Friday, April 11, 2014

Totally Worth It

Since early February I've been arriving at school half an hour early three days each week to work with a few of my students. Our school has dedicated some funding toward extra before (or after) school remediation. I've never done it before because it isn't a lot of money and I couldn't see us (me and my daughters) managing to get to school half an hour early. Half an hour isn't much but it's big in the morning.
I did it this year because I have some students I thought would really benefit. It seemed worth a try. It should be noted that between school closings and delays for weather, both of which meant we didn't meet, and my conference travels, we've missed a lot of those days. Unfortunately.
Yesterday was our last day. It's the week before spring break so I was exhausted. I decided I needed some way to know if this time and energy had really helped. Over our mornings together we've worked on reading and math. In reading our focus has mostly, but not exclusively, been high frequency words. We have a list of one hundred high frequency words we want our first graders to be able to read and write by the end of the year.
As a team we assess these words every January. Yesterday I assess my kiddos again to see how many of these words they can read now. 
In January these four kiddos could read 49, 25, 64, and 31 words. Yesterday, those same kiddos read 72, 51, 91, and 87 words. Huge improvement. But I still wondered. I had one more kiddo I had invited to our morning times but who never came. I decided to assess her as well, as a control. In January she read 61 words. Today she read 70 words. I was convinced. Our mornings together were totally worth it.
Cross-posted from jenorr.com.

Update to What Am I Doing Wrong

I woke up this morning with my heart racing. I dreamed that I took a few of my first graders on an overnight field trip (something I can't imagine doing! more power to those of you who do). On that trip, two of my students died. Just before I woke up I was explaining to my principal what happened. Except I could only remember what happened to one of them. I was going crazy trying to remember what happened to the other. Even in my dream I remember thinking, "Someone will know what happened to him. I'm sure someone can explain this." I woke up and kept trying to remember what happened. (I'm not sure I ever actually knew. Ah, dreams.)
I mentioned this to a couple of my teammates this morning and they were quite concerned for me. Later, when they learned about my little one who had the allergic reaction yesterday, one of them said to me, "That's why you had that dream. You sent home field trip forms yesterday and a kid left in an ambulance. No wonder you dreamed that." Thank goodness for her! I felt so much better.
I don't typically think too much about my dreams. But something like this is hard to ignore or just sluff off. Whew.

Cross-posted from jenorr.com.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What Am I Doing Wrong?

Back in the fall one of my little ones fell off the monkey bars and broke his arm at recess. It was highly traumatic because it was still pretty early in the year and this little guy was still learning English (still is, of course). In the midst of the pain and shock he refused to talk to his folks on the phone and refused to talk to the EMTs. The fabulous folks in the office got me in the hopes that I could calm him down. I don't know if I did but luckily dad showed up shortly after me and that helped a lot. Dad went with him in the ambulance. Way better than a random adult from school.
This wasn't the first time I've sent a kid away in an ambulance. Several years ago one of my little girls broke her arm at recess in quite a similar manner. Last year another darling girl had a serious asthma attack and had to go to the hospital.
Today I sent another child off in an ambulance. This was a new one for me though. Yesterday she pointed out to me that her lower lip was red. I thought it was chapped. In fact, another teacher gave her some balm for it. This morning she showed me again. We talked about how it can take a while to heal. She said, "Yeah. The last time this happened it took about ten days." Made sense to me.
After lunch, during math, she was working with one of the most amazing instructional assistants. I was busy with a small group of kiddos but when I got up this fabulous woman pointed at the girl's face. The red, chapped-looking bit was spreading up onto her cheeks. The IA thought it might be an allergic reaction. I agreed with her so she took the little sweetheart down to the clinic. 
To my understanding, by the time they got to the clinic or briefly thereafter, this little girl's lips and face were swelling up. We have a policy in place for this so an epi-pen was grabbed and administered. It sounds like her swelling and redness decreased significantly after that. I am exceptionally grateful to the woman in our office who administered the epi-pen. I can't imagine that was an easy task for many reasons. 
Again, when the EMTs arrive my little one was not exceptionally cooperative. This one didn't clam up but instead, according to another staff member, "gave them what for." She clearly did not want to be stabbed with something again and did not trust them.
Her older brother, high school age, arrived before the ambulance left and scooped her up and carried her out to it. He was fabulous from all accounts.
Four kids leaving school in an ambulance in four years. That seems an overly high number. 

Cross-posted from jenorr.com.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Not The Teacher I Want To Be

Today was an odd day for us. It was originally scheduled to be a teacher workday but that disappeared thanks to the insane winter we had. So kids were in school today. Not like a regular Monday though. For our elementary schools, the kids go home about two and a half hours early on Mondays. It's our districts way of ensuring elementary teachers get equal planning time to middle and high school teachers. However, we were making up a missed Wednesday, so we had a Wednesday schedule today, keeping kids in school the entire day.
A teacher down the hall was out today and her class is challenging, to say the least. The same special education teacher who works in my classroom also works in that classroom. In fact, she spends the great majority of her day in there. Today, she spent her entire day there.
I chatted with her in the middle of they day (I think she stopped by to apologize for not making it down to my room). She was pretty wiped already. Nothing like a substitute teacher, a completely different schedule from the norm, and a rainy day. Quite the trifecta.
At the end of the day when I saw her I congratulated her on surviving. Her comment to me was, "I did. I made it. I wasn't the teacher I wanted to be today, but I made it."
My response, "There are at least parts of every day when I'm not the teacher I want to be. Every day."
Today was, for me, a pretty darn good day. And yet. I have one student with whom I am never the teacher I want to be. That was true today. I can name several times when I lost patience with my students when it not only was unjustified, but also unproductive. 
I'm not proud of the fact that these moments happen everyday. But I also try not to dwell on them. I need to look at our days, with their ups and downs, reflect on them, and figure out the best path for us in the future. This includes the best path for me to be more and more of the teacher I want to be.
Cross-posted from jenorr.com.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Teaching Readers

Thanks to Jose Vilson and Zac Chase I'm in the midst of reading Lisa Delpit's Other People's Children. If you've never read it*, I highly recommend it. The book is highly readable and will turn your world upside down. Just the original introduction did so for me.
Last week I was reading the essay, Language Diversity and Learning, in the book. One small piece of this essay has been constantly in my mind since I read it. Delpit writes about the types of things teachers correct as they are helping students learn to read.
Cunningham found that teachers across the United States were more likely to correct reading miscues that were dialect related ("Here go a table" for "Here is a table") than those that were nondialect related ("Here is the dog" for "There is the dog").
She goes on to give a detailed example and then writes,
The lesson continues in such a fashion, the teacher proceeding to correct the student's dialect-influenced pronunciations and grammar while ignoring the fact that the student had to have comprehended the sentence in order to translate it into her own dialect.
As one who teaches first graders, this resonated with me. One of the things teachers do as they help students who are just beginning to read is to look at errors. We put errors into three different categories: meaning, visual, and structure. When students err in meaning, the word they said does not make sense in the text. Errors in visual means that the word the child said does not look like the word in the text. And structural errors are ones that don't sound correct. (This is a really simplistic description.)
The errors in Delpit's example are not errors in meaning. (In the example the child says 'wash' instead of 'washed' and 'bruvver' instead of 'brother'.) I am much more concerned about meaning errors than the others. If a child is not using meaning when reading I worry that they don't truly understand what it means to read. I worry they are simply word calling and not gaining any understanding of the text as a whole.
So far this all seems pretty straightforward. But here's the snag, that first error Delpit cites is one I likely would correct. The second one, the pronunciation of bruvver, would not bother me in reading. It is obvious the child read the word. However, reading the wrong verb tense concerns me. I want my students (most of whom are learning English after one or more other languages) to learn to speak and read correctly. Correct verb tense is an exceptionally challenging thing. Especially in English because so many of our verb conjugations are exceptions to rules. We hear native speakers say runned for ran or growed for grew as they are growing up.
So looking at those errors matters to me both for their reading and for their speaking. In reading I want to be sure students are looking at the entire word rather than just the first letter. In speaking I want them to learn 'correct' ways. I don't want them to be held back in life because they sound uneducated in any way.
My question then is, where is that line? When should I be correcting and when should I be letting it go? I know that if I stop their reading too often I'm doing them no help because I'm interrupting the flow and focusing the attention solely on word calling. How do I balance their fluency and understanding with learning the formal language they will see in books and need to be able to speak?

*This book was published the year I graduated from college. The fact that I didn't read it in graduate school nearly ten years later makes me question my grad program. 
Cross-posted from jenorr.com.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Proud Beyond Words

My daughters drive me insane with their ability to lose library books, annoy me with their bickering, irritate me with the clothes covering their bedroom floor, and infuriate me with their complete lack of awareness of other people sometimes.
But mostly, they make me incredibly proud. The first grader is a model kid at school. Her teachers (classroom, art, etc.) believe she could run the classroom and practically let her do it. She’s kind to other kids and loves learning. In preschool I worried she couldn’t accept when her friends couldn’t do things she could do. She’s grown past that now and encourages and supports classmates who are working hard to read or do their math. She’s amazingly able to help without doing for them, a skill that is incredibly useful.
The fifth grader is brave and tenacious. I watched her try ice skating tonight for the first time. Before she got on the ice she was nervous and excited. She was the oldest in her class and she struggled. She fell, she moved slowly, she felt awkward. But she stuck with it. She’ll feel the bruises tomorrow but she still wants to go again Friday night so she can practice. She got up on stage at the talent show when she was a second grader and read a picture book. After watching for more than an hour as kids sang, danced, and played musical instruments. It didn’t slow her down at all that what she wanted to do was unusual at best.
The things that drive me crazy about my girls are things they will outgrow, things that are typical for kids. The things I’m proud of are things I believe they’ll be forever. I am so lucky to be in their orbits.
For months now my older daughter has been wanting to start a blog. She had the title picked out long ago: How WE Feel. It was critical to her that the we be in all caps. I put her off for a while because she, like me, tends to have lots of ideas but not nearly as much follow through.
She felt this site is needed because, as she told me, “There are lots of books and things about teaching and school but they’re always from the teacher’s perspective. Kids need a place to share their thoughts about it.” (I didn’t get into the fact that I’d be thrilled if all those books about teaching and school were actually from teachers. But it did reinforce her point for me.)
Eventually she not only had the title, she had an organization plan and guiding questions for the site. So on a snow day (one of many) we created her site. If you look at the About page you’ll see her rationale, in her words. I was just tech support.
For kids who want to share their thoughts but don’t know where to start, she created some question prompts for different school subjects. Finally, we made a contact form so kids can send their thoughts and we’ll post them.
If you teach or if you are a parent, please share this with the kids in your life. I can’t tell you how excited my daughter would be to find kids sharing their thoughts. Her goal is to give kids a voice.

Cross-posted from jenorr.com.

#EvaluateThat

#EvaluateThat is a meme (because I can’t come up with a better word) that’s been going around Twitter and Facebook lately. I noticed it both places but really thought about it when Valerie Strauss highlighted it for The Washington Post.
On the whole, I like Strauss’s piece. Most of what she’s highlighting goes beyond what is typically expected of teachers without being absurd. I believe these stories should be told and told often. Not only because people outside of education need to understand our realities, but more importantly because these stories are about kids.
Too often everything we talk about when it comes to education is about the content. That may be about teacher qualifications – how well teachers are prepared for the content – or standards (be that CCSS or some others) and standardized tests. Our conversations about education show what we value. It isn’t pretty. These stories are all about the students. These conversations put our values where they belong.
On the downside, #EvaluateThat seems to be almost a competition for some teachers. A chance to show off how much more than do than anyone else. That part of it saddens me a bit. But the positives outweigh the problems. So I’ll keep checking it out!

Cross-posted from jenorr.com.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Gratitude Continues

Life has been so full of things for which to feel grateful that I haven't taken time to write about my gratitude. 
For the moment I'll start with my students who make my day regularly. We start each morning when I greet each student at the door. We shake hands and say good morning. Usually it's pretty quick as my goal is to get all 20 of them in and going on our day. But sometimes, especially at the beginning of the week, they have much to share with me. Yesterday was totally awesome:
  • One girl shook my hand and sighed deeply. Very deeply. When I asked what was wrong, I was told, "Well, first of all, I couldn't get to sleep last night. It was like 11:30 before I could finally go to sleep! But even worse! I have a zit on my head!" and off she headed into our room. 
  • Another girl held up a pink toothbrush (looked like a pretty normal pink toothbrush to me) and told me with great excitement that she was going to share it at morning meeting. She did.
  • One more girl walked in holding Smile. She couldn't wait to show me the author picture in the back, saying, "See? She looks just like you!"
Image of Raina Telgemeier
Raina Telgemeier, author of Smile.
More gratitude coming soon!

Cross-posted from jenorr.com.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

More Gratitude

Tonight I am exceptionally grateful for a husband who makes sure dinner is ready when we get home often. Especially on days like today. Walking in and sitting down to eat when the girls and I are exhausted is immensely helpful. Otherwise, we would most certainly have grabbed something on the go tonight and this is more relaxing and healthy!
I'm also grateful for my public library. There are so many reasons I love our library system - I can put books on hold, even postponing the hold for however long I want, I can renew books online, I can even pick books up at a drive through window at one branch. At any given time I have around a dozen books at home and about as many on hold. My girls and I are currently listening to a book on CD from the library. Our next family read is from the library. I'm reading my next book club book from the library. It is fabulous.

Cross-posted from jenorr.com

Lots of Gratitude

I'm a firm believer in the power of mindset so when Glennon Doyle Melton (a former coworker who has since gone on to write a New York Times bestseller and hugely popular blog) suggested that we use Lent to give up ingratitude I totally bought it. I have so much to be grateful for and it's worth my time to focus on it.
So, for today, I am so grateful for my daughters and their absolute love and adoration for books. As soon as we get in the car they are ready for me to turn on the CD (currently The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan, an Enola Holmes mystery by Nancy Springer). The older one was upset because she thought we would be eating dinner on the run tonight but we ate in the restaurant. She was upset because she had left her book in the car. The youngest couldn't wait to read me her new guided reading book (Tomie de Paola's The Cloud Book) because, as she said, "It's not really nonfiction. It's more like nonfiction and fiction together."
I'm also grateful for my amazing first grade team. One suggested we have a pajama day on Friday because she realized we haven't done a whole lot of things just for fun lately and we missed Dr. Seuss day to the snow this week. These teachers have high expectations for their students, give their all to help them meet those expectations, and see them as kiddos who should get time to be a kid.
I'm grateful for my folks too. My daughters checked their email this afternoon (something they clearly don't do too often) to find ecards for Valentine's Day from my folks (I'm guessing mostly from my mom). They called me over to share because they were so excited by them. My daughters spent so many years seeing my parents about once a week, on average. That will not be so true now but my parents are doing all they can to make up for that. They send postcards, facetime/skype, email, and call my girls.
I'm very, very lucky for so many different reasons.

Cross-posted from jenorr.com.