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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

 Confession

When I was pregnant with my first child (Felix, who is now 8), I read every 'raising a natural, peaceful child' book you could read. I was going to nurse, use cloth diapers, shut off my tv and make everything from scratch.

CONFESSION: I had so much trouble nursing because of the circumstances of Felix's birth that I didn't try past day 7. Cloth diapers drove me nuts. I watched tv round the clock as I fed Felix and hung out with him during the day. In fact I would get angry if Conan O'Brien dared not appear at the 4am feeding.

When I was pregnant with my next child (Annie, who is now 6), I read all that stuff over again. This time I would do it! I would! On the day she was born, the hospital was at max capacity and there was no one available to help me understand how to nurse. I asked for a bottle within the hour. After I got home, I was so tired from having a toddler and an infant that I let my toddler watch a lot of Sprout television programs.

Interesting note: We all made it through and we are all pretty smart and creative. I'm not saying that it just happened by osmosis. I read all. the. time. My kids see this and they know that I will NEVER say no to a book-either the purchasing or the reading. They know I value education so much that I became a teacher.

The point is that I could spend hours beating myself up over how little my real life resembles the one I envisioned (and sometimes I do) or I could see that we do pretty well. My kids are both extremely intelligent and spend hours reading books. I judge absolutely NOTHING that they read.
  • Easy dragon books
  • Tougher Harry Potter ones
  • Books about cartoon characters
  • Books about characters with strong personalities
  • Books about minerals and gems
  • Magazines about expensive dolls that are coveted.
 They play imaginatively. They can both cook. They love art. They love to learn about everything. They also watch mad amounts of Sponge Bob and other equally repulsive shows. That's it, that's all. My confession is out. I'm not 'that' mom, I'm 'that' mom. If you know what I mean. And, I'm okay with it.

Monday, April 21, 2014

 Synthesizing Reading

We have been working hard on learning how to read the words in our books, but now we are focusing on thinking about what we read. We call this synthesizing. I found a fantastic lesson from one of my favorite blogs.
We followed her free unit exactly and the results were magnificent. We read this book:
Then we wrote what we thought about the book before reading it. Just looking at its cover. Then we read half the book and wrote about how our thinking changed. Finally we wrote what we thought the whole book was about. The kids did some amazing thinking ranging from our world connectedness to Faith. It was eye opening for everyone. Even when kids didn't write much, they noticed and acknowledged where they could have gone with their thinking as they listened to everyone share.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

 Writing Beside Them

I have written recently about not liking how I am teaching writing. The difficulty feels like it's in how I confer (or the lack thereof). I feel like kids are writing a lot but I am not aware enough of what they are writing and what they need to work on. I want to be able to lift their writing a bit each session and I am for sure not doing that enough. I began to read a Georgia Heard book about revision and, while I really liked it, I didn't feel like it was giving me what I needed. So I set it down with the intent to pick it up again on an as needed basis--it was that kind of book. I was told to try a different book by Lucy Calkins.


This book is really changing how I think about my conferring time, but I'll save those thoughts for another post.
What I decided last week as I began to read this book is that I would stop conferring (or stop pretending to confer) (or stop looking like a person who is conferring) and write alongside my students. I made myself a Writing Folder just like theirs. I taught a mini lesson and then I told my first graders that we were all going to have write independently the entire time because I was going to be writing too. I sat at one of their tables with them. I used the same booklets and pencils as they did. I followed my own instructions explicitly. I sat and I sat and I sat. Then I took out a mentor text that I had shared with the kids and I copied the story because I couldn't come up with my own ideas. I didn't want them to know that I couldn't come up with my own ideas. I felt like like an imposter. I stopped the class and told them what I had done. They responded in a completely supportive manner. They told me that at least I started and finished. They congratulated my choice to change the character name and to draw my own illustrations. I wanted to cry. I realized that although my conferring hasn't been too effective, I clearly have shown them how to be a good writing community. I have to admit this is something I am really good at. I knew this already, but it was great to see it in play. I also realized that in that moment I was teaching them to be okay with approximations. As parents, we practically lose our minds with joy when kids approximate talking or walking, but when they don't read or write just like grown ups we tell them to work harder. Now I know better.
The next time we sat down to write, I made myself follow my minilesson. I created a character. I got my character into trouble. I stopped and re-wrote. I crossed off and re-read. I worked hard on illustrations to match what I was writing about.  I waited until I came up with an idea for getting my character out of trouble and then I scribbled it down. When we came together to share, I was excited to show what I had accomplished. I also realized that I don't let them share enough. Sharing is so important to learning more about your own writing. I resolved to let them share in the last 5-10 minutes of every single writing workshop. As we sat down to share, it felt so comforting. I looked around and saw how social writing could be. No one needed to be an island. We were all connected.  I watched kids make their own corrections as they saw similarities in what their own pieces needed for revision. It was a group conference through the model of one student's share. I will never be the same again.
As Penny Kittle says, "Write beside them."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

 CELEBRATE Three

I'm joining Ruth Ayres to Celebrate this week. Click on the Celebrate button to link up or read other celebrations.

Today I am celebrating April vacation. I am celebrating the time to: 
  • Read
  • Write
  • Laugh with my children
  • Finally feel caught up on house chores
  • Drink coffee in my pajamas
  • Take a shower every day
  • Eat healthy food so I feel better when I return to school
  • Contemplate how I can move my teaching self forward
  • Show my husband how much he means to me
And breathe...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

 Conferencing about Writing

I am in the midst of a University program called the Maine Writing Project. I am writing more than ever and as I write, I keep thinking about how I teach writing in my classroom. Of course, this is exactly what the program is designed to do.

I have made a mental note to do some research on how to use writing portfolios with next year's first grade. I am sad that I didn't do that this year, but I will be ready for next year for sure!

The thing that bothers me the most right now is my conferencing (or lack thereof) with my students about writing. I just can't seem to find a system that works. I need to work with them individually for the most part, but it takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r. I can't get through more than three kids in a day and that means it takes me two weeks to conference with the whole class. Two weeks for first graders is like two months. They have already written many stories by then. They want to share each and every one with me. So lately I've been trying to speed up my conferences but then I find myself correcting the papers and demoralizing the students which for sure isn't my purpose. I have to be honest, this leaves me feeling inept.

When I try to conference in small groups as I see several bloggers saying they do, I don't feel the time is well spent. I try to identify one goal like finger spacing or spelling words on the word wall or character development, but they are all so different. They are different as learners. They are different in their development as writers. Their stories are completely different. It's exhausting because there is always one kid who is a master at getting all of my attention and we become a movie for the other members of the small group.

I need to figure this out. I have read two National Writing Project papers about the topic:
Working with Beginning Writers
Finding the Black Ninja Fish

I have also read blog posts.
Writer's Workshop and Conferring by Mrs. Wills
Mrs. Meacham's Writing
First Grade WOW Writing Conferences
Thank God It's First Grade Writing Conferencing
Forever in First, Revision

I watched this video and didn't love it, but thought I could use some of the ideas.

I am working on a plan to put together exactly what I do and share it on here. I wholeheartedly believe that the only right way to do something is whatever it is that you can maintain. If I keep starting other people's ideas and never continuing them, then it isn't right for me. I was digging around in my professional books (I have lots) and happily discovered this gem. I haven't read it yet, but I plan to tonight.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

 CELEBRATE Two

I'm joining Ruth Ayres to Celebrate this week. Click on the Celebrate button to link up or read other celebrations.

1) I'm celebrating completing my first Marzano iObservation for my district. I got stellar marks and feel like I really put my all into this. I am very proud of the work I accomplished this year both with my students and with my colleagues.

2) I also got my 3rd Quarter report cards completed early. I am celebrating that I was so organized and together this go around that I had the information I needed at my fingertips for 3rd Quarter reports. Thanks Evernote and google docs!

Monday, April 7, 2014

 What am I reading?

For me
With my first graders as a mentor text for writing realistic fiction
With my 8 year old son
With my 6 year old daughter