Thursday, February 19, 2015

Love That Boy

Like many other people, I became familiar with this poem because of the book Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. It's a popular fourth grade read. I recently came across it again in another cool book someone sent me called Brown Angels, a neat collection of Walter Dean Myers' poetry paired with turn of the century photographs of black children.



This poem especially speaks to me now because on February 2nd I gave birth to Allen Royce, my own little brown angel, and gosh how do I love that boy!!

 

Love That Boy by Walter Dean Myers

Love that boy,
like a rabbit loves to run
I said I love that boy
like a rabbit loves to run
Love to call him in the morning
love to call him
"Hey there, son!"

He walk like his Grandpa,
Grins like his Uncle Ben.
I said he walk like his Grandpa,
And grins like his Uncle Ben.
Grins when he’s happy,
When he sad, he grins again.

His mama like to hold him,
Like to feed him cherry pie.
I said his mama like to hold him.
Like to feed him that cherry pie.
She can have him now,
I’ll get him by and by

He got long roads to walk down
Before the setting sun.
I said he got a long, long road to walk down
Before the setting sun.
He’ll be a long stride walker,
And a good man before he done.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

On Mastery

This Ted- Ed talk by Sarah Lewis (http://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_lewis_embrace_the_near_win/transcript?language=en) was tweeted out recently. There are some real gems that spoke to me at this point in my teaching career:

- mastery is knowing that it means nothing if you can't do it again and again. 

- mastery is not a commitment to a goal
 but to a constant pursuit.

- mastery is about sacrificing for your craft and not for the sake of crafting your career.

- we thrive when we stay at our own leading edge. 

- success motivates us, but a near win can propel us in an ongoing quest. 

I feel acutely right now the need to stay on "my leading edge". I've had a few near wins that are pushing me to seek that which truly hits the mark.  And having had some moments of actual success, I do know what it feels like to stand back from a lesson or experience and say, "Yes!"  But Ms. Lewis is right. That success was for but a moment. To have mastered something would mean I had accomplished more. 

Lately, I have been making some decisions that I hope are propelled by my interest in mastery and not just success.  I say they are. I think they are. But this talk reminded me to be really sure I am making certain moves for the right reasons. Mastery is a lofty and noble goal. It begs the question: to what end do I try and achieve mastery in any aspect of my teaching? It's certainly not the money or the fame.  I like the approval of my colleagues, but I don't dance for them.  I believe there is only one good answer: my students. I should strive for mastery because it will benefit my students. Simply because they deserve it. 


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Gooooooaaaallll!!!!!!

I used to play soccer when I was younger - AYSO style, all day at the town soccer field.  My dad was a ref.  My favorite part was buying candy from the snack bar.  I quit in 8th grade because some of the girls were a touch too competitive for my tastes and they kept yelling at me to run.  Which I wasn't good at and didn't want to do.  Our goals were not aligned and there was tension.  So I quit.  I've since decided team sports aren't really my thing anyways and I would have been better at something like tennis or swimming.  Oh well.  Now I have Zumba.

Luckily teaching is my thing and I do have goals that are deeply aligned with the needs of my students and my practice.  Here they are in no particular order.  I have included the ones from last year as well. Our principal has us do this at the beginning of each year.  As I prepare for maternity leave, we are supposed to check in.  I am pleased to say I have remained committed to these goals and to taking steps to improve in each and every one.  Feels like a big step up from that quitting 8th grader I used to be.

2014 - 2015

1)  Assessment:  In math, I want to implement a system of regular assessment to use in designing differentiated lessons.  I plan to use a “show what you know” model for pre and post assessment.  I did this some last year, but not regularly.  I will continue to select activities and problems that allow me to assess during instruction, but find a more systematic way to document the work done by students and to more regularly group and regroup students according to what they need.  

2) Differentiation:  This goal continues from last year, but will focus on math.  I found last year that most of our writing and social studies activities were open ended enough to allow a variety of students to be successful.  Our method of conferencing is improving and I was able to give better feedback, so I will continue working on that.  Using improved assessment I hope to provide a more individualized math experience.  Last year I found a way to discreetly provide students with activities at their level using math folders and I plan to start this earlier.    

3) Essential Questions:  Last year I began a project to determine the essential questions available in each of our units of study.  I am continuing that work, fine tuning the questions, and this year I plan to explicitly present them to students and use them to guide our work.  We are now regularly asking students to reflect either in discussion groups or writing and I would like to use the essential questions during that process to better assess student learning throughout the projects.  


2013-2014

1) Developing a more comprehensive system of portfolio assessment for each child.   I would like to successfully implement student blogs as a logistical tool for doing this.  

2) Improving instructional and assignment differentiation across subjects to reach students at varying levels of remediation, practice, and extension.   This will involve more effectively utilizing the team teaching model and classroom space to organize lessons and activities.  I would also like to be more deliberate in determining which skills students are working on and keeping track of their progression. 


3) Offering more consistent and useful feedback to individual students.  I currently find this task overwhelming and do not have an organized system for giving meaningful commentary after an assignment is completed, beyond verbal compliments and questions.  Again, I am hoping compiling work via the blogs and being able to comment digitally will assist with this task. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Musing

Have I mentioned I’m pregnant?  I’ll be 30 weeks tomorrow.  10 weeks of baking this bun left.  Right now I am sitting in a noisy multi-purpose room watching the 2nd to last rehearsal of our class play, while 48 kids cut vegetables on the other side of a blockade of tables.  I can feel my baby moving around right now.  It’s a magical feeling - totally distracting when it occurs.  


This year our play is in November.  Last year our play was in March.  The ironic thing is I was pregnant during that play too, but not with this baby.  Had it worked out, I would have been due this week; instead our baby boy should arrive towards the end of January   Oh how the world keeps turning.  


I have one month of teaching left before winter break, and then another few weeks before an extended maternity leave.  I won’t return for the rest for the rest of the year thanks to a generous administration and a dream replacement.  


Last weekend, a fellow teacher and dad of two asked me what I will do for me during that leave.  He is the first to ask this question.  He is a very hands on father from what I can tell.  He knew about all of the mommy groups in our neighborhood, dished on the the best library story hours, and recommended some nearby playgrounds with good bathrooms. “What will you do for you?” he asked.  And truthfully, he hit a chord that has worried me.


It will be the darkest days of January when my baby is born.  Spring won’t show up until at least April, thanks to the return of the polar vortex.  I am from California and hate the cold so I assume we will be pretty housebound. (I am thankful I tricked my husband into staying in our walkable, shoppable neighborhood where there are lots of options for idly wandering the aisles, as long as the baby is quiet.)  I’d like to think of myself as an intellectual.  One who really likes reality TV too.  I’m not a crafty lady or a tinkerer.  I don’t knit or code or scrapbook or cook.   I don’t like team sports or group exercise situations where people remember your name.  I never really had many hobbies - I like to work.  To fill up time in the past, I’ve signed up for committees, coached cheer, found tutoring clients, and started this blog.  Even when I volunteer, it is usually to do more teaching. Maternity leave is about not working and paying attention to your baby.  All of my usual crutches and time sucks will be less accessible. Everyone says I won’t have the time or energy to do anything else except mother anyways.   Then again I hear some people go crazy if they delve too far into the infant mind, and you’ve got to have a mental place to come up for air.  


What will I do for me?  


I don’t know yet how this will all play out.  I require eight hours of sleep, which I am reluctantly accepting will not be possible anymore, so that is my first concern.   I also have learned one should turn the TV off while the baby is awake lest you forget to talk to it and deprive it of early verbal exposure and social interaction.  And I was going to upgrade to the good cable…


What will I do for me?  

I guess the real problem is that I don’t know who I will be after this baby is born.  I do know it will fundamentally change me.  Having a baby is a life changing event, and I am going to literally be a different version of myself once it occurs.  I don’t mind this process.  I’ve gone through it before - when I moved to New York, when I discovered I was a teacher, when I got married.   Each time I like who I am a little bit more even as I miss the various skins I have to shed in order to grow.  I have also learned that it is hard for an old self to make big plans for a new self.  The old self has little idea what the new self will want, so it’s best not to get too invested in big ideas about what the new self’s life will be like.   


So for the moment, like all good questions that don’t have answers, I am just glad someone thought to ask.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Return to Paper Blogging

I'm back! And ready to admit that I completely failed in my goal to use this blog to reflect on my teaching at least once a week.  The lesson learned?  Don't set such lofty goals.  

But let's not dwell on the past.  Success lies in the future and after a whirlwind spring, summer, and fall, the dregs of winter are setting in and I am once again motivated to share my work with the people.  The latest project is jump starting our class blogs.  Last year's experiment went really well - over 500 blogs posts!  Over 500 pieces of writing, artistic projects, personal experiences, and you tube videos about raining tacos shared.  I learned a lot (which I should probably write about in a separate post) and I am really excited to see what this class of students does with the opportunity.  Already they blew me away with our first step: Paper Blogging!

This year's students really took the paper blogging challenge on with gusto (click here for a post on last year's lesson).  First we watched a really great video from BrainPop on exactly what blogs are and discussed the purpose of a blog: to share ideas and connect with other people.  I explained that paper blogging would let us practice the three roles of blogging (writers, readers, and commenters) offline before we moved online to our KidBlogs.  Then students got to work writing their first blog posts on something that they loved.  

It was really fun learning more about my kids and the things in their lives that they like and love to do.  I think they enjoyed learning more about each other too - an added community building bonus!  They added an artistic design and submitted it for "publishing".  This year we "published" the paper blogs on lockers.  We used post-its for "comments" and everyone was encouraged to make sure they continued the conversation.  They actually are going back to read each other's comments, ask questions, answer questions and generally make their paper blogs a really vibrant place for discussion.   Some students took the opportunity to redesign their blogs or added updated posts - all really cool ideas that they will be be able to do with their online blogs.  The next steps are to transfer these skills online, get used to KidBlog as an app/website, and start sharing, documenting, and reflecting on our work! 


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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Exploring Buddhism

Our study of The Three Ways began with Buddhism.  This study is close to my heart as I connect philosophically to many Buddhist beliefs. It has been my favorite part of traveling in Asia. Many of the artists in our displays are items I brought back with me.



We also meditate daily with the help of these resources:




Thursday, April 17, 2014

Teaching Poetry

It really is my favorite writing unit. For me the key words are "freedom" and "choice".  We expose kids to lots of types of poetry, give them lots of inspiration, and challenge them to be thoughtfully experimental.  They explore the many tools in a poet's toolbox and put them to good use. 

Our big question is "Why is there poetry?"  What can the poet do that is different from other writers? What must the poet do that is similar to other writers? 

Our guiding questions are:

How can we use the form of verse to express thoughts in an imaginative way? 

How can we use language to communicate feelings and create images?

How can use figures of speech and symbols to extend the meaning of a poem?

Here is our poetry board with favorite poems alongside connected objects and illustrations. 






We also read Spinning Through the Universe by Helen Frost out loud and together. It's a brilliant book on so many levels. It seems to be out of print but it's worth searching for. We found a bunch of library copies. The ups and downs of a fiction class are told from a variety of perspectives using a wide range of poetic patterns and forms. My students become invested in the stories and fascinated by all of the secrets the poems beg them to discover. 


Not all of my students come in loving poetry, but I try to change their minds. Best of all is when the ones who love poetry write a verse just for them: