Reading is My Binky

Reading is my comfort and much more than a hobby. It is part of an innate coping mechanism I seem to possess. As a runner training for a marathon or ultra you run many daily miles for months. When it comes to tapering before the race many runners get cranky, myself included. You get twitchy from so much time and less miles. You feel like you are someone else you don’t like. You have a an itch that has no scratch. Reading is my universal itch scratcher. When I don’t read, much like when I don’t run, I get twitchy and irritable. It is my automatic activity for pleasure, information, general happiness, and escape.

In college I took the most classes I could every semester except for one. That semester was remarkable and memorable to me because I a class was dropped at the last minute, and I decided to just let the universe guide my schedule and take the break of less hours. I realized quickly I had way too much time on my hands that was usually slated for studying and dictated by professors’ syllabus so I went to the library. I loved the library at my college and found the new releases shelf that semester. I had no idea it even existed before then. I read almost everything on the shelf. I wish I had the record. I remember reading a book about how Starbucks was started and how it was created to be a third place. In the back of my Franklin planner I used to keep a running list of the books I read. For some reason I decided to discard this list over a decade ago. I cannot recall why I did this – probably because I felt “I didn’t need it anymore.”

I read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and was “caught” reading it in an undergrad linguistics class. I had a classmate come up to me randomly and ask what class I was reading it for. My answer was no class and I remember looking at her incredulously not fathoming why anyone would not read something that wasn’t assigned to them. I was irritated that she assumed I was reading it for a class and not on my own accord. I love that book still and refer to it often.

I am constantly searching for a book that changes me. I have read many books that I have not liked for one reason or another but have been compelled by the same book and find myself thinking about it later. One of these books is 1984. It took me a long time to read it but I enjoyed the story. I didn’t find it difficult to read but had a hard time. The Bone Clocks is another novel that I enjoyed for the concept. I thought it was too long but felt compelled to keep coming back to it. The Course of Love made me angry. I did not like the characters choices but was simultaneously fascinated by the concept of the characters actions being explained by philosophy.

When my life exploded into something I didn’t recognize a couple years ago I went to the library. I looked up the national book award long list and I read the books on that list. I was angry that the books were on the shelves. I figured these books are supposed to be so great why are more people not checking them out? I would leave for work in the morning from my apartment and think about all the activities I would participate in when I got home. I never did any of them. I would stop by the store and decide what to have for dinner based on what protein was on sale and then read. I would get to the point where I would feel like I had absorbed so many words that I needed to talk about the books with someone and then I would consider going to book club but then not go. Reading is a solitary activity for me most of the time.

In middle school I spent my lunch times in the library reading. I was often asked by people how I chose books. I didn’t really have an answer for them. I was picking books for me and the idea that anyone would be concerned with my choices was baffling. I enjoyed this time and it was a good break from the craziness of middle school for me.

Depending on my income determines how many books I buy. The invention of Google Library Extension makes it easy to check on availability and reserve books at the library. It is even easier than Amazon. For many periods I just bought all the books I wanted. I will never figure out how much money that was. The constant is books and reading. No matter where the books come from, I always find a way.

What I Learned from the 2016-2017 School Year

I joyfully started a new position this school year as a curriculum coach. The previous three years I was a teacher coach at a charter school and learned how to be effective through training, practice and coaching. Using that knowledge helped me begin the new school year with practices that served me and my new school well.

1. Relationships Are the Most Important

I intentionally focused on building relationships with my teachers from the moment I walked into the door. I made myself visible. I listened. I did not repeat anything anyone told me. I also made a point to not name drop, and this included with the principal. I was always open for meetings with teachers, and would do my best to meet with people when they needed me rather than what necessarily fit into my schedule. This sometimes meant forgoing lunch which was acceptable.

I tried my best to be positively frame every situation. I tried to solve problems that I could as quickly as possible. Just talking to people and engaging with them is part of the relationship building. I kept having to remind myself of this fact when I would feel like “I wasn’t working.” Thank you notes and genuine appreciation went a long way. Teachers do not get recognized enough for the great things they do everyday in the classroom and their individual strengths and I tried to highlight these behaviors whenever I could.

2. Don’t Show All Your Cards

I have a lot of skills and have had a variety of experiences from the last 21 years in education. I attempt to have my actions show my knowledge base rather than telling people. Lots of knowledge and experience in a variety of areas can alienate people rather than bring them closer, depending on the context. When topics arose I would reference a situation I had been in before and how I solved it as much as possible. I would sometimes use other teachers’ experience I had witnessed if I myself had not been in the situation. I would always answer questions about my experience when asked. I was not trying to be evasive,  but rather not to bombard people with too much information.  I have a variety of skills and experience but I do not know everything. I get obsessed with topics and then conduct my own research and then drop researchers names like we are friends!

3. Until you have to…

There were several points in the year that someone asked me a direct question and then I was very honest about how I handled a situation in the past. Sometimes this sharing was not in a light the teacher liked. During an RTI meeting I had to bring up that in a past corporation I was part of a group that reworked all the forms for our special education co-op. I know the law and how RTI intervention works and why. There is a difference between RTI intervention and intervention groups, which is a practice that good teachers should do anyway. One of the teachers figured out through the questions that I was asking that my experience was more in depth than I had indicated. I appreciated that she took me aside after the meeting to ask about it rather than calling me out in the meeting.

I also have had to be ready to stand my ground and defend research and practice from my own classroom. I use post it notes for kids to encourage academic behavior I desire which also builds the relationship with the student. Sometimes it is a simple, “Thank you for getting right to work.” or “Thank you for following directions perfectly.” Other times it is “You read so fluently!” or “I wish I would have written this sentence myself.” I had a teacher tell me that practice would work for a few days, but it wouldn’t work longer than that. I had to firmly tell her that it worked well for a solid 8 week period and then when I went back into the classroom throughout the year. I use this practice with all the students I have whether they are adults or children. It is motivating and effective.

4. Listen and observe

Listen to teacher and student needs. Really listen. Listen to the questions people ask or what they comment on. Then provide training or resources. Don’t push too hard and FOLLOW-UP! It can be a conversation in the hallway or an email. Paying attention to the little things can make a big difference. My Workshop Wednesdays were a big hit with my teachers because it addressed needs they had expressed to me.

5. Facts NOT Emotion

Use facts as much as possible. One of the conversations I had several times with teachers was about student evidence. As a teacher, we need to focus on high, medium, and low work not high, medium, and low kids. Using the work, teachers can determine many teaching behaviors that affect the student achievement and outcomes.

6. No One Can Take Knowledge Out of Your Brain

I have been through many trials and tribulations throughout my teaching career. There are some fundamental truths I believe :

  1. Reading is the gateway to learning.
  2. True modeling works.
  3. I won’t ask you to do anything that I am not willing to do or have already done myself. (I use this mantra with adults and students.)
  4. All the training you immerse in, the reading you do, and the products you create based on these areas cannot be taken away from you. It is part of who you are and makes you a better individual and educator.

I am looking forward to next year and building on the relationships with the teachers that are returning. The teachers and I are learning what skills we all have to be able to utilize all the experts in the building. Teachers will be more effective and students will achieve more! It will be an exciting year! Summer here we come!

Bookish Reminders

Over the weekend as I was listening to several book podcasts I was reminded of books I loved but have not thought about in a long time. Here are a few that stood out to me:

Image result for ella minnow pea

I loved this book because it is so clever. I do not like to reread books, but this is one of the books I will reread at a later date. It was recommended to me by a college student while I was riding in a van with Donalyn Miller to an Indiana Reading Association dinner. I was surprised I had never heard of it before that evening.

 

 

Image result for Griffin and sabineThis trilogy is amazing and I even bought the stationary set that has the artwork to these books. I have come back to this text over and over. It is comforting and reminds me of college.  The concept is fascinating to me and I believe this series has contributed to the obsession I have with time.

 

Image result for 84 charing cross road

I read this book early in my teaching career after it was recommended to me by a friend I taught with. I have such great memories of it that I recently bought another copy. I am unsure which move lost the first copy I owned. Another book I plan to reread eventually.

 

BONUS PICKS!!

 

Image result for love letters ar gurney

This book was not mentioned on a podcast but thinking about the others reminded me of this text. I was at the Barnes and Noble in Indianapolis one evening and there was an event where two actors were reading the play. I was mesmerized and bought a copy that night. I still have the copy I originally purchased.

Image result for solitaire mystery

This book was recommended by my best male friend in high school and I loved it. I do not remember what it is about but is waiting on my kindle to be read again.

 

BOOKS THAT ARE ON THE TBR PILE

I need to read Rainbow Rowell…her name keeps coming up.

There were also some books that were talked about that I have not read but I have on my kindle because they were recommended to me before. The never ending TBR list gets out of control and I forget what is on it!

Image result for sorcery and cecelia

 

Image result for H is for hawk

As much as I read I will never get through all the books I desire to read. I will keep reading and acquire as much knowledge and words that I can accumulate.

Stoking the Fires of Young Writers #1

Inspiring students to write when they are not required to do so takes passion and creativity. Here are some ideas that I have used in various age leveled classrooms to get them to write.

I wanted a writing teacher when I was younger because I love the art from a young age. I was always writing stories. I try to be the writing teacher I needed when I was in school. Being a writer myself, I think about what I would do as an adult writer and try to modify that behavior for my students as I teach.

  1. Establish A Writing Community

The right attitude needs to be fostered for students to write. Routines needs to be established along with expectations. The teacher needs to model their own writing to students. The teacher needs to model how to read like a writer. The teacher needs to provide opportunities for publishing and sharing.

2. The Teacher Needs to be A Writer

Teaching writing is a task I have seen many teachers shy away from because they are not confident. You need to think of yourself as a writer – with a “lowercase w” as Ralph Fletcher would say. A writer with a capital W gets a paycheck!

Students must believe you have the knowledge to lead them to become the authors they can become. To do that you need to write. Write in front of them and write beside them. You can truly understand if a child is having trouble with a particular part of a story if you have struggled with the same issues.

I also believe in writing model pieces for your students. I do this before the lesson is taught and then also write again in front of them. This process also helps to find issues with your writing prompts. If you cannot write to the prompt as an adult then most likely the students will have the same issue. It gives you the opportunity to change the prompt before you give it to students!

3. Cultivate the Real Student Writer

I use materials and resources that real writers use – not just teaching resources.  I have used The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, and Inner Outings by Charlene Geiss and Claudia Jessup.

Teach writing like it is an experience, not just an assignment. Teach the students like they are authors, not just children. It is important to honor their feelings and imagination while they are young since they seem to lose a lot of creativity as they progress through the grade levels. The spark that is their own voice needs to be respected and seen. Writing is not about formulas and plugging words into it. I do not want to read the same story over and over and your students don’t want to write that either.

A little freedom and trust can produce some amazing pieces from the most unexpected students. I worked with a group of fourth graders that most would call troublesome and they matured into such writers with incredible insight that I was moved to tears. Performance can be a true part of the writing process. They realized they had something to say and worked to make it clear to their audience.

I will share some specific writing activities I have successfully used with students in a later post.

4. Use Mentor Texts

To be a great writer, you have to read. Read aloud and point out what the author did craft wise or just lines you wish you have written yourself. If you are writing a specific genre piece then read books in that genre.

I also model how I use my writer notebook and the students see me carry it around all the time. When I am circulating during writing time and I say to a student, “Oh, I love how you said that. I never thought about it that way before, I am going to write a note about that in my writer’s notebook.” Then I do it right in front of them!

 

Keep writing!

 

Get Ready! Get Set! READ!

Several years ago I started a parent workshop program at the elementary building where I worked. The goal was to create positive relationships with the parents and to improve student achievement of the incoming kindergartners the next year.

The idea began with a teacher reading about a program deployed at another school. The school where I worked had rising ISTEP+ scores and DIBELS scores and we seemed to be doing a lot of things right for our kids to achieve, but the primary staff wanted to prepare our incoming kindergartners better. After interviewing several parents during kindergarten roundup, a plan was solidified, deployed, and made real!

Parents said they would do more if they knew what to do. The parents honestly didn’t know what to do at home to get their students ready for school. To aid in our knowledge base, I also scheduled a round table discussion with the local preschools to get their insight into this age group.

This is what we did:

A critical attribute is to make parents comfortable so an impact could be made. Many of the parents I work with have not so nice feelings about the school environment so to get them to come they needed to not feel intimidated. We dressed down on purpose and paid attention to the education jargon we tend to throw around. Teachers forget we have our TIER 3 vocabulary that scares people off.

Food also increased attendance!

The timing was important. We scheduled sessions during the morning and the afternoon but the attendance was not what we had hoped. We then switched to evenings after surveying the parents. Many of the parents worked during the day in the community.

The idea was to have the materials at the workshop so the parents could learn how to play and teach their children and then take the materials home with them to continue the learning.

Everything was modeled for the parents and then the parents played with their students. We did have a read aloud with the books and modeled how to ask questions.

TWO program threads:

  1. Topic specific sessions
    1. Literacy/DIBELS
    2. Geometry/Shapes/Counting
    3. Physical Development
  2. Literacy Bag sessions (more on this program in a later post)

Literacy Activities:

1. Nursery Rhymes

These are so important and are almost forgotten!

2. Ways to Read a Book

-Read the words

-Use the pictures to retell the story.

-Use the pictures to tell a made up story.

-Look for letters your child knows. (Especially from their name)

-Looks for words your child knows.

-Use the title and pictures to work on sounds. (We introduced the WILSON sound cards to students)

3. Using Highlighters to focus on letters

Highlight letters (or words) that child knows in newspaper, magazines, junk mail, poems, etc

4. Play-dough for making snakes and letters

5. Squishy Bags (ziploc bags with paint and duct taped for kids to write like a magic slate)

Picture1

Math:

1.Wooden sequence puzzles

2. Books featuring math and shapes

3. SHAPE! Bang game

4. Play-dough for numbers and one to one correspondence

5. Take home file folder counting game

Gross Motor Skills:

  1. Obstacle course
  2. Learning to jump rope
  3. Color and number hopscotch

This program was a lot of fun and helped strengthen the relationships the teachers have with the community.

cutting

More soon!

I Am Thinking…

I am thinking about the top 5 things in my life that represent me and how I write about them for me and then how I write about them to help others.

I am thinking about new words: accouterments, attenuate, parlance, modicum, anomalous, and ossify.

I am thinking about how I can use the word BANAL more often.

I am thinking about Hanlon’s Razor.

I am thinking about red dresses in a sea of gray.

I am thinking about home and what that means to me.

I am thinking about what is temporary…and beginning to wonder if everything is.

Waiting

A couple years ago I read a poem about waiting and I asked a colleague if she felt like she was always waiting for something. She said yes. This notion comes back to me now and again and plagues my ponderings.

Aren’t we always waiting for something?

I am waiting for certain things to be over and certain things to begin. We are waiting for time periods to end in our lives so we can move to the next one.

Some are large and some are small.

I am waiting for the ISTEP+ window to be closed so I can stop testing. I am waiting for the weather to be better so I can run more miles outside. I am waiting for lunch time because I am hungry. I am waiting for a book to come out so I can read it. I am waiting for the end of the day so I can leave…or go to sleep. I am waiting for a certain time.  I am waiting…I am waiting…

But even when we are done waiting for what we are waiting for…there is something else to wait for after that.

I need to remember that we are in the moment and that is what is important. I need to savor the time that I have NOW.

Ten on Tuesday

Ideas to remember:

  1. I want to try to remember to write my own feelings during a meeting while I am taking notes. I read this tip over the last 2 weeks – although I cannot remember where – and I want to try it to see what happens.
  2. Pay attention to the little details especially when it comes to watching people for character development.
  3. Write – everyday – no excuses.
  4. Take time to read.
  5. Zadie Smith: “If you never take a class in your life, you can still become a professional writer – as long as you read. The reading isn’t optional.”
  6. Forgive …but do not forget.
  7. Learn new words this week.
  8. Enjoy the new running shoes and the joy of the run.
  9. Keep my sense of wonder and magic.
  10. Breathe!