Tuesday, December 27, 2011

One Year and Counting...

Today marks the one year anniversary of my blog, Eduflections. When I started this a year ago, I had just turned in the final manuscript for Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing? I missed having that avenue of writing and reflecting about my journey with my students. Dr. Frank Buck suggested that writing a blog would be a good way to continue reflecting on my teaching practice and sharing my journey with others. My initial goal was to write or reflect at least once a week. I came a few blogs shy of that by only blogging 47 times, but by going back and reading what I've written, I realize how much I've grown as an educator, and ultimately a person, over the last year.

Here are some of the things that I've learned this year:

  1. Be bold. Do not be afraid to speak up for your students. If we don't speak up for what is best for our students, no one else will.
  2. Share your students' successes. The community at large has a misconception of what accomplished teaching looks like in the 21st Century. Build a contact list of community leaders, legislators, board members, and parents and send them photos, stories, and projects so that they can see what is possible in today's classroom.
  3. Let your students design the learning environment. I had already given control over so many different aspects of our classroom to my students; I don't know why I didn't think of this. They have arranged the room, the classroom library, and requested that we add a large area rug. They are the ones who need to feel comfortable in the learning environment, so let them take the lead in this area as well.
  4. Blogging is a powerful tool...for students as well as teachers. I tried blogging immediately after I began blogging, but the students didn't enjoy it. This year I tried a new approach starting on the first day of school. I let them design the expectations. As a result, I've gotten to know my students much better and much faster which enabled me to better customize lessons. Their writing improvement has also grown exponentially. They are voracious writers who take ownership for what they are learning each day
  5. Join in the conversation. Although I had been somewhat active on Twitter, I had not started building relationships with other educators. That was the key to really connecting with other educators and not just consuming from the community, but giving back to the community.Those relationships were further solidified as I got to meet them at various conferences, EdCamps, and Tweet Ups. Now my PLN is even stronger and the ones that truly benefit are my students.
  6. Counteract the affects of high-stakes testing on students. I've had students who HATE reading because they associate it standardized-testing and our prescriptive reading program. I've also had learners tell me that the one thing they look forward to is standardized testing. When they begin the year, they struggle with being creative and thinking outside the box. They have very little knowledge of history, science, or art because all of the focus has been on reading and math. These have been a bit of surprise to me, but kids are so adaptable, we've been able to meet those challenges and focus on a well-rounded, student-directed learning environment.
  7. Focus more on math. As I look back over my past blogs, they all seem to focus around the language arts and technology-supported learning. Yes, those areas are where my comfort level is and it stretches across Social Studies and Science. However, there aren't very many blogs about what we're doing in our math class. Perhaps, I need to stretch my wings a bit out of my comfort level and see what I can find to further improve my teaching practice in the field of mathematics.
  8. Get involved in the community.On April 27, 2011, tornado ripped through the community where I teach. I did something I had never envisioned; I took a list of my students' names and addresses and entered theses communities searching for them and delivering supplies. One thing that I learned was how valuable it is to be a part of the community in good times or in bad. It helps solidify a strong relationship between you and families with whom you work in a much deeper manner. The final outcome is a much better education for each of your learners.

Is this all that I've learned? Absolutely not! These are just the highlights. I'm sure once I press the publish button several more will come to mind. However, I would be remiss in not thanking all of you that have helped me along this journey this last year. All of your comments, emails, retweets, and mentions have given me the encouragement to continue writing and growing even when things become extremely challenging, as they often do in a public school classroom.

So if you are considering beginning a blog, or you have a blog that needs to have the digital dust brushed off of it, I highly recommend it. This has been one of the most power tools for my professional growth and I look forward to where my path will take me in the next year. Let's continue to learn together.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reading: A Book In A Day

My students and I have been desperately trying to carve out some time to just read together for enjoyment. As I've mentioned before, we are bound by a prescriptive reading program. As a result, my readers will tell you without hesitation that they hate reading (see this previous post about last year's struggles). Here is how one of my students explained it:
"Who loves reading, not the subject, the reading-of-a-book reading? I'm not really the reading type, but I am busy reading a book that is very interesting to me and makes me want to tell someone about the book." 
They make a distinction between the subject and the act. And lest's be frank, who can blame them? What do my students want? They want to read and share what they are reading with others. With them having blogs, they have been able to share and have conversations about what they are independently reading, but they've been asking when we're going to all read a book together and discuss it like we did with Frindle, at the beginning of the year, and Tuck Everlasting, for the Global Read Aloud. Our biggest obstacle is finding time...any time we have we're squeezing out to write and publish collaboratively with students from all across the country. None of them want to give that up.

Photo from t0msk
The real goal here is that they all get to read a book and enjoy discussing....all because they want to for the sheer joy of it. So we are doing a book-in-a-day (which has really turned into a week because we only have a few minutes a day). We're reading There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar. What fifth grader wouldn't be intrigued by that title, huh?

The way it works is we begin by reading and discussing the first several chapters together. We get to know the characters, the plot, and get a feel for the writing. Then, the students divide up into pairs and each pair gets a chapter or two to read. They are responsible for knowing that chapter and summarizing it. Then, once everyone has completed their chapters, we share them in sequence, putting the story all together. Finally, we wrap it up by reading the last two chapters together.

This would not work with every chapter book, but this book has short chapters that, if you know the characters, can stand alone. There are forty-seven chapters in There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom and we've had a blast reading them. The comments that they make and the depth of the discussions are amazing. (Who would have thought about Bradley Chalkers, the main character, and his struggle being like the Grinch? My readers did.) Every day they come in and want to know if we'll be able to read together. They enjoy reading because it's fun and they have someone with whom to discuss it.

And to top it off, they've asked if they can make several projects to add to our "Coast to Coast Chronicles" which has a theme of Making a Difference. They pointed out that the themes in the book go along with what they have been writing and publishing.

In spite of all the obstacles, they've found their joy for reading.They are so excited that they've already started asking what book we can read together next. Guess I need to pull out all my class sets of  books; I can't wait.

Monday, December 12, 2011

When Things Click

You know those days when you work and work with a certain students and there doesn't seem to be much progress and then ...BOOM, they blow your mind with what they've accomplished? Yep, we've all had those moments. I wanted to share with you the success of a student that we'll call Allison. Allison is a good-natured student who wants to do well in school, but she really struggles with reading and math. She not only is missing some key elements in her phonics understanding, vocabulary, and comprehension strategies, but she also doesn't know her basic math facts. 

When I do intervention or mini-lessons across content areas, Allison is there with me 95% of the time. I have to hand it to her, she never gives up. Then, the day before we take our reading test, she opens up her reading book and I notice all of these hot-pink sticky notes stuck all throughout the selection. Now this is a strategy that I've led her through many times (in reading and other content areas), but this time I hadn't done it with her. In fact, I hadn't even suggest that she do it. I asked her to share with the small group what she had done and as she explained it, she got out some blank sticky notes and started guiding them through her process.

photo by avrene
She showed them how to write notes on words she was unsure of as well as the vocabulary words. She picked out the setting, characters, problem, solution, author's purpose and examples of cause-effect and main ideas and supporting details on each page. She said she wasn't sure what to focus on so she had taken time each time she had read the selection at home to pick out each of the different strategies or skills. (as a side note, the students are not assigned the selection to read at home; all reading is done in class...she did this because she wanted to do it)

By the end of the our group time, she had led these struggling readers through a thorough evaluation and analysis of the selection. They were all focused on what she was saying. Allison doesn't usually volunteer to take a leadership role, but this time she did. She took ownership of her own learning and the skills and strategies that she had learned and she wanted to share them with others.

Of course, it probably goes without saying...she aced that test and so did the others in her group. She now is reminding the other struggling readers of what she taught them and giving them other advice. She asks me questions to make sure she's on the right path, but she has taken these skills and she is running with them. Don't you just love it when everything just clicks?