and lots still needs to be mastered. But I have taught each student and the workshop model allowed this to happen. It allows me to naturally differenciate. It helps me to meet each student at their level and grow them from there! Having the student share work that they are proud of put a smile on my face!

Then Wednesday came and I actually felt like the kids arrived at our classroom a little bit wiser. They were ready to start this new quarter. They had also completed a quarter of 4th grade. They now really understood the routines. They understand that I care and am here to do all I can to help them learn. They get that their parents want the best for them, too.

The only hard part was that it was only Wed....I got (had) to teach for 3 more full days now. I still had to get the report cards done. I still had to read the session 1 in the nonfiction reading units of study kit and the boxes and bullets session 1 for writing workshop. I still needed to collect one more check for the Jamestown trip. I still needed to fit in a science test, a math fraction markup test and then get the kids ready for our Veteran's Day celebration on Monday! I still had a Wed and Fri 7:45 conference for 2 families that traveled and couldn't come on Mon/Tue and one more this coming Tue. The To-Do List just keeps getting longer! This job is definitely keeping me busy and humble!!

But today I am happy that I was able to meet one-on-one with each family and that each student in my class had a moment to share orally with their parent(s) some positives related to reading, writing, and math workshop. Now onto quarter 2...

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The First Quarter is OVER!!

So I did work ALL last weekend.  Then, Monday I got to school at 6:30 a.m. (so I could get to the copier before the line began) and stayed until 8 p.m.. Tuesday I taught a writing class to teachers until 7 p.m.and, though I had work to do, I just went home. Wednesday I stayed after school until 8 p.m. Thursday (Halloween) until 7:30 p.m., and Friday until 5 p.m. when I realized that due to indoor recess, I never ate any lunch and all I had eaten was a banana and a power bar at 6:30 a.m..

What was I doing?? Reading, grading, and hanging in the hallway the student's 2nd published personal narratives (after removing their 1st from the hallway). Grading DRA2 assessments. Reading, grading, and printing in color, onto card stock, the bookmarks they created to share their thinking about how and why the fiction character changed in their book. Searching one more time for the 3 books (out of 230 books - this isn't a typo - Arlington County Public Library has unlimited checkout and my school supplied me with a very limited classroom library) that are overdue from the public library. I have no complaints about any of these tasks. It comes with running a reading and writing workshop. But it does take time!

Now I am at Starbucks at 7:30am (I actually slept in until 7!!) ready to make my final preparations for the conferences I will hold all day Monday and Tuesday. After 3 more phone calls Friday, I have all 27 families scheduled. Friday afternoon, I gave my students an end of quarter free-time to read or write and I met with each student to practice what they will say at their conference. Using a worksheet, they picked the one thing they are most proud of doing in Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop, Math Workshop, Science, Virginia Studies, and their Specials (PE, Music, Art, Strings, Library, and Spanish). They also picked their academic and behavior strength and the area for growth, both academically and behaviorally. I LOVED having this time. They could all name something they have done well and why! Hearing this was strong feedback to ME. Looking back, I sometimes remember the frustrations and these conversations helped me to be reminded of why I am a teacher. For 9 weeks, I helped 27 fourth grade students to grow as readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, artists. I am looking forward to the 20 minutes with each family where each child will get the chance to share. Sure, we all have room for improvement but I like that this conference format will highlight all the positive things done across the 1st quarter!

And why am I at Starbucks so early on a Saturday?
I still have a dozen DRA2s to score, I need to pick up hanging folders at Staples, I need to enter math grades into a google doc, as we flex group for Math and my partner needs my grades and comments ASAP, I need to do 27 report cards (something I haven't done for 10 year as a reading specialist - this better not take too long!).

Secretary tasks - uugh! I also still need to record who has paid $70 for the trip to Jamestown VA, who has signed some form needed by the art teacher to help us win a grant, who has paid their class fund check, who wants to order books from Scholastic, who is coming to our Veteran's Day celebration. At least Friday I took care of who still needs to sign-up for a conference!

Reflecting on my week, my quarter, I totally understand WHY our education system in the United States struggles. I am a teacher that knows the content, yet after 9 weeks back in the classroom, I am exhausted. There is not one week that I have not cried. My To Do list just grows and grows. I know many who have left teaching because life is too short and they would rather do another, less demanding job.

I care SO much about reaching all my students. Yet, it is hard, so hard. There is so much to do and not enough extra time to allow me to sleep, eat, and have any time to converse with my husband. And what if my daughters weren't 21 and 25 now? Looking back, there is no way I could have also been a mom of school age children this past quarter. I did do it when the girls were younger, so what's different? I think I know more now and am teaching the content much better than I used to. But that takes TIME, which is why I spent 8 hours last Sat, 8 hours last Sun, 4 hours on Monday, Wed, and Thur and 2 hours on Friday = 30 hours extra hours... And why I need to stop typing now and get back to work!

Glad I survived 1st quarter and am looking forward to 2nd quarter - nonfiction reading unit of study, essay writing, trip to Jamestown and Colonial Day, math computation of whole numbers, fractions, and decimals. And a Veteran's Day celebration based on what Tim Rasinski taught me at the Reunion Saturday at TCRWP. And a 16-day Winter Break (but who's counting!)

Friday, October 25, 2013

10 Days Until Conferences

It is Friday night. I had Happy Hour with a friend and just finished a pizza and beer dinner. And I plan to just relax all night since I'll be working all weekend!

In my district, we don't have school on Nov 4th and 5th in order to hold parent-teacher conferences. I am planning to invite my 4th graders to their conference so together we can discuss the things we are doing well.

In order to be ready for the end of the quarter and these conferences, I expect to work ALL weekend!! At least I have the weekend, thank goodness.

Today I rearranged all the furniture in our classroom and I like it much better. I have arranged the kids into 6 groups of 4 or 5. I feel we can all focus more and I want to spend more time giving them time to collaborate with each other.

Now off to enjoy a little TV. Then tomorrow, I'll work to be ready for the 1st quarter to end.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Another Meltdown

I had Monday off and then left Thursday at 1:30pm so I could get to NYC for the TCRWP Saturday Reunion. And in between, I struggled to keep my students under control. I kept feeling like they were being SO rude for always talking and not following the rule of ONE VOICE at a time. At one point on Wed, I lost it. I slammed shut my computer lid and almost started to cry. I told them I need a time out and to go sit at their seats until I was ready . They could tell they pushed me too far.

On reflecting, they aren't being rude on purpose. They just are so wired and so distractable. We all are. It is our culture. It is our diet. So much is always coming at us at all times. It is hard to just stop.

My sub came in right after my meltdown (she was subbing in another room). She is a retired teacher. She was SO happy to see the kids. She remembered teaching them last year. She was all smiles and so upbeat. I needed to see that modeled for me. I need to smile MORE!!

Tomorrow, I hope to find a note from the teacher saying things went well while I was gone...

And the best part of teaching, I get another chance tomorrow. I get to try again. So do the kids. We are going to learn self-control and respect. We are going to independently do our work well. We are going grow as readers, writers, mathematicians, scientist, and social scientist.

Tomorrow is another day...2 weeks and we get to start a new quarter!!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

October 12th...I'm now 50 and 1 day old

I must admit I had fun celebrating my milestone birthday with my group of 4th graders!! Using Google, I discovered LOTS of things, other than me, that have been around for 50 years. Apparently, Captain Crunch, Chip Ahoy cookies, and Poptarts all came into being in 1963. So as the kids arrived on Friday, they could get a "50 year old treat" and READ. My research showed that The Snowy Day won the 1963 Caldecott and that Peggy Parrish wrote her 1st Amelia Bedelia book that same year. So Thursday night I stopped at the library and checked out 30 Amelia Bedelia books and a dozen Ezra Jack Keats books. I placed a poster up as we could add a TALLY MARK after each book we read and asked the kids to read. "Let's see how long it takes us to read 50 books!!" I was amazed at how the novelty and the snacks got all on task and within 15 minutes, 50 books were collectively read and we were on to the 2nd fifty!

In math, we creatively thought of ALL the ways to make 50. I need to add the photo here of the 50 poster we made.

Then in Reading, we went off in groups of 6 and performed our Readers Theater play of Where the Wild Things Are (another 50 year old story!) On Wednesday, I wasn't sure if this was going to work. During our rehearsals, I had some on a team who couldn't control themselves and acted too wild and then others on a team in tears because their team wasn't doing it right. I called my drama-major daughter at college after school in a panic and asked for some drama team-building games. She suggested a few related to miming to help each "actor" focus and then a clapping circle game to help all work together as a team. I tried these on Thursday and we seemed more settled and focused! After more rehearsals on Thursday, we were ready! And I'm so glad I persevered. It was fun on Friday to see all working in their teams. All of our Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade audiences loved our short play! Mostly, I loved seeing that we CAN hold it together and work as a team!!

Now I get a 3-day weekend to continue celebrating my birthday.

And I need to spend MAJOR time writing up sub plans. I am taking next Friday off to travel to NYC for the TCRWP Reunion Saturday workshops. I am worried about leaving these 27 friends with a sub. I picked a retired teacher who used to work at my school and who I am friends with. I hope after next Friday, we're still friends!!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Falling into October

Thank God for Saturdays...I was exhausted on Friday afternoon. One reason was that I had the great idea to have the kids change seats for the month of October. My, oh, my. When I have them do this again, I'll need a better plan. Due to having a laptop on each desk and the desks strapped together to keep all the wires and cords in check, we couldn't just move desks. The kids had to empty out their desk, move to the new desk, move the laptop and in the process, clean out and discover long lost papers and library books. This group of friends seemed to only be able to go this task accompanied with shouts and loud talking. I would have loved to have had a restaurant decibal meter in my room on Friday. I know we would have registered at a very high level. (Especially at the futile moment that I turned off the lights to get their attention and screamed, "Stop Talking".) And then it was 2:40pm and we had birthday cupcakes to still pass out. Really...another birthday and sugar high to enjoy??!! Needless to say, once all my friends departed and I conferred with my lowest reader and his mom (wanted to give her some tips to help her son with reading and retelling at home), I just sat and enjoyed the quiet room with the lights off. I think I scared the custodian when we arrived and turned on the lights to vacuum.

Now after my Friday night pizza/beer and a good night sleep, I feel ready to think about planning for next week. This week we gave the math and social studies Unit 1 test. In WW, we returned to our notebooks to generate more small moment ideas. And I was able to use the TCRWP reading assessment with half of my students. I need to finish this - my goal for next week.

Next week I also celebrate my birthday on Friday. I typed up Where the Wild Things Are as a Readers Theater play and invited my students to perform it in K, 1st, and 2nd grades next Friday afternoon. I picked that book because it is 50 years old and on Friday I'll be 50, too!! I think this will be a fun way to celebrate and still be working on our literacy skills!! I just ordered myself a Wild Thing t-shirt to wear!! (my version of retail therapy!!)

I also plan to read-up on some Responsive Classroom and/or Kagan strategies to help me during the transition times. I got to get better at this! Maybe October will be the month!!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

1 month down, 9 to go!

I already am thinking about how next year, my September will be SO much better. But I also am going to pat myself on the back for the job I did do this September. As I reflect today, I'll describe it as being on a rollercoaster ride while juggling many balls. And I know this metaphor will continue and probably will get even more complex with more and more balls to juggle. But I am staying on the ride. WHY? Because I now have 27 new friends who I know I can help. And luckily, I still have 9 months to do all I can to help them reach their 9-10 year-old potential and to learn the life long skills of kindness and respect for others and the importance of reading to know how to live and writing to change the world (Thank you Lucy and the TCRWP for helping me to name WHY I teach!)

As my class filed out on Friday, I said something to each of them...Amr, have a great weekend. Will you be playing soccer? Salma, take care of your dad this weekend (he just had ankle surgery). Richard, good luck at Japanese school tomorrow...I smiled thinking that I know these kids now. I am in their 4th grade life and I need to do all I can to help them reach their full potential at this moment in time.

Then I gathered up all the data files I have so far and packed them up to bring home and study over the weekend. A month is over and I need to be sure that I am teaching them specifically and not just overseeing them follow routines. In reading, they listen to my mini-lesson, they sit and read, then share at the end of workshop with a talk buddy. But NOW, I need to be sure that I have the plan for what I need to do each day to confer or guide during Reading Workshop. I have lots to plan this weekend. Thank goodness teachers get Saturday and Sunday off from being at school!!

Friday afternoon went great. We had our first Writing Workshop Publishing Party. We are now authors of Perosnal Narratives!! Here's a few pictures:

First, I had all their writing folders so I called them over to specific places to sit. This strategic placement helped to keep all focused during our celebration. Then we did a Cicle Greeting (Responsive Classroom move) where after shaking hands, we said: "I am an author who wrote a story about ___." It does take time for 28 in a circle to greet. But this calmed us, got us focused on our writing, and helped us to stop and listen.  Then I asked each to take out their published piece and find one or two lines that they are proudest of writing. "We are not going to share the whole story aloud, just one or two lines we like the most. When you have the line, point to it and I'll know you are ready." Then I walked around, pushing all to get ready. "Just like in a Symphony, the instruments play when they are ready, we are going to SHARE when we are ready. When you feel like sharing your one line, please do in your loud, presenitng voice. Just like during our Grand Conversations, if two voices start at the same time, one wait and then go next. Finally, let me teach you a cheer. After a student shares, this is the cheer we will give them. With your finger, pretend to be pumping the spray nossle of the Fantastic Cleaner three times and say "ch-ch-ch" and then move your hand to look like it is wiping off the cleaner and say "FAN- TAST-IC". This will be the cheer we give each classmate after they read aloud their favorite line from their published piece."

And we began...AND IT WORKED!!! All happily shared a line or two. All listened respectfully. A few shier friends needed encouragement to share and 4 really shy friends allowed me to share their line for them. (This reminded me that sharing our writing is scary). Then I gave them free time to draw, read, or use their computer and I started hanging up their writing in the hallway to make it public.

Already in the hallway are paper-people we made to hold an I AM poem for back to School Night. One student, Lotta, suggested that now the paper-person could hold our story! Great the personal narrative is on t he paper-person, an illustration drawn by our talk buddy is hanging next to it (since our writing is so descriptive, it made a movie in our talk buddy's mind and THEY could draw the illustration!) and a reflection - I worked on _____ when writing this first personal narrative in 4th grade.

As I reflected on the way home, I realized that these kids are only 9 going on 10. The school they are in has not been running Writing Workshop with them since Kindergarten. As 4th graders, this was their FIRST publishing party. Happlily I celebrate!! I can't wait to do an on-demand on Tuesday and start teaching Personal Narrative one more time in October. I know we can write even better. I know they are proud now of thier work and ALL will be amazed at how much better they can write with more practice and guidance in October.

Now I need to get busy. I need to TEACH not just routines in October!!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

It sounded like how a Workshop should yesterday!!

Tuesday, I had a great afternoon!!

First, I did a RW lesson on how we need to read wide-awake and be ready to revise our thinking as we read. Then ALL were sitting and reading and it was QUIET!! I could go from student to student to have them share what they were working on. I conferred with a few to remember to not just read for plot but to stop and jot at times to record their thinking. I MUST get better at having something to take notes on as I didn't record any notes yesterday...oops! But I think I was just too excited that FINALLY, it was quiet during independent reading time!! About half-way into the RW, a teacher from DCPS who I had met at the TCRWP Reading Coach Institute came to visit. I loved having her there to see what we were doing and get feedback from her at the end of the day.

Then for WW, the Reading Teacher brought in the four 2nd grade teachers. I shared how the reader of our story will be reading it and making a movie in their mind. So as we get ready to publish on Friday, we need to reread and revise to ensure the clearest picture is being told with our words. I gave them my writing piece - the moment I realized I needed glasses. And we thought about how this story could be illustrated. Then I reminded the class that as part of their Friday publishing party, they would be illustrating their writing partner's story for them! I am hoping this added exercise will help them to understand how words make a mental movie in our mind, one that an illustrator can then draw. Then off everyone went to work on their writing and again, it sounded like workshop should sound during independent time - QUIET! We even had birthday cupcakes at 2:30pm (the 4th since school has started!!!) but we kept working while enjoying the treat.

I think I am turning a small corner with this group. I think they "worked" because I finally have enough high-interest books in the room for them to read during RW and they are very motivated to be ready for the WW Publishing Party!

I also get energy from having adults come into my lab class and participate with us. Knowing people are coming in pushes me to really have strong, well planned lessons and to work hard on classroom management.

At this moment, life is good!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

MUCH better day but still LOTS of room for improvement

I ditch the plan to do a science experiment first thing today and decided we needed to GET ORGANIZED!
I asked the class to suggest JOBS for our room and let me know who would like to do these jobs. Now I need to get the job chart up and running. I think we are ALL (myself included) realizing that ALL 28 of us need to help keep our space in order and help each other to learn.

Then I asked for feedback on WHO they felt comfortable being a reading and writing partner with. I can tell that turn and talks haven't been strong because they aren't feeling connected to this person. It needs to be someone they feel comfortable sharing with. I hope this helps.

Finally we cleaned desks. It has taken me until now to figure out what I need them to have for supplies as a team of teachers requested supplies last spring and I'm inheriting their list.

I also rearrange desks and rugs spaces and table spaces. I like the feel of the room so much more. I'll take a picture tomorrow to post.

Honest comment: I am putting so much effort into creating a strong minilesson and anchor charts that after I did the minilesson today, I sisn't have lots of energy to jump into conferring. I know this is bad. To do better, I need to plan exactly who I am conferring with and need to make a plan to get to all 27. I am collecting their drafts tomorrow to read this weekend and as I do, I want to make the confer plan. Who can I see in a group? Who needs one-on-one triage? And who is in the middle? I think that will help.

I am also teaching the FICTION unit using TCRWP Following Characters into Meaning. As my read-aloud, I am using My Name is Maria Isabel. So far so good. This weekend, I want to read it so closely, make lots of jots and then grow some theories based on my thinking.

I went to the library again tonight and got more books...I now have 132 books checked out!! I want to match students to a series and push them to read multiple books in a series and grow theories about the main character.

Exciting work ahead. Glad my meltdown is over!!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Day 12 - meltdown for me:(

So much coming at me fast and by the end of Kiss and Ride Duty, I was spent. Then I returned to the room and picked up all they crap left on the floor and thought, "Who's in change, here. What a mess." So when 10 minutes later, the custodian said, "I know you are new here but you have to get the kids to pick up the room. I won't clean it when it is such a mess," I lost it. I took a walk and just cried.

I know it is only day 12 but I don't feel like I am in control of these 27 students. But maybe that's not how I should look at it. Maybe we need to have a class meeting and we come up with all the jobs that need to be done and we all work together to make this the best room to be in. I'm not in this alone. There are 28 of us.

I also feel the pressure to get the room working so the Reading Teacher can bring in other teachers to watch me teaching in a labsite situation. When she came in today I felt the mini-lesson went great. But then the independent writing time did not go great. I need to post, as Cornelius Minor suggested, a conference schedule. Then there needs to be writing options. I am teaching how to revise a draft and many felt done. In the meantime, maybe I have them return to their notebook and generate ideas while they wait for me to confer. So many writers!!

Tomorrow will be better. I won't have a meeting right up to the time the kids arrive (like I did today) so I will be more organized when they arrive. I will get them to help me get ourselves organized. I will keep breathing. I will get a good night sleep so I'm wide-awake and can be on.

Maybe that's what is so great abut teaching...I get to try again tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Love Teaching Math!

I decided to stop being a Reading Specialist and return to the classroom mostly to teach reading and writing (instead of coaching K-6 classroom teachers how to teach RW and WW) and in the process, I am having the best time teaching MATH!!

Today's lesson was repeated patterns and in groups of 3 and 4, they took blocks and collaboratively worked. Once I started snapping pictures, the groups patterns got more and more complex! And I ended out day adding an image as our daily tweet.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Writing during Social Studies - could be better

Today's Social Studies lesson was teaching "What are the five regions of VA?"
I made a notetaking organizer with the VA map at the top, 5 columns with the 5 regions listed as headers, and found 2 short videos that showed images of the land and products produced in all 5 regions. I was set....I planned to show the videos to the kids and they would take notes.

But I blew it...

When a handful were starting to get distracted, I should have stopped and modeled what their notes should look like right then. I forget that these guys are only 4th graders and need to be SHOWN. I was saying what to write and pausing the video which had the word on it but I didn't show them. I need to slow it down and ensure ALL get how to take notes.

Two things did go well:
1.  I showed 2 videos - 2 sources and emphasized that it is important to read or view more than one source as the second one can confirm the info in the first but also might give more information. And sure enough, we were able to add to our notes after watching the 2nd one!
2. I ended the lesson using a Kagan Strategy called Rally Robin - all paired up. Then one student said a feature or product of a region and the partner named the region being described by their partner. Then back and forth they went to talk aloud the info we took notes on.

I guess I shouldn't beat myself up too much. I just want each lesson to go well. But by daily reflecting, it will help make tomorrow better! And it is only 4:15pm so I still have some time to get tomorrow all planned.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

9 Days Done...171 to Go!

The first 2 weeks are completed.
Back to School Night is completed.
Sitting with my 4th grade team through 8 meetings is completed (1 hour each, Tue-Fri).
Now I have Saturday to reflect and rest and make my plans for the next 5 days...

Reflection: What is going well? What do I need to do better?

Good Stuff:
* If you walk into my room, you can tell what we are learning thanks to the anchor charts hanging.
* You can tell reading is important because of the central library location and abundance of books.
* I assessed writing doing an on-demand
* I started them drafting yesterday so we can get a story published and then do one more unit like this to fine tune. I decided this after reading and seeing that they have the ability to write a paragraph essay of their big ideas but cannot naturally write a story about themselves. They need help with this!
* I created and gave a great reading comprehension assessment - lots of data to drive my instruction.
* I was able to meet with 3 groups and then 2 groups over 2 days to do a short character lesson on how to write a post-it about a character. (I need to make that lesson visible in the room - the character picture, the words, and then a posting! - I'll do that on Monday! And I want to move all the examples to the window in library so it stays visible.
*I met with Mimi to learn how to teach math
* I naturally use collaborative learning to do social studies and math. On the fly yesterday, we used the SS newspaper and then did a jigsaw of the 5 regions. It worked great!
* LOTS of parents came to BTSN and it went really well.
* I am understanding the feel of the schedule, sticking to the time, and no matter what, teaching reading and writing daily. For instance, on Friday we have FLES in afternoon so I made sure they read Tumblebooks in AM and recorded it on the log. Then I insured we had an hour after FLES for writing and then still independent reading time. I am trying not to waste any minutes!
* I love my physical school and I love being in a pretty school that has gardens and is a good stewart of the environment.
* I tweeted daily for the 9 school days and have a total of 51 tweets! I like adding a sentence out to our followers and I like posting some pictures. (I wonder what our readers think? I wonder if our followers are reading?)
* I think I know "stuff" about every student. I call them by name and I am beginning to understand how they
learn: strengths and weaknesses.
* I need to get these 27 kids focused. They are so chatty. Once I have their focus, they are attentive. But once I lose it, it is so frustrating.
* I try to wait. I need to be even more patient. I need to stay calm. (I'll admit, I yelled during quiet writing time and quickly realized it did NOTHING and I guess, on reflecting now, I was modeling what they WERE doing!!)
* I hate the idea of PBIS...why do we need to give a CHEER to get us to respond in the appropriate manner? (I wonder if this overall management style will become a deal breaker)
*I don't have set procedures for WHERE to be sitting in the room.

*I want to give out positives constantly!
* I want to not let Matt, Abian, Amr, and Henry to drive my actions. I need to keep all safe but maybe I try to calm them down by standing close to them and by also picking new seats
* I want to add 2 rugs (Home Depot this weekend!) and need to add a table.
* I want to assign spots - should it be for reading and writing. I think so now. It is too confusing otherwise. But who will partner with these 4 boys mentioned?? I definitely have the room space so I need to make it happen!! I brought home an anchor chart to make for room seats so I'll get that made and it can be for the rest of this month...then the 1st wk of Oct, I'll let them tell me where they want to be and who they want to be with.
*Complete the word study assessment; start TC assessments; work on revising writing.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Trying to do TOO much

I tried to have kids record on a timeline when reading was the best and when it was the pits. But I also wanted them to have a bag of books and to book shop. And I also wanted them to read, stop and jot. And we needed to get the I AM poems finished and hung up for BTSN. And I wanted to model a read-aloud....

I see Annie's picture hanging in my room (a staff developer at TCRWP) and hear her saying, "Don't be the tennis coach who throws all the balls in the hopper at one time. Send 1 ball at a time." Annie's so right!

So now, upon reflecting, I realize that I need to just teach ONE 10 minute mini-lesson a day...I can tell other things during a conference or a mid-workshop interruption. BUT I NEED TO STAY FOCUSED and NOT do too much at one time!!

Tomorrow I will be more focused!!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Using Twitter

After 4 days of school, we have 20 followers!

To encourage students to tell their family members to follow us, I am sending home a "feather" thank you for following us gift! I hope it will get more to join!

I also made a How-To set up a twitter acct! This way parents and teachers can follow the steps to join our account! Many who said "I don't have a twitter acct" now are following us!!

I was annoyed by the image of Justin Bever asking me to follow him. So today I chose to follow Mo Willem's Pigeon and Eric Carle. Now other book authors and characters are suggesting we follow them, instead of Justin Bever! Much better!! I think I'll let the class write (or tweet) who they think we should follow before picking anymore to follow.

I was able to post at least 1 tweet at the end of each day. So far, 47 tweets sent!

Now I want to research how other teachers use twitter.

Here's a video I found:

I like how he says that twitter is "a paperless way to share your thoughts".

This link: lists 60 ways to use twitter in the classroom:
  1. Silencing blurters: For students who have trouble with disruptive blurting, allow them to instantly tweet their blurts silently instead of out loud. (maybe this would be something to try for students like Matt!!)
  2. Parent communication: Parents can sign up to receive tweets from teachers, learning about activities, tests, projects, and more. (Doing this!!)
  3. Twitter recaps: At the end of the day, teachers can summarize what has been learned in the classroom, encouraging reflection and discussion between students. (Doing this but want to eventually have this be student-created and written)
  4. Classroom connections: Classrooms around the world can collaborate using Twitter as a communication tool. (Not sure about "around the world" but would like to connect with Nick's room and maybe friends at Westgate or Stenwood!)
  5. Collating classroom views: Students can share their opinions on issues or any open questions, and they can be organized using Twitter. (would like to do this related to books we are reading, stories we are writing and our math thinking.)
  6. Following historical figures: There are many Twitter accounts set up that share the lives and personalities of historical figures, and students can follow them for fun and learning. (I wonder if their are any that relate to VA History??)
  7. School trip tracking: Whether it’s a field trip or a long journey, students can log and track their progress on a school trip using Twitter. (I will have to do this when we go to Jamestown and our other trips!)
  8. Reading assignment summaries: Students can build 140-character summaries based on reading assignments, forcing a focus on quality. (Maybe I can assign this after they read the online SS textbook??)
This link has a cool Bloom's chart showing ways to use twitter to match Bloom's Taxonomy!
I think twitter will be a useful addition to my teaching resources!!

Week 1 Reflection

I would say I am off to a fair start! We ended Friday spending the last hour and a half making paper people to hold our I AM Poem to be on display for Back to School Night this coming Tuesday. This messy, loud activity was fun, gave the kids a chance to be creative, and got published writing up.

But now as I start to plan for week 2, I wonder why I did not have time for a Morning Meeting?
T - did an icebreaker game and then had FLES
W - wasted the morning trying to get kids logged into their computer and set up their password
Th - Did the reading assessment
F - did the math assessment
This coming week will be better as the assessments will be over. I do think after announcements, we can have a 15 minute MM and then go into SS/S. I do want to teach according to the schedule and I want each day to have RW and WW! It will happen...

I spent time practicing names. I think I have first names...
Avery, Henry, Salma, Daniel, Maria Grazia, Selina, Will H, Katherine, Ryan and Ivy
Jonathan, Hugh, Lotta, Quint, Will B, Mia, Travis
Matt, Noella, Mohamed, Abby, Amr, Richard, Lela, Samuel, Abian, Yuan Ju

I got all 27!!

Now I have to look at the assessments and USE THE INFO TO INFORM INSTRUCTION:
On-demand writing - read, score, and use to plan my personal narrative teaching points.
Reading Jots using Train to Somewhere - read and decide on progressions
Spelling Inventory - score and think about word study??

I also want to go to library to get some books. They have LOVED reading Mo Willems!!
I want to get some chapter books and high interest picture books and plan to book talk them.
I got to get reading logs and book volume going!!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Day 3

It feels like I have been teaching this group of 27 kids for many more days than just 3!
And in 3 days, it has been a series of many ups and downs.

Down....wasting an hour yesterday trying to have all the kids change their passwords so they can start using their laptop computer and then still not all were set after the hour and an unplanned firedrill so I spent another 2 hours after school to remedy the situation. I hate spending time, valueable time, doing stupid tasks...

Up...doing the on-demand writing and now having the raw data to decide what to teach during the small moment personal narrative unit. Lots of strengths seen but still things I get to teach!!

Down...only bringing in 26 out of 27 from recess but bought a whistle after school today (love Arlington's Westover Ayer's Variety Store!) and told all the kids that they need to pick a buddy and make sure that buddy is in line. You would think I could count to 27!!

Up...created and administered a read-aloud comprehension assessment using Train to Somewhere by Eve Bunting. Now I have seven stop and jots based on different comprehension strategies to analyze this weekend. Again, the raw data to guide my teacing points andh small group instruction.

Down...haven't done one Morning Meeting or feel that I really know each child by name. 27 is lots but that needs to be my goal for tomorrow. I need to be able to call them all by name without hesitation.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day! Kids come to school tomorrow!

I've enjoyed the long weekend with 2 days at the beach; took time to read 4 kid books, and plan a reading assessment using stop and jots for my team. I'm excited about tomorrow. I just hope there is time to do all that I want to do.

On Friday, we met as a team and listed, day by day, stuff to do...on-demand writing, ice-breakers, organize supplies, set grade-level rules, watch county videos related to the rules, spelling inventory, reading assessment, read-alouds...

I left the meeting feeling like this was all just stuff to do...assignments. I want to teach using the structure of Reading Workshop and Wiritng Workshop. I went back to my room to make Tuesday's daily schedule and USED the cards labeled Writing Workshop and Reading Workshop and vowed that EVERY day this will be what I do. I am not babysitting and providing stuff to do. I am allowing readers and writers to work, and in turn, get better at being readers and writers.

So much will become clear once I have the kids in front of me all day long!
I better rest up today!!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Open House!!

I had so much fun between 11-12noon today! I met most of my students and their families (all but 6 I think). One just moved here from Paris! I can't wait to show him Anne's blog so he can show me on the map where he lived. On all their desks I placed a sheet of paper where I snagged the twitter page and I asked them to write a tweet - something they are doing now, did over the summer, or plan to do this weekend. ALL their writing was so purposeful!! Since twitter asks you to write about what is happening right now, one student was very literal and wrote "I am writing this and then going to see my sister's classroom". Others wrote about places they went this summer or things they will do this weekend. A few wrote how excited they are about being in 4th grade!!

So far, only one parent has asked to follow us. I hope more do. Maybe I should sent home a "gift" for following us?? Something cheap but an incentive to get others to follow us. Maybe a feather with a thank you! I could look at Michaels.

I am thinking that my Teacher Research question will be "What happens when a 4th grade teacher using twitter in the classroom?" I can do more research about ways to use it. I can survey the kids. I am really excited about this use of technology. It dawned on me that it is a great way to spend time reading. It is a great structure to ensure that the writer is being concise and can summarize and share just the big ideas. So fun!!

After just one hour with my class, I know I am going to have a blast this year as a 4th grade teacher!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Room 121

I spent all yesterday afternoon and then most of today (until the custodians said I had to leave at 7:30pm) getting my 4th grade classroom looking organized and inviting. Open House is Thursday at 11am. A few more hours tomorrow after county meetings and I'll be ready to invite my 28 students into the room and then our adventure begins!!

I got approval to have a classroom twitter account. We can be followed @MsD4thgrade.
My goal is to post a tweet a day, a summary of something that happened.
And I just taught myself (using the Help button on Twitter) how to post a photo to twitter.
So easy!

I added pictures of the smartest educators I know (Lucy, Carl, Kathleen, Jen, Ellin, and Annie) with a wise saying within their speak bubble. They hang above the smartboard watching over us, reminding me to teach well!

I foresee exciting things happening this school year in Room 121!!

Saturday, August 24, 2013


It was optional for me to come to the New Teacher Orientation because I am not a new teacher and I am not new to the district. But I am new to this school so I am so glad I came. I got to hear the vision of the Principal. He really cares a lot - about ensuring that teachers have the resources they need, about providing a clean, happy place where kids learn and about the environment. The gardens at this school ROCK!! It is truly a campus and is so beautiful!! There are many outside spaces that I will be taking my students to go OUT to read and write outside!!

I still haven't set up my room yet...
Again, I walked in and then walked out.... Again, I was distracted by teaching the last writing class and I also had to present to a group of teachers about Teacher Research, another hat I wear in the county. I am lucky to be in a county that supports professional development by encouraging you to be a teacher researcher. The county pays me hourly to be the county voice of Teacher Research! So off I went to another school to explain the process to a group of teachers who just won a grant for iPads in the classroom so they plan to spend the year reflecting on What happens when iPads are used in a science class? Half way there, I realized my phone was back in the Writing Classroom. Ugh. My phone is a phone, but also my GPS, my watch, my timers, and the only way for my family to reach me. I felt so unconnected - a bit naked! So, instead of using the few hours I had after my meetings to get busy in my room, I retrieved my phone and ordered pizza for the Friday Night dinner!

However, I awoke and started to map out a room arrangement. I am lucky to be in a room that is HUGH!! And a whole wall of bright windows with the Peace Garden outside the window!! I decided on Monday I will take the rocking chair and another chair we don't use at home anymore to my classroom. I already took 2 rugs that we don't use anymore. I think these pieces will help the room feel homey!! Monday morning I plan to arrive at 7am and get busy. Finally!! The focus has arrived!

I also awoke thinking about how to use twitter in the classroom. I have two ideas. I googled and found lots of cool things being done with twitter in classrooms. The most inspiring was a Canadian 1st grade classroom.

Mrs. Cassidy is doing amazing things. They used twitter as Shared Reading! All the kids have their own blog! I just peeked at a few and am blown away by all they are producing! They make videos and sent class tweets and they are 1st graders!! I am following her now on twitter and think I can learn lots from her.

I also think I will invite those people who have taken my writing class to my personal twitter account. I think I could daily post my writing teaching point and then an image, like the anchor chart I used or student writing or my conference notes or a video of a conference. This could be a really powerful way to improve my teaching of teachers!! I'm excited. I am so glad I am going to be a 4th grade teacher this school year!!!!

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Tomorrow at 8am I will be welcomed by my new administration and my mentor! That gives me just 15 hours. Then I begin another school year, another year of teaching. I actually was at my school all week this week. I was teaching a writing class to a group of teachers at my new school. I was teaching right across the hall from my new classroom. Yet, I was so focused (distracted) by the class, that I did NOTHING to set up the new room. I only taught from 12-3pm so I could have taken some time and got started. I think part of me feels a little numb by this new move to classroom teacher. Another part of me is probably overconfident in my teaching ability. Lots of teachers have been in to get their room set up. I feel strongly that I am NOT going to decorate without my students helping. It is OUR room and together we need to co-construct the spaces. I guess I do need to plan out the spaces and even plan out the first week of lessons I want to do for reading and writing workshop. And I want to take the idea that I am standing on the shoulders of the greats at TCRWP so I plan to hang up quotes to remind me of why I am teaching the way I am teaching.
  • Writing can change the world - Lucy Calkins; I want to share her video during week 1 and do a writing on-demand the first day.
  • You need to celebrate writing! - Lea Mercantani (my first small group instructor!); I want to publish I AM poems the first week! Then get busy on writing personal narratives.
  • We need to use technology to produce! - Cornelius Miner; I want to send a tweet a day and maybe post the "trending" topics we are covering. This will be a way to connect to our families. I also want the kids to publish on a class blog.
  • Talking it out shows you understand. - Ellin Keene; I want to give all a reading partner and a writing partner and time to turn and talk!
  • How's it going? - Carl; I'll start all my conferences this way and not leave for the day unless all my conference notes are completed.
  • When writing nonfiction/informational writing, it needs to be grounded in what we know. Then we research to fill in the holes - Colleen Cruz; I will follow Colleen's structure for teaching nonfiction writing unit!
  • Students need to be taught the complexities of a text level - Jen Serravallo; I will push myself to know the nuances of each level and teach into the skills needed to move them the next level.
  • As a reader, you need to build a reading life - Kathleen Tolan; I will ensure that ALL are growing as readers.
I feel better now thinking that I am not teaching 4th grade alone. I have a huge team to rely on for help and this team is SO smart!!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Back to the classroom

August 13, 2013               
Today, I sat in what will be my 4th grade classroom for the 2013-14 school year today. The last time I was a classroom teacher, it was June, 2003. I left to be a leader of literacy and I have acted as the Reading Teacher for the past 10 years in three different schools – two years in the school I am now returning to, six in a school I still love and I am very proud of all I did to grow the staff as literacy teachers, and then two at a school up the road that is aiming to teach using the reading and writing workshop model.

Why back to the classroom? 
Because I finally understand how reading and writing are to be taught in ES and I want to be a workshop teacher, or at least try to be. For the past five summers, I have spent at least one whole week at Teachers College attending their Summer Institutes. First, Mary Erhenhart, and Leah Mercantani, led by Lucy Calkins taught me how to write and then how to teach students how to write. I began my first Writers Notebook. That next school year, I practiced what I knew from the week and then from reading, reading, reading all the Units of Study for Teaching Writing books. I returned 2 more summers to learn more about how to teach writing - how to teach other units besides personal narrative small moments and how to conference well. Then I tackled learning Reading Workshop. I see reading as harder because it is not visible, like writing. But Kathleen Tolan and Maggie are great teachers and reading workshop now makes sense to me. I returned one more time this summer for Writing because the Project published new grade-specific writing kits. I purchased my own kit for 4th grade. Last week in NY, I learned so much about using this kit and also about giving explicit feedback. I can't wait to use this new writing knowledge!

Why leave being a Reading Teacher?
As a Reading Teacher, my job was to support all teachers, K-6 and this became overwhelming. It seems too much to juggle. So now, selfishly, I want to just juggle one grade and see if, day-in and day-out, I CAN teach using the reading and writing workshop structure. I also came back to this school so the Reading Teacher, who is my friend, can use my classroom as a model - a labsite - to teach other teachers how to teach reading and writing workshop. I am excited to be a part of a labsite setup! Right in front of the kids, we will also teach teachers through demonstrations and then will give them time to practice in my room. Excited times ahead.

Today I unpacked LOTS of boxes of books that I leveled as I packed them up in June. As I removed them from the boxes, I laid them in leveled piles on the floor. At a glance, it looks more like I should be teaching 5th grade, not 4th. I have many more T-W books. But that's OK. I will just utilize the unlimited checkout policy at Arlington Public library and get the books that 4th graders want and need. And the T-Z books can remain in the boxes. It seems that I need to beef up levels M-S but that will be fun to explore and gather.

I read for the first time, Jen Seravallo's book Conferring with Readers this weekend and it is the perfect refresher of what I need to be doing in Reading Workshop. Then today I made a document to share with my old school (and with my new teammates!) that outlines the lessons in Building a Reading Life by Kathleen Tolan. I am getting excited about Reading Workshop. I am nervous about notetaking and record keeping but I will just work at it. Since I know these kids are mine, I will be motivated to keep strong notes. And since teachers will be coming in to watch and learn with me, I will be pushed to be a strong model.

Looking back, as a classroom teacher before, I was great at reading-aloud to my students and I always did all I could to engage them in reading and in authors. Yet, I did not explicitly teach them reading lessons. ALL in the room read the stories in the basal and answered questions. I did not know to encourage talking about books. I did not know to level a library and assess to know what kind of reader each student was. I did not know how to explicitly teach how to read each genre. And I did not have to give state standardized tests. As I was leaving the classroom, No Child Left Behind began and the world of testing started. What a different world now.

As I sat in my new classroom today, I felt confident. I know so much more about how to teach reading and writing workshop. My goal is to help a group of 4th graders become independent readers who will come to understand that they read to know how to live their life. And they write because they have stories that only they can tell. They can put their thoughts and ideas into words and actually change their world. I feel quite honored that I get to facilitate such work this year!!

I also realize that I need to be diplomatic as a team member. Today a colleague shared an electronic reading log using Google Docs and I loved seeing it. I am very interested in using technology in RW and WW whenever I can. Yet, as he described how and when the kids used it and how the teachers checked it, it clearly seemed like it was an assignment and not a tool to help a student be a stronger reader. I see the power in reading logs. Just as a runner records his times and studies it to see patterns and to plan his next workout, a reading log helps a student make visible the volume of his reading and the kind of reading he is doing. This data can help to set his next goal and be a tool to grow him as a reader. I believe in reading logs. I've kept one this past year and as I studied it, I set new goals and I grew as a reader. I am not using a log just as an assignment. I foresee many team discussions in my future with me asking WHY would we do it like that? I just need to remember that once, I was that teacher who didn't know any better. Now, thanks to TCRWP, I know SOOOOO much. And I am committed to using what I know. But I need to balance that by being a good teammate.

I also need to balance using technology. This school provides me the opportunity to have a laptop for each student in my room all-day, every day. The kids I will teach are 9 and 10 years old. They were born in 2003/2004 and their world is computers. I want to embrace that but always in a purposeful way!