Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Decisions Series: Part 2 - The Teacher Desk

Many teachers, both in my school and in my extended network, have decided to get rid of their teacher desks.  Their reasons vary:  some of them have very small classrooms and want to maximize space for students; some of them prefer to sit at a classroom table to plan; some of them had really old desks that should have been retired ten years ago.  Whatever the reason, the teachers I know who have moved away from having a teacher desk are very happy with their choice.

I have decided to keep my desk.

There are some things I know about myself as a worker.  I need a space that is mine.  I need to have my materials around me, and I need to know where everything is.  I need to have a bright light, which helps me read without tiring my eyes.  I need a comfortable chair so that I can focus on getting my work done without my back aching.

So yes... I still have my desk.

But notice where my desk is... it's in a corner of my classroom away from my windows.  It's pushed up against the wall.  This is not a place to sit while students are in the room (unless they are having Spanish class, which means I have a plan period).  That little corner is the only place in the classroom that is truly mine.  Everything else is for the kids.

I know there are people who think I should get that mammoth desk out of the room and make the space available for my students.  And I get it... I do!  I could make another cozy reading nook there or I could fit two or three more bookshelves.  But I also know that the work I do planning for instruction is important as well.  If I am going to spend time carefully planning my whole- and small-group instruction, reading exit slips and other written assignments, considering formative assessments that will tell me what each student needs the next day, I need a place to do it.  If I am going to do this work in a timely manner that allows me to get home in time to drive my daughters to dance class and cook dinner for my family, I need a space where all of my materials are handy.  Just as I allow my students to find a "just right" place to do their work, I need such a space for mine.

For a while, I felt guilty about keeping my desk.  But after I spent time thinking about why I felt I needed to keep it, that guilt went away.  I strive every day to be the very best teacher I can be.  If having a few square feet of classroom space for my work helps me reach that goal, well... I'm okay with that.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Decisions Series: Part 1 - My Classroom Library

I spend a lot of time thinking about my classroom library. For me, this is the heart of my classroom. Community is made here. Thinking happens here. Eyes and hearts are opened here. Kids find themselves and the world here.

I've invested a great deal of effort and money in curating my classroom library. I'm careful about the books I add, but I also buy books my students request. This means that there are books that I might not choose to read but that THEY love. That is as it should be... it is their library, too, and I want to make sure they feel ownership of it just as I do.

The biggest decision I've made about my classroom is how to organize it. Way back in the dark ages when I first started teaching 7th grade ELA, I had all of my classroom library books spine out  and alphabetized by author's last name.  It was fine.  Some kids used my library, but they mostly checked books out from the school library or only read the whole-class novels that formed the base of our curriculum.  Like I said... it was fine.  But I always thought it could be MORE.

When our school district started working with Ellin Oliver Keene in order to strengthen our literacy instruction, I had the opportunity to spend time in several classrooms in our elementary buildings.  I noticed some things about the libraries in those rooms.  Books were all face-out.  They were in baskets. And they were sorted by genre, series, or author.  I began to think about what would happen if I reorganized the library in my seventh grade classroom.  I wondered how long it would take me to sort, label, and store the hundreds of books I had on my shelves.  I decided to let the kids help.

To be honest, it was a mess for several days.  But then.... then it was GLORIOUS!  Kids knew what was on the shelves!  They found books they wanted to read!  They began using the library!

So when I moved to third grade last year, the answer to the organization question was a no-brainer.  Face out. Sorted by genre, series, author. Informational texts in their own section. User friendly for the kids and for me. This is important, because in my room kids get to choose all of the books they read during Literacy Studio.  They are not required to read in a certain level or for Accelerator Reader points (thank goodness!).  I won't tell them a book is too easy or too hard.  I will talk to them about who they are as readers and what they can do to grow.  This choice in reading is a non-negotiable.

My greatest wish is that when the kids come into my room next Monday for Meet the Teacher, they won't spend much time talking to or looking at me.  I want them pulled like magnets to my library.  I want them to flip through the books.  I want them to ask me if they can put a particular book on their desks so they can read it on Tuesday.  I want them to find some old friends and maybe make some new ones as they look to see what's in all of those black baskets.

I want them to love our library as much as I do.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Recommended Reading from Room 301

The school year just ended and I have some things I need to write about, but I'm still processing the school year that was.  For today, I've decided to share the titles my third graders have designated as "must reads." Here for you, in no particular order, are their favorite books from this year.  If they are books I've written about over at NextBestBook, I've included the link.

  • Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger
  • Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe  and Cody and the Fountain of Happiness by Tricia Spring Stubb
  • The Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene
  • I Could Not Keep Silent: The Life of Rachel Carson by Clare Meeker
  • The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh
  • Honey by Sarah Weeks
  • Mr. Pants by Scott McCormick
  • Upside Down Magic by E. Lockhart, Lauren Myracle, and Sarah Mlynowski
  • Book Scavengers by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
  • Firefly Hollow by Alison McGhee
  • Close to Famous by Joan Bauer
  • One for the Murphys by Lynda Mulally Hunt
  • The Baby Sitters Club graphic novels by Raina Telemeier
  • The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi
  • The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
  • The Great Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers
  • Adventure According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney
  • Pie by Sarah Weeks
  • Jack  by Liesl Shurtlif
  • The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt
  • The Kindness Club  by Courtney Sheinmel
  • Wish by Barbara O'Connor
  • Gabby & Gator by James Burks
  • Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and The Case of the Stinky Stench by Josh Funk
  • Dog Man by Dav Pilkey
  • Amina's Voice by Hena Khan
  • Moo by Sharon Creech
  • A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
  • The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
  • The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
  • Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Steinberg
  • Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks
  • The Dork Diaries by Renee Russel
  • Drita, My Homegirl by Jenny Lombard
  • How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny Rorby
  • The Anna,Banana series by Anica Mrose Rissi
  • When I Grow Up: Misty Copeland by Lexi Ryles
  • When I Grow Up: Sonya Sotomayor by AnnMarie Anderson
  • Swindle by Gordon Korman
  • Charlotte's Web by EB White
  • We Are All Wonders by RJ Palacio
  • Wonder by RJ Palacio
  • Auggie & Me by RJ Palacio
  • I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
  • 11 Birthdays, 12 Finally, 13 Gifts, and The Last Present by Wendy Mass
  • Graceful  by Wendy Mass
  • A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
  • Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass
  • The Candymakers and The Candymakers and the Chocolate Chase by Wendy Mass
  • The Happily Ever After series by Wendy Mass
  • Fish in a Tree by Linda Mulally Hunt

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

I Love My School Day

If you were on Twitter on Tuesday, did you notice #LoveMySchoolDay?  Teachers from across the country tweeted things they loved about their schools all day.

Just a few of mine:

I'm becoming more and more vocal about teachers telling their own stories about the amazing things that happen in classrooms and schools.  When we tell our own stories, we control the narrative.  

Teachers know what happens when others control the narrative.  We hear things like:
  • teachers are overpaid for only working 9-3;
  • teachers can't be trusted, they need scripted curriculum;
  • teachers are the reason for the achievement gap;
  • teachers are glorified babysitters;
  • teachers are greedy for expecting their pensions to be there when they retire;
  • teachers get summers off.
When we control the narrative, we can make sure the word gets out there that:
  • teachers care deeply about the children they teach;
  • teachers in underserved communities feed, clothe, and supply their students with daily needs;
  • teachers work all year round, even if we're not in our classrooms;
  • teachers take their work home with them - not just the physical papers and books, but also the worries and joys that occupy our minds;
  • teachers want to do a good job, and we're willing to work hard to do it;
  • teachers are professionals who keep up with the latest research on best practice.
The need to control the narrative is part of the reason why I write in this space, even though few people read what I write.  I am telling MY story; I'm putting the good things that are happening in my classroom out in the world.  I'll keep chipping away here and on Twitter and on Facebook, making sure I do my part to counter the negatives that so many people insist on clinging to.

Think about it....
Who tells your story?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Post PARCC Poetry

This week, my third graders are taking the PARCC test for the first time.  So far, we've taken three of the four 1-hour mathematics tests, and they seem to be handling it very well.  In prepping them to take this test, I talked with them about how their parents and I want them to do their best, but at the same time, their lives to not hinge on the results.  I don't believe in getting kids all worked up and anxious about their performance on standardized tests, especially in third grade.

As I was doing my lesson planning for this week, I thought about how I wanted the kids to feel at the end of the day.  Because the math tests were taking an hour of my literacy block, I decided to steal that time back during my scheduled math time so the kids could have more than 30 minutes to read or write.  We're in the tail end of our study of myths and legends, so I knew they would be planning and writing their legends.  April is also National Poetry Month, so I wanted to work in some poems as well.

I made the decision to take that hour after lunch to read and discuss a poem or a poetry picture book and then invite the kids to try out whatever poetic device or poetic form featured.  So far, we've read Dogku by Andrew Clements, some recipe poems I found online, Forest Has a Song by Amy Ludwig VanDerWater, and Falling Down the Page by Georgia Heard.  Each day, the energy and buzz in the classroom during our literacy studio have been amazing.  The kids are trying out their poetry writing without hesitation.  I see them taking risks and playing with words and rhyme and meter, reading their writing out loud to each other to see how the poems sound.  They are playing with poetry.
Students experiment with color poems inspired by Amy Ludwig VanDerWater's Writing the Rainbow Challenge
I made a conscious decision NOT to do formal lessons on meter, rhyme, figurative language, and poetic forms.  I wanted this exploration of the possibilities of poetry to be playful and low-stakes.  I wanted this hour to be the complete opposite of the hour of PARCC testing the kids experienced in the morning, where they had to be silent and still.

There has been no silence in my literacy studio this week.  There has been no stillness.

And I am TOTALLY fine with that!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Putting one foot in next year

Over the weekend I received this email notification:

My reflection isn't due until the end May, about a week and a half before school ends, but to be real, I've been reflecting since the first day of school.  I can't help it; it's how I operate.

But... here's the thing.  When spring break rolls around, I start getting itchy to begin planning for next year.  And every year I tell myself that it's too early; I still have a little over two months with my current students, and there's still so much to do.

It's not that I want to wish this current class away... I don't!  I have the best class of third graders a girl could wish for for her first go at this grade level.  They have taught me so much about patience, humor, and trusting them (and myself).  I just keep thinking about how I could do things BETTER next year.

I'm a perfectionist.  I know that I can be a better teacher than I am right now, and I am lucky to work in a district that provides me with the resources I need to grow.  As I talk to colleagues and read their blogs and see their tweets, I am inspired to be better every day.

So what am I thinking about, sitting here on my couch in the middle of my spring break?  What will I do differently next year?

  • My kids will write more.  Looking back, I realize I put a HUGE emphasis on reading during my literacy studio, and I did not do enough writing instruction.  Because my literacy block is almost 2 hours long rather than separated into a reading workshop and a writing workshop, it is easy to focus on just one of the areas.  The whole idea of a literacy studio, though is to blend the reading and writing instruction as much as possible in order to build on the power of the reading/writing connection.
  • My kids will share more.  I am one of those teachers who KNOWS kids are supposed to share every day during literacy studio, but who doesn't remember to do that often enough.  Don't get me wrong... the kids talk every day in lots of situations.  But we don't SHARE our reading and writing lives enough.  This is something I'm thinking about a lot. And it's something I can make myself remember to do when we return to school next week.
  • My kids will do more inquiry-based learning in science and social studies.  I tell myself that because this was my first year learning the new curriculum, it was ok to just follow the units as they were written.  I know, though, that I've done a disservice to my students by not including them in the planning and learning as much as I could have.  This needs to change.
  • I will incorporate more choices into my math block.  The expectation in my district is that our math block is really a math workshop, where there is a short mini-lesson followed by time when students have choice in their work while I pull small groups or confer with individual students.  This did not happen most days, in large part due to my discomfort as a math teacher.  I'm working on learning more about being a math teacher, so hopefully I will be able to make this better next year.

Being a reflective practitioner is an important part of teaching.  It's easy to sit back and think about everything that went well, and a bit harder to acknowledge the things that aren't so great.  But if I am to truly grow as a teacher, I can't just stay in my comfort zone; I have to push myself to face my weaknesses and seek out the help I need in those areas.

So yeah... I have one foot in next year.  But there's still one firmly planted in this year.  And I owe it to my students to be fully focused on them until June 8.

Monday, February 27, 2017

In a slump

Age 3. Reading. Of course.

I have been a reader for as long as I can remember.  Not a casual, "Oh, I'll read for a bit to pass the time" kind of reader.  I'm a "Life is not worth living if I don't have a book with me" kind of reader.  Last year alone, I read 359 books.  I don't say that to brag, but rather to let you know that I am a reader. An avid one.

Over the course of my reading life, I've gone through cycles.  I'll binge on trashy romances and then make it up to myself by reading something literary.  I read more young adult books than I could possibly count when I was teaching seventh grade ELA.  Now, my reading rate is much higher because I'm reading mostly picture books and early chapter books.

Or at least I was.

About age 12. Reading. Of course.

Because right now, I'm not reading much of anything.  Since returning to school after winter break, I have not been able to find a book that will hold my attention.  I've tried just about every type of book I can think of to get myself back on track.  I've started books I've heard about on NPR, ones that I read about in People magazine.  Books recommended by friends, books I bought  from the Scholastic flyer.  Books for adults.  Books for kids.  Books for teens.

Have I found that book that will give me my reading mojo back yet?  Nope.  And to be honest, I'm kind of concerned about that.  I think this is the longest I've ever gone without finishing a book, at least since high school.  Maybe it's that I'm preoccupied by life right now, and my focus is elsewhere.  Perhaps I'm too distracted by Facebook and Twitter to focus on a longer text.

Age 48. Reading Kind of.
Or maybe I just need some time and space to lose myself in words again.  Spring break is just four weeks away, and as of right now, that week is wide open.  Dan will be at work.  Molly will be out of town with the orchestra.  Abby will be with friends or making art in her room.  That leaves a whole week of quiet for just me and the dog and a stack of books.

Now... how do I figure out what I'll read first?