Saturday, May 23, 2015

Celebration Saturday

I so appreciate Ruth Ayres providing this space for Saturday celebrations.  It's important to celebrate the big things as well as the little things in life.  Please visit her site to read about and comment on other celebration stories.   Feel free to add your own.

It's been awhile since I've posted in this space.  My writing life has dwindled and I don't want to let it disappear.  It's too important to me.  And maybe that's the first celebration...this space is always here waiting with open arms for anyone who cares to come.

What I really want to celebrate is the incredible staff I work with at Scioto Darby Elementary.  As I left the building last night, several teachers were still sitting at their computers entering grades for the end of the year.   It's been an especially crazy end of the year with reading and math assessments that need to be administered, analyzed and entered, staff changes, changes in administrators, packing up classrooms, and then there's the excitement of the kids as the beginning of summer vacation beckons.  It's also the end of my first year as a literacy coach.  I no longer see our school just from the lens of my classroom.  I've gotten a broader view and a new perspective.

And what I see is that among unsettledness, great things are still happening for our kids and our staff is determined to make the year end on a positive note.

Right  now, our building is undergoing huge changes.  No grade level team will be the same next year.  Everyone is being asked to do something a little, or in some cases, a lot different.  We are saying good-bye to our principal too.  She's been in our building for 7 years and was the key to bringing our staff together when she first arrived.

In spite of everything, I work with a group of individuals who understands the importance of focusing on kids and knows how to pull together in times of need.  Everyone is pitching in...teachers, secretaries, custodians, support staff.  We couldn't do it if we didn't work together.

And for that I am forever grateful.  Change is difficult and scary.  The unknown brings uncertainty which brings discomfort.  I am reminded of the Madeline Hunter quote I carried around with me the year I moved from 4th to 1st grade and went to a new school.

If you want to feel secure, do what you already know how to do.  If you want to be a true professional and continue to grow... go to the cutting edge of your competence, which means a temporary loss of security.  So whenever you don't quite know what you are doing, know that you are growing.  
                                                                                                             ~Madeline Hunter

All of us are wondering what next year will bring.  We are entering unchartered territory and our next steps are unsure.

But what I do know for sure is that all of us will be growing together to do the best job we can do for the young learners who enter our doors every day.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Getting Lost in the Data

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  Please visit their site to read and comment on other Slice of Life stories.

G is a first grader who's going through the RTI process because he has difficulty with writing.  He's lucky.  He has an enthusiastic teacher who stops at nothing to help him make progress.  She recently asked me if I would work with him.  He balks when it's time to write.  He has great ideas and can tell a story with great detail, but he shuts down when it's time to write.

Of course, I agreed.  Time to work with a student on writing?  How could I say no?

He came back to my office with me readily.  His teacher had told me that he had been out in the hall working with an older student earlier that day and the two of them were laughing and laughing.  I thought maybe that would be a good thing for him to write about.  It was fresh in his mind.  He obviously had been having a good time.  And I was right about there being a story to tell.  He regaled me with the details about what had happened in the hall, laughing through the whole story.

Then it came time to write.  He retold the story on his fingers.  He touched the paper as he told the story again.  He wrote three words and then he stopped.

And did nothing.

He stared at the paper.

He stared at his pencil.

He waited.

"What's wrong?" I inquired.
"I hate writing?"
"Why is that?"

And here is where my heart broke.

"Because you just keep writing and writing and writing and it's never correct."

Oh my gosh.  That's a pretty profound statement coming from a 6 year-old.  It's never correct even after you write and write and write.  How must that feel to work really hard at something and feel like the end product is never going to be good enough?

I asked him why he thought it was never correct and he replied, "I can tell by looking at it."

And some people might agree with him:  It's hard to read his writing; he spells phonetically, so many of his words are misspelled; and he doesn't put spaces between his words.

But, I had to disagree with him.  There is so much right with his writing.

He has ideas.
He can tell a story with a beginning, middle and end.
He hears sounds in words and is able to write letters  that represent those sounds.
His pictures match the words in his writing.
He can label his pictures.

Does he have room to grow?  Absolutely.

 We'll be sitting down around the RTI table later this week to talk about G.  His teacher's got data.  We've counted how many words he writes in a 15 minute time  period.  The charts are ready to go. 

But this is where I struggle.  G is more than what this one set of data shows.  And we aren't going to make much progress if we only focus on what he's not doing.

 I believe with all my heart that we have to begin with what G is doing right. And it's up to us, his teachers, to help him recognize those successes.  We can't give up on this boy.  We can't attribute his reluctance to write as stubbornness or a behavior issue.  It's our job and responsibility to dig deep and figure out how to help him.  And we may just have to get a little creative and think outside the box.

Our  students can't become data points, numbers and charts.  

We have to be the voice of reason.  

It's up to us to make sure they don't get lost.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mother's Day Mix-Up Slice of Life Story

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  Please visit their site to read and comment on other Slice of Life Stories.

We were all looking forward to our Saturday Mother's Day lunch.  My sister, mom, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law agreed to meet half way at a restaurant in Wooster at 11:30 Saturday morning.  Annie and I arrived around 11:40 (always fashionably late when Annie is involved) and met my mom and sister.  I thought it was odd that Kathy and Shirley, my sister-in-law and mother-in-law hadn't arrived.  The Johnsons are always on time.  We sat down to wait for Kathy and Shirley to arrive.

By noon, I was getting worried.  Still no Kathy and Shirley.  As I got ready to pick up my phone, Kathy called me.

"Hi Kathy.  Is everything ok?"
"Yes," she replied.
"Where are you?" I asked her.
"I'm in the restaurant.  Where are you?"
"I'm in the restaurant.  I didn't see you when we came in."
Kathy replied, "We've been waiting in line since 11:15.  They won't seat us until our whole party has arrived."

Uh oh...this was not good.  They were definitely not waiting in line when we arrived.

"Which restaurant are you at?" I asked.

"We're at The Barn, the restaurant I suggested."

I began to feel a little bit sick to my stomach.

"Is that the same place as The Pine Tree Barn?"

By this time, you can guess where this is going.  When Kathy had suggested we meet at The Barn, I had no idea that it was a different place than The Pine Tree Barn.  I made reservations for Pine Tree Barn.  Who knew that one town could have two restaurants with such similar names.  ( I later found out that there's also a restaurant called The Pines in Wooster).

The Pine Tree Barn in Wooster

The Barn in Wooster

Unfortunately, Kathy's GPS couldn't find the restaurant, and what should have taken 15 or 20 minutes, took an hour for them to get to Pine Tree Barn.  My sister-in-law was a real trooper!  I think I would have been tempted to turn around and go home.

Thankfully, once they arrived, we had a lovely lunch that was filled with delicious food, laughter, and good conversation.

This was a Mother's Day mix up we'll remember forever!  And we've decided that we definitely need to visit The Barn the next time we meet for lunch.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Metamorphosis: A Slice of Life Story

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  Please check out their site (and even add your own Slice of Life story) to read and comment on other slices.

I received a text from my friend Cathy a few weeks ago that not only made me chuckle, but also gave me something to think about.
I realized she was right.  I was going through the same metamorphosis.  The more I did with the Digital Maker Playground and read about Maker Spaces, (this book is a must read) the more I felt like nothing was impossible.  I was feeling empowered.  I found myself contemplating new projects that I would never have considered in the past.

Which brought me to Square Foot Gardening.  Since my backyard is a blank slate and I NEED to garden because it feeds my soul, I decided that would be my next project.  Now, in the past, I would have shown my husband the information and he would have taken off with the latest DIY project...measuring, sawing, building, while I waited patiently for his part to be done so I could do my part.  My part would consist of anything that I knew that I could do successfully.

Not this time.    I told him that I was going to help build the garden beds, mix the soil, and lay the grids. These tasks are WAY OUT of my comfort zone to say the least.

 I discovered that power tools give me a sense of accomplishment!

I'm not done thinking about this shift.  It lends itself to so many implications for teaching.  But for tonight, I am going to end on Ghandi's quote.

"A man is but a product of his thoughts.  What he thinks, he becomes."  Ghandi

This weekend, I became a builder.  Who knows what's next?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Best Pie in the Sky

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  Please visit their site to read and comment on other Slice of Life stories.

Remember Sunday drives?  I hated them as a kid, love them as an adult.  We took a Sunday drive on Tuesday night.

It was one of those nights...long day, tired and hungry when I walked through the door, empty refrigerator.  What else was there to do?  Go out to dinner, right?  We went to one of our favorite Italian restaurants.  We finished before 6:00 and I suggested a drive.  We headed west on US 40 and enjoyed the idyllic scenery.

It was leisurely and relaxing.  As we neared Springfield, Keith remembered his boss used to get pie in a nearby town.  A quick look on Yelp and we found Grimes Field Airport Cafe in Urbana.   They claim to have the best pie in the sky.

We walked in and felt like we were on the set of Wings (remember that show)?  It was obvious folks knew each other as they shared stories across the booths about getting fields planted, the welfare of families, and planned trips.  Then came the list of pies:  apple, peach, raspberry, peach crumb, chocolate cream, coconut cream, apple crumb, lemon.   The list went on.  Keith got peach crumb, and I went with the coconut.  

It ended up being the perfect evening!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Table PD

I spent Saturday learning with some of my good friends at The Literacy Connection.  Listening to Jennifer Serravallo gave me so much to think about and I'll be sharing that thinking in future posts.

One of the best things about The Literacy Connection is the community.  I always learn so much, and yesterday was no exception.  Not only did I learn a lot about gathering and analyzing data to make smart decisions about readers, I gleaned much information from my table mates.  I ended up adding new apps to my iPad, blogs to my Feedly account, and podcasts to my account.  Believe it or not, I only ordered one book, Jennifer's new Reading Strategies Book, which I can't wait to get.  There are some Sneak Peeks on Heinemann's website.  Betsy Hubbard wrote a wonderful review of the book on Two Writing Teachers yesterday.

New Apps

As Jennifer shared the importance of gathering data around the conversations students are having about their reading and writing, Mandy told us about LessonNote.  With this app, you can record the conversations students are having.  I can see myself using this app in several ways:

  • Recording students' language and actions during a conversation
  • Looking for patterns in who is contributing to the conversation
  • Thinking about how students contribute to the conversation:  what kinds of statements do they make, do they ask questions, do they invite others to join into a conversation, can they disagree respectfully, do they move the conversation forward
  • Sharing classroom conversations with teachers when I'm coaching
  • Reflecting with a teacher about the conversation that occurred around her lesson

Marie then showed us an app called Record of Reading.  One of the things I liked about this app is the ability to audio record a child's reading.  You can then sync the running record with the child's oral reading.  I also like that I can save it to a file and/or email it.  While the app calculates accuracy and self-correction rate, teachers still need to analyze the running records. 

New Blogs

Indent a blog by Kate Roberts and Maggie Roberts  Kate and Maggie are staff developers with Teacher's College.  I can already tell that I am going to learn a lot from these thoughtful ladies.

Inside the Dog by Steve Peterson  I saw Steve present with Mary Lee Hahn at NCTE this year.  I was glad that Mary Lee shared his blog with me today.  He's currently teaching fifth grade.

New Podcast

We were chatting about the podcast, Serial, (which if you haven't listened to it, you MUST) when Deb asked what other people listened to in the car when traveling.  Mary Lee shared NPR TED Radio Hour.    Just scrolling through the available titles tells me that my brain will definitely be stretched.  The first one I'll be listening to is Press Play since I'm fascinated with play and the important role it can play in education.

Head over to Margaret Simon's Reflections on the Teche to read how other educators are using technology.  #digilitSunday  You can read more about yesterday's session at #litconn15

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Trading Places Slice of Life Tuesday

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  Please visit their site to read and comment on other wonderful Slice of Life stories.

When I asked my after school digital writing club what they wanted to learn in our workshops, they all mentioned game design.

Game design?  I know nothing about game design.  I don't even play digital games.  When my own kids were little, I'd try to play with Zach and it ended up being an exercise in complete frustration.

My ears perked up during Troy Hicks' keynote presentation with the Educator Collaborative a few weeks ago when he encouraged his audience to stretch themselves a bit.  He mentioned GameStar Mechanic and I knew I had my answer for the kids.

I read about the work Kevin Hodgson has done with his sixth graders.  The I began to explore their site.  Thankfully, they have support for teachers like me.  I played some of the sample games and read through some of the lessons before introducing the site to the kids.  I was hooked!

And boy, were the kids hooked!  I played alongside them as they worked their way through the beginning episodes.  Here's a little of what it sounded like in the library yesterday afternoon:

"This is so fun, Mrs. Johnson."

"Shoot! I messed up again."

"This is the best class we've had."

"Darn!  Who can come help me get past this level?"

"I finished.  Can I go on to the next level?"

"I need help again.  Who's at a place where they can stop for a minute?"

Can you guess which comments are mine?  I was truly the learner in yesterday's workshop time.  The kids were the experts.

I plan on learning all I can in the next week before I meet with them again.  I'm pretty sure I had as much fun as they did.

I stopped Kayleigh in the hall today and said, "Do you think your teacher will let you skip class to help me pass level 4?"

I was only half kidding.