I suppose the fact that I have thought, "Oh my gosh, I need to write about that on my blog!" about 15 times today means I'm a real blogger. So I will apologize in advance for these rambling thoughts, but I just have to get at least some of what is dancing around in my head out here.
Being part of the PLP team for my district has really made me think at length about the way I do things every single day. I think, for me, the biggest impact has come in terms of changing my thinking from, "What am I teaching today?" to, "Why am I teaching today?" There's no area where this thought process has been bigger than in my communication arts instruction. I was so very tired of teaching must-teach lessons from the manual, teaching to tests, and wasting my kids' time on meaningless worksheets, but I didn't know what to do and I was afraid to do anything different. "What if my kids don't pass the test?"
You know what, I don't care if my kids don't pass the test. Okay... I lie... I do care. Education had driven numbers so far down these kids' throats that it doesn't matter how much amazing progress they make (like going from reading 67 WPM at the beginning of the school year to 99 WPM with 99% accuracy now) they only know that they didn't make the goal and feel they are not good enough. So I DO care. I do not want to add to my kids' feelings of inadequacy. But I cannot spend one more day on lessons that have NO relevance to my kids' lives and make them hate reading.
Our current reading theme includes stories about the Revolutionary War so I selected 4 trade books focusing on the same theme, and I allowed the kids to pick which books they wanted to read. It made for some interesting groups. One group of 4, two groups of 2, and one group of 14, mixed abilities in most. Certainly not easier, but allowing the kids some choice is worth it. I sat down, read each book and created one question for each section to guide our discussion. The kids in each group are also responsible for developing questions to guide our discussions.
My AH-HA moment came while I was meeting with my two girls who selected the book Hope's Crossing. Their guiding question for the first three chapters was, "Is everything in war fair? Explain your point of view." Almost immediately the girls said no, but Miss A shared, "You know, this made me think of something my dad says. He always says 'It may not be equal, but it's fair,' and I never understand what he means." From that connection, Miss J grabbed a dictionary to look up the definitions of the words. Miss A said, "I've always thought those words were synonyms." I asked if she had ever checked, and with that she was off to grab a thesaurus. We talked about the definitions, how they were different, and some wonderful examples of things that were fair but not equal. We came back to the original question and wrapped up talking about how doing thing equally (an eye for an eye) was much different than being fair.
Not only did these girls have a wonderful discussion with me, but they took the liberty to do something completely different than the assignment I had given them. They went ahead and created a slideshow and were using each of the different reading skills and strategies we've learned to make a slideshow about their book to put on our website. Here's where I bring my rambling back around. I know in the past I would have said:
"Girls, that's really neat, but you didn't really do what I asked you to do so how about you finish your assignments and then you can work on that if there's extra time."
Because of what I have learned and how I am thinking differently, what I said was:
"This is awesome! Miss J, I am really impressed with how you identified the cause and effect relationships on your slide. You know what girls? You're showing me that you are using your reading and writing skills in a creative way so as long as you're prepared to discuss your guiding question, you go ahead and work through this book how you'd like. I can't wait to see what you do."
While the other groups didn't get quite as far into their books as these two did, several kids reflected upon the fact that they were not interested in reading a historical fiction book, but now it seems like the books are really cool and exciting. They can't wait to find out what's going to happen next.
And I can't either. I am so excited to see what Miss A and Miss J create, I'm excited to see what the other kids are reading and how they respond to each other on our wiki, and more importantly I can't wait to have our next book discussions. I'm not waiting for our next guided reading groups, I'm not waiting to see their next test score. I'm waiting to talk with my kids and read with them and see what they can teach me.