Saturday, October 22, 2011

First Steps ~ Moving Towards a Math Workshop

I recently finished reading Math Exchanges by Kassia Omohundro Wedekind, and experienced an awakening of sorts. I have met with two colleagues (who have read or will be reading Math Exchanges) and we are now ready to start making some changes to our math blocks to better meet the needs of our students. I have many ideas running through my head and so to help me organize my thoughts, I am just going to create a list of things I plan to change and/or try.

Before I begin, I should probably say that my school is an Everyday Math school. I do like Everyday Math but I often wish I had more flexibility with my time and I feel that my students need a deeper understanding of number sense and more problem solving. These are both present in Everyday Math but I think my students need more. I generally follow the Everyday Math program fairly closely but I want to have more of a workshop feel than I currently do. Everyday Math lessons follow a predictable format: mental math and reflexes, a whole group lesson, practice which can include independent work, partner work and games which is similar to a workshop model. After doing some thinking and talking with my teammates we decided that we can use most of these parts and create more of a workshop feel on our own. So we will still use Everyday Math but will begin to tweak things more and more as the year progresses.

Below are some of my ideas of things that I want to try and/or change.
  • The first thing that I plan to do is to be more open to "going with the flow" of ideas that come up naturally in any math related discussion. I will not keep one eye on the clock and worry about "getting finished" on time. I will follow the students' thinking and have them share more with the rest of the class. This will help foster that workshop feeling that I am trying to create.
  • The next thing that I want to add is to begin to use what Kassia Omohundro Wedekind calls Mathematician Statements. These statements are just lists of things that mathematician do. Some examples include: Mathematicians ask themselves questions and Mathematicians persevere. This will help to develop the workshop culture by labeling the actions that mathematicians do as they solve problems.
  • I also plan to add small group meeting times or Math Exchanges to our day. I'll start with meeting with one small group each day towards the end of our math time. These groups will be heterogeneous and will change over time. My goals for the small group meetings are to be able to work more closely with students because they are in a smaller group, to have more time for students to share their ideas with each other, and to be able to gather data about how each student approaches problems and what they know and can do. I also hope that students will feel more comfortable sharing their thinking in a smaller group. 
  • Another way that I plan to add more math to my day is to do some math during our morning meeting. I have two books that I am planning to use to help me with this. They are Doing Math in Morning Meeting by Andy Dousis and Margaret Berry Wilson and Number Sense Routines by Jessica Shumway.
  • I will also use many of the ideas in Number Sense Routines to add to the mental math portion of the Everyday Math lesson. I have ten frames that I made years ago and haven't used much lately at all. I can't wait to dust them off.
  • I also made many games that I read about in a book by Constance Kamii years ago. (I can no longer remember the name of that book.) I plan to use these along with other activities like counting collections (from Math Exchanges) to provide choices of things for students to work on while I meet with my small group each day.
  • Keeping notes on student strengths and next steps will also be part of my small group time each day.
  • Finally, I want to take Kassia Omohundro Wedekind's advice and teach my students to live like mathematicians. I want us to notice the math that is all around us all the time and to take the time to bring it up and talk about it.
So this is where I plan to start. I still hope to continue to move towards a more full-blown math workshop but I am starting here and will continue to revise as we move through the rest of the year.

Note to Self: This post is getting long but I wanted to add this note to myself about things to add to our math workshop later. Remember to think about how number talks can fit in and to add technology as one of the choices - things like explaining your thinking in a Voice Thread or in an app like Show Me or Screen Chomp on the iPad. Those can also be future posts.

Friday, October 21, 2011


I have recently been experiencing an awakening of sorts. I teach first grade but that hasn't always been the case. I started my teaching career in middle school. I taught sixth grade my first year of teaching and then I was moved to eighth grade teaching Math and Algebra. I have to say that this wasn't my choice but I also must say that I ended up loving it. I taught middle school for 9 years and really became a "math person". I loved teaching math and helping students try to really understand math. I lived, breathed and dreamed math.

Fast forward to the present (skipping over several years of teaching 3rd, 4th and 5th grades) and I am where I have always wanted to be. First grade. One big difference between teaching middle school and elementary is that in elementary school you must focus on so many different content areas. I have to admit that I haven't been living, breathing and dreaming math while teaching first grade. I have really been focused on literacy. I have been working hard to create reading and writing workshops where I can meet with small groups and confer with individual students. I love doing this but recently something has been happening with my math teaching.

This summer I ordered a couple of professional books about teaching math and then after school started, I heard about another book, Math Exchanges by Kassia Omohundro Wedekind. I ordered that, too. I couldn't find the time to read them but the changes in my thinking were triggered. I started to really think about my math teaching and began to try to remember the things I truly believed about math and how students can best learn math. I knew that I needed to make some changes in my math teaching - especially in the area of having students think for themselves and solve mathematical problems. Then came the Math Exchanges blog tour and I jumped in. It was the final push that I needed to actually begin to read the books I had and get started with my changes.

While reading Math Exchanges, I started noticing student thinking more often in math and asking students to share their thinking - something that used to be second nature to me but that I had let fade away in first grade. One day we had a spontaneous discussion about whether zero was even or odd and I was hooked. I loved how my students were so excited to try and figure this out. They had a very heated but polite discussion about zero and eventually came to an agreement that zero was even based on the patterns they could see on a hundreds grid.

I have been able to finish reading Math Exchanges during my Fall Break and I have so many plans to change the way things work in our math block.  I still have more reading and learning to do but I can't wait to start making little changes each day - more to come about those changes in the next post. Thanks Kassia for spurring this math "awakening" in me.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Never Too Old for a Good Read Aloud

My daughter is in middle school and can read on her own but we still have a family read aloud time almost every day. We started when she was a baby, reading board books. One night her dad read to her and the next night I read to her. This pattern lasted for years. Recently it has changed to just her dad reading aloud to her each night but the dog and I still always listen in, too. I am not sure what brought about this change. It could be that she knows that I love to be read to also or it could be that her dad does a great job of reading aloud or it could be that she and I now have another way that we share books. She and I will read aloud a different book at some other time of day - she reads a while and then I read a while.

We have shared so many great books this way and can connect so many things from our daily life to the books we have read. I don't want these read aloud times to ever end. This made me remember reading about a father and daughter who had a "reading promise" and they ended up reading aloud every night from when the daughter was in fourth grade until she went to college. It made many news sources and the daughter has now written a book about it. I hope that our family can continue to read until our daughter finishes high school also.

Reading aloud is for everyone. The other night when my husband was reading from Clementine and the Family Meeting, the latest book in one of our favorite series, I was so touched by a passage he read that I was prompted to write this post. The passage was about a family meeting between Clementine, her little brother and her parents. The parents were sharing the news that the family was going to grow by adding a new baby. Clementine is not happy about this at first and says that the family "is moving too fast" and that they are "not ready". The passage that touched me was her mother's response:
"Oh, honey," my mom said. "Life is always moving too fast and we're never ready. That's how life is. But somehow that's just perfect."
I know that this passage will come up again in future conversations with our daughter. It will help us talk about how we all feel that things are moving too fast but that sometimes that is okay.

Reading aloud is a great way to bring up issues that can be challenging. We have read books about divorce, cerebral palsy, autism, financial difficulties, growing up, middle school, family relationships and more. It helps to have some of these topics brought up in a book so you can discuss them from a distance and not feel quite so personally involved.

I love to be read to and I think that many others do, too. Do you?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Under Pressure

 I am feeling the pressure of starting a new school year. I will be the first to admit that much of this pressure I put on myself - trying to do too much. However, there is another very real pressure that is very important to me and that I feel very strongly about.

We do something called Listening Conferences at our school. These conferences are held before school starts and are just between teacher and parents. The rest of our conferences throughout the year are Student-Led so the students are present for those. Anyway, during Listening Conferences, we simply listen to parents talk about their child and their hopes and dreams for their child. These hopes and dreams lead to the type of pressure that I am referring to in this post.

I learn so much about what is important to each family as they talk about their hopes and dreams for the school year. I come away from the conferences feeling very good about all that I have learned about each child and their family. The pressure comes later when I am thinking about making an attempt to fulfill those hopes and dreams. All of the families start each new school year hoping that this year will be "the year" for their child. They hope that their child will reach their full developmental, academic, social, emotional and physical potential, that they will bond with their new teacher and that they will be happy and have a wonderful year.

These are the same things that we all want for our children but it is very intimidating to be the one charged with meeting those expectations. With class sizes growing every year - I have 28 students this year - the demands seem virtually impossible to meet. I know that I will do my best and this will be a good year for all of my students but I also know that there will be some needs that I just can't meet.

I am working on trying to balance my expectations of myself so that I have the energy and stamina to begin to meet all of these needs and keep that energy going throughout the year. I am going to try to stay focused on the child in front of me at the moment and not let myself be swallowed up in thinking about how many needs  there are to be met. What about you? How do you keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed by all the needs you are facing and that you need to try to meet?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fall Voyage

The following post was also posted on my classroom blog for the parents of my students. It tells all about our Fall Voyage - why we went and what we did - along with photos.

Our Fall Voyage was a big success and lots of fun for all. (I am thinking that we should change the name to Summer Voyage because the weather was far more summer-like than fall-like.) Below is a slideshow of photos from our trip. If any chaperones have any great pictures that they would like to share, just send them to me and I will add them to this slideshow. Remember you can either just hit play and watch this slide show or you can use the arrows at the bottom of the pictures to move more quickly or to go backward and forwards. Have your child watch it with you so they can tell you all about each picture. Below the slideshow are some facts, stories, etc. about our trip.

Why do we have a Fall Voyage?

We have a Fall Voyage for many reasons.

  • We take voyages to push students just a little bit out of their comfort zone. Real learning occurs when you are pushed out of your comfort zone and are challenged to try things you have not done before. For some first graders the biggest challenge is simply being away from home for a night and learning that they can trust other adults and themselves. For others the challenge is being responsible for themselves and their gear instead of counting on mom or dad to keep track of everything. Most are challenged some way by the activities of the voyage. They must learn to work together, show perseverance when trying to find solutions to challenging problems, push themselves physically, and start to show independence in an age-appropriate manner.
  • I love the voyages because I get to see the students in a completely different environment and see other strengths that they have that might not show up in a classroom.
  • The voyages are also a great place for the students to practice the character traits that we have been working so hard to learn in class. Students also bring back some of the confidence and new skills that they learned on the trip and are able to apply them to academic learning.
  • We also all form tight bonds as a crew and are able to work very well together for the rest of the school year.

For a detailed description of the school’s philosophy for our Adventure Education trips, please see the Parent Handbook at the very bottom of the Adventure Education page of the Renaissance website.

What did we do at Camp Elim?

In addition to eating, sleeping, packing, unpacking and taking care of ourselves, we also had time for some learning and some fun. Listed below are the activities we did along with a very short description.

Initiatives (Problem Solving Challenges)
Bag It – This activity had us feeling objects in bags to try to figure out what they were without looking. We learned to use other senses rather than simply rely on sight to gather clues and make decisions. The best part of this activity for most students was that we did it in the teepee.

Mine, Mine, Mine – This activity was a trust walk with a twist. Students were blindfolded. The blindfolded students were led to a tree and they had to feel their tree and notice all of its features. Next the students were taken back to the meeting area and they removed their blindfolds. Then they had to go and find their tree only this time they were not wearing a blindfold. We also played another blindfold game at this station where students were "hunters and deer" and had to find each other or avoid each other.

Unnature Trail – This was a hike with a twist. We had to go on a short hike and along the way find items that were hidden along the trail that should not be there. Some items were very easy to find and other were very difficult. We had to really use our skills of observation to find things. This is when we saw a bear (teddy bear) in the woods. Many of the kids couldn’t wait to tell their parents that they saw a bear in the woods.

Stepping Stones - For this activity a grid of stones was laid out. Students had to figure out the correct path to navigate from one side to the other. This activity took lots of trial and error and lots of patience.

Recreational Activities
Craft – We created space monsters during this recreational activity. We got to use many materials including paint. Our finished products are at school. Thanks to Mr. Dan for transporting them all back for us.

Hike – On this hike our guide pointed out various plants and animals. We were particularly fascinated with the woodpecker homes and the burned areas.

Obstacle Course – This was a huge hit with all of the kids. There were many physical challenges at this station. I don't have pictures because I needed to be at a different station during this time. If any chaperones have photos of this and send them to me I will share them with you.

Solo Hike – This was a short walk with a stop for a little solo time to reflect on the voyage. The kids chose spots within a set boundary and they sat by themselves just thinking and looking around or writing or drawing in their Camp Elim journals. Ask your child to show you his or her journal so you can read some of their thoughts about the trip or see some drawings that they made.

Other Items

We had a big campfire and the chaperones were all a part of it. Two parents, Mr. Joe and Ms. Heather, were involved in a skit that led to many giggles and belly laughs. All of the other parents had knock knock jokes and other jokes to share with the kids. We also did the old campfire standard - we sang "I'm Bringing Home a Baby Bumblebee".  Apparently some of the boys were writing their own version of this during journal time before bed. You will have to ask the male chaperones for the details.

The meals were very good. For dinner we had barbeque chicken, green beans,potato salad and jello. We had mint chocolate chip ice cream cake for dessert. For breakfast we had pancakes and sausage. There was also a breakfast bar with fruit, granola, oatmeal and hard boiled eggs. Then for lunch we had sloppy joes, french fries, carrots and water melon with rice krispy treats for dessert.

The kids kept all of the adults smiling with their very cute comments. Just a few examples:
  • When our hiking guide picked a weed to show us, one student asked if his boss knew that he was doing that. 
  • The students were very worried on the bus ride up that the bus might run out of gas.
  • While on the hike students kept asking if we were lost even when the camp was clearly visible.
  • One student's mom told her to be sure to spin on the tire swing because it was healthy for her. (Okay, so that is not true but it was an attempt to get to spin on the tire swing because we were limiting time on the tire swing because the spinning made kids too dizzy.)
There are many more but I can't remember them all. I am hoping that the chaperones will share some cute stories in the comments of this post.

It really was a wonderful trip. Thanks again to all of the chaperones who gave so generously of their time. Chaperoning is just like parenting or teaching – the toughest job you will ever love.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Teach with Your Strengths

I have been in school with students for eight days now. The dust is just beginning to settle from all of the beginning of the year craziness. One of those beginning of the year things on my "to do" list was to meet with my principal to discuss my goal(s) for this year.

Prior to our meeting, I thought and thought about what I wanted my goal to be this year. I did what came naturally to me (unfortunately) and went straight to what I thought was my weakness as a teacher. I know that I am good at many things as a teacher but I also know that the area I could most use improvement in would be in assessment.  I thought about it a lot but I really didn't like that as a goal. It sounded so dry and boring. Finally I told myself to just grow up and do it.

I went into the meeting with my principal and told her my goal would be on assessment but that I hadn't narrowed it down yet. I also told her that I wasn't very excited about it but knew that was what I most needed to work on. She looked right at me and said that assessment could not be my goal. I was puzzled but kept listening. She said that she wanted us to be excited about our goal and that we should teach with our strengths. So we talked a while longer and came up with the goal of working on developing my PLN and helping other staff members do the same. Now this was something that I was very excited about doing and could really see as a very valuable way to spend my time. My principal said that we would all still work on assessment as a staff but that she really wanted us to have "juicy" goals that would propel us forward and she wants us to lead with our strengths. I was very happy as I left her office.

As I walked back to my room though, I began to wonder about my own thinking. My goal last year had been to help each student lead with their strengths and passions and not to dwell on their weaknesses. (Post about that here.) I know all the reasons why this is good practice. I do not want students to feel like school is the place where they only notice what you do not do well and make you do it over and over until you get better. I know that passion and excitement bring about motivation and a desire to learn more. I know that we need to see the strengths and passions of others in order to understand our strengths as a community. I feel like I do a good job of building on students' strengths and noticing what they can do. What surprised me was that I did not apply this to my own learning at all. I see now that I still have more work to do on shifting my mindset to one that builds on strengths - including my own.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


This week we are talking about the third and final section of Conferring by Patrick Allen. Laura Komos is hosting the conversation this week on her blog, Our Camp Read-A-Lot. Be sure to stop by and check out the whole conversation or leave a comment with your ideas. If you are just joining us be sure to check out our earlier conversations about Part 1 and Part 2 of the book.

In this section, Patrick Allen talks about walk-aways or the things he wants his students to have as they walk away from a conference. So for this final post on Conferring, I think I will share my walk-aways from reading this book and participating in this blog book chat.

  • First and foremost, I need to decide what notes I want to take at each conference so that I can spend my time listening to a student during a conference rather than thinking about what notes I might take.
  • I am currently doing a modified type of guided reading group with my students. After a book introduction and/or a quick lesson I move around the table to read with each student. I have been making these quick reading times with the students have more of a conference feel than a guided reading feel and I want to continue and improve upon that. I am not sure which of Patrick's categories this fits under - Capital G Guided Reading or small g guided reading. It may be closer to small g guided reading. This will be in addition to my regular conferring during independent reading.
  • I have been experimenting with Evernote on the iPad and think that I might be able to use that for my notes. I will need some additional type of form to keep track of when and how often I confer with each student but that can be in Evernote, too.
  • I want to remember to leave my students with a walk-away of their own after each conference. The few times that a student and I have been very explicit about their new plan or goal, it has been very successful. First graders love to try new things and they are open to suggestions from me. I need to end each conference with a "P" - plan, progress or purpose. I need to make sure this is in my notes so I can follow up with the student later.
  • It is important to keep in mind that "laughter is a natural sign of inferring". (p. 167)
  • So many of the "Conferring Ain't Easy" premises struck me and are things that I need to keep at the front of my mind as I confer. These include: Conferring is Teaching, Not Fault Finding, Shut Up and Listen, Nudge Thinking Deeper, My Knees Are Killing Me and You Need a Mint. The first three are the ones that will help me change the substance of my conferences while the last two will help me make conferring more comfortable for everyone involved.
My first day of school with students is two weeks from today and I feel like I have a great plan in place to make some significant changes in my reading (and writing and math) conferences. Thanks, Patrick, for writing Conferring and giving us all so much to think about.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Components of Conferring
"Conferring" Blog Bookchat ~ Part 2

We are in the middle of our discussion of "Conferring" by Patrick Allen. Last week we discussed the learning environment necessary to be successful with conferring with students. It has been very interesting to read all of the various reflections and think about all of the different viewpoints. Thanks to all who have joined the discussion. This week we will talk about the various components of conferring. You can join in this conversation, too. Here's how:
  1. Leave a comment at the end of this post.
  2. Write a post about your reflections, and place your link in the comments below. I will then update this post to include a link your blog.
  3. Comment on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD.
  4. Visit other blog reflections and comment.
I was very anxious to read this section of the book because I wanted to really learn more about the ins and outs of conferring. While I did pick up some new ideas, I think the most important thing I gained was a sense that maybe I am better at conferring than I give myself credit for. I always feel like I should be doing more with each conference than I currently am. Reading this section made me really think about how beneficial it is for students to do less but to think about it more deeply.

Reading the conference scripts in this section made me reflect on exactly what my purpose is when conferring with a student. I have decided that the main purpose is to notice where the student is and help them grow a bit in their thinking. I often felt like since I couldn't meet with each student every day that I needed to make the most of this short time with them and pack as much as possible into the conference. I will be trying to slow myself down during my conferences in the future and focusing on one thing at a time.

The other topic that I was very anxious to learn about was note-taking and/or record keeping. I, too, have used many, many different types of record keeping but I noticed that I really didn't refer back to my notes. After reading the section Conferring Versus Collecting (pages 107 and 108), I realized that I need to stop taking notes just to have notes and that I need to think about exactly what information I would actually use if I recorded it. I haven't quite figured this out yet but I know that I will be thinking about it a lot as we get closer to those first few days of school.

One thing that I have noticed about my conferring in the past was that when I did get frustrated with my various note-taking systems and just gave up on them, my actual conferring was better. I wasn't distracting myself with thinking about what I was going to write down at the end of this conference. I think that if I create a plan or list of notes that I will actually use, it will also free me up to really listen to the student I am conferring with and not be collecting a series of notes that I won't use. So before my first conference this year I need to generate that list so my students will get my full attention.

One quote from this section that I just loved and I think pretty much says it all (for me) was by Bev Bos:
What your children take home in their hearts is far more important than what they take home in their hands. (p. 139)
Today's Discussion
The Schedule of our Discussion:

July 6th
Part 1: What Brings About a Good Conference, Anyway?
Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community

July 13th
Part 2: What are the Essential Components of Conferring?
Hosted by me at My Primary Passion

July 20th
Part 3: What Emerges from Our Reading Conferences?
Hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-A-Lot

To Be Announced
Twitter Chat

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Blog Bookchat ~ Conferring Part 1

Today, our Blog Bookchat discussion is focused on Part 1 of Conferring by Patrick Allen. Part 1 consists of three chapters - the first is about "counterfeit beliefs" surrounding conferring, the second is about goals for conferring and the third is about building an environment that supports conferring. There is a lot to think about in these three chapters but two things really struck me as I was reading.

The first thing that struck me was that while I don't consciously have any of the "counterfeit beliefs" about conferring now, I have had issues with some of them in the past. The items from the list that caused me to rethink my conferring plans were:
If I don't meet with every student every day, I'm not doing a good job.

I need to confer with every student the same number of times for the same amount of time each week.
I feel like conferring or any type of one-on-one instructional interaction with students is among the best practices in education. I know that I can't meet with every student every day but I still want to (even in the face of increasing class size). So since I use conferring in reading, writing and math I try to confer with different students in each content area each day. I still don't meet with every student every day but at the end of the day I have conferred with a significant number of students. Those personal interactions are important to the students so while I don't worry about the number of minutes or number of times I meet with a student each day or week. I do need to make sure that I am at least checking in with each student frequently so that they feel like a valued member of our learning community.

The other part of this first section of the book that caused me to really stop and think was the chapter on building an environment for conferring. I think all of the ashlars (pillars of support) that Patrick Allen mentions in this chapter are very important. He asked us to consider what our own ashlars would be and I think that I would add asking students to learn about what others are passionate about or what strengths others have. I think knowing this really encourages deeper understanding of the idea that we are all different types of learners and readers. It also helps them be able to have conversations with each other about the kinds of reading that they are doing and why they are making the choices they are making. This could probably fit in with Patrick's first ashlar of having a sense of trust, respect and tone, but I also think it is important enough that it could be separated out.

I am really looking forward to reading Part 2 of the book about components of conferring. The content of my conferences is where I really need to do some thinking, refining and revising.

This week's Blog Bookchat is being hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community so you should head on over there to join the conversation.

The schedule for the rest of the Blog Bookchat is:

July 13th
Part 2: What are the Essential Components of Conferring?
Hosted by me at My Primary Passion

July 20th
Part 3: What Emerges from Our Reading Conferences?
Hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-A-Lot

July 21st
Twitter Chat
This will be a conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Blog Bookchat

I have been chatting on Twitter with Cathy Mere and Laura Komos. We were tweeting and blogging about what professional reading we are planning to do this summer. Cathy noticed that we all had Conferring by Patrick Allen in our pile of books to read and suggested that we chat as we read. This led to the idea of hosting a Blog Bookchat so that we could expand the conversation and ask others to join us. So today we are kicking off our Blog Bookchat on Conferrring.

The book is divided into three parts and we thought we could all post our thoughts, ideas and conversations over the next three Wednesdays. Here is the schedule:
July 6th
Part 1: What Brings About a Good Conference, Anyway?
Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community

July 13th
Part 2: What are the Essential Components of Conferring?
Hosted by me at My Primary Passion

July 20th
Part 3: What Emerges from Our Reading Conferences?
Hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-A-Lot

July 21st
Twitter Chat
This will be a conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD
You can join us by blogging your thoughts about the book and adding a comment to the host blog with a link to your blog. Or you can just add your thoughts and ideas directly as a comment on the host blog. You can also use the hashtag #cyberPD on Twitter and comment as we go. We are looking forward to learning more about making conferring with our students more meaningful in our reading and writing workshops. Come and join us for some do-it-yourself professional development.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer Reading

In between trips, visitors, resting and relaxing, I plan to do lots of reading this summer. I have read a couple of fiction books by Lisa See, many blog posts, tweets and have just begun to dip into some of the books in my professional stack.

I know that I probably won't be able to read all of these this summer but I am going to try. A few of the books in this stack are beloved books that I have already read a couple of times but must remain in the stack because I find myself rereading them frequently. They are Catching Readers Before They Fall by Pat Johnson and Katie Keier and Choice Words by Peter Johnston. I can't seem to get my fill of those two books.

Recently, I just finished More Than Guided Reading by Cathy Mere.

I don't intend to use this blog for writing books reviews (at least not right now) but I would like to use it to help me keep track of the things that I learn and want to remember from the books I am reading.

With that in mind, here are a few things that really resonated with me in Cathy Mere's book.
  • I loved the term "focus lesson" much better than the terms I have used in the past. "Mini-lesson", for example, seems to downplay the significance of the lesson and "whole-group lesson" just doesn't seem descriptive enough. Focus lesson is a much more specific and powerful phrase.

  • I also like when Cathy says that students "needed to understand that many stories involve a problem, a place where the story begins to change." My first graders worked a lot with making sure that their fiction stories had a problem for their character to solve but I think adding the last part of Cathy's idea - "a place where the story begins to change" will help them think more deeply about setting up the problem in the beginning and then allowing the story to change as the problem is encountered. I can't wait to try to use this subtle shift in thinking with my students this year.

  • Finally, I love Cathy's analogy at the beginning of the last chapter. She says, "I looked at reading instruction as a firefighter, running here and there putting out fires; everything was a near emergency that needed my immediate attention" and over time her thinking changed to think of herself "as more of a sculptor gradually shaping a new work." I have felt the same firefighter intensity in my teaching. I don't think I want to lose my intensity but just shift my focus to notice the growth that is occurring rather than only focusing on the most immediate reading emergency. I need to remember one last thought from Cathy, "In fact, more often than not, reading is anything but a problem."
I enjoyed this book and look forward to continuing the conversation with Cathy through her blog, Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community and on twitter (@CathyMere).

The Teamwork Balancing Act

Yesterday I met with my new teammate to work on planning the Listening Conferences with parents that will start our school year. This was not our first meeting. After she was hired at our school, she spent two days at the end of the year in my classroom observing and soaking in our culture. We also met one other day after school was out to begin the process of getting to know each other and answer some of her questions. I think we will be a good team and will learn a lot from each other. Right now though, meeting with her brings up many questions for me.

The biggest question is the question of balance in any teamwork setting. Ideally, you learn each other's strengths and learn how to use those strengths to help each other be the best you can be. At the beginning of the relationship, though, things are not always as balanced. The newer team member usually needs more help and support just to get things started. This is where I am with my new teammate. She needs a lot of background information and support about our school and how things work there. I am happy to share what I know with her.

My dilemma comes in trying to figure out how much I should share and how much I should listen. I know that she has some valuable experience to share but at this point she has so much to learn that we spend much of our time with me doing the talking. I need to be aware of how much talking I do and make sure that I let her have a chance to share what has worked well for her in the past. Gradually as we move into the year I know that things will become more balanced. Right now, she is feeling worried about being a "drain" on me and I am worried about being too domineering. I think that it is a good sign that we are both aware of our feelings and have already been able to talk about them with each other. I also like that answering her questions about how and why I do the things I do is making me really think deeply about my teaching practices. I think we are on the way to developing a wonderful relationship.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Where Do I Begin?

When faced with a writing project, I always have a tough time actually getting started. I realize that this is a very common problem among people who write. I also know that once I finally get started I end up having more to say than I thought I would. Starting this blog has been difficult. I have thought and thought about this first post. I have finally decided to just start and give a little background about where I am now in my development as a teacher rather than write a typical bio piece that I might share with parents of my students.

I currently teach at Renaissance Elementary School. Renaissance is a magnet school. This means that it is a public school with a specific focus. Our focus is ELOB - Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound education. I found Renaissance several years ago when my husband and I were searching for a school for our daughter that matched our philosophy of education. After looking so closely at so many schools we knew this was the place for our daughter and I wanted to work there, too. One year after our daughter started there I got a job there as a first grade teacher.

You begin to get a feel for the philosophy of our school as you walk up the front sidewalk and into the entrance. The vision of our school is visible for all to see. Click on any photo to see a larger version of it.

As you move into the classrooms you notice our belief in the workshop model, building strong relationships through developing a community of learners and actively engaging students in creating meaning and deeper understandings.

We encourage students to move out of their comfort zone, challenge themselves, take risks and reflect on what they are learning about themselves as learners.

In all of my years of teaching (this will be my 18th year), I have never felt like my personal philosophy matched the philosophy of the school I taught at so well. Of course, there is still so much to learn and so many new things to try. That is why I have decided to start this blog. I want to have a place to reflect on my practice, to clarify my thinking and make changes that will really help my students to grow and develop.