Friday, June 6, 2014
I was delighted to see a little one, and even more pleased that for a quarter I could purchase a small handful of critter food and feed them. After racing back to the car to scrounge for 25 cents, I purchased my pellets, carefully picking up the ones that scattered to the concrete.
The baby came over immediately. I fed it most of the pellets, saving a few for the mother, who seemed surprisingly unconcerned that I was so close to her infant.
Once the treats were gone, I entered the gas station store to wash my hands. While visiting with the owner, I asked if the critters were llamas or alpacas, to which she replied, "Alpacas. But the little one is a sheep."
I am not a city girl, and I have seen sheep before; I just hadn't looked closely enough. I laughed with embarrassment and then went out to confirm the details I had so shockingly missed the first time. Yes indeed. It was a lamb. No wonder the mother wasn't concerned. She wasn't his mother at all.
It made me think about close reading. It can be easy to miss things when we don't stop and examine text more closely. Unnoticed details often lead to weakened comprehension. If we pause and pore over worthy portions of text, the entire experience will be richer, clearer, and more meaningful.
The secret, when teaching our students to read closely, is to select text that is truly worthy, and to reread and discuss just enough to bring deeper understanding and pleasure. I recently heard Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts, authors of Falling in Love with Close Reading (2013), say that joy or death can come from the work we do. And in Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading (2012), Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst say it is about rigor, not rigor mortis.
As we endeavor to teach and scaffold students in close reading activities, let's keep in mind that if they love it more when we are finished, we did it right. If they hate it, we did it wrong. Together, we'll learn to pause, pay attention, and deeply and joyfully understand.
Friday, May 30, 2014
Here is what it might look and sound like. While conferring with Micah, I discover he just finished the chapter book he has been reading. This is a big deal because he has a history of struggling to find, and stick with, a good-fit book.
"Micah, we have been focusing on sticking with a book until the end, and you did it! I knew you could do it! I think we should call your mom!"
Micah goes over to the phone and dials the number. He can't help but smile when he says, "Mom, my teacher wants to talk to you."
"Mrs. Masterson, I just wanted to tell you that one of Micah's goals has been to find a chapter book that was a good fit and to stick with it until the end. Well, he just finished Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Here is how his friends and classmates feel about it."
I hold the phone out, and the class claps, cheers, hoots, and hollers.
"That's all, Mrs. Masterson. We just thought you should know. Have a great day.The entire conversation lasts less than two minutes. Jeanne learned about it from her daughter's high school math teacher and has done it herself with first graders through middle school students. She said that it doesn't take long before students start letting her know when someone needs similar recognition. "Mrs. Tribuzzi, Yonis just passed his multiplication test. I think you should call his dad."
So fun! Jeanne said if no one answers, they leave the message on the answering machine.
If you are looking for a way to bring some good vibes into the busy school year's end, give it a try and see what happens.
|Jeanne Tribuzzi and I at the 2014 ASCD conference|
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
There have been times when my students make so much progress that it appears I have found the secret to good teaching. And there are times when I pour my heart, soul, skill, and knowledge into others, only to experience success in the minutest of increments.
I am reminded of something Sarah Brown Wessling, 2010 National Teacher of the Year said:
I really hate disappointing people. In fact, I'll usually go to great lengths to avoid doing so, but there's one occasion I just can't escape. It's when someone—a teacher, parent, policy maker—comes up quietly and gently and asks me about teaching. "What's your secret?" And they're disappointed. Every time. The secret is that there isn't a secret to good teaching. The secret is that I'm not a great teacher every single day, that sometimes I'll toil for a whole year and see very little growth with a student. But if there's one thing I know for sure, it's that I'm deliberate, I'm tenacious, and I look at every student with infinite hope.
Although there may not be one secret, there are perhaps a few critical things we can do to ensure that each child reaches their potential when they are with us.
- Build relationships. If we get to know our students personally, we can more readily make connections that will lead to inspiration, motivation, and progress.
- Focus on learning. The fundamental purpose of our lives in the classroom must be student learning, not our teaching.
- Use assessments. We must analyze assessments and use the data to make instructional decisions. It's when good instruction intersects with student readiness and effort that the magic happens.
- Be reflective. Extend grace to ourselves when things don't go the way we want, and refine our practice so they will next time.
And like Sarah, be deliberate, tenacious, and look at every student with infinite hope.
Friday, January 31, 2014
Wouldn't it be nice if that was how we could live our school days? I don't know about the teachers in your school, but the teachers in mine are beginning to feel the pressure of the impending high-stakes testing. The time-robbing, stress-inducing assessments are just around the corner, and it's evident by the increasing anxiety in the building.
I want to cheer you on, because I know that you are making a difference. I know that you cultivate relationships with children, their parents, and your teammates. And I know that for many of you, even though this is one of the hardest jobs on earth, you truly enjoy it and can't imagine devoting your life to anything else.
There are things we can do to buoy ourselves, strengthen our resilience, and not let the pressure get the best of us. On her blog, Amy Greick writes 12 tips for surviving the first year of teaching, but they are really wise advice for thriving during any year of teaching. Here are just a few of her smart ideas:
- Have an outlet to relieve stress that is completely unrelated to teaching.
- Make peace with the fact that you will not be able to "do it all.
- Celebrate small achievements.
- Find something to love about every single kid, no matter how tough that might be.
- Think of something you loved about the day before you leave school, no matter how small it is.
Kathy Bates recently honored Shirley MacLaine at the Kennedy Center Honors. She ended her speech to Shirley with words that made me think of all of you. (Insert your name in place of Shirley's, and replace artist with teacher.)
Shirley, friend of my heart, I am so proud to be here tonight to celebrate your magnificent accomplishments as an artist. I know you don't think of yourself that way. You're just passionate about what you do and you're still working hard at it. Don't stop! We think you're simply magnificent. Now. Forever.
So true. I know you are passionate about what you do and you're still working hard at it. Don't stop. Don't get discouraged. I think you're magnificent, too. Cultivate relationships, enjoy life, and keep making a difference.
Friday, December 13, 2013
Goal setting is a big part of a CAFE classroom. Students declare goals based on assessments and employ strategies in an effort to reach them.
How might the simple addition of a time frame affect their growth?
Me: Andrew, how long do you think it will take you to finish this Magic Tree House book?
Andrew: I don't know.
Me: How many pages are you reading each day?
Andrew: Um. Let's see.
After thumbing through the book, Andrew discovers that he is reading about 12 pages a day.
Me: So Andrew, there are 80 pages and you are on page 56. If you read 12 pages today and 12 pages tomorrow, you'll be able to finish this whole book by tomorrow afternoon. I am going to make an appointment with you on my calendar for the day after that so we can chat about how it went. This is so exciting!
Me: Emma, I notice you are spelling they like it sounds, t-h-a-y. The actual spelling is t-h-e-y. If you practiced this word during Word Work, how long do you think it would take you to memorize it?
Emma: Hmm. One day, probably.
Me: One day? And then you would know it forever?
Me: Okay! I am going to trust you to choose Word Work between now and Friday and really work hard to learn that word. I'll meet with you a week from Friday and we'll peek in your writing notebook to have a scavenger hunt for the word they to see how it is going.
The timeline adds a little more accountability and is, perhaps, just the boost students need to accelerate their progress.
Friday, December 6, 2013
My eyes scanned the face of the fifth grader before me as my mind tried to link him with the first-grade version I must have known.
"Of course," I cheerily lied, "but help me out with your first name."
"De'oujmun, but everyone calls me De."
It turns out he had been in my classroom as a first grader, but only for a week. He attended five schools after that, and had just returned to ours again. "Wow," I said. "You have a lot of experience being the new kid. Tell me, what are some things that teachers and students did to make you feel welcome?"
He thought for a second and shared that at some schools, the teachers were friendly and made sure he had everything he needed. Students in those schools were welcoming, showed him around, and included him at recess. Others schools didn't feel as good. He said he felt disrespected by both teachers and students. I assured him that we were delighted he was back in our halls.
It can be disconcerting when we get that call from the office announcing that a new student is coming the next morning or is already on their way down the hall. My heart rate quickens at the thought. But I'm reminded how important it is to take a deep breath, put on a genuinely happy face, and model a spirit of welcome and belonging that students can emulate. The impression we leave on a student's first day will likely be indelible, whether they are with us for five days, 180 days, or anywhere in between. Let's make their first day a great one.
Friday, October 11, 2013
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
After a few days of successfully building behaviors of independence and stamina for Read to Self in a first-grade classroom, all progress seemed to come to a screeching halt. I channeled my inner Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, forcing myself to
- stay out of the way;
- speak with kind words and in a kind tone;
- facilitate problem-solving conversations once we'd regathered;
- and make sure I didn't skip any of the 10 Steps to Independence.
Instead, after watching the start of the fourth bumpy round in a row, I walked over to the classroom teacher and said, "It's my fault." And indeed it was. Her students were simply not ready to choose their own Read to Self spots. Despite the fact that we had taught, practiced, modeled, and written about how to choose a successful spot, they couldn't do it because they weren't ready. So, I gathered them together and said this to them:
Boys and girls, aren't you thankful that we are allowed to make mistakes? Well, I made a mistake. I let you choose your own spots too early. It is my fault. You just weren't ready. I could tell you weren't ready because your behaviors of independence and stamina came to a crashing halt when you started to pick your own places. So tomorrow, and for the next few days, your teacher is going to have you try different spots around the room. As soon as we think you are ready, we will revisit the lesson on choosing a successful spot and try again.There wasn't a fuss or whine in the group. In fact, I think they were a little relieved. Bumpy doesn't feel good to anyone.
Sometimes, as much as we'd like to blame the kids, it might be our fault. The best thing we can do is own it and move on. In this case the blunders and absurdities were indeed mine. I intend to begin again with serenity and the highest hopes.