Tuesday, July 31, 2012

soLs: the element

Slice of Life Stories hosted

I am one of a bazillion viewers around the world loving the Summer Olympics.  I thoroughly enjoy learning about the athletes and hearing their stories.  I can't even begin to count the number of times I've had goosebumps watching in amazement.  I am a believer in their hopes and dreams.  Even though they are in London as Olympians, they are still just like you and me in many ways.  We all have our moments of being in our element. 

 Yesterday, I read an article where Sir Ken Robinson shared his definition of the element: 

"The element is finding that point where talent meets passion."  

This is true in many facets from academics to technology to sports,  
and all of the Olympic athletes are in their element.
Right now.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

To dream to be 
the best of the best
in your element

To hear the stories
of life's struggles
and conquers

To feel goosebumps
and tear up
in pure awe

To see the power
strength, and

To hope
for so much
in one moment

To reach
the ultimate goal:
Olympic Gold

Or   n o t --
please know

With your passion
and your talent
in your element

You have won
the hearts
of a country.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

#cyberPD: Opening Minds - Part 3

"I want my children and 
their children in a class like this."
Johnston (p. 82)

The last three chapters of Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter H. Johnston (Stenhouse, 2012) were powerful, meaningful, and significant to the future of American education, especially in light of the tragic events in Colorado.  This is why we teach -- to reach our students on many different levels, going beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic.  It is essential that we integrate and dedicate lots of time and modeling to create thinkers, triers, questioners, wonderers, talkers, listeners, and then doers.  

"Making meaning is good. Doing meaningful things is better" (p.124).

My Thoughts and Reflections
"I'm REALLY not good at this yet." 

I am really stuck in this rut.  This "good job" rut.  Over and over this last week I caught myself saying it.  It was out of my mouth before I could even think about something else to say.  Then I tried to "fix it" with another response that inevitably started with "I like the way you. . . " or "I'm proud of how you . . . "  I do believe it will get easier, especially when my two year olds start thinking beyond the concrete, like I've asked, "How did you do that?"  And at this point in time:  blank stares and crickets.  I jump in and fill in the language.  Modeling is good, right?  But I'm in need of that cheat sheet!   

I'm completely understanding the importance of a dialogic classroom.  Talk takes time, but it is worth every extra minute we provide for students to talk.  Understand this is not just any talk, but conversations that lead to deeper understanding, moral development, and social reasoning.  

Deeper understanding and increasing awareness about fairness, differences, cultures, stereotypes, and prejudices. Not always easy conversations to have in the classroom,     "[b]ut conflicts are opportunities to examine our assumptions and values and they are exactly the places where students find morality most engaging" (p.91). With open minds and hearts, we can learn so much from each other.  

Yet, we can't just tell kids to talk or work with a partner.  We need to model and explicitly share the language of conversing.  Beyond just talking, we need to model how we listen.  This is an area that I need to work on as well.  I'm good at nodding my head and repeating the last couple words with a lame feedback while I'm thinking about the five other things we need to accomplish in, oh, two minutes.  

I need to work on listening -- really listening!  And take time.  "Learning to think together doesn't just impact achievement in a subject area.  Rather, it affects the whole child and his relationships to himself and others" (p.97). Just take the time because "[n]onetheless, if you wanted to make an argument for instructional efficiency, remember that these gains are generated mostly when the teacher is not even with the students" (p.97).  

Yep, I need to take time.  The results and outcomes of allowing students to think, process, and learn together is staggeringly powerful.  Once a strategy was used (for example, language stems such as "I think . . . " or "What do you think, [classmate]?), it was available for others to use and used with increasing speed. (See p.97-8 for specifics.)  Wow-o-wow!  Isn't that amazing?  Allowing the opportunity to think together, strengthens so many other areas, including comprehension, thinking, reasoning, expressive language, which then improves writing.  

The last chapter, "Choice Worlds" reminded me WHY I love to teach and want to make a difference.  We are teaching the future.  Sure, we can hang the posters on the wall that encourage empathy or social justice or trying your best, but if the students don't live, breathe, and hear it daily -- it won't happen.  If it's important to you, it WILL happen.  Every day.  

I know this is hard for me, but I'm comfortable saying, "I don't get this yet."  I think we take for granted our words that we use daily and the power they truly hold.  I'm thinking I have a goal for this next school year:  "Use language to change lives."  

Implications in My Classroom
"Again, the way we frame classroom activities influences what students think they're doing and who they think they are." (p. 86)

"Take ten silent seconds to think in your head, what could be the main idea of the story--and you need to support your main idea" (p.100)

"At some point, we will want children to articulate and post on the wall a version of these social rules, preferably an ongoing draft" (p.105)

'"It's OK for things to be hard.  That's when we learn.  We show we believe in ourselves by saying things like 'I don't get it yet.'"(p.115).

Language Cheat Sheet
"Is that fair?"
"Does that connect to any other things you have encountered?"
"Say more about that."
"Thanks for noticing that."
"Listen to each other, take each other seriously, and hear all voices."
"I'm wondering if you can share what your partner just said."
"I want to share not just the details, but the process of what you went through."

* * * * * * * * * * * 

#cyberPD: Learning more from others!

July 11th  Chapters 1-3  Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine
July 18th  Chapters 4-6  Hosted by Jill Fisch at My Primary Passion
July 25th  Chapter 7-9  Hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-a-Lot
July 26th  Twitter Chat @ 7 pm EST using #cyberPD

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An Aha Tech Moment

I love those discoveries that just happen.  I wasn't planning it.  I wasn't searching for it.  It just happened.  So, here's what I discovered:

I enjoy reading the Tuesday Slice of Life Stories hosted by Ruth and Stacey @ the Two Writing Teachers blog.

However, I dislike the back and forth and uneasiness of reading a slice then trying feverishly to return back to the Two Writing Teachers blog to read more.

Click. Click. Send. Click. Ugh! Click. Grrrr.

This is especially difficult when trying to read many slices during the March Slice of Life challenge.

But, guess what?  I've discovered the quick and easy way back! Maybe you already knew this.  Maybe you found another way.  But I know my mom and I talked about this frustration and so this post is really for her.  :)

So, Mom.  Go to the Two Writing Teachers blog.  Select a slice to read and leave a thoughtful comment.  (Go ahead, I'll give you a minute or two.)

Now, click on the left back arrow and HOLD.

All the previous sites appear and you can easily select and go right back to The Two Writing Teachers blog.

Did it work?  I found that it works in Safari and Firefox.

A little tech aha that I had to share!

soLs: i'm reading

Slice of Life Stories hosted

My girls and I visit the library about once a week.  It's always a whirlwind with two year olds, but worth all the effort.

Our last visit proved that.

We walked in with excitement and joy.  Squealing and screaming.  The librarian actually walked over and whispered, "We are so happy that you are excited to be here, but you need to use a quieter voice."  Too many words for my two year olds. After she walked away, I reminded them both, "No screaming."

We walked around the rows and rows of bookshelves.
We talked with other patrons.
We played by the puppet area.
We sat in the comfy chairs.
We jumped on the stuffed lady bug.
We watched a book come alive on the TV.
We attempted making the crab craft.
We filled our Elmo bags with books.
Lots of books.

After an hour of containing our excitement and voices, it was time to head for home, but first we had to check out our books.  I had a stack waiting on hold.  As the librarian checked out my books, I had the girls busy with emptying their book bags and sliding the books on the counter to be checked out.

One of my daughters took out a book that caught her eye.  (A book we've checked out several times over the last few months.)  She began browsing the tractor book.

"Can we please borrow your book for a minute, so she can check it out?"  I asked.

"No, Mommy. I'm reading," she replied matter-of-factly.

Laughter and chuckles emerged.  I smiled in delight as well.

Friday, July 20, 2012

#cyberPD: Opening Minds - Part 2

"I didn't want to know everything that was already known; 
I wanted to leave room for possibilities." 
- Thoughts from Naomi, the main character 
from Sharon Creech's new novel The Great Unexpected

I'm so thankful to be participating with so many reflective teachers that push my thinking.  It's amazing all the bits and pieces and quotes that I missed during my first reading of the book Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter H. Johnston (Stenhouse, 2012). It's awesome to read what others highlighted or picked-up from the reading that continues to make my brain grow!  And if you noticed, I did say my first reading -- so this is my proclamation that I will be rereading this book over and over again.

My Thoughts and Reflections
I'm STILL going to take Johnston's words to heart:  "I'm not good at this yet." 

There is SO much to think about in these three chapters.  My brain is currently swimming. (I think that's a good thing though.)

After reading the first three chapters, I've been sharing with others about Johnston's research and ideas, including the varying mindsets and the words and phrases we should eliminate.  The response?  "Hmmm. Interesting.  But . . . Well, then, what should we say?"  At the time, I had to say, "I don't know! I haven't gotten to that part yet!"  Thank goodness chapter four about feedback was next to read.

Chapter 4: "Good Job!" Feedback, Praise, and Other Responses
Right now, with my two year olds, I'm living in the "good job," "you did it!" and "I'm so proud of you!" world because everything is new to them and everything is a learning experience.  I want them to be excited about trying something new on their own, know it's okay to take risks, and continually learn through the process.  And when they succeed?  "Good job!" is what comes screaming out of my mouth.  I just can't say nothing at all.  

My husband said that I can't just stop saying "good job" because of one book.  (Grumble.)  I agree that a "good job" here or there isn't going to hurt the girls over the course of time; however:  "We have to imagine the consequences of these patterns magnified over the days, weeks, months, and years children spend in school" (p.40).  I understand that the mindset I am helping to shape and create will impact their learning and thinking forever. 

No pressure, right?  And then to think about all the students impacted by my language choices . . . (Deep breaths.)

The good news?  Let's start with small differences in language.  I've been trying to change my word choices at home because as Johnston states:  "Trying is more important than success" (p.40). So here I am trying: Trying to say less, trying to focus on the process, the efforts, the possibilities, all the while trying to engage, build confidence and motivate.  By the way, did you notice how often Johnston reminded us about ENGAGING our students? 

Chapter 5: Any Other Ways to Think About That?
Inquiry, Dialogue, Uncertainty, and Difference
My goal with students it to increasingly engage students.  One important way to engage: talk.  Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.  Engaging talk, of course, through questioning that "offers uncertainty, and invites mindful engagement" (p.51).  I realize the importance of allowing students the opportunity to talk more in class.  However, time is a huge factor.  Not that it shouldn't be, but it is and it always will be a restraining force.  Also, I work with small groups of students all day and all their talk is always specifically directed to me.  Students feel more comfortable and a sense of urgency to share more in smaller groups.

Over the course of the last couple years, I've thought about how I want to change the dynamics of the "talk" in my resource room.  I've dreamed about the conversations, the disagreements, the back-and-forth chattering -- WITHOUT a single interference from me!  I thought it was a dream, but now I have some strategies!  [See Figure 5.1 on p.56.]  (And with Common Core, the natural conversations are the standard for learning.) "Judith Lindfors observes that dialogue is a bit like a game in which keeping the ball in play is the goal rather than winning" (p.57).  I love this analogy!

Chapter 6: Social Imagination
"Learning is fundamentally social" (p.67).  I agree.  Mind reading and social reasoning are two concepts that are new to me.  I'm slowing processing the words and the implications in my classroom.

I'm understanding there is a difference between making an inference and imagining "what goes on inside heads, and not just the cognitive strategies being used to solve problems, but the complex social-emotional logic that lies behind their behavior" (p.69).  One suggestion? Choose books that have emotional tensions and conflicts inviting conversation about g, motives, and beliefs.  And then DO this: "The hardest part for most of us is then keeping our mouths shut and not judging what children say" (p.76). BINGO!

This chapter is one that I want to read deeply again.  

Implications in My Classroom
"This feedback is not given by the teacher, but it is surely grounded in the kind of feedback the teacher gives" (p.35).

Simple, but effective and powerful!  More immediate feedback sprinkled throughout the day from all the teachers in the classroom.

"The heart of formative assessment is finding the edge of students' learning and helping them to take up possibilities for growth.  Assessment isn't formative if it doesn't influence learning in a positive way" (p.49).

A classroom commitment to moving forward.

"A dialogic classroom is one in which there are lots of open questions and extended exchanges among students" (p.52).  [Similar to Figure 5.1 on p.56]
  • Ask open questions
  • Give enough wait time
  • Do not judge student responses
  • Invite others to respond: "What do the rest of you think?" or "So . . ."
  • Do not specify who will be allowed to respond
  • Use tentative marks, such as "I'm wondering if . . ." or, could, maybe, or something, perhaps
  • Use the nonjudgemental "Hmmm" response, or as Jill mentioned (in a comment I read) take a breath before responding 

"Liz Yanoff began her first-grade research referring to 'read-aloud' or 'story time' but quickly realized that it would be more accurate to say that it was time for 'reading together' or, more accurately, 'thinking together with books" (p.57).

Enough said.  We will be thinking together with books from this day forward!

Language Cheat Sheet
"How did you do that?"
"You should go tell __ how you did that."
"Can you find another way to do it?"
"Have you thought about . . .?"
"Do you mind if I . . .?"  
"Look at how you . . . "
"When you did this __, I really understood __." (Causal statement, p.42)
"Any other ways to think about that?"
"Why do you think . . .?"
"I should hear a conversation of your confusion."

Eliminate:  Good job.  Good girl.  I'm proud of you.  I'm disappointed.  
               Good vs. Great vs. Excellent = Comparison (p.41)

* * * * * * * * * * * 

#cyberPD: Learning more from others!

July 11th  Chapters 1-3  Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine
July 18th  Chapters 4-6  Hosted by Jill Fisch at My Primary Passion
July 25th  Chapter 7-9  Hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-a-Lot
July 26th  Twitter Chat (time to be announced)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

soLs: half-way

Slice of Life Stories hosted

through summer


my to-do list is longer
books to read stack is bigger
projects to create is extensive


lots of time with girls
playing, reading, swimming
repeat, repeat, repeat


ready for garage sale
squeezing in a PD read
reading what I can


summer is only
half-way through

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

soLs: a happy mom

Slice of Life Stories hosted

Deep breath.

Last week, I was struggling and feeling frustrated.  Feeling like I was doing it all wrong.

Quiet time.

I realize that we all have bad days, or even moments.  Two year olds are no exception.

Count to ten.

There were tears.  And a little writing.  And positive vibes and words of reassurance.

A little time
+ a reminder that I'm not alone
+ some time to myself
+ seeing others enjoy and delight in my two little ones
+ watching the girls just play
+ staying up late to watch fireworks
+ returning back to a schedule
+ Daddy being home for a bonus five days

= a happy mom

And a happy mom is a happy home . . . for everyone.

Thank you to last week's fourteen caring commenters.  You made my day -- and that's why I chose to write last week.  I knew you'd be there to uplift me, to remind me, to tell me it's okay.  Thank you Mandy, Dana, Jen, Anita, Peg, Stacey, Amy, Carol, Mom, Tara, Jaana, Robin, Linda, and SnowFlakes6 - a new mom!  Thank you.

#cyberPD: Opening Minds - Part 1

Pat Johnson wrote about sharing on her blog, Catching Readers Before They Fall. Teaching is also about sharing. I'm excited about sharing and learning with colleagues in my virtual teacher's lounge.  I'm glad to be sitting next to you -- sharing and joining in the #cyberPD learning again this summer.  I've had this summer's discussion book in my TBR pile since it was published earlier this year.  An opportunity to read a book and learn with others?  Priceless.  We will be discussing Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter H. Johnston (Stenhouse, 2012).  I hope you join in the conversations!

My Thoughts and Reflections
I'm going to take Johnston's words to heart:

"I'm not good at this yet." 

It's amazing what words can do - and how often do I slow down to think about the words I use?   I think I'm careful in what I say and how I say it, but little did I know the impact and power my words have on my students and even my own children at home.  How do I slow down, listen, and think about my words?  I'm not good at this yet, but I will be soon enough!  As I was thinking about my words, this quote appeared in my Pinterest updates:
One little word.  One word can change everything!  That is powerful.  One word.  One.

Wow - I loved the analysis and comparison of the fixed-performance and dynamic learning.  At first, I believed that I was a dynamic learner and true believer in the process with high expectations for all. I'm a teacher, so that's what I'm supposed to believe, right? After learning more about the two theories, I understand that I have a different theory belief for myself than I have for my students or colleagues I work with - and my belief of learning may change depending on the person or the circumstance.  I don't feel that I'm stuck in a specific theory or belief, however, I do need to think about not wavering depending on the student or situation. Don't get me wrong.  I do believe that all students can learn and make progress, but I'm sure there is a time or two when I have used the excuse cards.  And that's not acceptable. I need to fully invest in the power of the dynamic-learning theory: the more you learn, the smarter you get -- no matter who you are, where you come from, your score on one test, or the stories that precede you

My biggest fear?  Our school system, many current teachers, and many parents live in this "fixed-performance" world.  How do we change this view and understanding, even when this way of thinking starts early on before school?  I feel the most for the students who struggle (i.e. students with other 'labels' like LD or ELL or low potential).  How can we change their learning trajectory to be a dynamic performer when one school year they have a teacher who believes in them as learners and the next year a teacher assumes they just can't do it?  The time with my students is precious and I need to respect the power of words and thinking in my classroom from day one.  And the same can be true when I speak with adults, colleagues, and teachers.  Words matter.

Implications in My Classroom
As Johnston states, teaching is planned opportunism, requires constant improvisation, and choosing more productive talk (p.4).  I think taking the time to slow down, encourage more listening, asking students to "say more about that" and"how did you do that?" (awesome assessment tools!) allowing the students to become the thinkers and in essence the teachers, and talk more about the process and thinking as opposed to a right answer or clear understanding.  We all need to dig a little deeper and engage in close reading of text and figure out together how we can process the text.

"School interventions based on the dynamic-learning framework can change the trajectory of children experiencing difficulty in school" (p.18) -- whew! Good news!  I want to learn more about the influences of the trajectories of children Johnston mentions:
  1. Think about what we choose to say when students are successful or not
  2. Think about how we frame activities
  3. Think about what we explicitly teach students about how people's brains work
The conversations in the classroom should consistently invoke a dynamic-learning frame and disrupt the fixed-performance frame. I need to continually believe that students will grow and learn and change and show them this is true through our daily talk.

I'm looking forward to digging into chapter 4 about the different forms of feedback.  Johnston states "How we give children feedback is probably the most difficult for us to change, but it is probably the point of most leverage" (p.34).

As I already said, "I'm not good at this . . . yet."

* * * * * * * * * * * 

#cyberPD: Learning more from others!

July 11th  Chapters 1-3  Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine
July 18th  Chapters 4-6  Hosted by Jill Fisch at My Primary Passion
July 25th  Chapter 7-9  Hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-a-Lot
July 26th  Twitter Chat (time to be announced)