Thursday, December 30, 2010

What's Your Word?

One thing I've always enjoyed, since I'm a bit unique, is sitting back and thinking about conversations after they're finished and wondering how we got from where we started to where we ended. Especially in those great, hours long conversations with good friends, the path is windy and twisted and the stops along the path are wide-reaching. Life is often the same way - windy, twisted, and creating unique connections between things you enjoy that you didn't think always fit together. Today a group that I'm part of through school pointed me to the blog of a scrapbooker / photography professional, and it caused me to answer this question:

What's my word?

You can check out Ali Edwards's blog here, and the specific post for One Little Word way back here. This is what got me thinking about my answer to that question.

This blog has mainly focused on school stuff, but I called it Teach 'N' Life for a reason. As much as we try it's pretty impossible for teachers (and kids) to leave life at the door when we get to school, and the opposite is the same when we go home. Teaching and life just go together, even when we have off all summer long. Life wise and school wise 2010 was a challenging year for me. To be honest, challenging is not quite the word I want to use, but I'm going to keep it clean because I still don't know how many people are actually reading this little blog. It was a tough year. Even though I'm more of the opinion that if something is worth doing it shouldn't be put off until you start a resolution on January 1st I like the idea of a fresh start on Saturday.

So, what is my word? My word for 2011 is OPPORTUNITY.

I picked opportunity because it can be presented to me or I can make it for myself. Opportunities can be positive or challenging, but you can always grow and learn from them. I already know that there will be many positive opportunities this coming year, and unfortunately I already know that I am going to be facing some challenging opportunities as well. No matter what, though, we are given each opportunity and need to use them all to become the people we were meant to be.

I will also be able to give others (my family, my friends, my coworkers and my students) a variety of opportunities. I'm hoping those I present are the positive kind, but I won't lie; I know I can be challenging so hopefully those around me are willing to take on the opportunities that come with me and learn and grow throughout the year.

So goodbye, 2010. While a few good things happened, I can't say you'll be one of my favorites. Hello, 2011. I am really looking forward to all of the opportunities that await me.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Animal School

I've seen this video many times, and I have yet to watch it that it didn't bring a tear to my eye. What are we doing to kids? What can I do differently so my classroom recognizes my students' uniqueness and gifts? What can YOU do for all kids?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Real Life Experiences

I often spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make the assignments my kids must do meaningful for them. If they have to write to a writing prompt, how can I make that prompt something that they will actually care about because we all know we write best when we're writing about an important topic.

We're currently working on our persuasive writing skills. To try and make that a little more meaningful, I told my class the principal wasn't sure if we could have a holiday party. It was their job to convince him we should or to explain why they agreed with his point of view. My kids latched on to this and did well with the assignment, but Friday afternoon they one-upped me big time.

Our dismissal time takes about 10 - 15 minutes, and I enjoy the last few minutes I have with the students who ride the last bus. As we were waiting for their bus to be called, I noticed that one student was chewing gum. He didn't try to hide it, and when asked he told me it was, "An amazing key lime flavor," and he just couldn't wait to get home to have some. As I opened my mouth to go through the "you know you can't chew gum in school" speech, I realized how ridiculous it sounded. We GIVE kids gum during PSSAs (our state tests for my dear readers outside of Pennsylvania) to help them concentrate, but it's forbidden during the rest of the year. Hmmmmmm.....

Well, the kids picked up on it faster than I did, and TAAAA-DAAAAAAHHHHH, a natural learning opportunity was born. Their persuasive skills immediately kicked in and, being the rule-breaker that I am, I was inclined to agree with their points: we get it during PSSAs, we can be responsible, we shouldn't all be punished because one person can't be responsible. All very valid points. But I decided to push them further. "I like your ideas," I said, "but you'll need to talk to Mr. S." If it was really important to them I thought they would stop by the office Monday morning and make an appointment to see the principal.

Clearly I underestimated my kids. By 6PM Friday evening I received notification of a new blog post from one of my last bussers. She had already addressed Mr. S. in a blog post entitled, "Bubble Gum." Now I haven't posted it yet (but I will add the link here as soon as I do!) because I want her to collaborate with her friends and make sure she has included all of the ideas they shared, but I am so proud and impressed that she went home and put her skills to use to solve a real-life problem. They may not realize it, but these kids are really starting to understand what I mean when I say there is more to life than filling in bubbles on a test!

I can't wait to see what Mr. S. has to say about all of this!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Check Out Some Videos

Click here to visit the student's favorite poems that I talked about in my "Add Technology..." post. You'll need to click on each student's name to find their posts.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Are We Meeting Students' Needs?

I'd like to think I am, but every time I see a video like this it makes me wonder if I'm doing enough. Special thanks to @NMHS_Principal for tweeting this out.

Add Technology and Presto!

During the days leading up to and following Thanksgiving break my class spent some time looking at poetry. We talked about the tools poets use and became poets ourselves as I mentioned in our last post. Each day I offered the kids a chance to share their favorite poems that they've been reading with the class, and for our final day of poetry I kicked it up a notch. We (some of my student recorders and I) video taped the kids (using Flip cameras I received via grant) reading their poems so they can share them with everybody in the world!

At first some of the kids were not too thrilled about this, but the same small group that has been sharing the last two weeks hopped right up into the blue chair and started reading their poems. All of a sudden, a miracle happened. The sharing list... it started to grow, and grow, and grow! Mr. B, who I introduced here, assured me that I wouldn't have to worry, HE was not going to be sharing a poem to put up on the Internet. I told him that was fine; everybody had the choice whether to be recorded or not.

I looked at the list again. The growing continued, and now pairs and trios had been added. Of course we weren't able to get everybody's sharing videotaped Friday afternoon, but I assured the kids that if they wanted on the blog or the website, they would be on blog or the website. I'll be spending a lot of time uploading videos this weekend, but it'll totally be worth it when they see their sharing!

The kids left, and as I was cleaning up I looked up at the list one last time, happily thinking about how technology had encouraged my kids to find poems they enjoyed, practice reading them with love and expression and share them with others. As I scanned down the list, my eyes landed on the last entry - a trio. Mr. B and his two friends. :)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Writing Excitement!

It has been a busy time in the Bair's Den since parent teacher conferences. To up the ante and hopefully get the kids as excited about writing as they are about reading, I introduced our class blog.

http://kidblog.org/TheBairsDen

My kids, well, if you go and read some of their posts you'll see that they were excited and nervous about posting for the word to read and comment. But as you'll also see, they took to this challenge with gusto and have not looked back. It's so exciting to see sad, pouty faces when I have to tell them that it's time to put the computers away to head to lunch or special.

The best thing about the blog came from Mr. B, my resident jock / cool guy. After our first session on the blog we were headed back to the classroom. Mr. B looked at me and said, "I never thought I would like writing this much!" And you should have seen their faces when they got their first posts from a very special class in Nevada. (Thanks, Mr. Crosby!)

They have fallen into my trap -- they are loving reading and writing!!!


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Parent Teacher Conferences

Parent teacher conferences require a lot of preparation and energy. For many teachers they are also extremely scary and nerve-wracking. I think I'm in the minority of a lot of teachers when I say that, while they do require a lot of prep time, conferences do not bother me. I look forward to the opportunity to sit down with parents and see if what I'm seeing from their child in school matches the kid they know at home.

This year I have 22 students, and one of my teaching friends asked me, "So, which conferences are you dreading?" I honestly said none because there truly were no children whose parents I was not looking forward to meeting. All of my kids who are below level have made some growth, and I have some pretty amazing kids who are surviving and doing pretty impressive school work despite some pretty awful situations. In the end I had 21 excellent conferences (one will happen Monday because of a vacation), and here are some of the highlights:

- 8 parents asking me what I did to their child because he / she NEVER wanted to read and now he / she is reading ALL the time! (This was the best, best, best comment of them all, and every time I heard it I practically squealed!)

- several parents saying, "Oh my yes, that is my kid!" when I described my picture of their child and how he or she learns and works best

- One set of parents asking me who I was talking about because they have never had a positive conference about their child before. Seriously?? I had heard the rumors, but their child earned every word of praise I shared with them.

- 7 moms crying (all good tears)

- 4 sets of parents telling me that their kids come home every day to show them our websites so they can see what we've been doing

- several parents telling me that their child can't wait to come to school and says it is fun

- being able to show so many parents a ton of growth, even if their children haven't quite met the benchmarks yet

- all parents being really excited to hear that the kids will start blogging this week

Since we don't have formal conferences again during the school year, I can add my 13th round of conferences to the old teaching belt. They never get easier, but this year's seemed to be a lot more rewarding. Hopefully that trend will continue.



Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Taking the Good with the Bad

Even though it worked last week, I was really scared again this week. No need; once again I found that even though I am not focusing on the core reading story, the work that I'm doing with the skills and strategies is carrying over to the assessment. This week I had only 3 students who did not meet the proficient level which is 2 better than last week. Hopefully we will continue to see this amazing growth. It's especially exciting to see my kids who have always struggled and not reached that proficient level in the past recognize that they are being successful applying their skills. I'm so proud of them and happy for them!

So that's the good news. What's the bad?

The bad news is that, "We need to move on." Even though I'm not finished teaching all of the skills in this particular unit, even though I took the time to make sure my kids really GOT IT this year, even though we haven't quite mastered all the skills in this unit, if we don't move on right now we will never finish all of the skills we need to finish before the state tests in the middle of March. Who in the WORLD gives end of year benchmark tests in March???

This is one of those frustrating times when I feel so powerless. My kids are doing really well, and if they had just a little bit more time they would be ready. But they aren't right now, and there is nothing I can do about it. Give the assessment... get the grades... move on to the next chapter... gotta get ready for the tests. I want my Leos (as in Leo the Late Bloomers for those of you who aren't up on your picture books) to have the chance to bloom when they are ready, and it hurts when I can't give them that opportunity.

I've got to figure out a way to make this work for my kiddos within the constraints of our schedule. The question is how?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It Worked!!

I had no reason to be scared or worried! My kids did so well on their selection tests. There are three factors that played into this, I think:

1. My kids are reading a lot more than ever before
2. The teaching strategies that I used were very different
3. We listened to the story right before taking the selection test.

I polled the kids today, and they all said that they felt that there were things about all three that helped them improve this week. I'm going to continue working on these three things to see if my kids' scores continue to improve.

So exciting!! :)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Scary, in A Good Way

Yesterday as I passed out our required reading test we take after finishing instruction on each skill and strategy I got very nervous. For the first time ever I was really scared about how my kids would do.

I'm teaching very differently than I have in the past. In previous years we focused specifically on that one story and the skills specifically related to that story. We did the worksheets provided by the book, and sadly - I was totally teaching to the test. I wasn't teaching my kids to be better readers. I was teaching my kids to be successful test takers, and that needs to change.

Our strategy this week was evaluating, and our skill was understanding fact and opinion. Okay, first of all they picked a really stupid story for evaluating: it's boring, the kids (especially the boys) can't connect to it, and it doesn't inspire any thinking. That's not just my opinion - those are things the kids have expressed during the last two years. So we talked about evaluating a story (which in and of itself is such a contrived skill) and when we might use it. But then I put evaluating into a context every kid can understand: picking something for your Christmas list (yes, all my kids celebrate Christmas). We talked about how you can use both data and your own ideas (facts and opinions) to evaluate something and discussed the questions that you might ask yourself when you're evaluating. It was an awesome discussion, and the kids were able to share other places and times where they or their parents might evaluate things in their real life. Somebody even chimed in with, "OH!!! Then you can use this stuff to persuade your parents to get it for you!" GOOSEBUMPS!

The fun part came in an extra part that I added to the assessment. Once they finished the selection test, each student had to visit our class wiki and check out the evaluation page. There were two links to click on, and the scenario that I set was that I had money to buy something for our classroom but I could only buy one thing. The links went to a Wii and an iPad. After looking at the links the students needs to create a new post in the discussion about which I should buy for our class. I reminded them of the list of questions we generated and added the stipulation that they needed to include at least one fact and two opinions in their evaluation. The kids were so excited to do this, and I've been really impressed with the responses I've read so far.

Even with all the positives that I've observed and read I'm still scared. I feel very strongly that what I'm doing is going to prepare my kids for the their futures. But will that transfer to "the test"? There's a pile of papers in my backpack that will answer that question. Right now, I'm just too afraid to look.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Frustrated

We had an inservice day today. I don't dread them as much as I used to mainly because I have some say in what happens on those days. This morning was fantastic. There were new people working on my committee, and these individuals were more open to looking at alternate types of assessments rather than just making kids do paper / pencil tests. I left feeling really excited and pumped up about what we had accomplished throughout the morning.

My district is opening a new building next year. No small feat by any means, but this one is especially challenging because we are creating a new faculty out of people from 6 different buildings. Since August we have been working together to build a healthy culture for the building, and I have always felt very positive leaving those days. That all changed today. At the risk of venting, here are the things that are weighing on my mind and made today, in my opinion, seem more negative:

1. Teachers who complain that they don't have a voice but then complain that they just want somebody to tell them what to do.
2. Teachers who say that it's all about the kids but then talk about teaching configurations that will make less work for the adults.
3. Teachers who are just plain rude. If our students acted the way we acted today the same teachers who were talking would probably be the loudest ones flipping out.
4. Teachers who don't understand that building a good culture has to happen before we can decide upon schedules and teaching assignments.

Those were just my observations from the whole group, which were hard enough for me to work through on their own, but then I heard a side comment about me that really hurt. I've been really excited about what I'm doing this year. I thought I was just being a good colleague and sharing the things that are working well for me and the different activities I've found. Unfortunately the feeling among some is that I am a know-it-all who gets picked to do everything for one reason or another. That hurts. Really, really, really hurts.

I'm a teacher, a people pleaser. So any time somebody says something negative about me it bothers me. But this bothers me even more because I have specifically been trying NOT to be overenthusiastic to the point where I was pushy or being a know-it-all. I need to look back over my actions now and think: is this really something I've been doing, or is there another reason my coworkers feel this way.

While the day started out great, it did not at all end the way I thought it would. Time to reflect upon what I can do to positively impact the group without coming off in a pushy or all-knowing manner.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Interesting Confirmation and An Audience

We spent the day at my parents' house today, and I had a really serious, heated, LONG conversation about education with my parents. One of the things I've struggled with as I've jumped into my PLP work and started developing my virtual PLN is that I'm part of the choir, and I'm following the choir. How do we spread the word to others who aren't in education. Who better to start with than my parents, right?

My dad, who is a school bus driver now that he retired from his other job, confirmed something that I have been saying for a while now. People in this area don't want schools to change because kids will never be able to survive if they don't know how to do the things that we know how to do. My dad wants me to teach the basics first, and then once the kids get the basics I should move on to the harder stuff. He said something along the lines of, "Make them understand what they are doing, and then you can use all the technology you want. I don't want a bunch of stupid kids running around who can't do their jobs because their calculators and computers don't work!" News flash, Dad. They probably won't be able to do their jobs no matter how much they know because all of their jobs will be technology based.

We talked about many different aspects of education. My dad often focuses on kids being "bad" or acting like "jerks" so I think it was different for him to hear that there are reasons why these kids do bad or jerky things. I also tried to help him understand that the positives he is providing will not instantly undo the mess parents have created the last 10 years, but he's doing something. I could tell that there were several points with which we did not find common ground, but he and my mom were listening. That is what's important - somebody not in education was listening to me, seeing things from my point of view, and starting to consider education differently than they had before we talked.

This is what "the choir" needs to do. Whether we are teachers, administrators or parents, those of us in education who believe in change need to start talking. We need to find audiences, sit down and talk about what our kids need to succeed. This is the only way we are going to combat those who are "Waiting for Superman" and those who have nothing nice to say about teachers and public education.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Low Expectations?

I spent three years as an elementary technology teacher before returning to the classroom, first as a third grade teacher and now in fifth grade. The thing I appreciate most about the extra time as a "special" teacher is that I was really able to think about how I could use technology in the classroom, and since I've been back I really have tried to use technology often in the classroom.

I probably approach my tech integration like a lot of teachers do: teacher using the projector to show films and kids creating "final copies" in a word processor. Over the course of the last 3 years I've really tried to expand my horizons. I still show my Brain Pops and my videos from United Streaming, but here's a list of some of the other things I'm trying to do:

1. student research & collaboration in Google docs
2. movie editing
3. interactive simulations
4. podcasts
5. posting and commenting on our class wiki
6. video recording with iPhoto

These are all great things that the kids really enjoy, but the kicker about my list is that these are things I'm trying to do. Why trying, you ask? Because in the four years since I've been back in the classroom I have never had a spin with the laptops or in the lab where all of my students have been able to sit at a computer, log in and get right to work. There have always been log-in and connectivity issues. I don't blame my "tech guys" - they are 4 or 5 people trying to do a job that should be done by at least double the amount of people. I just assumed that this was the way things were going to be. Having problems is just part of using technology.

Until the other day, after another email about problems, I got an email back. The email ended with this sentence:

"Let me know if you continue to have trouble with things not working the way they should."

And that made me think (and respond with), "Can you tell me how exactly SHOULD things work because I don't know." I suppose I've always just had low expectations and assumed problems were part of life for a teacher trying to integrate technology. Maybe I was wrong about that. I haven't gotten a response to my reply yet, but it'll be interesting to see what the answer is.

How SHOULD technology work in school? Are problems always going to be a way of life?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Jumping In

Working with the Daily 5 has really got my paradigm shifted about how I teach communication arts. Having done away with worksheets, I have a lot more time to actually read with my kids and do some real world reading and writing. This is where the technology is starting to come in.

Since I came back to the classroom 4 years ago from being a technology teacher, my goal has been to use more technology as an instructional tool, as a tool for my kids, and as a communication tool. My first step beyond showing some BrainPop videos was to set up my classroom website. It is a tool where parents can find homework assignments and important information about what's going on in our class. My kids' also had their own pages linked to our class page, but during my first year I really didn't get a whole lot posted to those pages.

During my second year back I was able to manage keeping up with the parent information piece, and I was also able to post more of the kids' work on their website. These posts included typed pieces, podcasts and filmed readers' theaters, but it was kind of a pain. I use iWeb to create my classroom website, and since my computer is the host I have to do all the uploading of the kids' projects. Another big project my teammate and I attempted were movie projects using a combination of PhotoBooth, PowerPoint and the kids' written scripts. After writing and creating travel commercials for the planets, we posted the movies to our websites and linked up a Google spreadsheet so visitors could vote for their favorites. The kids were so excited to see who the winning team was, and I was thrilled with the fact that we had almost 100 votes for my class. Even with the extra time it took to do all the uploading and the loss of some pieces with the transfer from one computer to another, the parents loved being able to see the different projects. The website was becoming an important part of my communication, and the kids were beginning to see that there was a purpose to their work.

My third year continued along the same lines as the second year. I was still posting projects, but the projects were becoming more involved. I received 6 Flip cameras as part of a grant so the students were creating more videos. We completed a huge collaborative project for our Colonial America unit. Students had to complete a written project and a technology project that would answer at least one of the key questions for our unit of study. I was extremely pleased with how well the kids did, and I learned some valuable lessons (it started as an ABC project for the group and ended up on a much smaller scale due to time constraints) for this year. The kids used both the docs and presentation apps in Google, made movies, worked with Blabberize, and recorded podcasts for their tech projects. I was extremely pleased with how this and my other tech projects went last year, and I was looking forward to seeing what my next step would be.

The next step has ended up being the class Wiki, and I'm finally getting back to the opening of this discussion: a connection to the Daily 5 and jumping into real world reading and writing with both feet and no swimmies. The premise is that students learn to read and write by reading and writing, not by completing worksheets. Over the past week, my students have stopped bringing pencils to their reading groups. Some of them didn't even meet with their entire reading group; instead they met in smaller research and discussion groups. They spent time posting predictions and responses to our stories on the class Wiki, and then they had the opportunity to respond to their friends and ask questions. Have you ever had the opportunity to look around at a group of 22 5th graders and hear them say, "Hey, you have to check out Susie's post. It's really good!" Granted, some of the kids are still simply posting, "I like your response," or, "Those were good ideas!" But they are reading, they are writing, and they are thinking! And that is so exciting to me.

I'm thankful that I've had the opportunity, through PLP, to start learning how to use more tools and how to use more tools with my students. I know there will be some bumps in the road and it won't be easy, but I'm really excited to see how integrating technology will improve my students' reading and writing skills.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Finding the Balance

Just a few weeks in and I've already seen a lull in the action of my blogging, but it's because of a very interesting turn of events. For the first time in a long time, I feel really good about being a teacher. Even with all of the crap floating around about education, what is happening for me in my classroom and my district is pretty amazing. I have learned more about being a better teacher for my kids in the last 4 weeks than I have in the last 12 years. But this has come at a price.

When teaching is hard and things aren't going well, it's very easy to leave school at the door and focus on your personal life. But when things are going like they have been for me, it's almost like a drug. I couldn't stop. I would come home, work on school work, check in with my Twitter friends, comment on blog posts, and work on things for my classroom the next day. I was neglecting everything around me that wasn't teacher or school related.

I knew this was happening, but I sort of just pushed it to the back burner with a, "Oh, things are going so well. Once I get into the swing of things I'll be able to slow down a little bit and find a balance." Then this past Thursday happened. Two friends who live far away emailed me and said, "I haven't heard from you in so long. Have I done something to upset you?" I have done such a poor job keeping in touch with them that they actually were worried that they had done something to upset me. Talk about a slap in the face. And as I looked around the house I saw the mess that surrounded me, two doggies who were dying for some attention, and a husband who was in the same boat (although he would never say anything because it's just not his style).

I called this blog Teach 'N' Life because I know that in order to be a good teacher I need to take care of myself in every part of my life. I need to be healthy, I need to have fun, I need to exercise, I need to be a good wife, mommy to the puppies and friend. There is a very fine line between being a quality teacher and going out of control.

It's good to be excited, but as of October 1 I'm finding that balance. Time for school and all of the amazing things that are happening there, and time for home with the wonderful people and animals I love. A balance of those two is how I will be able to be the best teacher and learner with my kids.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Just Because You Went to School Doesn't Make You an Education Expert

I didn't plan on using this blog to rant, but you need to just give me one moment tonight to get this off my chest.

All of a sudden (six weeks before elections??) discussions about education are popping up everywhere. Movies purporting to explain all the ills of education are going to be screened across the United States. It's the teachers' faults. Damn teachers. They already get paid too much. If they got paid to do their jobs based on what they accomplish (read teachers get paid based on students' test scores), like people in the business sector, we wouldn't have these problems in education. Look at China. They know how to do it there, and we're falling behind!

This. Makes. Me. Sick.

I wish all of these people on all of these panels, state and national boards of education, television panels and charity boards could spend one week in school with me. Go ahead, pay me based on merit. But here's the catch... I want to get the same quality materials people in the business sector have. I'm fairly certain that people who build Fords, Harleys and Apple computers only used the highest quality parts. Defective parts? Simply throw them away. I'm fairly certain that the programs that didn't meet Microsoft's high standards never made it to production. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that the Super Walmart does not sell food that is out of date, rotten fruit or rancid meat. Even China - guess who goes to school in China? Only the highest kids who will actually succeed.

What's my point?

I teach what I get. I get kids whose step-moms and step-dads tell them they hate them. I get kids who aren't sure where their parents are. I get kids who come to school with their once-a-week showers and clothing that isn't washed because they don't have hot water. I get the kids being raised by their grandparents because their parents are drug addicts or just don't care. I have kids who are bright kids, but for whatever reason a learning disability keeps them from performing to their actual ability. I have kids who don't have a house, barely have a house, don't have food, barely have food, wonder if there is food, aren't sure where they are living, who actually have more of an education than there parents, and... and.... and...... I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Businesses get and use only the best materials to make their products; many of my materials are damaged goods, and it's those damaged ones that I love the most. Because who else will? In addition to meeting the rigorous state standards and trying to help my school achieve AYP, I make sure their lunch is covered and make sure they know that somebody cares about them.

Seeing these people talk about education like they know what our kids are going through makes me sick and listening to all of the things my kids have to see, hear and live through makes me cry.

So all of you experts, please, come spend a week or two with me. Better yet, go home and live the lives of some of my kids. Then we'll see what kind of "experts" you are.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Daily 5 ~ My Style

As I mentioned in my last post, it seemed as though fate made me read the book The Daily 5. We have been given the opportunity to "take back" our kids and use guided reading groups so I was trying to figure out what guided reading was going to look like in my intermediate classroom. I have seen guided reading groups done by the Primary Friends (yep, they're allllllll primary teachers, with the exception of one brave soul I encouraged to defect and join me in the intermediate ranks!) and have always wanted to make it happen, but I just wasn't sure how.

My natural instinct was to look for centers. Honestly, though, the thought of having to create centers and then check all that busy work was not appealing to me. It was during these searches that I kept bumping into the Daily 5 and why I decided to get the book. Thank you, Universe, for sending me the message. It makes complete and total sense to limit my whole group instruction time, but I just wasn't sure how to do it. I knew that working in guided reading groups on my students' level was what to do, but what about all the "non-negotiables" I had to teach? At some point I realized that just because the lessons are non-negotiable doesn't mean the same thing for the worksheets. To be quite blunt, the practice pages that go along with our anthology lessons suck. Most of them don't even reinforce the skill I'm supposed to be teaching. So the banishment of the worksheets has begun. I sorta asked permission... if necessary I will beg for forgiveness later.

No more worksheets,
Lots of books!
No more teacher's dirty looks!!

Technically I'm not going to be doing the Daily 5. I'm going to pretty much be doing the Daily 3, maybe the Daily 4 one day if I'm lucky. No matter the numbers the premise is the same. When my kids are not working with me in a guided reading or skill group, they are going to be reading, writing and working with words. The kids are going to be involved in setting their personal goals, and their parents (whether they like it or not) are going to have some assignments to work on at home to help my 13 below level readers meet their grade level benchmarks. There will be no worksheets and no busy work just real reading and writing.

My days will generally look like this:

1. Grammar Lesson
2. Daily 5 block - this is where I'll be meeting with Tier 2 kids from our team and my aide will be working with my solid on level or advanced readers
3. Reading Skill or Strategy Lesson
4. Daily 5 block - I'll meet with one of my two groups of below level readers and either check in with my on level or advanced readers or have individual conferences
5. Writing / Phonics / Structural Analysis Lesson
6. Daily 5 block - I'll meet with my other below level group and then have individual writing conferences with students
Fridays will be my day for progress monitoring and goal setting with the kids.

That's how my vision boils down on paper. This week we'll see, sorta, how it works. I'll be spending most of my time doing my individual goal setting conferences, and then next week I'll really be working more with the guided reading groups. Once I have this tweaked I'll need to start thinking about how technology and collaboration fits into this plan. But let's just take one step at a time...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My Brain Might Explode

I have so many things I want to talk about here, and I'm not even sure where to start.

Last year was a tough year. I switched grade levels, a few kids managed to spoil the mix, and it just wasn't my best year. Sure I used more technology and tried some new things, but because of this, that and the other thing, I really didn't feel like I did right by all of my kids. I was determined to do just that after a relaxing respite this summer. Unfortunately my relaxing respite turned into a hands-on nursing experience that started the Saturday morning after the kids finished and ended the Friday morning before I started school on the 30th.

Even though I didn't get the summer vacation I was expecting, I did have a lot of free time to think about how I wanted to change things this year. It took a while to come up with some answers and a little "loosening of the noose" from my district, but with that and the Daily 5 I am very excited about the beginning of this year. All teachers seem to have the beginning of the year jitters / happiness / excitement, but we're three weeks in and I'm STILL feeling that way. In the next few days I'll talk more about what I've done to make things work so well. Next week will be the real test so I'm excited to reflect on that, too.

In addition to switching things up in the classroom, my two faculties (one this year, one next year) participated in three amazing team building days. Just being part of these three days motivated me for the year and reinforced my belief in how important a positive attitude can be. My goal for the year is to do everything in a manner that helps my team. Not shooting for easy here, I'm looking forward to pushing back at some people and having some hard conversations, and I'm also looking forward to pushing myself to do more for my kids in the classroom.

The final piece that has my brain ready to explode tonight is my day today. I had the opportunity to meet and work with the amazing Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson and a fantastic group of educators during the first day of my PLP cohort. Just like the team building energized me because it's what I believe is right by my kids, today was extremely energizing because it's what I KNOW is right by my kids. I wonder how this will go over in my area.... very conservative, very old fashioned, very "But school worked for me. If it worked for me, then it'll work for my kids." It's so bad I even had to specifically touch upon the fact that my students will not be bringing home as many worksheets each week tonight at Parent Night. But what we talked about today - being connected, using the web, teaching KIDS not facts - these are the things that I believe in, and these are the things that our kids desperately need.

My blog is Teach 'n' Life because I am a teacher, but I need to take care of myself and do what's right by me and have a life outside of school. So the beginning of the year, balancing all of these new practices in my classroom, community building, taking on a new perspective, and being good to myself: these are all the things that have my brain ready to explode. But it's not a bad explosion; I'm excited, and I'm invigorated, and I'm ready to see where this journey takes me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Here We Go

Since I had a lot of time this summer I started to read a lot of teacher blogs, and lots of things kept running through my head"
- Why don't I do this? I have lots of good ideas.
- People might be able to learn something from me.
- Wow! That's an awesome idea.
- Oh myyyyy, I'm glad it's not just my school / class / coworkers / administration.

So here I am. I'm going to share things about school and about life because it's often pretty hard to separate the two. But hopefully somewhere in the mix somebody might read something and say, "Hey! That's a really great idea! I need to try that." It won't be tonight. I still have 8 more activities to finish before my inservice tomorrow, and it's already 11:30 PM. I need to get my rear in gear.

Clearly that's lesson #1 - I'm a horrible procrastinator and do my best work under pressure.
:)