Categories: literacy, professional development, reflection
This is my first post in what I hope will be a series reflecting on my transition (and growth) from a fifth grade environment to first. Admittedly, it has been a very rocky start (though I don’t believe either the students or the parents are aware-thankfully). I do believe the students are learning; I KNOW I am. I have been wanting to write some of my thoughts down since day one, but wasn’t sure which one topic to focus on. Interestingly, I woke up this morning knowing exactly what has become my biggest problem: too much background knowledge.
Six years ago I was hired into my current school as a fifth grade teacher. I had no idea where to begin. I truly wish I could say that my experiences through the teacher training program ultimately prepared me for this event. To their credit though, I did learn how to do research…so that is what I did. Ironically, I learned of a book study of Debbie Miller’s book Reading with Meaning. Not a perfect fit for me as an intermediate teacher, but a great beginning. The biggest lesson learned was that students need both choices and ownership. Those two facts have guided many of the decisions I’ve made throughout my few years of experience.
My first year, we had a fairly loose Language Arts program. Making Meaning and literature circles were at the core, partnered with a district spelling list (words didn’t correlate with any specific content), Write Source writing program, and no evident independent reading or grammar requirements. In many ways, this was a great environment for me to grow. I had to find myself and my program through the many pieces. I feel I actually had an advantage walking into the district when I did. I had no expectations of a canned day-to-day program, so creating my own (highly influenced by others) both taught me a ton about what best practices really means and fostered a desire to keep learning. Learning by doing, isn’t that what we want of our students?
I quickly learned the district was thinking of heading a new way. The majority of the teachers in the district were frustrated by the lack of structure (upon reflection…I believe it was the lack of genuine professional development that led to most frustrations). I really liked what I was doing, and was correctly fearsome the district was going the basal route. So I instantly did what any overly-idealistic new teacher would do…I volunteered to be on the curriculum adoption committee (read with sarcasm ). That committee…what a committee…what an experience… My biggest lesson learned: though our philosophies may differ, reading is one topic we are all passionate about. I quietly listened, I really did not have the educational life experience as the rest of the committee. I heard what they were saying. I went home and I read. After consulting my experts, Laura Robb, Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman, Regie Routman, Fountas and Pinnell and Katie Wood Ray, I finally found my voice. Fortunately, I found my voice before it was time to choose materials and write the final draft of the curriculum document. Having these authors behind me empowered me; they offered me the research and the vocabulary to sound like I knew what I was talking about even though I had only two years of experience in the classroom.
We ultimately went with the Reading Street basal program, of which I am very satisfied. The hefty basal itself, is filled with familiar authors and wonderful artwork. But the selling point for me was The Guide on the Side: For the Adventurous Reading Teacher, a handbook composed of routines and pacing charts which align the guided reading teacher to the teacher across the hall using the basal only. When teaching fifth grade, this was the permission I needed for continuing what I was doing only with more purpose and structure. It was perfect!!!
But now, I am a first grade teacher. I am lost. All of my expert mentors are still in my head. I know what I want to do, but I feel like I’m all jumbled. With fifth grade I could take bits and pieces of everyone’s advice, blend it with my own creations and I felt confident my students were all moving forward. My data proved it. First grade, I am learning, needs a consistent structure and a predictable framework. Changing my mind on the drop of the dime doesn’t work, and a whole day can be lost when things plummet downward. My easy road would be the day to day basal structure, but the “adventurous teacher” in me tells me that is the wrong choice for us all. I have added The 2 Sisters to my ever-growing list of co-teachers, but as I move forward I am even more confused as to how to make it all “fit”. I know we will get there. I am already seeing huge progress, I just know I need to put more work in and set a course for this year. Please tell me I can figure this out before Thanksgiving (or Christmas)! Is it a bad thing to want an easy solution and not want THE easy solution?
You’ve heard it, I know you have. “I hate reading, it’s boring.” I used to get frustrated when my students said that. Now I take those words to be a challenge; a challenge to find “The Book”. I truly believe all self-defined non-readers have one. There is actually more than one “The Book” for every student, but it only takes one to set a person on the path toward becoming a lifelong reader.
I know I’m not the only one who believes there is a magic to reading and all kids should find it. Donalyn Miller authors an incredible blog called The Book Whisperer. In it, she offers strategies, tips, and resources to assist teachers in helping students develop a passion for text. When at a loss, I often stop by to see what she’s been thinking about and if her reflections can add more tools to my toolbox when working with students. I was a self-defined non-reader until college. I literally faked my way through all levels of school and my grades are proof of that. Looking back, I certainly know I was capable of achieving great things…my problem was the reading. Textbooks confused me, novels intimidated me, and I didn’t follow directions. My pace was (and still is) painfully slow. I skipped over chapters to catch up, and learned to listen closely to class discussions…in preparation of the rare event I would be called on. Teaching 5th grade, I believe it is a make or break time for students as the ability gap widens as students move upward; I feel it is my responsibility to get all students in my class to perceive themselves as capable readers. It is a big challenge, but one well worth the extra effort as both reading success and failure extends across the curriculum and paves future pathways.
A few tools in my toolbox:
- Get to know each student-Simple surveys help. Laura Candler’s Interest Inventory choices are a favorite. Though tailored toward reading, she really targets in on getting to know the whole child. This year I edited it into a Google form which turned into a great way to see trends for creating interest-based reading groups and partners.
- Offer choices-This is by far the most effective tool I’ve found. We start our Independent Reading Program on the first day in class (ask the librarian if you can sneak in to check out books even if it isn’t your day…I have yet to be told no). This gives me an idea of who knows how to choose an appropriate book for themselves. I can also get a feel for which students have no idea where to begin (they literally look lost in the library!). I’m fortunate to have built up a significant classroom library, so those kids unable to find a book in the school library skim and scan the shelves in my room with me. I’m there to ask questions, “Do you like fantasy?”, “How about sports stories?”, “Do you like reading about things in history?”, “Did you see the movie Bridge to Terabithia last summer?”. As the student is answering I’m creating a stack of books for them, about 5-8 titles. I ask the student to return to their desk to read the first page or two of each book until they find one that “fits”. Students LOVE having that stack on their desk. If I’m unsure of their ability, I can quickly have them read a sentence or paragraph from the books we’re collecting. All formative, all quick, all during the first few days of school.
- Let them revise their choices-I’ve stopped having students do required book reviews or projects during the first trimester. Many kids don’t find their niche with reading until they’ve tried out a few genres, authors, or levels. By removing the fear factor, I’ve had greater success with building students’ positive affect toward reading with those historically reluctant. Those that want to publish reviews, create projects, blog, or present a book talk about their books can do so at any time…it’s just not required until all students have had the time needed for equal success.
- Read Aloud-Have fun with read aloud. Be crazy when your character is crazy, be angry when your character is crazy, then stop and talk about why the author wrote the elements the way they did. Making the reading/writing connection with the class is essential. Read Aloud time is one time when readers at all ability levels are in alignment. All kids can infer, make text-to-world connections, and synthesize as a community. When done thoughtfully and strategically, read aloud can build confidence in the most reluctant reader because she can offer an equal voice to the conversation.
This is just a snapshot of how it works in my classroom. I’m constantly on the lookout for new tips and tools to better equip students with the skills and strategies necessary for reading success. Those skills and strategies are crucial. I have found though, that all the skills and strategies in the world won’t help much if the desire to read isn’t there. Creating the desire is purely individual, that’s the challenge. Do you have more tools for my toolbox?
Categories: collaboration, education, professional development, reflection
Tags: collaboration, DLN, edublog, education, meme, PLN, reflection
My e~friend Linda tagged me for this meme (first time I saw the term I had to look it up:). What a great idea it is too…often I go to my friends’ following lists in order to find more like-minded people in which to collaborate. Sifting through pages at Twitter.com can take a lot of time; I love that the mosaic images link to potential new connections.
The images below represent many people who have positively affected both me and my teaching. As mentioned in a previous post, my teaching has transformed…quickly. I currently have a difficult time reflecting on teaching practices prior to connecting with other educators on Twitter. What is sad, is only those utilizing the service know what I’m talking about. Mentioning it among face to face friends and colleagues, I’m met with faces of complete uncertainty (as far as I know~ only two of the people below are even from Montana). Perhaps that’s why, seeing the faces of my digital learning network stacked neatly in piles on the screen before me, I feel more networked then ever before. I have an amazing community of colleagues right in my hometown, but we are restricted by walls and time. My digital network is 24-7…my time, your time, our time. THAT is amazing.
Having been on Twitter for a few months now, I’ve gained both the confidence and the tools to start adding more and more people to my following list resulting in many more people following me (welcome, by the way!) My community is growing and changing every day…I’m in awe of that. That said, I’m thinking I will post a new mosaic occasionally in order to see the transformation and growth of my digital professional community (Wouldn’t it be nice if the location would show when you hover over the image?…I may have to suggest that to the developer) If you’re here reading this and see your image below, have I said thanks lately? Thanks! If you think this doesn’t apply to you because I haven’t had the opportunity to “talk” to you…please know, I AM both listening and learning from you too.
Now…I must tag some “tweeples” I realize we are all busy people…so don’t feel you NEED to do this; only if you have time. I tag @ktrefz (…so I just checked out your blog, um…love it!), @kellyhines, (In the short time I’ve followed you, I’ve gained so many resources), @e_shep (one of the most supportive twitterers I’ve met), @eduguy101, @mrsbrowndog (both because you were two of the first connections I made on twitter…so glad you’ve stuck with me.
*See rules below mosaic
Here are the rules:
1. Go to http://sxoop.com/twitter/ to create your mosaic (you can choose friends or followers).
2. Copy the code and paste it into a blog entry.
3. Reflect and comment on your mosaic.
4. Tag some “tweeples.”
5. Link back to this post or the post where you were first tagged.
Categories: collaboration, education, literacy, professional development, reflection
Tags: collaborative learning, PLN, professional development
In the last five months my teaching has transformed. I am tuned in to the world of education for the first time in my career. At times I have been overwhelmed by it all; only because I truly did not even know many of the tools I now use on a daily basis even existed. What is really amazing about all of this is I had thought I WAS a progressive minded educator. I used technology daily (though my definition of the words USED and TECHNOLOGY have both since changed). I talked about having an ipod and texting with my students (now we are utilizing both in the classroom). I had shown students great websites and allowed them time to explore them during computer lab (not to be revisited until the following week). I made PowerPoints and guided students in making their own. I had even provided families with a static informational website to which they could refer for book review ideas and spelling lists. I thought I was doing as much as I could.
Then I found Twitter.
In September, During an instructional coaching professional development opportunity, Jim Knight briefly mentioned that if you are trying something new in the classroom, and did not have quick access to someone else who had tried it…Twitter can be a powerful resource. He said it…I forgot about it.
I was fortunate to have an interactive whiteboard installed in my classroom this summer (2 days prior to school start-up); unfortunately, I had no idea how to use it. I watched the on-line tutorials and practiced the simulations but that only led to me using it as a beautifully framed writable projection screen for slideshow presentations and the occasional look at an interesting website. I was successful at finding some interactive games and activities for reviewing purposes, but struggled to get much further that that. Finally, in November…I remembered what Jim had said and I set up a Twitter account. My first step was to follow Jim. I listened to Jim’s side of the conversation, and began to add the people he was talking to. That led to them following me and conversation began. The amazing links people were sharing were really eye opening. I had compiled a list of 30+ interactive whiteboard resources in one weekend…all more effective tools than those previously used. Bridging information from Twitter to social bookmarking sites Delicious and Diggo, created a manageable flow of quick access information (what educator would not want that?) With professionals tied together by general interests and a desire to learn, Twitter provides a platform for endless conversation about ideas and resources. Self paced, interest based, ongoing professional development, wow. Now, how do we spread the knowledge to others?
Keeping it real: In addition to the links embedded in the prior post, this is a list of the sites and tools I have found most useful. Every link was completely unknown to me prior to happening upon my evergrowing PLN:
Teacher Tools and Networking Sites for use with Students:
- Google Earth
- Wikispaces for Educators
- Free Technology for Teachers
- School Tube
- Twitter4Teachers Wikispace
- PLN Yourself
- Tips for New Twitter Users
Many of these tools have an easy access online support community as well (ning or wiki) which can help provide both encouragement and tips for success. Please ask if you want further info (if I can’t help, someone in the education network can!) This list is just the beginning, but I found these resources to be the most beneficial while starting out, please comment other great starting points for assisting teachers expand their own PLN and collaborative resources if you have them.
Sidenote: Yesterday, while sitting with colleagues at a professional development meeting, I mentioned the value of Twitter. I reached out to my network for “their favorite educational website”. Thank you to all that responded (very promptly I might add!). I’ve bookmarked all of them as well as many were new to me. Here is the compiled list:
- @rcurrin: Poets.org (new find for me..comprehensive resource..discussion opportunities, teacher resource page, tips, poetry compilations by author/theme..thanks!)
- @gardenglen: Teachers Domain (General teacher resource site for downloads, sharing, and organizing..looks great!)
- @gardenglen: Classroom 2.0 (Looks like excellent resource for connecting/collaborating with colleagues, nice!)
- @AngelaStockman: Teaching that Makes Sense (Excellent teacher resource, Lang Arts focus w/connections to content areas)
- @AngelaStockman: NCS-Tech (Technology Integration)
- @AngelaStockman: PinkyDinkyDoo (Early Learning via NCS-Tech)
- @mrsbrowndog: Shmoop: Literature/USHistory/Poetry (I must spend some time here..Loving the “in a nutshell” and “why should I care” summaries…I’ll be using those on Tuesday while teaching about the Columbus Exchange!)
- @mrsbrowndog: While using delicious utilize subscriptions (agree!)
- @InstructorG: Alltop: Education (just found this one too..LOVE it!)
- @InstructorG: In Time (Technology Integration)
I was truly impressed by how quick the responses came. The diversity of the responses and the professionals who responded impressed me just as much: college instructor, administrator, literacy coach and educational consultant, middle school science literacy teacher and high school english teacher, all helping a fifth grade elementary teacher. I am touched. Thanks again!
Categories: collaboration, education, reflection
Tags: edublog, meme, PLN, reflection
The last few months have changed me. My world has broadened. My resources have multiplied exponentially, I have established a digital footprint, and I have collaborated with colleagues around the globe. When I first began to experiment with social networking, I thought it a wonderful way to link with other professionals that share common experiences; I had no idea I would establish true friendships. It is an interesting thing, this forum for rapid communication. Simultaneously tweeting with someone, exploring their bookmarks, and reading their blogs…enables you to identify commonalities and differences prior to engaging in conversation. How wonderful if we could network with our students as easily!
Though I have gotten to know my PLN friends through our discussions, we have certainly talked more professional philosophy and classroom strategy then general small talk. As a result, I have really enjoyed reading their 7 Things memes. I enjoy chipping away the cyberwalls in order to see those at a distance more clearly. Three such friends (one here, one here, and the other here) have tagged me as well for this meme (a word unknown to me two months ago) and I have procrastinated long enough…
Here are the rules:
- Link your original tagger and list these rules on your blog
- Share 7 facts about yourself in the post-some random, some weird
- Tag 7 people at the end of your post
- Let them know they’ve been tagged
Seven Things You May Not Know About Me
- I spent my first 11 years of life in the tiny Northern Minnesota town of Embarrass…yep, Embarrass…and I loved every minute of my winter wonderland.
- I’ve played the trombone since the 2nd grade (there wasn’t much to do in Embarrass). Though I haven’t played in the last few years, it’s a hobby I would love to pick up again. My genre of choice is Jazz, and I find the blinding spotlight a wonderfully magical place…I miss it…
- I was a non-reader…I posted this comment in response to the question “What book changed your life?”: Those that know me would be shocked to find out that I was a complete non-reader throughout my youth. To this day, the slowest readers I teach read far faster than me. As a young child, I had no problem decoding the words…and comprehension was higher than most (undocumented fact), but I was completely unable to keep up with my peers. As a result, in my entire k-12 life, John Steinbeck’s The Pearl was the only assigned book I’d read cover to cover. My coping skills honed as I went up through the grade levels. I became quite proficient at listening to my peers responses during discussion and tweaked them enough to give the illusion I’d completed the assignments; unfortunately such tricks only fooled my peers…my teachers knew the truth as evidenced by my grades. All of this leads me to the book that changed my life, Shakespeare’s Hamlet; it was my senior year. Hamlet made everyone else slow down to my pace. It was the first time I felt as capable as my peers…in fact I blew past them, because I understood. I got the theme, I got the language, I enjoyed putting together the puzzle, and I loved the power of controlling the classroom discussion. I truly believe it was the first time my classmates and my teachers met the real me.
- My husband and I eloped in an intimate funeral chapel in Amelia Island, Florida (the chapel is the small building on the left)…kind of a spur of the moment adventure…enjoy the chamber music if you visit the link…
- I feel guilty when I feel I put more time into teaching than I do into my family… I need to learn to balance.
- I have run two marathons, and am currently training for a third.
- I was born on Christmas Eve, hence the name. My mother had to fight my father when he wanted to name me Crista Eve (I love you mom, and thanks!)
I believe most of the people I follow have already completed this meme; I will seek to find others to tag. If you are reading this and have not participated yet consider yourself tagged! Please link back to me if you join the fun
Categories: collaboration, literacy
Tags: classroom management, collaborative learning, edublog, education, read aloud
An amazing thing happens with fifth grade students after holiday break. I’m not sure if it’s due to the gradual emergence into preadolescence or if it’s the desire to be back in a structured environment among their young colleagues; whatever the reason…they change. Their voices come out; occasionally in unison, but often as individuals. Their ability to articulate their thoughts both in text and in discussion, continues to amaze me; constantly reminding me to never underestimate their capacity to grow.
This afternoon, while nearing the end of our current read aloud, The Watson’s go to Birmingham: 1963, one perceptive student interrupted and asked me to backtrack and repeat the dedication at the beginning of the book. If you haven’t read Watson’s, it is Christopher Paul Curtis’ fictitious account of an African American family’s trip to Birmingham at the same time as the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. That question led to an impromptu time-line activity led by the students. It was fun to watch students, without prompting, wander to the back computers to research important dates in African American history. Other students were checking for information in their text book and on my bookshelves. Their goal was to map on the whiteboard, some of the major events bringing our country from that tragic moment…until now, a week prior the inauguration of the first African American president. The spontaneous discussion, brainstorming, analyzing, and synthesizing could not have been witnessed in my classroom a few months ago (at least not at this level-and independently). Watching the process unfold, I observed a community of learners in action. Students were comfortable enough with one another to truly collaborate fearlessly. There was no assignment so there could be no failure. Scaffolding their progress was their focus toward a common and achievable goal.
Keeping it real: Moments like this are what make starting a new year so difficult. Each year, we grow with the students we teach; we ultimately unite as a network to challenge and support each other. Establishing trust and comfort must happen early in the year, but it is certainly not immediate; it is built through constant questioning, listening, and sharing. We have worked very hard to achieve it and will have to work even harder to maintain it.
As usual, I learned much from my students today.