Leave It To A Teacher #SOL20

An Innovative Way to Make Readable Text

My superpower is teaching students to read. It doesn’t matter how old they are. I can hear nuances in their process and am able to fill in the cracks so they can make quick progress. 

I also pay attention to what they are interested in and what they need.

When I was teaching first grade way back in 1996 I needed books for my kids with decodable and familiar text for them to practice with accuracy. There was no Teachers Pay Teacher or Pinterest back then. I had to find an easy solution.

That solution was using PowerPoint for bookmaking.

When I was a novice teacher, I took risks constantly with my students. I found the ideas that worked in my classroom were based on research I found later. Dr. Richard Allington and Marie Clay were huge influencers to me. I just continued using them because they worked.

I teach kindergarten now and even with the internet resources available, I still have the need to make books for my students.

I have given books to students and said, “I saw this and thought of you.” then watch as they read it whenever they can. I have also said, “I created this just for you.” It yields the same result: Reading.

I started teaching teachers my technique when I was nurtured by the Tech Trio. These were three technology education teachers employed by my first corporation. They also encouraged me to write a proposal to share my techniques at the Indiana Computer Educators conference. This conference would be the first of many I presented at over the course of my career.

The solution for me was to take a presentation program and turn it into a bookmaking program.

The design was simple. The text would be at the top of the page with a picture to help the student read. 

The first book I needed was an environmental print book. The first day of class I have students read me the book. Then they get a sticker . I tell them someone asks them what the sticker is for they are to tell them they read a book!

The idea that my students are readers the first day solidifies this identity for them. There is no arguments. There are no limiting beliefs that they are too young. They just did what they thought was impossible.

We add to class books as the year goes on, highlighting the uniqueness of that class. One year we had to have a hot Cheeto page. 

I created books with their spelling words, their sight words, the vocabulary words for the reading focus that week, favorite class words. 

It created the environment for them to be authors.  I didn’t have to tell them to do it, it was a regular practice. Soon they learned to make their own books.

PowerPoint and Google Slides allows you to print the pages so you can run it through the copier and staple into the books immediately. If you duplicate the page and print 2 to a page then you just have to cut them in half. There is no sorting that way and saves you tons of time.

Creating books contributed to my outcome of nurturing readers and writers. What a reading community it is!

What Gap Do You Need to Close? #SOL20

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In education, we talk about gaps all the time. The gap of learning where children start and where we want them to go based on standards and minimum requirements. Sometimes it is how we can enrich a child that has special potential. 

We are always minding the gap.

Summer is the time for educators to examine the gaps within our own knowledge and experience and fill that to become a better instructor.

So I ask you today, what gap do you need to close for yourself professionally?

Over the course of the spring many of us had to close gaps in our knowledge arsenal quickly. I learned how to make Screencastify videos, how to be comfortable trying to teach through a screen, how to create and take a virtual field trip, how to engage students over a Zoom meeting, and how to make and manipulate a Bitmoji classroom.

I am always learning. 

The dreams about school have already started for me. I dreamed I changed classrooms with a teacher I taught with several years ago. I was teaching intervention groups in the hallway. I was trying to order a calendar set and worried it wouldn’t come in on time.

Usually, the dreams don’t start until August but this was an unusual school year for me. Not only did I have to conquer the pandemic constraints to my job but I also changed jobs and states. This was the change I desired. The teaching from home and the ending of the school year was not my choice but as a kindergarten teacher, you have to be adaptable.

I have a professional book to read for school this summer. I am making lists in my passion planner of things I want to buy and do this year with my kindergartners. I have excitement to start the school year already. 

I have a list of books I will try to find at the thrift shop for my classroom. I am looking at the activities and protocols I will teach the first week. I pay attention to my Pinterest feed and am making materials to use with my students. I am going to use Canva more to make certain items visually appealing. I have the time now and can play without the pressure of having to push it out immediately.

I am a risk-taker in my classroom. If an idea comes to the surface we try it and see what happens. I am open with the kids about this. I tell them – if we like it and it works we keep it. If not, we chuck it.

I will have a spot on my board for something interesting that day. It might be a quote, a picture to make them think, a question of the day, or a fun word for them to use.

I am going to do priming exercise with my kids every day to get them ready for learning. It is a combination of breathing and visualizations. 

To keep me on my toes I have decided to write an article about education every week. This is easy to remember with Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life challenge.

One of the things I want to bring to my kids this year is delight. School is supposed to be fun. I have to figure out how to layout my room. Thinking through some of the activities I want to incorporate into the day will help with this task as well.

To close the gap, I will study and make sure to take notes. How will you?

Self Imposed Summer PD

Tony Robbins Apologizes for Saying Women Use #MeToo to Gain ...

One of the ways I am striving to be a better human and teacher is to always be learning. Part of my self imposed curriculum this summer is the teachings of Tony Robbins. I am working with one of his Peak Performance Speakers, Karissa Kouchis. 

One of the concepts Tony Robbins (TR) talks about is the 6 Human Needs. As I was listening to a workshop recording it occurred to me these apply in a special way to how I run my classroom in regards to my students. 

  1. Certainty or Comfort 

All humans search for what they know for sure. Students are no different. This is why agendas work in classrooms and why some students are constantly asking what is next when you don’t tell them. When there is not enough certainty, students will react and try to create it on their own. This is not always pleasant. Students do not know sometimes why they are doing something – they are simply trying to get their needs met. This is another reason the culture of your classroom is so important for students to be comfortable. 

  1. Uncertainty or Variety 

Now, these first two seem to be in conflict with each other since they are opposites. When we have too much certainty,  then we get bored and start looking for adventure. This is also where students get in trouble. When they get too comfortable and there is not enough variety, they will create their own variety. Creating variety that is appealing to your students can go a long way in having everyone’s needs being met. This is why we change where we are sitting, encourage brain drainers and movement, we change groupings of students, and the way we share information.

  1. Significance 

Children need to be seen for who they are. They need to be worth attention and purpose. This is an important component of relationship and knowing who our students are. I am sure that I could ask any one of you reading this who is a teacher what certain students in your class like or dislike. You probably know the names of their dog, what foods they don’t like and who they were mad at last week. This is why greeting students at the door is important and also asking when student’s behavior changes.

  1. Connection 

How many times have we said relationships are the most important factor in a classroom? I am going to say it again – RELATIONSHIPS ARE IMPORTANT!  It is a human need for everyone to have connection. 

  1. Contribution and Service 

Knowledge and input is important but so is giving and doing for others. Random Acts of Kindness was an example TR brought up in one of the recordings. I have seen classroom and school projects that have encompassed this idea. Students need to be able to have opportunities to help others. This is sometimes learned through home or church, but it is our responsibility as teachers to provide opportunities as well. 

  1. Growth 

We are always learning. Children are naturally curious. The main goal of students for achievement. As teachers, we want students to learn and achieve. We want them to reach the standards as a minimum and to learn to chase their curiosity. We provide them the tools for them to pursue learning on their own. I always want my students to be reading, writing, and problem-solving even when it isn’t assigned.

After some journaling and thinking about how this applied to me in the context of education, I concluded for my own needs of certainty and uncertainty it manifested as me transitioning from teaching to the coaching job. The uncertainty of the daily schedule and working with teachers counterbalanced the certainty of education and my knowledge. At the time I first transitioned, there was a whole new school and program to learn as well.

I can also see why EL education is so appealing to me. It covers all the human needs within their curriculum, including the service component. Giving to others is not a standard part of most ELA curriculums. I find the first two important with the balance. This is why I use EL protocols for students to share and learn from each other. 

I am just at the beginnings of examining this list and all it will encompass for the fall but it is exciting to think about.

I would love to hear which one resonates with you the most. Are there needs you do a great job with your classroom already? Is there one that seems lacking?

Sunday Delights

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There is delight in Sundays. Even during the quarantine, Sunday feels different. Time is a unique component to life. It flows or it stalls.

Sundays are for looking forward and looking back. These are things that happen no other time of the week. Sundays used to be for running long with friends. It was my worship. Now it is a time for reflection.

Sundays are for being outside in nature. Today I went for my walk. I didn’t worry about running today. I enjoyed the sun on my face. The feeling of health and being smaller. Today marks day 24 of my health program “Back to Zero.” I need to get back into a size zero which is what this means. I am in the process of losing the weight I have gained over the last couple of years and the quarantine.

But on my walk today I felt tired. I had thought if it had rained, I would have not gone. I actually went the longest mileage I have all week today. A friend reminded me, “You’re waterproof, you know. Rain is no excuse.” I remember after she types this that I have run most of my running races in rain. In fact, a half marathon was delayed for rain. It totally messed my race up.

Sundays are for reading. I look forward to the Sunday newsletter from my friend Jenna. There is always thoughtful and insightful sentences from her. It makes me think. It often inspires my own writing. I am also reading Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins, and Untamed by Glennon Doyle.

Sunday is for planning for the week. I do my Janning (journaling and planning together). I look at the items on the calendar and write about how I can make them all level 10. I anticipate the things that can mess it up and formulate a plan. I make an action items list.

Sundays are for writing. Every day in my world is for writing but Sunday is the day I write my weekend coffee share. It is my virtual cup of coffee with my friends. I reflect on the week I have had. Sometimes it is just a list of the things I have done and want to remember. Sometimes I share insights that I make.

Sundays are for getting ready for the week. Today is special. It is the first Sunday in a long time that I do not have to get ready for work and school on Monday. There is a weight to that emotion that is unexpected.

Sundays emit different feelings. It used to be the day to go to my Oma’s and have dinner. It used to be the day I visited friends.

What do Sundays mean to you?

Decisions not Preferences #SOL20

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June is my month of renewed power.

I have returned to what I know about decisions. When I make a decision, I do it. There is no compromise. My life has changed when I made the decision. Usually there is a plan that goes along with it to make sure there is action.

One example is I have decided to take my health back. One factor is to drink more water. I have decided to drink 64 oz of ice water daily. Most days it is more but I know if I drink 2 White Sox souvenir glasses worth I am good.  I am not preferring to be more hydrated…I am doing it.

I want to live my life doing the things that light me up. Feeling good in my body is one of them.

Another way that I light up is when I can share the things that I am learning and that are important to me with my students.  

One of the concepts I was introduced to this week is called Priming. It is just what it sounds like – you prime yourself for the day. Today is my second day of participating in a priming exercise and it is powerful. The first time I cried and I am not a crier. The emotions gripped me so fiercely it was the only way to let out the emotion.

As I was on my walk today it occurred to me I can do this with my class in the fall. I am going to incorporate a priming exercise in the fall with my kindergarteners. They are going to learn how to start their day with breathing, gratitude, happiness, pride, and projection.

I will solidify the plan for the fall but the skeleton pieces are as follows:

  1. Deep breathing with body movements
  2. Space for them to honor something they are thankful for
  3. Space for them to bring them back to a moment they were happy
  4. Space for them to learn what pride is and for them to be brought back to a moment they were proud of themselves
  5. Space for them to think of something they want to see themselves doing in the future

If we start the day this way I can invite influence for my students to have the best day possible. We will all learn from each other.

I am so excited to have made this decision.

I am also excited to start using the EL Education Kindergarten curriculum with my students. I cannot wait to teach them protocols.

What decisions have you made today?

The One Where a 7 Layer Cake Turned into a Trifle #SOL20

When I went back to the classroom at the end of January my plan was to write an education article every week. I wasn’t sure exactly what it would be as an end product in these beginning stages. I find with some writing projects they morph into what they truly are as I move along.

Maybe it would be blog posts.

Maybe it would be a series of Medium articles.

Maybe it would be a book.

As a coach, I found it harder and harder to write the type of articles I wanted to put into the world because I teach with a lot of nuance. It was one of the reasons I wanted to go back to the classroom. There are day to day decisions I make with kids especially in the area of writing that I cannot remember later. I have to write it as a journal type piece, at least at first. My coaching position had me split between two buildings and too many classrooms to count. I found it increasingly frustrating to find my way into what I wanted to say.

In January, I changed states and jobs and went back to teaching Kindergarten. It was a rough adjustment and the students had been through several weeks of trauma. We were finding our new rhythms quickly.

Then COVID 19 took hold of the world. I went home on a Friday thinking I was returning to school on Monday. I got the email later that evening that we were not returning. “More info to come,” the email read.

No one was allowed in the building. Our fobs had been shut off. 

Now I’m trying to teach kindergarten through distance learning – with no prior system in my district. These students are also ones I have had for weeks – not months. There were things that they would have know if they had been with me since August, but that wasn’t the situation we were in.

On Zoom, I cannot teach protocols for my students to talk with each other and learn. They learn how to mute and unmute themselves instead.

I don’t have all my students with me on Zoom meetings because this time is hard for a lot of my parents. The kids are being moved around to relatives and friends and my parents are still trying to work.

There are no hugs and no pats of encouragement on Zoom. I cannot walk around and help my students tap out their words. On Zoom I have the added audience of parents. Not bad, just different.

On Zoom there are no centers where all the extra paper goes and all my kids flock to it at all times of the day to make their books. This is something I miss every day.

Right before we left school one of my students latched onto the idea of a carrot – the upside down V to insert something that you have no space for when handwriting. (Somehow I think that can be an essay in itself!) He turned it into an angry carrot illustration. It was a gateway into him co-authoring a book of him and I going to to the park together. He had not said more than a couple of words to me at a time up to that point. It was a moment of entry.

Teaching in the classroom was a beautiful 7 layer cake – bakery quality. It had the perfect ratio of frosting to cake. It was decorated and you looked forward to eating it because you made it from scratch and knew it will be delicious. Every bite delicious!

Distance learning is that same cake, but it is all mashed up and crumbled and layered in a trifle dish . It isn’t quite the elegant dessert of the 7 layer cake. It still tastes good, but it is not refined and is a mess. There are other things added like strawberries and whipped cream and they are spilling out of the sides of the glass dish.

I am looking forward to eating my cake in the fall.

Writing In Place #SOL20

Yesterday I was listening to Nina’s podcast and she gave the writing prompt of looking out all the windows in your dwelling and to write about what you see from the one you were drawn to. She also suggested a character you were working on to look out a window and describe what they see.

I wrote in my notebook yesterday a few lines and drew a doodle in my notebook in response.

In true teacher fashion, I thought about what this would look like in my classroom. I imagined giving my kindergarteners a black line drawing of a window and anticipating what they would draw and then write about.

I would read them The Hello Goodbye Window and we would laugh and I would see how their writing and drawings would change.

I will save this for the fall with my new class but I wish I was doing this today and sharing pictures of their writing with this community.

Weekend Coffee Share

A Cup of Coffee and a Conversation

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Welcome back to Sunday! A lot has transpired this week!

If we were having coffee I would tell you I am off school for now for 3 weeks. We will see if it is extended after that time. There is much speculation. I am taking the time as a gift and time to relax and take care of myself and my family.

If we were having coffee I would tell you I read more this week. I need to read more now. It is how I cope with stress and also fuels my writing. I read the newest Paris Review yesterday notably a story by Jesse Ball about turning into a mouse. I read several poems too. I have been able to put holds and pick up books I have heard about on my favorite podcasts. One book I picked up is Meander, Spiral, Explode recommended by Kathy Fish during a writing class last year. It is a dense book but smart.

Do you need a refill? Maybe some water? What books are you reading? Do you turn to reading when you are stressed? I am curious.

Please read the rest of this post here:https://medium.com/the-partnered-pen/weekend-coffee-share-b3508bfd5ca0

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Reading is Controversial?

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Support me as a writer and please read this article here.

In the US Read Across America day is celebrated on March 2, Dr. Seuss’ birthday. As an elementary reading specialist, I took advantage of all of these special “holidays” created around reading to promote books and fun to my students. (Another one is read for the record day which began with Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar)

I used to facilitate a school wide rotation of Dr. Seuss centers. At the time, we had an early childhood vocational program that helped create centers for the event for several years.

I have dressed up as the Cat in the Hat more times than I can count. If I look hard enough, I can probably find the newspaper clippings proving it.

On Tuesday evening while in the car I was listening to the Creative Kindergarten podcast and she was talking about how Read Across America day has changed from a Dr. Seuss focus to a more diverse focus this year. NEA had gotten complaints in some fashion about the connection to this author.

I do not have an objection to it being changed to be more diverse. We need more diverse books in classrooms. As my friend Lisa Vahey says, we need to have books that are windows and doors. Children need to see themselves in the text and they also need to learn about people different from them.

Personally, I like to read to learn about how others think. I want to know how characters would handle a situation I have never been in. I feel it prepares me if I ever AM in that situation.

I have always thought about Dr. Seuss’ characters being universal especially the ones that are …animals? As I write this I struggle for a word that describes Sneeches and the Lorax accurately. Larger ideas can still be discussed when reading Dr. Seuss.

As a writer, I am fascinated that Green Eggs and Ham was a writing dare to Seuss. He was challenged to write a book with 50 words or less. I love a prompt of a list of words to construct a story and I am certain I have given that prompt to students.

All of this controversy makes me wonder about people. The conversation needs to be had and the addition of more authors and types of books is a step in the right direction. But does name calling need to occur? Does being nasty about it make it more memorable? That idea is NOT what we want to be modeling for children.

Let’s keep the fun and the wonder. Let’s keep the positive and forward moving parts and then add where we are lacking with respect and kindness to everyone whether you would eat green eggs and ham with Sam I am or not.

5 Education Reflection Questions

I love questions. I love to ask them of others and to reflect on them in my own writing and mind. I have a question collections from reading and also from podcasts. The end of the year is a great time to think about which questions I want to ask more regularly.

Here are 5 Questions I am pondering lately:

  1. What gives me life at work?
  2. What wears me out at work?
  3. Is there anything I can do to eliminate or diminish the effects of #2?
  4. What do I truly want to change?
  5. What do I miss from my teaching life?

Number 5 is the one that is popping out to me the most lately. Being a coach I am often just outside the teaching. I co-teach with others and model lessons but there is something different about having students that are my own day to day.

Student action and reactions to what I plan is exciting to me. I truly look forward to the discussions I have with students.

One thing I did recently was to make the notecatcher for students look like sketchnotes. My model on the large chart paper looks like the student version.

I want my 7th graders to be motivated and I was thinking about how I would like notes to be more fun.

In my own classroom I used to take risks and ask kids in my class all the time to evaluate our practices and reflect. My goal was always to give them strategies they would use forever, not just for the next assignment or test.

I miss the day to day schedule and the micro movements to change students behavior and academic action. I miss family meeting time, the group written chart story and mini-lesson, the independent writing time and conferencing. I miss the many real alouds a day and writing practice time.

I need to incorporate a time blocking schedule to my coaching life. The schedule between 3 offices gets tiresome some weeks. I need to dedicate certain days to certain tasks to keep myself on track and get more focused work completed.

Questions 1, 2, and 3 had me thinking about my first teaching job and a life-changing conversation. A good friend and I in the first building I ever worked in, had a discussion about what I missed about college. She asked me specifically what I missed with the idea that I could incorporate those missed experiences into my life now. The idea was to take the essence of the actions and make it real again. I took that to heart and made some changes that were wonderful.

Question #4 had both a small and large impact on my thinking today. The small impact is a self-editing idea that I learned in high school. A teacher advised reading my piece one sentence at a time, starting at the end. Taking the sentence out of context allowed me to focus on the sentence itself without the content of the story surrounding it. I would be less likely to skip over important details this way.

I would love to be able to work from home a couple days a month but not sure that is possible with the new schedule.

I am always trying to improve my practice!

Please read this piece here.