Saturday, December 20, 2014

Dec. 20th - I'm on Winter Break!!!

What a busy last week before winter break!! But now I have changed my alarm to NOT go off at 5:30am and I just sent my last email to my parents sharing highlights of the week and after posting my Back in the Classroom thoughts, I will turn off the computer and unplug for ALL of break. (My youngest daughter is in Europe and my husband, other daughter and I fly tomorrow to meet her and spend 10 days in Venice!!)

Monday I followed the suggestions of Lucy and Annie in the 5th grade Unit of Study for Teaching Opinion Writing on how to have a Publishing Party. It was suggested to have parents listen as opinion writers share as if on a panel. The students talk and then ask for questions and comments.

SO Friday I match pairs of students up and had them PLAN out sharing their reasons for their Big Idea. The students all wrote about the airport being a good or not good place to live (after reading Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting), about whether chocolate milk should or should not return to the Janney lunch menu, and then a topic of their choice. I was able to match pairs that took the same position and gave them an organizer - Partner 1 started with an intro, Partner 2 shared the first reason, Partner 1 shared the 2nd reason and Partner 2 shared the 3rd reason, Partner 1 stated the conclusion, and Partner 2 asked if their are any questions or comments.

About 8 adults came for each of the celebrations (I teach 4 classes and invited the parents from each homeroom to attend the celebration when their child has Writing Class). On the same day, the 4th grade teacher wanted to showcase his writers, so I send half the class for 15 minutes to his room, leaving just 5 pairs of students. I had them sit and adults join so all pairs had at least 2 adults to talk to. Then I set the timer for 10 minutes. To help the parents, I gave them a handout:

Today’s agenda is to sit and listen to a pair of students who wrote an essay about the same topic. After listening, please ask them questions and encourage a dialogue.

Possible questions are:
A question I have after hearing you speak is ______.
Can you explain this more?

I heard you say ______.
I don’t agree with that. I think …..

You said ____.
This reminds me of …

What other essays have you written?  Can I see your essays?

Then the students will switch and you will listen to another pair of students. Again, after listening, please ask them questions encouraging a dialogue.

Then the magic happened!! The students talked about their topic. Questions and comments were exchanged. After both groups shared, I had all reflect on what surprised them about celebrating their writing in this way, through a discussion. In all four classes, the students remarked on how the adults knew lots about their topic and that the questions they asked, got them to think deeper about their topic and come to name many more questions. I love that I celebrated in this fashion (thank you Lucy and Annie)!! Rarely do we write an essay and have it printed. Instead, we think about an issue and TALK about it to get others to understand the issue and especially our side of the issue. I love that Monday was a day of talking about BIG IDEAS!!

Tuesday the class reflected on all 3 essays they wrote. I used the new checklists with picture support on the new Pathways book and created a page that listed the Opinion skills related to structure, development and conventions for a 5th grade Opinion writer. Then I made 3 columns of Not yet, working in it and YES! I asked the kids to use this checklist sheet as they reread all three of their essays. 

Wednesday we took a break and wrote a friendly letter to a student in France. My daughter, Anne is working as a teaching assistant and native English speaker in France and she set us up with pen pals.

Thursday I had my co-teacher teach a fun lesson by reading Mo Willem's newest book - Waiting is Hard! and they did a quick write about a time that they had to wait. And what did I do?? I spend Wed night reading 25 students' essays and writing a GLOW and GROW on each of the checklist worksheets. Then Thursday I worked from 7am - 3pm reading 40 more students'. Then on Thur night I read the last dozen. I was determined to have all the reading and feedback completed!! I'm traveling ALL of winter break and need ALL my school work done. 

NOTE: as I took a break from reading essays on Thursday, I saw this tweet: "If you can read all your students' writing, they aren't writing enough." I laughed to myself...I took a day off from work so I could read ALL their writing!!

Friday was a wonderful day of reflection!! I share my final 2014 email to my parents here as it sums it up well:
Dear 5th grade Families,
We had another wonderful week in 5th grade at Janney. 

Monday started with a day of sharing our opinions during our Writing Workshop Publishing Party Celebration. Thank you to those who could come and even those who brought along their parent or in-law. Having adults to discuss big ideas with really helped the students to see WHY their ideas matter and WHY taking notes on both sides of an issue matters. As we reflected, the students commented on how taking a longer time to discuss a topic had their discussion go deeper. I know my own mom enjoyed her afternoon discussions! If you couldn't come, do ask your child who their partner was and what was discussed. Opinion essay feedback sheets will come home in the January 6th Take-home Tuesday envelop.

Friday ended with a day of reflection. I experienced my first Janney Sing-Along!! I loved sitting in the gym with every single Janney student and teacher. Our class got to be the last song - Winter Wonderland! It was a joyful and peaceful hour of songs highlighting all the cultural celebrations occurring at this time of year. My very favorite part was listening to Avey from our class, along with Annette, play their recorders. I recorded it and was able to attach some of it to this email. Enjoy their peaceful song!!

Also on Friday, we took time to reflect back on the 2014 calendar. We joined Ms Fernandez' class and looked at a calendar of the whole 2014 year and circled dates we recall fondly. I circled May 18 - the day Anne graduated from UVA, July 31st - the first day I met Ms Fernandez and August 11 -  my first day of work at Janney! Dates shared by the students were the last day of 4th grade, first day of 5th, a summer trip and Super Bowl Sunday! Then we watched this video of Google's year in review based on searches:   (I share the link as you might also enjoy it)
Then we looked at the 2015 calendar and thought ahead to the New Year and jotted down our thoughts.

As I reflect, I love that I still get six more months to work with your child!
Thank you for entrusting your child to me as their homeroom and writing teacher.
I am confident that 2015 will be an amazing year and I'm so grateful I get to spend it as a teacher of your child for most of the year!!

Now I am taking off my teacher hat for the winter break. I am grateful that my youngest daughter, Anne, requires a visit by her dad, her sister and me in Europe so we must comply! Have a peaceful winter break and I look forward to seeing you at Jamboree on January 5, 2015.


And now I end my last blog post of 2014. More reflections to come by a teacher who is happily back in the classroom teaching writing workshop in 2015!!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

12/13/14 (and now 5 days until break time!)

It is one thing to read inspiration and feel empowered in the quiet moment of reflection, as I did last Sunday. It is another thing to live it when back at school on a Monday-Friday work week. There's the 20 kids always staring at you. It's the to-do list lengthening and then a fieldtrip is thrown into the week. Then colleagues are too busy to notice you might need help. However, now that it is Saturday, I can say I survived the week and can even say it ended on an upbeat.

But, yes, this job is hard. So much in the classroom is coming at you fast, so many professional demands on top of that, and then in December, there's the additional personal to-do things associated with Christmas. So glad that the school system builds in a break and this year, it is a nice, long break - 16 days!!

Best Part of this Week:
* My writing team gave me flowers, saying they appreciate me on a day I was trying hard to just tread water; teachers need friends! It is the best when they are teammates!
* I created a checklist and reflection sheet for the kids to use to reflect on their essay work; I could do it so quickly thanks to the new spiral Pathway Writing book. I love the pictures that they added to the checklist words. It is much more user-friendly.
* I taught with my co-teacher to model how to plan and practice for the Monday Publishing Party. So great to have another adult to do this work with. And I think the kids are ready. Monday is going to be fun!!

Things I could have done without:
* I didn't realize I accidentally left my wallet at school until I was at the Post Office trying to mail letters that were time-sensitive 40 minutes before closing.
* A fieldtrip and change in schedule during December...we are creatures of habit and it adds a bit of stress to have the schedule change.
* A document needing to be completed by yesterday at midnight for the administration. Then realizing that much more than an hour after school on Friday was needed to complete it.  And now on Saturday, realizing the draft I started yesterday isn't even in my dropbox. Guess I better start and finish it now.

So again, a week of ups and downs. I am reminded that when unfortunate things occurs, it is my  chance to practice humility.

Humility (adjectival formhumble) is variously seen as the act or posture of lowering oneself in relation to others, or conversely, having a clear perspective and respect for one's place in context.

C.S. Lewis writes: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less."

I do hope I can be less annoyed by little annoyances and instead, think about how to help students, my friends, and especially my family. I have a great model of this in my mom. When I didn't have my wallet with me at the Post Office, I called her and she gladly met me at the Post Office and spotted me a $20 so I could get the task done. It really is OK to ask for and receive help. It really is OK to try to be humble. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

December 7th - 10 more teaching days and then 16 vacation days (not that I'm counting!)

Looking back, I would say I had a week of reflection. Looking back it was filled with both up and down times. For example, on Tuesday I told students who were done their essay on whether chocolate milk should or should not be offered at our school, that they could start to gather research for and against their next essay topic. During the first period, students had an idea of their own but didn't know how to get an article on the topic to take notes. I had suggested 3 topics and had a list of links to articles on these to read (thanks to TCRPW) but some had another idea and then spend (wasted) time not reading and taking notes. I was frustrated by not anticipating this. I tried to "sell" the topics more with my 2nd class. But then during lunch I still felt deflated. The links for the 3 topics I was "selling" - recycling, green energy, and censorship - was a list from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (just search for 5th grade text sets). So an article was listed with the URL and then the students had to meticulously type in the correct URL address. I clearly was not setting these kids up for successful notetaking during my WW time as I saw them wasting too much time just trying to get their laptop to show an article.

During lunch, I blamed a bit of my depressed feeling on that I was just hungry. As I sat and ate, I kept thinking. Then I returned to my classroom, opened the website page my 5th grade team has where we post homework and figured out how to add a page. I called it Writing Workshop Links and I cut and pasted all the links I got from TCRWP to this page. I crossed my fingers and submitted the page. It worked! NOW the students in the 2 classes I teach after lunch could get to an article faster and have time to read and take notes. However, only if they pick one of the 4 topics (I added Competitive Sports, too). I still saw kids interested in homework and pets and homelessness struggling to find places to go to read an article. And then I got observed by the Principal during my 4th and final group on Tuesday. I am still awaiting my meeting to get feedback. But her presence in my room, I think, had me reflect even more. Mostly on Tuesday, I felt tired and depressed. I am a good teacher. I have so many things in place to allow for 5th graders to arrive in my WW and grow as writers while they work for 50 minutes 5 days a week. But on Tuesday I clearly saw how much more I still need to do. This is my first time teaching Researched-Based Argument Essay and I know I can do it better next time. I haven't harmed these kids but some of their precious writing time was wasted by not anticipating the resources they would need.

Then today Mark Barnes started following me on twitter (he must have liked something that I retweeked?!) so I clicked to see who he is and found out he is: Education speaker. Author: Role Reversal, 5-Minute Teacher, Teaching the iStudent, the Global Learner, Assessment 3.0. . Publisher,

So I clicked on his blog (I like the title - Brilliant or Insane) and clicked the menu and clicked inspiration and went to this link:

and read this:

If you’re a teacher and you’re not questioning your methods daily, you might want to consider another profession. Great teachers always think they can do more for students. Outstanding teachers feel like they can be better. The best teachers ask themselves questions every day that begin with, “What if?”
Great teachers doubt their methods and question research. The best teachers in the world refuse to do something just because someone said, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Great teachers care more about their students than they do about ill-conceived principal mandates.
Great teachers don’t think about being great. They make sure that their students are.

After reading this, I decided I need to change my feelings when I reflect. It isn't about me being a deficit. It needs to be about me and how I can try to make something better. And actually maybe it is about how I can help my students to be more independent so together we solve the problems that come up. It helps when I make good things happen quickly but if I don't show my problems and how I solve them, my students will think life is easy and not hard. (So much to think about!!)

According to Mark, I am doing what great teachers do. I also need to not think about a lesson as AM I BEING GREAT...Instead, it needs to stay focused on the students...what ELSE can I do to make sure they are doing great things. Being observed threw me. Being tired this week threw me. However, I get 10 more days with these kids in 2014. I really want to make the most to help them write their next essay (on Wed/Thur) and to help them reflect on themselves as writer (Thur/Fri), and help them celebrate their writing with a Publishing Party (Mon) and then time to introduce our next unit of study - nonfiction writing (Tue/Wed) and then some fun free writing (Thur and Fri).

This profession of teaching is hard. I know that. Reading Mark Barnes' words helped me remember WHY I do the hard work. Not to impress a principal during an evaluation. Not to teach the way I always have. But to watch, listen and respond to the writers in front of me. When I do that, it WILL be messy. It WILL be tiring. It WILL bring tears to my eyes. But so what. I isn't about me. It IS about helping 10 and 11 year olds find their voice and share it in writing!!

I'm thankful that, despite being a human who feels up and down and never quite satisfied, I can keep asking questions and searching for answers and thanks to twitter today, I got the inspiration I needed from Mark Barnes.

I typed that this profession is hard...well, life itself is hard and so I need to admit that, accept it and keep at it. I am a great teacher who questions. And those questions will lead to 10 more great days in WW in 2104.