Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Writing Teachers Learning from the Process

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.

Lessons Learned 

I just finished an intensive two weeks with the Columbus Area Writing Project where a group of seven of us met every day to write and give each other feedback on chapters we are writing for a book.  We wrote for 2 1/2 hours each morning and then met for feedback in the afternoon.  As the group leader, I took on the role of editor, something new for me.  When taking on any new role, I am always a little uncomfortable.  These were my friends and colleagues I was working with.

When I met with the writers, I had my own editors (who've been doing this editing thing a long time) swirling around in my head.  I worried that I wouldn't be able to give valuable feedback to move people forward.  What if someone didn't like what I had to say?  Taking on this role had many more challenges than I first imagined.

Now that the two weeks are over, I know I've learned some valuable lessons that I will take back to my classroom:

  • The type and timing of feedback is critical.  Each writer found different types of feedback to be helpful at different times in the writing process.  How often do I sit down next to a child to give feedback, not knowing if the child is ready for it or not?  I know that I will be explicitly teaching my students how to give and ask for quality feedback.  And I will make it a point to ask students for what they might need as a writer when I sit down next to them.
  • Talk is an important part of the feedback process.  Questions can spur thinking forward.  Allowing time for both of these is important.  
  • Over the two weeks, our group created a strong bond.  That came from not only working hard together, but also laughing together and sharing stories.  It's made me rethink how I might form writing partnerships and writing groups in my classroom.  I'm thinking that next year, I will form small groups that will stay together for an extended period of time so that the students can get to know each other as writers.
  • Everybody's needs are different.  (I already knew that, but these last two weeks were a good reminder).  Some of us liked listening to music while we wrote.  Some of us needed to be by ourselves.  Some people needed to print out their work and write on top of it, while others did all of their work digitally.  I ask myself how I can do a better job of helping kids find the process that works for them.

The thoughts will continue to swirl in my head as I process the work we did together.  And once again, I am reminded of how important it is for teachers of writers to be writers themselves.  

As I go back and look at the final reflections I did on Friday, I know that my last sentence will always ring true:

My take aways...I still don’t have this whole thing down.  I am always learning and evolving and taking that thinking into my teaching.    

I will take the lessons learned these last two weeks and hopefully be an even better teacher and coach when I go back to school in August.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Jumping into #clmooc: The Unintroduction

The #clmooc community has been busy "unintroducing" themselves.  The first make intrigued me from the beginning...unraveling the introduction and looking at how we introduce ourselves personally, professionally, and online.  I immediately went to the idea of contrasting who people think I am based on outside appearances, and who I really am on the inside.

I rehearsed  ideas in my head all week, sure of the message, not sure of how to best share that message.  In addition, I purposely stayed away from reading about others' makes.  There was so much to think about that I didn't want what others were doing to sway my thinking one way or another.   In hindsight, I don't know if I'll do that for the next make (which I can't wait to see).  There's power in seeing what others are doing, learning about new tools, and trying some new ideas.  I tried one new app on my iPad, Kaleidescope, and then relied on some familiar apps, Explain Everything and PicCollage.

I used Kaleidoscope to take a photo of my surroundings when I began working today.  As I sat at the patio table, I had my iced tea (always nearby), the grill was going, the flowers were in the background, and I had 3 devices plugged in.   I used Kaleidoscope to show the explosion of everything going on at the same time.  I then added images and text of all the things swirling around in my head.

I needed an image to show the "outside" Julie and chose the one of me drinking tea when out to breakfast with my husband.  It was one of those lovely, slow moving mornings when I did feel nice and calm on the outside and inside.  The thought bubble shows what's typically going on inside my head.  Lastly, I added the text  "Julie on the outside" and "Julie on the inside."

My "Unintroduction"

People often ask me, "How do you do everything you do? You always seem so calm."  Who do people see me as?  I think they see someone who they believe...

  • Is calm and collected
  • Has it all together
  • Is organized
  • Has few if any problems
And I always think to myself..."If only they knew."  Because on the inside I know that I...
  • Take on too much
  • Jump into projects without thinking
  • Juggle a million things and don't always do such a good job
  • Pretend nothing is wrong when I might be crying inside
  • Have a difficult time sitting and doing nothing
One thing about it,  I know that all of the things I do take on, are things that I love.  There is not one thing in the jumble of pictures above that I would eliminate.  
  • Time with my family
  • Time to travel
  • Time to bake and garden
  • Time with my colleagues and friends
  • Time to read and write
So maybe what I need to do is instead of jumping into the deep end, is to slowly wade in.  Because like the sign says, "Cross traffic does not stop."  

Life doesn't stop; it keeps on going.  

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sunday where others are sharing their journeys using digital literacies in their classrooms.  I invite you to visit her site and read other DigiLit Sunday posts.  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Just Like Kids...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 Slice of Life stories.

Having two puppies gives me the opportunity to tell LOTS of stories.  I swear, it's just like we have toddlers in the house again.

When they first arrived, we bought two of everything...
2 Kongs
2 frisbees
2 squeaky toys
2 bones

The thinking behind our actions?  Both can have their own toys, no "fighting."

We should have known better.  They are just like our children were when they were little.  They want the same toy.  Scout has no problem grabbing a toy from Jem.  If grabbing the toy doesn't work, she'll lie on the floor, watch Jem play and bark at him.  Her own toy might be lying right next to her, but that doesn't matter.  She wants whatever Jem has.

I was taken aback this evening as I walked past Scout sprawled out in the hallway.  She had just been playing with the new squeaky duck we bought yesterday (we've learned our lesson...we only buy one toy now). I found her lying down with the  duck tucked under her hind haunches.

I'm not sure if she thought she was hiding it, or if she was just making sure her brother didn't take it away from her.

Either way, their antics make me laugh and I am glad that we brought them both home with us that cold day in November.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Slice of Life: The Push

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

I am never sorry when I gather with a group of people who push my thinking.  For the next two weeks, I am spending my days with such a group as we collaborate on a book.  We spend the mornings writing and the afternoons giving and receiving feedback.

Setting the cultural norm for the afternoon of feedback, David Bloome, director of the Columbus Area Writing Project, told us that as writers, we have the right to be pushed.  He likened our work to havruta, the pairing of rabbinical students who are given the tasks to listen, question and challenge each other to deeply understand a passage or text.  

We have the right to be pushed.

We understand that when giving feedback, we are pushing each other to gain a deeper understanding. 

What is story we want to tell?  
How do we position ourselves?
What is the tone we want to set?
How do we show the important work we do?

It puts a new spin on the writer's conference.  

Our work this afternoon was deep, thoughtful, mind-boggling, and energizing.  Questions spurred more questions.  Laughter erupted as people clamped hands over their mouths because it wasn't their turn to talk, or jumped up and down in their seats as they thought of something new to say.  Our conversation was so good, it continued on Voxer after we got home.  

Groups like this feed my soul.  These colleagues of mine who are also my friends help me grow in so many ways.  I am confident that all of us will be pushed to deeper understandings (and probably some completely new understandings) as we work together the next few weeks.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Summer Days of Making Jam

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

It's hard for me to slow down as I transition from the end of school crazies to quieter, summer days.

Making jam helps me ease into slower paced days.
You can't rush jam.
Skip a step, and you end up with a soupy mess, not fit for any morsel of bread.
It forces me to slow down.
It requires concentration...leading me away from thinking about school.

You need just the right fruit...not too ripe.
Crushed not too fine.

Precise measurements.
Rolling boil that can't be stirred down.
A full minute.

Don't rush it.

Carefully ladled into hot jars.

No less than 10 minutes in the boiling hot water bath.

Don't rush it.

And then, listen for the pop.
The jars are sealed.
The jam is ready.

And I am ready for
unhurried days.
Iced tea on the patio.
Books to dive into.
Leisurely walks.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Check out CLMOOC

Each week, Margaret Simon hosts DigiLit Sunday where educators share how they are using digital tools in their literacy classrooms.  Please visit her site for some great ideas.

When I look back at the last 10 years of my career, there have been certain experiences that have been pivotal to me growing both professionally and personally.  The first was when I participated in the summer institute with the Columbus Area Writing Project.  I joined CAWP because I saw teaching writing as my weakest area.  I wanted to get better.  Two things happened.  First, I began to see myself as a writer and gained the courage to share that writing publicly.  Secondly, and more importantly, I began to write with my students and build a writing community where we were all writers and learners together.  A subtle, but significant shift occurred in my writing workshop.

Next came the opportunity to work with Troy Hicks (again through CAWP).  Troy's first book, The Digital Writing Workshop led me to giving myself permission to explore, make mistakes and take risks with digital tools.  Before that, I saw myself as being digitally inadequate and was afraid to try anything on my own.  The summer work I did with Troy around digital literacy helped me learn how to weave digital tools seamlessly into the reading and writing workshop.  Technology became less and less an event in my classroom, and instead, just another tool to use to make meaning.  Again, there was a subtle, but significant shift.

Last summer brought another opportunity for me to grow.    I happened upon CLMOOC by chance and I'm so glad I did.   CLMOOC  "is a collaborative, knowledge-building and sharing experience open to anyone interested in making, playing, and learning together about the educational framework known as Connected Learning."  (taken from their website)  It was here that I gained even more courage and tried new things.  The Connected Learning community is very supportive and encourages members to take a risk.  Because it's a collaboration, members are invited to participate as they can in a safe environment where all efforts are celebrated.  I began to develop a "maker mindset" where I no longer shied away from new challenges.  I'm comfortable not knowing how something will turn out and am willing to say, "I don't know. Let's try it and see what happens."  I invite you to explore and consider joining this great summer learning experience.

Margaret Simon has issued a DigiLit Sunday challenge for the next 4 Sundays.  This week's challenge is to turn an image of nature into a piece of art.  This is right up my alley.  I've decided that I am going to explore a variety of digital tools and think about their application in the classroom.  My job will be changing just a bit as I teach 5th grade Language Arts half time and coach the other half.  I'm so excited to get back with kids and get back into developing a reading and writing digital workshop.

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.