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!

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