Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Podcast Ponderings

In case I wondered if I had managed to overextend myself lately, I have proof of it here. Three weeks ago I was a guest on ASCD's Whole Child Podcast on early childhood education. I did manage to listen to it, but never managed to share it here. Hmmm....
 A few things struck me when I listened (and didn't have to worry about what my next contribution would be):
  • Thomas Armstrong talks about 'structured play vs. free play' very early on. I've been thinking about that for a while now. When we talk about play, which we do a lot in early childhood, I think we need to keep this in mind.
  • "It's a vicious circle with the noose being tightened around the child." I'm not sure who said this, but the phrasing is so evocative and perfect. 
  • "Good teachers are really able to integrate powerful learning experiences into play." I believe it shouldn't be up to good teachers to make this happen. It should be built into the structure of our early childhood classrooms. It should be expected.
  • "You can crunch things down until it finally lands on five-year-olds." Like the vicious circle quote, this one is powerful. I wish I could turn phrases like these.
I feel really lucky to have been a part of this and glad that ASCD made the effort to have a teacher's voice included in the conversation.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The MTBoS has Amazing Resources

This week's challenge for the MTBoS is related to numerous resources created by math teachers out there. I've spent some time reviewing the ones that either intrigued me greatly or seemed likely to be relevant to my first grade classroom. 
I started with Dan Meyer's 101 questions site. I've been there before and it's a fun place to while away some time. Teachers post images or brief videos and anyone can respond with the first question that comes to mind. It's a way to crowd source ideas for engaging, puzzling math lessons. (In many ways, Dan is the godfather of the MTBoS.)
The next site I checked out was Visual Patterns, started by Fawn Nguyen. I had the pleasure of meeting Fawn at a conference in D.C. back in the spring (I think that's when it was). I greatly enjoyed the little bit of time I got to spend with her. She (like Dan) is another one of those brilliant, fun educators who lives completely across the country from me. Visual Patterns is fascinating. Teacher submit the first three steps in a visual pattern (shockingly enough) and you try to figure out the 43rd step. Very challenging.
Another site worth seeing is Mathagogy ( mix of mathematics and pedagogy). Again, teachers submit (this is quite an amazing community collaborating in all these ways) something to share. This time it's a two minute video showing how they teach something. I may give this a try soon focused on introducing fractions to first graders. I think the process of creating the video would help me reflect and process my thinking in ways that would be immensely helpful.
For sheer wonderfulness, I think my favorite site is One Good Thing. Here teachers share something good that happened in their school day. The tag line is "Every day may not be good, but there is one good thing in every day." Looking at days in that light can drastically change one's attitude (as I noticed last year when I was posting positive school moments on Facebook regularly).
The place I spent the most time was another one new to me, Math Mistakes. Like the others, this is a collaborative project. Teachers post student work samples and folks share their thoughts on the errors. The conversations about student thinking are fascinating. Here is one example that I enjoyed.
On the whole, I am immensely impressed with math teachers. Does this sort of community and collaboration around student learning and teaching exist around science or social studies or reading and writing? Could it (if it doesn't)?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

More #MTBoS- Focused on the T

This week's mission in the #MTBoS was focused on twitter. Sadly, I kept forgetting about it so now the next mission is up and I'm behind. Sigh.
So many of the folks participating in the various missions are middle school and high school teachers. Reading their tweets proves to me how much I have forgotten from those years. It's good for me to see this.
It is really fun to see the work samples and ideas from those levels of math content though.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Rose Colored Glasses

One of the greatest things about my school is that we are a full-inclusion school. That means that our ESOL and special education teachers come into classrooms to work rather than pull kids out. There are many, many reasons why I feel that is fabulous. Right now, I just want to focus on one.
We plan together. Every week I sit down with the special education teacher who co-teaches in my classroom and the other first grade teacher for whom that is true, and the three of us plan together. We discuss the things we see that are struggles for our kiddos and brainstorm ways to address them. We celebrate successes and moan about challenges. It’s helpful academically and emotionally.
I’ve noticed the other classroom teacher (an amazing woman who looped up to first grade with her class) and the special education teacher (also fabulous) don’t always see the kids the same way. It’s not a problem. In fact, frequently it’s humorous. The classroom teacher will talk about things that are going well, things her kids can do, things that have improved, and the special education teacher will give her a look. That kind-of over-your-glasses stare (even though she doesn’t wear glasses) that clearly shows she doesn’t buy it. She then gently points out the students that are struggling, the problems they still face, and the things that have remained the same.
Typically, they’re both right.
The classroom teacher has said, “I don’t see my kids the same way other people see them.”
In my mind, that’s a really good thing. The classroom teacher who lives with these kiddos all day, every day, has to see all the positives. It’s the only way we can stay sane! But also, it is important to see what is going well.
The special education teacher, who gets to leave the classroom for part of each day, can focus on what still needs to happen. It makes for a great balance. The two perspectives together mean that we are much more likely to see our kids clearly.
Just a note, this isn’t about special education kiddos. Another great benefit of being a full inclusion school is that our kids are our kids. Labels are much less important on a day-to-day basis.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thank You, Kirby Larson

Kirby Larson, the author of Hattie Big Sky and Hattie Ever After, among many others, has offered teachers a voice on her blog. Every Tuesday and Thursday she posts a piece from a teacher in a series she calls From the Office of the Future of Reading. Teachers have written about using technology to facilitate ongoing literacy discussions, engaging boys in reading, Banned Book Week, and the power of picture books.
I am so grateful to Kirby (who I now call by her first name after meeting her at the National Book Festival) for giving teachers this wider audience. I'm also grateful there are so many teachers willing to speak up about what they believe as educators. Initially Kirby was hoping to find enough teachers to run a Teacher Tuesday series. Instead, she got enough response to run posts twice each week. Teachers are willing to share and speak out. It is so heartening.
I've been meaning to mention this for a month because I wrote one of these posts back on September 19th.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Exploring the MathTwitterBlogosphere (in primary)

Some dedicated, thoughtful, and busy math teachers have set up a structured challenge to support folks in blogging and connecting about math. I'm never certain I have much to add to the conversation about math as a first grade teacher (where basic counting and number sense are a big focus). But I'm highly intrigued and I learn a lot from these folks.

One option in their first mission is to write about something that makes your classroom distinctly yours. I've been thinking a lot about my classroom (the physical space and what is in it) quite a bit recently and writing about it is the next logical step.

I love my classroom space. I find it welcoming and comforting and a place I genuinely enjoy being. I hope my students feel the same way.

The most noticeable thing in my classroom is that we never have the overhead lights on. I find them jarring and overly bright. Instead, we have four different floor lamps, one in each corner, two small table lamps and Christmas lights strung along two walls. It's a lot to turn on every morning and off every afternoon but it's worth it.

The next thing folks notice is that there is a couch in my room. A regular, living room sofa. (It was my parents' sofa until my mom couldn't figure out why she bought a floral sofa.) It's not institutional or sharp, it's comfortable and welcoming.

I painted one wall of my classroom dark blue. It's another way to keep the room from feeling so sterile.

We also have a piano (it's an electric keyboard but a really nice one so it seems closer to actual piano than keyboard to me).

I only have one table that looks really like a first grade classroom table. I have another table just like that one, but it's only about 18" off the ground and one more big table that is extra tall. The rest of my tables are coffee tables or end tables scattered around. We've got big pillows and bean bags also. Lots of seating choices.

Often I forget that my room looks different from most classrooms. It's been such a gradual evolution to get here that it just feels like normal.

These two pictures were taken by students but they're the best ones I have to see different parts of our classroom. (My first graders do take some great pictures!)

Friday, October 04, 2013

Trust Matters

I've got a little friend in my classroom this year who is cuter than a button (of course, that's actually true for so many of our little friends). This little guy broke my heart yesterday.

When he was younger, about two or three, his parents divorced and it was contentious. He and his brother live with dad and mom lives several hours away. They see her some, but it doesn't seem to be truly regular.

Yesterday he said he would be out today because they were going to his mom's. He was pretty whackadoodle all day, which I attributed to the upcoming visit. (The last time they were supposed to go, mom called and told them not to come. It's not clear to me why, as things are often not completely clear when one hears them from six-year-olds.) So I think my little friend was probably dealing with a lot of mixed emotions.

At dismissal my students were all ready on the carpet and I noticed this little darling was twisting up the bottom of his t-shirt. I guessed he was hiding something and asked him about it. He let go and said there was nothing. So I dismissed him and told him to have a wonderful long weekend. As he stood up he held on to his shirt again and I decided there had to be something there after all. I quietly asked him to come see me, around some furniture from the rest of the class.

When he let go of his shirt a glue stick fell out. Immediately he said, "I didn't know that was there. I wouldn't take that."*

I told him I was so sad he wasn't telling me the truth. His eyes immediately filled up with tears and he couldn't look at me. I tried to talk to him about how I wasn't upset about the glue stick, that I would happily give him a glue stick if he wanted one. I was only sad that he had lied to me.

As I stood there I thought about this little guy's history. I thought about how he probably has a lot of trouble believing in adults because so often they have let him down.

I sat down and pulled him on to my lap. I asked him if he had a project he wanted to do with the glue stick. It took a while of me asking, listening, and showing him that I wasn't upset. Eventually he told me that he wanted to make a birdhouse. I managed not to laugh as I pictured attempts to make a birdhouse with a glue stick and told him that he might need better tools. I promised him we would see what we could do to make a birdhouse. (It totally fits with our new science curriculum and I love to have my kids build but this is a new idea. We'll be doing something with it though. I made a promise.)

The bad/good news is that my little friend is here today. He said mom had to work and they're still going for the weekend. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

*I immediately thought of I Want My Hat Back. We'll have to read this soon.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Benefiting From My Failing Memory

I don't know if it's because I teach first graders or if it's just who I am, but I am constantly on the watch for anything off balance with my class. (Honestly, I think it's me, sadly.) As a result of this, I feel a need to reprimand my kiddos frequently. This might be for dragging their hands along the wall and the artwork on said wall, crawling on top of a friend on the carpet, running in front of the swings on the playground, and such. Most of the time, I believe I have a good reason for redirecting a student or reminding them to pay attention to what they are doing.

Sometimes, however, I think I respond too quickly and chastise or redirect a child who wasn't really doing anything wrong.

Lately I've noticed that I often can't remember my students' names in the moment when I am ready to reprimand them for something (jumping down the hallway, getting up off the carpet in the middle of a read aloud. etc.). Luckily, that turns out to be a good thing sometimes.

In that second that I pause to think of the name, I also think about what I am about to say and realize I shouldn't say a thing. That child jumping down the hallway is staying in line and not bumping into anyone. Why shouldn't he jump? That child getting up off the carpet needs a tissue. I certainly don't want to discourage that!

I'm grateful that my memory failing me at times turns out to rein me in. Hopefully it will also bleed over into those times when their names are quick on my tongue. Hopefully I'll be less quick to call a child out and more likely to reflect before acting.