Monday, January 30, 2017

Lightbulb Moments

Some days, after I've walked my third graders out the front door of the school, I go back to my classroom and just sit at my desk.  It often looks as if a tornado has hit it, since I don't have time to put things away over the course of the day.  I turn my chair so that I'm facing the groups of student desks and I think about the day just past.

I'm not always happy about that reflection.  Some days, it seems like I'll model, and think aloud, and provide practice, and confer, and provide feedback and the kids just don't seem to GET IT.  It's as if we're in a third-grade version of Groundhog Day and I'm Bill Murray, making small adjustments to my instruction, thinking that I've finally made a difference, then WHAM!  That clock flips and Sonny & Cher come on and I'm right back where I was the day before.

Some days, I just want to throw in the towel and give up and move on.

That is a rather hyperbolic description of the weeks since winter break. My literacy coach and I had been working with the students on using text evidence to answer questions in the reading part of our literacy studio and the beginnings of writing opinion papers in the writing part.  We were doing all of the things we were supposed to be doing (see list above).  To be truthful, we did see small movement in the students' ability to answer "right there" questions and to write very basic paragraphs, but it was slow going.

And then it wasn't!  Last Thursday, it was like a switch flipped and things started to click.  I had given students a short piece of text entitled "Should Students Learn Cursive" that we read together and discussed.  As third graders, this is a topic they are interested in, as many of them learned to write their names in cursive in second grade, and they want to learn more.  For their opinion writing practice, I asked them to take a side... should they have to learn cursive in schools?  Why?  Why not?
They started writing like they were on fire!  I saw T-charts and webs and bullet lists being created in the planning space.  I saw them going back into the text to reference the pro and con arguments.  I had students asking me for writing advice.  I had students asking EACH OTHER for writing advice (even better).  I saw students writing multi-paragraph papers outlining all the reasons they SHOULD learn to write (and read) cursive.  I nearly fell off of my conferring stool!

It was a lightbulb moment day.  Teachers live for those.

But it was also a day that reminded me that learning takes time.  I have to avoid getting caught up on where I think I'm "supposed" to be on a timeline or a curriculum map, and I have to honor the students who make up our learning community.  I have to think about where they are at on that day, and what they need NEXT to grow as writers.  Most important, I need to remember to teach the WRITER not the writing.

These are not new lessons for me.  But the reminder is no less important.  If I were not reflective about my practice; if the literacy coach had not reminded me to step back and be an observer in my own classroom, I might have just moved on to the next stop on the curriculum train.  I know in my heart that when I take the time my students need, I am doing the right thing - no matter what the calendar says.

So tomorrow, I'll head back into Room 301, and I'll model and think aloud and confer and listen and give feedback.  But I'll also observe and think.

And I'll watch for the lightbulbs.