Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Slice of Life: A Love Family

I am so very grateful to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Tuesday's Slice of Life.  Please stop by their site to read other slices and leave a comment if you wish.

I'm not sure where tonight's post will go, but it's one I must write.  My parents spent their 53rd wedding anniversary in the hospital today.  My mom, in the hospital for the first time since she had my youngest sister in 1967, was admitted yesterday for unexplained pain that was so extreme she couldn't walk.  Today's been an emotional roller coaster as we dealt with a brusque doctor, understaffed nurses, who were very kind, and not knowing what's wrong with Mom.  I've never seen my mom in so much pain or so helpless.  It's not a fun place to be.  My dad, sister and I rallied through the day and by the time I left tonight, Mom was comfortable and feeling a little more confident maneuvering a walker.  The day was saved by the orthopedic surgeon who spent time with us and answered all of our questions.

As I was saying goodnight, Mom's roommate, Helen, called me over.  Her arthritic hands clasped mine and said, "You have a love family."  I misheard her and replied back, "Yes, we are very loving."  She corrected me and said, "No, you have a love family.  I can tell your family is grounded in love."  And she's right.  We are grounded in love.

But there was so much more love going on today than Helen could see in Room 548.  The love I felt today extended far beyond the three of us in the room with my mom.  And that's what I want to write about tonight.

My update texts and phone calls with my sister in Florida, husband, cousins, and uncle have been filled with frustration, worry, and then laughter.  Thank goodness for them.  Each of them was there to listen and offer support, and relieve the tension with a little humor when necessary.  My forever love family.

It's the last week of school.  We had lots of loose ends to tie up and my plans were all in my head.  Wendy, one of my subs that I can always rely on, stepped in for me this morning with no hesitation.  I left very loose plans and I never worried once that things wouldn't be ok.  Sarah, our intervention specialist who does inclusion with me for writing workshop, had the afternoon taken care of and has taken control of our writing celebration which will be held tomorrow.  Kate, Kathy and Nicole, my 4th grade teammates are filling  the holes in my plans for the next 2 days as I sketched out very rough ideas.  My principal, Kayla, told me not to worry ~ family comes first.  All is well at school.  The parents of my students have been kind and understanding and have assured me that the end of the year party will go off without a problem.  One of the moms even emailed me to tell me how much her son enjoyed the afternoon sub, an older gentleman who I do not know.  He's a veteran and he shared some very interesting stories with the kids.  Since he will be in my room for the next 2 days, I was relieved to hear that the kids liked him so well.  Joyce, our music teacher has been texting me with lots of encouragement and so many friends have sent love and prayers through Facebook.    My love family at Scioto Darby and beyond.

I am eternally grateful for each and every one of these people who are an integral part of my love family.  To me, having people to love and support you no matter what is the most important thing in the world.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Slice of Life...Bonding in the Kitchen

Thank you so much to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays.  Please visit their site to read more stories and leave a comment or two.

My family has been fortunate to host several exchange students over the last four years.   Each has been very different in personality.  All have been lovely and made our lives richer.  Our family now extends across two different continents and we have friends we'd never know if it wasn't for Rotary Exchange.

Each time a new student comes to live with us, there is always a time of adjustment.  We tread carefully as we learn about each other's culture and customs.  We've learned the importance of having lots of conversations to avoid misunderstandings.  Those misunderstandings are inevitable due to language and cultural differences.  A simple example comes from our daughter's time in Turkey.  Annie's Turkish host mom was horrified that she would walk around the house with wet hair after showering.  That's a big no-no in Turkey.  I'm sure I've offended our exchange daughters without meaning to.  It's easy to trip up along the way.

Spending time in the kitchen with the girls has been my way to ease into each new relationship.  Lucky for me, they've all been willing to hang out with me as we cook together.



Sana and I bonded over cooking an Indian dinner when she first arrived.  We  bonded even more at the dinner table when she invited our family to eat with our hands, like they do in India.  That night will forever be a favorite of mine.  Sana learned how to make chocolate chip cookies when she lived with us.  Anyone who likes to bake cookies with me has a forever spot in my heart.



Fiona and I discovered quickly that we enjoyed baking  together.  We shared recipes...her German desserts, my American favorites.  Fiona was a whiz in the kitchen...there were many times I'd come home from work to fresh baked cookies.  She made us so many German treats, which we gladly gobbled up.



And now, Chanju has joined our family.  What do we have in common?  Strawberry shortcake.  After dinner tonight, I asked her if she wanted to go out for ice cream when her homework was done.  I thought for sure she'd want to go.  Instead, she said no, she'd like to have strawberry shortcake.  I shouldn't be surprised.  It's my favorite spring time dessert and I make it a lot.  So, off we went to the kitchen (because it's always time for strawberry shortcake..homework done or not).  She sliced strawberries while I whipped the cream.  We cut thick slices of angel food cake, slathered it with fresh strawberries, and topped it with white mounds of whipped cream.  It was the perfect way to end our meal.  The best part?  My husband cleaned up the mess.  And guess what?  She likes to make cookies too.  :)





Monday, May 5, 2014

Jumping In to Back Channeling

I read Cathy Mere's post yesterday about back channeling with her first graders and knew I wanted to try it with my fourth graders.  I've been a little frustrated lately during read aloud.  Many of my students seem disengaged and  doodle in their reader's notebooks instead of putting forth much effort in writing about their thinking.  As is often my style, I decided to jump right in.  It isn't the first time I've followed Cathy's advice by throwing caution to the wind and just diving into a new project.  (That's how I started blogging with first graders many years ago.)

I've seen the benefit of back channeling in professional development settings.  When meeting with my writing group via Google Hangouts, there is as much conversation going on in the back channel as there is in the main conversation.  I imagined the same thing would happen when my fourth graders could share their thinking with each other.

The whole process was so easy!  I opened a room in TodaysMeet as the kids cleaned up from indoor recess and got ready for read aloud.  We had Chrome Books today, so everyone had access to technology.  They got signed in, I explained the process and we got started.  Here's a quick tutorial on how to set it up.  Wow!  It was amazing.  Every single child was engaged at a whole new level as I read our book A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd.




I stopped after about 10 minutes to talk about the process.  The kids were bursting with enthusiasm.  Here is some of what they shared.

"It's like we can have a conversation with each other while we listen to the story."
"Sometimes, someone says something that makes me think of something else."
"I can talk back to someone who is thinking the same thing as me."
"I can ask someone a question if I don't understand what they are saying."

One student noted the challenge of trying to follow everything everyone was saying.  I told them it's like a Twitter chat.  So much information comes at you, that you have to give yourself permission to not read all of it.

We got back to reading and before we knew it, a whole half hour had passed.  We had to move on.  Here's what I liked about using TodaysMeet with my students:

  • Every child had access to every other child's thinking.  When we stop to talk during read aloud, we don't always have time to hear from everyone.  There are also those kids who don't want to talk in front of the group.  No one was intimidated about typing their thinking.
  • I can go back through the transcript to find interesting points for us to talk about.  I can also go through them to see what different students are thinking.
  • Every single child was engaged.  The room was literally buzzing (maybe I should say clicking).
  • The kids were able to type and listen at the same time with relative ease.  
  • The conversation continued after we stopped reading.  What more could a teacher want?  
Here's just a little clip of our conversation as I was getting to the end of our reading time.

I'm already thinking of other ways to use TodaysMeet in our classroom.  I'll definitely be using it during read aloud again.




Sunday, May 4, 2014

Digilit Sunday...Embracing the Chaos

Thank you to Margaret Simon at Reflection on the Teche for hosting DigiLit Sunday.  Visit her site to read other posts about teachers using technology in their classrooms.

Life is a journey, not a destination.  ~Ralph Waldo Emmerson

We are almost finished building our website to showcase our research.  I mentioned in last week's post that we used Wonderopolis as our mentor text. It's been very gratifying watching them go back to Wonderopolis to see how the website has incorporated key vocabulary or written a conclusion.  I can see the evidence in the kids' individual web pages.

Working collaboratively in Weebly has been an adventure this week.  We had one of those days that if you didn't laugh, you would be truly exasperated.  I'm sure the problem was with my "rookieness" in using the site this way.

I created our site, Wondering in Room 114 and then created a page for each child.  We all used the same log in and password with the understanding that we would not edit any pages but our own.  I chose not to create student accounts because I didn't want the kids to create a whole website.  (That's the part I need to investigate more).  On this particular day, kids were scattered everywhere.  Some were upstairs with the intervention teacher, others were in the library with the media specialist, and some were in the classroom with me.  Things were going along very well.  Then I got a call from Mrs. Brown from the library.

Mrs. Brown:  "Mrs. Johnson, some of the kids want to change their original website plans. They are discovering some new things on Weebly that they want to try.  Is that ok with you?"

Me (feeling pretty confident since everything was going so well): "Yep.  It's fine. I expected that they would want to add some new features once they discovered them."  I know that happens to me when I'm working in with a new tool and I'm all about authenticity in the classroom.  I assumed that the kids would stay on their pages and use the elements provided there.  (And that was my mistake).

It wasn't 2 minutes later that some of the students started calling out, "Mrs. Johnson, the whole background changed.  Now it's all blue and I don't want it to be blue.  Wait, now the background has the picture in a different place."

"Mrs. Johnson, now my page is all about Bill Gates.  That's E.'s page."

"Mrs. Johnson, I think J. changed everyone's pictures.  I have basketball photos on my page."

Ughh!  Chaos had erupted.  I knew what was happening.  When I said that kids could change things, they were changing the theme.  Others forgot to save their photos to their page only, while others were inadvertently working on the landing page instead of their own.  Unfortunately, the kids were in 3 different places, not all in the classroom where I could halt everything.

It took a few minutes and a few trips upstairs, but we got things under control.  And I was reminded again of an important lesson.  When working with young children and technology, it's important to know that there will be glitches.  It's inevitable.  Knowing in advance that things can and will go wrong and being patient and flexible is paramount to the success of a project such as this.   In the last 4 or 5 years, there's been a huge paradigm shift in my teaching.  I no longer need to be the "expert" when using technology (See Holly Mueller's post today about her experiences) and I am more comfortable giving up control.  Sure, it was a little  very chaotic for awhile, but we got it figured out.  We all learned more about Weebly and the kids will be even better equipped the next time they want to create a website or another page on our Wondering site.

They are still building and revising, and I am impressed with what they've done.  They are embedding video and slide shows, adding hyperlinks, and playing with Google Draw.  I hope that next week, I'll be able to unveil the final project for all to see.


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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Saturday Celebrations...A New Beginning

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for providing this space to share the celebrations in our lives.  I am finding that looking for the celebrations gives me a much more positive attitude as I go through my week.  I invite you to visit Ruth's blog to read other celebrations.



A New Beginning...

I received a text from our literacy coach late Tuesday morning congratulating me on my new job.  I knew exactly what she was talking about, but I hadn't heard anything official.  I couldn't wait to get my kids to lunch so I could talk to my principal.  

I scurried (trying to remain calm) into her office and asked if she had heard anything.  She looked at me puzzled and said, "I don't think I'm supposed to say yet."  

"Well, I'm getting congratulatory texts."  I told her.

She brought me back to her office and told me it was official.  I am going to be the literacy coach and teach KLIP (Kindergarten Literacy Intervention Program) next year in my  building.  I gave her a great big hug...I'm not sure she's the hugging type, but I wasn't thinking about that at the time.

I have been smiling since.  This opportunity is one I've wanted for a long time.  I didn't think I'd ever get to coach and had told myself that I had plenty of other opportunities to work with adults through workshops, CAWP, and writing.  

I am excited and nervous at the same time.  I love the people I work with and I want to do this job right.  



As for the KLIP job that I'll be doing the other half of my day, I am looking forward to working with our youngest readers and writers.  I loved my experience in first grade, so I know that I'm going to love this part of my job too.  The extra bonus is that I get to work with my good friend.  

I know I'll  miss my fourth graders and their independence, but I will still get to work with them in a different capacity.  In fact, now I'll get to work with all the grade levels.  And, I've already got kids asking me if we are going to do Digital Writing Club again next year.  I guess we know the answer to that one!  

If you have any suggestions/ideas for books to read, blogs to follow, or people to connect with to help me prepare for this next phase in my professional life, please leave a comment.  My wheels are already spinning with ideas of people whose brains I need to pick.  

I hope your week is filled with many things to celebrate.