Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's Almost Here

Tomorrow we officially have a work day so we can start getting things done in our rooms. Today, as a team, we went through our class lists to make sure we didn't have too many cross-teamers. We do, so I'll let my team leader take care of that. My favorite thing about giong through the lists was looking out for kids I already know. Some I know because of siblings or from Knitting Club or UIL Spelling. It gives me a leg up on learning all the new students.

I got to visit with one of my favorite students from last year. I'll teach his sister this year and both siblings are regulars at the knitting club. He told me that his family might move back to England! I would be really sad if they did; they're great kids.

Tom and I will head out on the neighborhood walk/ride in just a few minutes. I hope I don't get too winded on my bike.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Thinking About the New School Year

We've been back at school (teachers) for three days, but today was the first day we were able to start planning for ourselves. It's such a relief to finally have some time to figure out what we will be teaching. I know I could have been planning earlier, but I believe in a separation of school and home and I work hard to maintain it.

I started pulling out the books that I keep on the shelf next to my desk; the ones that really influence my teaching. I will be starting to peruse them to help myself get acquainted with the new school year.

Here are some of my favorites (in no particular order):
Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson
Mini-Lessons for Literature Circles by Harvey Daniels & Nancy Steinke
Everyday Editing by Jeff Anderson
Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow
Crafting a Life in Essay, Story, Poem by Donald Murray
Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
In the Middle by Nancie Atwell
Breathing In Breathing Out by Ralph Fletcher
Notebook Know-How by Aimee Buckner
Time for Meaning by Randy Bomer
For a Better World by Randy and Katherine Bomer
Hidden Gems by Katherine Bomer
Image Grammar by Harry Noden
Nonfiction Craft Lessons by Joann Portalupi & Ralph Fletcher
Craft Lessons by Joann Portalupi & Ralph Fletcher
Study Driven by Katie Wood Ray

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The List: Specific Goals for the 2009-2010 School Year

  • Writing Workshop
  • Reading Workshop
  • Popsicle Sticks: Kids design their own (why didn't I think of this before - I always spend all this time writing all of their names. I mean, it helps me get to know their names, but I like the idea of them writing on it.)
  • Personal History of a Writer / of a Reader
  • Decide together as a group: how will we respond when someone shares their writing aloud
  • Minilessons on what kind of notebook to use
  • Minilessons on how to keep a notebook
  • Handing out a seating chart the first Friday - know all the names - kids fill in
  • Minilesson: What ways have you published in the past? What is publishing?
  • Silencing the Inner Critic
  • More one-on-one partnering. Set the expectations at the beginning: no more "it's only one activity" no more sympathizing / teach that you need to learn to get along  
  • Start with the quote on my wall, otherwise take it down. Or...maybe take it down and do a minilesson about it and then put it up...
  • Provide more writing supplies without the accompanying guilt
  • More generative starters: write off of a quote, off of a line
  • Writing Circles
  • Document camera in my room

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Catching Up

I've been coming up to school in the morning to do a little work. I got some of my classroom set up: teacher desk, classroom library. My goal is to not stress about the beginning of the school year; it's not worth it - everything works out in the end.

I'm primarily working on my presentation for Job-Alike. I have the basic gist mapped out, but now I'm playing with options, handouts, extentsions, etc. Up until now, I thought that I would go sans technology because it can be a hassel (we have to bring our own and set it up ourselves) but it's hard for me to teach without technology. So now I'm playing with bringing it and doing a PP presentation. I have a week to figure it out, so I feel good. I just want to be careful to not stray to far from the main point: accessing memories and writing about them.

I need to get out my notebook from the summer and look at my list of things I really want to do. I find so much power in making a list and then checking off the things I wanted to accomplish in my classroom. Last year my list was really short, but they were rather large items:
  1. Using film clips to teach literary techniques
  2. Service Learning Project
  3. Turning Points

I accomplished 1 and 2, but 3 never happened. In hindsight, I don't even really care about 3 because I see less and less of a need for something like that in my classroom; it doesn't fit my curriculum. So I think this year the list will be longer, but the items are smaller. My goal this year is stress less and simplicity. I make things so difficult all the time and there's no need.

I'm rereading Notebook Know How (Buckner) and Study Driven (Ray) to get ready for the first semester.

Julie and I were talking yesterday about planning and general school stuff. We talked about giving the kids choice and we were thinking about how often we do so (a lot), but I've been thinking about these opportunities, and I'm wondering if some of these were false choices. Like they seem like choices, but there's still a lot of constriction.

I'll also be updating my TeacherWeb with one of the new templates, so I'll be saying goodbye to my beloved "Ilike" icons I took from MS Word six years ago.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Frank McCourt as Teaching Inspiration

In a New York Times article by Eric Konigsberg about the passing of the great Frank McCourt, one of his former students said this:

“Frank had us sing salacious folk songs, he had us write courtroom defenses of inanimate objects and recite recipes as poetry,” said Susan Jane Gilman, a former student who has published two memoirs. “Stuyvesant was largely for math-science types, it was learning by rote. Frank’s class was an intellectual freefall. I looked forward to it every day.”

I love that idea that a class taught in school could be an "intellectual freefall." I mean isn't that what we talk about when we speak about building a writing life? Writing for the sake of writing whether you know where it will take you or not? I love the idea that you could build this into your classroom and take your students along for the ride.

And Let the Teaching Dreams Begin!

I've already had a few dreams where I was teaching, but seeing as how they were a few days ago I don't remember them anymore. 

I had another night. The kids were taking the writing benchmark and were split up between my room and the neighboring room. Except it wasn't one class divided in half, it was like two full classes that I was responsible for. In the neighboring room they were quiet and writing away, but in my room they were all talking and socializing.  And it was the strangest assortment of kids. Kids I taught this year (Namgyu) and kids from past years (Carly) and then people closer to my age that I never taught (Mark Murphy) and people I went to elementary school with in New York (Karen Craddock).  

Once I got the kids somewhat settled I had a conference with Karen (I know - would never happen during the real writing benchmark). She was feeling unsure about the piece she was writing, which is interesting because I think I had this dream because I am feeling unsure about conferring next year with my students. She told me about her piece and in the end (no - I did not follow the general conference outline: Research, Decide, Teach) I said, "So what's your question?" and Karen replied, "How do I know if this is good or not?" I gave her a long answer about if she thinks its good, it is because she's the only assessor that matters. Then she asked, "So do I get an automatic 5?" I laughed good-heartedly and patted her shoulder. "No," I said, "Unfortunately  someone else is still going to score this." She looked crest-fallen and that's how I felt as I stood up and walked away from her. 

How do  we teach the concept of the audience of one and make it meaningful? What does it mean that we tell the students that their assessment is the only one that matters when for some, clearly the one they receive from an outside source is very important too? And can subsequently shape their future feelings about writing.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Weird Place

Since the writing institute ended, I've been pretty sad. I miss getting up and going to class. Yet at the same time, I've written very little in the past couple weeks. What's wrong with me? Did I forget everything I learned. I should be writing every day!

On another distantly related note, I cannot bring myself to read the final pieces my students wrote for their final exam. I can't pinpoint the exact reason why. Partly because Julie told me when she read hers that she felt the kids were sucking up; telling her she was the BEST teacher they ever had. I feel so stupid - I didn't even consider this as a possibility when we wrote the prompts. I keep telling myself that I'll read them when it's time to go back to school, but what if I don't?

I feel like I need a break from school so I haven't been reading or writing or thinking about it much. My job alike presentation is looming over me; I thought by now I would know what I wanted to do, but I don't. I feel like my fall-back is the Life Graph, but I don't know. One of the requirements is that the presentation be hands-on and anything I really want to talk about (Writer's Notebooks, Minilessons, etc.) I can't picture in anything but a lecture form. When I talked to Sandra during the institute about my concern, she suggested I bring in my student's writer's notebooks and let them look through them. It sounded good then, but now I'm like, and do what with them? I think some teachers would look at them and think - great; these look good. So I'd like to get my act together because the sooner I do, the more settled I'll feel. Plus, I know Sunny & Heidi must want something from me soon.