Monday, December 30, 2013

VSTE Photo Walk

At VSTE in early December, Tim Stahmer organized a photowalk for those who were interested. In spite of the fact that it was ridiculously cold I couldn't pass up this opportunity.

This photo was taken by Tom Woodward, who went along on the photowalk and documented us. He got some other non-us great shots because that's just what he does. I like this picture, in spite of not liking how I look in it, because it is so noir. I could so easily be a private detective wandering the dirty streets, mulling over a challenging case.

These are only a few of the pictures I took on the walk, only my favorites. We started on an enclosed, pedestrian bridge which made for a slightly warmer, very bright start. 

This hangs at the end of the pedestrian bridge, above the escalators there. We all took pictures of it and I'm sure there are better ones, but I liked this one.

On our walk we passed a store. I have no adjective to add to that noun. I have no idea how to describe this store. I took about a dozen pictures there because it was just so astounding. Most didn't turn out the way I had hoped.

Another shot from that store, this one captured the beveled sides of the door that I tried to capture in others and failed. The best part of this one, at the time, was that I hadn't noticed the huge head in the corner until I took this shot. That's how insane this store was.

This picture was taken back at the hotel. If you look really closely you can see my reflection in the ball on the gift. 

Cross-posted here.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Moving On Up

After thinking about it for a long time, purchasing a domain a year ago, and finally beginning to give it a try, I'm making the move to my own domain. I've moved all the previous posts and comments over there and for the past couple of months I've been posting to both sites. I intend to continue to do so, but I think I'll close the comments here in the hopes of moving everything over there for the future.

I still have a lot to learn about using WordPress rather than Blogger and about managing my own domain. In addition, I haven't managed to move the pages from here to there so I'm rethinking what I want to do with those. I haven't been happy with how they're set up here but I haven't figured out exactly what I want that to look like.

Anyway, on the off chance that you're like me and still rely on an RSS reader, you might want to change the link from this site to the new one. I hope you'll join me there! I also hope I'll manage to do some more writing in the coming weeks than I've been doing lately.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Homework: About Me

It's been almost ten days since Philip gave me this assignment. That's embarrassing but such it is. I've read these posts from several others and enjoyed learning a bit more about them. 

So, 11 facts about me. 
1. I was born in Austin, Texas and grew up there and Dallas until I was about 12. I don't sound like it most of the time, but if I talk with family there the accent comes back quickly.
2. My uncle married a woman from Spain and I was lucky enough to spend two high school summers in Spain with her family (one in Burgos and one in Cordoba).
3. I have one sister and two daughters. My oldest was born the day after my birthday. The youngest's birthday is ten days before my younger sister's birthday.
4. After college I wanted to travel. I needed to find a way to travel and play the harp (as I had only learned to play in college and knew I would lose any skills I had gained if I stopped playing for a while). I got a job on The Royal Viking Sun, a cruise ship. I was Harpist Jennifer, or at least that's what passengers often called me.
5. Playing the piano is therapeutic for me. If my husband gets home and I'm playing he gives me a wide berth.
6. I could eat Mexican food on a daily basis. Freshman year of college I worked with my mom during the winter holiday. I think we had Taco Bell about three times each week.
7. I love musicals, almost any musical. Les Mis and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat are my favorites and I've seen both multiple times. My girls share this love.
8. I come from families of teachers and musicians, although neither of my parents does either. My mom has four siblings, two of them were teachers. My dad has three siblings and all teach/taught. 
9. In college I had a small music scholarship. For it I had to do some accompaniment. Some semesters I accompanied the women's chorus, other times I accompanied vocal students. The voice teacher was Helga Bullock, Sandra Bullock's mother. This was after Love Potion #9 and when Speed was being made. Sandra Bullock was not well known and it was amazing to hear her mother rave about her and see her immense pride.
10. I love water. Growing up in Reston, Virginia I was on a swim team in the summers. In high school I joined the diving team (I was terrible). In college I did synchronized swimming. I think I need to find a water polo team so I can add another water sport.
11. I covet formal dresses and chances to wear them. As a first grade teacher and wife to a college professor, I don't have too many opportunities. (It was a highlight of my time on the cruise ship.)

Next up, questions from Philip for me to answer:
1. If you could take a “dream” vacation, what would it be?
Australia and New Zealand - it's expensive to get to them and a long trip so it seems unlikely to happen but there are so many reasons I want to visit both.
2. Hollywood is casting a biopic about you. Who should be cast in the lead role?
Idina Menzel - I want her because then the biopic can be a musical!
3. The director changed her mind and has decided to create a reality show about you instead. What should the title be?
Oh my, what a terribly dull reality show! How about if I stick with the title of my blog (I don't often create titles I love).
4. What’s your favorite book?
I don't think I could answer that question if my life depended on it. I can pick a favorite movie (The Princess Bride) but a favorite book...I don't think I could even pick a favorite author. Right now Far From the Tree is taking me forever to read but is frequently on my mind (and I've been reading it for months).
5. We take a trip to Yolo, one of those fill-your-own-cup frozen yogurt shops. What all do you put in your cup?
Anything Reese's - peanut butter cups or pieces - both are fabulous.
6. It’s a busy night at the karaoke bar. You’ve got one chance to blow away the crowd and leave your mark. What will you sing?
If I could sing (which sadly I can't) I'd get some friends and do Seasons of Love.
7. Who or what inspires you most?
This is cliche I'm sure, but my family. My husband and my daughters inspire me and make me a better teacher and a better person.
8. What was your favorite class in college or graduate school?
This will pain my college professor husband, but I don't really remember most of my classes. I did take a Mozart class from a professor who was so passionate about Mozart that I came to love him too.
9. If you could snap your fingers and magically change one thing (only 1) about your job, what would it be?
We would not be required to be teaching the same lessons on the same day (or within days). We'd be able to plan to meet the needs of our kiddos.
10. Name one important thing on your “bucket list.”
 Get a PhD.
11. What’s your favorite holiday tradition?
My sister gives our daughters a book every Christmas. We wrap them up and put them at the foot of their beds so these are the first gifts they get.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
I can't handle picking 11 bloggers right now. And it seems mean to ask people to do this right now. So, if you have free time during this break and want to share, consider yourself invited! (I can't even handle coming up with 11 questions. I really stink at this homework.)

Friday, December 06, 2013

Big Takeaway from VASCD 13

For the majority of the past day and a half here in Williamsburg I've been inspired, amused, and pushed to think. The conference has been fabulous.
One brilliant colleague at my school is going to ask me, "What's your big takeaway? What are you going to do as a result of this conference?" Great questions. Ones that usually stump me, unfortunately.
Today, though, I'm prepared. There is one question, one big idea that has been bouncing around my head the whole time.
Am I living what I believe and what I value?
This question has resonated with me in so many different ways. I will be exploring those, both ways I do live what I believe and ways I fall short, over the next little while.
It's a question well worth exploring.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Bedtime Reading

This past week two other first grade teachers and I hosted a bedtime reading event at school. Our school is fabulous about evening events for families, sometimes academic focused and other times more for fun. We've done Partners in Print for our primary grades and a variety of other SOL (state standards) focused events in the upper grades. This event was different. We invited our students for an event in our rooms with us. The hope was that being in their child's classroom with their child's teacher would be motivating to attend as well as more comfortable and relaxed than a bigger event in the cafeteria or gym. Plus, we invited folks to come in their pajamas and we wore ours!

The total number of students invited was just under 60 (remember, just our kiddos). For a typical event, getting a quarter of our kids would be a success. For this evening, we invited families to arrive about 6:45 because we wanted to really get started at 7:00. We began in a resource classroom where we could all gather as folks trickled in. At 6:30 families were already arriving. We had bookmarks ready for the kids to stamp. There were almost 100 bookmarks and they were almost all well stamped by 6:45.

Due to the astounding turnout (quite a bit larger than we anticipated), I gathered most of the kiddos on the carpet and read them a big book. This was a last minute idea, I saw a big book sitting nearby and rolled with it. It worked quite well, thankfully.
About 7:00 we all moved on to our own classrooms. We had a short, about four minute, video to show of bedtime reading. (The video was taken by one of my students last year. She recorded her mom reading with her younger brother and then her mom recorded the two kids reading together. All of it in pajamas curled up in bed. I took two minute segments from each bit to share.) We used the video to highlight bedtime reading routines and benefits. We didn't want to talk at families too much so we kept this part short.
For the next twenty minutes families read together. We had worried that this might not work well, that folks might not buy into it, but our fears were unfounded. I wandered around, listened as families read, suggested other books, and laughed with families. I watched one mom and her two boys reading several Elephant and Piggie books laughing until they nearly cried. At the end she said to me, "We've got to get some of these!" I spoke with one mom about her daughter's fabulous reading this year and she told me that her daughter had invented "Power Hour" at their house. For an hour they all read together, moving from one bed to another. At first the younger brother didn't like it, apparently, but now he's enjoying it too. Some kids wanted to read with their friends while parents read with younger siblings. Others, the whole family read together.

Just before 7:30 I stopped everyone. I heard at least one parent say, "Already?" It made my night. Before leaving, every child, our students and their siblings, got a brand new book to keep. (We bought the $1 books from the preschool, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and fourth grade Scholastic catalogs.)

I had 13 out of 20 students there with families. Across the hall there were, I believe 11 out of 17. I'm not sure about the third classroom. It was an impressive turnout. We teachers all went home exhausted and fell asleep in the pajamas we had worn all evening.

Growing Number of Homeless Students

These graphics are from Education Week. (From what I can tell the graphics are not online, although the article is.) I looked at them a few weeks ago (this is Education Week's November 6th issue). Looking at it now, when I had some time to blog about it, I was reminded of Dean Dad's recent post. He writes about how different things can be for students depending on their parents' life experiences.
This matters. It matters way more than some folks would like to admit.
From my warm, cozy home with a fridge full of food, closets full of clothes, and comfy beds for all of us, it can be easy to be blind to the challenges faced by many children in our country.
In the graphics here I am struck by several things.
1. The continuing rise in homeless students is surprising to me.
2. The quote,"Of the homeless students who took state exams, around half or fewer scored at proficient levels in mathematics or reading." comes as no shock. The most surprising thing here for me is that nearly half of these students are passing. Children are astoundingly resilient. But you'd think we wouldn't be forcing them to be quite so often.
3. There are a handful of states in which the percentage of homeless students has gone down. What is going on there? Have families left those states? Have they done something positive to support those families (sadly, I am skeptical of that possibility)? Are those students dropping off the radar somewhere and not getting counted? I want a deeper story.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Play Matters

As one who teaches young children, typically about six years old, I've thought a lot lately about them and formal schooling. I've wondered if five is too young to move into what is, at least these days, much more structured and much less play based than what seems appropriate. As a result, I looked briefly into how old students are when they start school in various countries. I didn't find anything that seemed revolutionary but the question kept nagging at me.
Then, back in late September I came across this piece from the University of Cambridge (U.K.).(Yes, tabs stay open in my browser for a long time. I'm glad to finally be getting to this one.)
The piece was written by an education professor at Cambridge, David Whitebread, one of many speaking up about the age for starting school in the U.K. According to Whitebread, students begin formal schooling at four. He argues that this is too young and that children should still be learning through play at that age. He cites research showing the importance of play in the early years based on neuroscience and on long-term looks at students who began school at different ages. He also suggests that in many educationally high-achieving countries, students start school at the age of seven.
I went in predisposed to agree with his argument, so the fact that I do so is unsurprising. I believe we are doing many things in early schooling that set our students up for failure, both in their present and in their future. Young children are being asked to sit still for too long, to be quiet for too long, to fill out too many worksheets and take too many tests. They are not given enough time to talk to one another, to explore their world, to ask questions, and to pretend.
My belief in the importance of play is not new (I talked about it on the ASCD Whole Child podcast in early October) but this article has done some powerful reinforcing. It may take me a bit, but I have every intention of making some structural changes in my classroom to allow for more play. I hope, by the new year, to share some successes in that area. (Which means, if you want, call me out in a month - this is a time accountability makes perfect sense to me!)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thursday, November 21st, in First Grade (for MTBoS)

I missed a couple of missions for the MTBoS. This is mission #7. 
5:30-6:15 am: Me time - I like to start my day with email, twitter, facebook, and blogs. Before anyone else in the house is up and I can just enjoy.
6:15-7:15 am: Get everyone up and out of the house. The 10 year old is great about it usually, the 6 year old, less so. On a good day we can leave before 7:10. On a less good day it can be between 7:20 and 7:30. The kids get breakfast on their own while the parents get ready for the day.
7:15-7:45 am: Daily Commute - the girls and I listen to a book on CD on our way to school (they attend my school). During the drive I manage to floss and eat breakfast (usually a protein shake).
7:45-8:30 am: Prep - spent time getting the morning message ready, talking with colleagues about the night's event, and generally making sure our room was ready for the day.
8:30 am: Kids arrive! I greet my 20 first graders at the door, shake their hands and say good morning. They unpack, sign our morning message and chat with each other.
8:45-9:00 am: Morning meeting - I participate but one kid each day runs the meeting.
9:00-9:30 am: Independent reading - I read too. We read for about 15-20 minutes and then talk with a friend about our books.

During this period, our fabulous school counselor came in to watch my kiddos so I could run out and be interviewed for a piece my district is creating about the value of our school counselors. After a quick trip to the counselor's office to answer questions and sing her praises, I returned to take over with my darlings.
9:30-11:15 am: L.A.B. (language arts block) - We start with a whole group lesson then kiddos go off to work on reading and writing. I spend the time meeting with small groups for reading, small groups for writing, and doing individual conferences for writing and reading. We stop a little before 11 and come back as a group to share our learning.
11:15-11:55 am: Kids are at P.E.! Yay! I spent this time punching out bookmarks for the evening event and pulling together other materials for it.
11:55 am-12:25 pm: Recess! While making sure kids are being (reasonably) safe, I get some time to talk to colleagues. Granted, it's talk that is frequently interrupted by requests to go to the bathroom, complaints of being mistreated, or demands that we watch something they do, but it's still a chance to talk to adults!
12:30-1:00 pm: After getting the kids through the lunch line and heating up my lunch (pasta and spinach), I go back to my room and eat while I relax at my computer.
1:00-1:45 pm: I actually pick the kids up a bit early, closer to 12:55 so that we can get to the library by 1:00. This time the librarian got us looking through poetry books as we are just beginning a unit on poetry. She pulled out a large stack and kids shared what they noticed. After some great observations they checked out books. I end up at a second computer checking kids out because they're always all ready at once.
1:45-2:45 pm: Back to our room for math. We're studying fractions right now so the focus was on making equal parts of sets. Last week we talked about equal parts of area models. We want to be sure we have a firm grasp of equal parts before moving on. After a group lesson, students moved on to work stations focused on number sense. I floated around between stations, taking anecdotal notes, correcting misconceptions, and asking questions to push students a bit further in their thinking. Again, we came back for a brief group share of our learning.
2:45-2:55 pm: Calendar time - we spend 10-15 minutes each day using Every Day Counts, one of those rare, prepared programs I actually like (although I tweak it).
2:55-3:00 pm: Kids write down their homework in their agendas and get books to take home to read (homework is three things: Read, Share About equal parts (the share about changes every day), and Bed by 8).
3:00-3:15 pm: Free choice time! Kids pick one place to play: magnets, legos, brain noodles, cars, or gears. Usually this time is 20-25 minutes long but some days our afternoons get too tight.
3:15 pm: Kids go home. My daughters arrive in my classroom. They ask for computer time and I say yes as I need to get ready for tonight. I spend a while putting together a four minute video of a previous student and her family reading at bedtime. I took 12 minutes of video and cut it to the four minutes I thought would best serve our purpose. The other two colleagues involved in the night's event and I sit down to be sure we are ready.
5:00-6:30 pm: My girls and I run to Chick-fil-a to grab dinner and bring it back to school. We eat in my classroom with a colleague.
6:30 pm: Families are arriving for our event. We had said 6:45 because we really wanted to start at 7:00 and we have often found punctuality to be a problem. Clearly not for everyone! We gather those arriving in a classroom and get the kids stamping bookmarks. By 6:45 there are a ton of folks there and it's getting a bit crazy. I invite the kids (about 35 or so) to the carpet and read them a big book.
7:00-7:30 pm: We head to each of our own classrooms with our families. We begin with the short video to highlight the power and wonder that can be bedtime reading. Then families cuddle up together to read. I've got families on my couch, on beanbags, in chairs, and on pillows on the floor. Many of them in their pajamas (like me). My youngest is in her classroom participating and my oldest is rotating between classrooms taking pictures for us. When I stop families just before 7:30 I hear some folks say, "Already?" Woo-hoo! Every kid, my students and their siblings, gets a brand new book to keep. It's probably closer to 7:45 before everyone has gone. My girls and I get our things together and leave about 8:00.
8:00-8:30 pm: Back to our book on CD for the drive home.
8:30-9:00 pm: Get the girls to bed and get online for a bit. I'm still feeling high from our fabulous evening so I go through the pictures and share a few. My goal is to get to bed by 9:00 in order to be up at 4:30 am to get to boot camp. This time I got to bed closer to 9:30 pm. Not too bad. I was asleep by the time my husband, a college professor, got home from his long day.

Friday, November 22, 2013

So Many Feelings Here

Our fabulous school counselor has been doing regular lessons with my kiddos about emotions. She's read picture books and they've talked about the feelings of the characters. One of our goals with this (and we have many) is to help students make connections to books through emotions. Often first graders make connections by such things as, "I have a brother just like the boy in the book!" or "I like to play with blocks just like the girl in the book!" Not meaningful connections.
After a few lessons I asked students to pick one or two of their books and mark pages where they can tell how a character is feeling. They marked with post-it notes and wrote the emotion on it. Then we talked about how they knew - used the pictures, what they read. When they shared, mostly they talked about characters who felt happy or sad or mad. A few got brave and talked about excited or frustrated characters. It was a great start.
Later I came across a stray post-it lying on the floor. Clearly it came off a copy of Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! by Mo Willems, a class favorite. 
The post-it said, "pigeon is untired" Yes, yes he is. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Math Question

Recently I met a friend for drinks at a 12th floor restaurant overlooking Washington, D.C. Of course, one wall was all windows. The view was gorgeous (although I never fully adjusted to the Washington Monument surrounded by scaffolding, no matter how they lit it).

This wall of windows was not just a straight line. The windows were sort of a zig zag set. Two windows, set at about a 30 degree angle, then two more windows in the same way. I was left wondering, does this set up make for a better view? Or is it just that it fits the architecture of the rest of the building? (I never saw that side of the building from outside.) Anyone know enough about architecture and/or math to figure this one out?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I Learn By Listening

This year one student in my class has selective mutism. This is completely new to me, I've never known a child with selective mutism before, much less taught one. As a result, I've done a lot of research in the last couple of months, reading online and perusing some resources passed on to me by our school's social worker. It is fascinating to me and I am learning a ton.
That said, some of what I'm learning is what I'm noticing and reflecting about in my classroom. My biggest epiphany has come as I've tried to plan instruction. I have no sense of what this student knows, is able to do, or is thinking. I realize how much I rely on listening to students as assessment.
We've found a variety of ways for this child to participate: writing a letter or number on a small whiteboard as part of games and activities, indicating a choice from a few options using sign language letters, thumbs up or thumbs down. These strategies are immensely helpful and I'm grateful they are working.
They aren't, however, giving me any deep insight into what this child does and doesn't understand or has or has not learned. Without being able to hear this child's thinking I can't identify misconceptions or recognize when something has been mastered.
Most of what I know and understand about my students has come from listening to them. I never truly understood this.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

It's Not You, It's Me

Several years ago I had a student in my class who could completely push my buttons. For whatever reason, I found myself irritated with this girl frequently and I did not respond well to her. It was bad for both of us (and likely for others) on a daily basis.
About this time of the year I came across something that changed everything. At the end of each year we fill out a short form about each of our kiddos (basics on academic ability, reading level, and behavior concerns, as well as gender, ethnicity, and language) and use these to help us form the classes for the next year. We're looking to balance all of the above.
Her form had a note that said something like, "sweet girl, hard worker."
I was stunned. That didn't sound like the girl I knew. 
I asked her kindergarten teacher about it and she was as stunned as I was, but for her it was because she didn't recognize the girl I was describing. She offered to talk to the student. I thanked her but declined, with the caveat that I might be back if things didn't get better!
It did get better. Almost immediately. My viewing this student through a different lens completely changed how I interacted with her. It changed the entire atmosphere in our classroom.
About six weeks later she moved. My co-teacher, upon hearing this girl was leaving, said to me, "That's too bad. She was finally getting it." I responded with, "Oh no, I was finally getting it."
This year, I have another of these kiddos. One who, no matter what, is driving me slightly nutty. I know I respond differently to this child than I do to others. I know if any other kid in our class said or did the same things I would be much more patient and gentle and kind. 
Knowing this isn't changing it. I've talked with the fabulous kindergarten teachers (who, in many ways, has the same struggles that I'm having), my co-teacher, and our counselor. But none of them can fix this because the problem is me. (Although they've all been great about helping me talk through it and come up with strategies.)
I can always justify my responses based on this child's behavior. There are plenty of problems with the behavior. But it would only be a justification. I have to change my attitude, my reactions, my responses to this student. I have to change me.
I'm forty years old. This child is six. If I can't change, how can I expect a young child to do so?

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Drive by Daniel H. Pink

I have a slightly obsessive relationship with my public library system. My daughters and I use it quite frequently and visit four different libraries regularly. I've got systems that work for me for getting books, renewing books, and returning books. But I'm happiest with my system for putting books on hold. When I find out about a book I want to read, I immediately head to the library's website and put the book on hold. If it's hugely popular, I might be the 627th person on the wait list. That's fine, it'll eventually get to me and I'll be excited to read the book. (If I don't put it on hold because of the wait list I'll just forget about the book and never read it.) If it's an older book and I don't have to wait, I have a decision to make. Sometimes I have a ridiculous stack of books by my bed waiting to be read, most of them from the library. I may not feel I can get to that book right away. If so, I can put it on hold, but delay the hold for a week, a month, or more. Again, eventually the book will get to me and I'll be excited to read it.
The downside here is that when I don't get a book for quite some time, I cannot remember why I put it on hold. Sometimes it's obvious, but often I'm left wondering, "Where did I hear about this book? Who recommended it? What made me want to read it?"
That's how I was with Daniel H. Pink's Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. I picked it up from the library and it set by my bed for a while. I finally began reading it because it was going to have to be returned in a few days and I wasn't in the middle of anything else.
I'm so glad I did. I read it in no time. It's possible I enjoyed it so much and read it so quickly because it completely supports all I believe in about intrinsic motivation. It may not really be a fabulous book, but because it validates my beliefs I enjoyed it.
 For example, on page 46, Pink writes:
Amabile and others have found that extrinsic rewards can be effective for algorithmic tasks – those that depend on following an existing formula to its logical conclusion. But for more right-brain undertakings – those that demand flexible problem-solving, inventiveness, or conceptual understanding – contingent rewards can be dangerous.
The idea being that there is a time and place for extrinsic rewards, but that we have to be thoughtful and careful about how they are used. People are often confused when they visit my classroom because I do not have any sort of behavior management system (this was not always true). I believe my students will behave well because they are wonderful people, not because I am threatening or rewarding them. 
A lot of Pink's arguments are linked to Carol Dweck's work. Her book, Mindset, is one I reread often because of how it changed my thinking about teaching.
Pages 121-122:
Getting an A in French class is a performance goal. Being able to speak French is a learning goal. “Both goals are entirely normal and pretty much universal,” Dweck says, “and both can fuel achievement.” But only one leads to mastery. In several studies, Dweck found that giving children a performance goal (say, getting a high mark on a test) was effective for relatively straight-forward problems but often inhibited children’s ability to apply the concepts to new situations.
The idea here is not significantly different from the other quote, but ties it directly to school. Plus, it hits on my intense dislike of grades because I believe they are detrimental to genuine learning. Grades are an extrinsic motivator and, in my mind, make students focus on them rather than on asking questions, following their interests, challenging themselves, and learning deeply about something.
Reading this book, I spent a lot of time thinking about what this means in classrooms, of course. But I also thought about education in general. This quote, from pages 90-91 struck me: 
A sense of autonomy has a powerful effect on individual performance and attitude. According to a cluster of recent behavioral science studies, autonomous motivation promotes greater conceptual understanding, better grades, enhanced persistence at school and in sporting activities, higher productivity, less burnout, and greater levels of psychological well-being. 
I don't believe teachers (and possibly principals and others in education) feel any sense of autonomy at the moment. Instead of intrinsic motivation to do the best for our students, we are being threatened and offered rewards. 
One last quote, from page 76:
If you believed in the “mediocrity of the masses,” as he put it, then mediocrity became the ceiling on what you could achieve. But if your starting point was Theory Y, the possibilities were vast – not simply for the individual’s potential, but for the company’s bottom line as well. 
Too often, in education, both big picture and in individual classrooms, we are believing in the 'mediocrity of the masses' and that is going to limit our potential.

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.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Gotta Love the Internet

Just before school started someone shared about redditgifts for teachers. I can't remember where I saw it but it was the day before sign up ended and I quickly threw my name in there.

Surprisingly shortly thereafter I received an amazing box of goodies. I was floored.

When I checked out the redditgifts for teachers site I found that many, many teachers had received equally amazing packages.

I love the internet. Even more though, I love the fabulous people out there who will generously and anonymously support teachers in this way and so many others.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Family Portraits

One of the activities my students did in the first few weeks of school was to draw a portrait of their family. I actually worded it as drawing all the people who live with you. Many of our students live with a wide range of people and I want to be sensitive to this. It's easy to refer to having mom or dad sign something or to tell kids to make sure mom or dad is with them at an evening event. I want to be inclusive. Plus, it's helpful for me to have some understanding of their home lives.

Their pictures were awesome. They also had to label the people in the pictures. I wrote any words they wanted up for them to help.

This one surprised me but I've followed up and it's accurate. (Although I believe an aunt and two cousins also live in the apartment.)

This one cracked me up with how tiny the people are.

These are pretty well-drawn bodies from a six-year-old. 

Originally this picture only had my student and his brother (who was in my class last year). I sent the boy back to add the adults who live in his home!

Another one that made me laugh. All that space and the tiny people and tiny labels.

One of the things that fascinated me was the different ways students drew people. Some had so many details and some were more basic. I learned a lot from this.

This one warmed my heart. Her mom doesn't live with her but she told me she wanted to put her in the picture. The girl was really thoughtful about the skin color for everyone in her house. Her parents are of different races and you can see the various shades here. This was really important to her.
Another girl requested that I spell a name. I wrote it for her and then asked who that was. She told me it is her baby sister whose in her mommy's tummy. She then drew the little one in the tummy and labeled her. Beautiful.

It's so easy in a first grade classroom to feel like one is on a hamster wheel, just going, going, going. I love what I see and learn when I slow down to watch and listen.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Students and Mental Health

A week ago Valerie Strauss, of the Washington Post, wrote about the impact of mental health issues on students. Nothing there is shocking but it is still eye-opening and worth reading.

The statistics she shares are interesting, but leave a lot of questions:
Over 70 percent of students diagnosed with mental illness and behavioral health problems by middle school exhibited warning signs by second grade.
• Almost 25 percent exhibited red flags during pre-kindergarten years, including developmental and health issues, adverse social factors and exposure to trauma.
• Twenty-five percent of the children studied had documented traumatic experiences in their records.
So, I would guess that the warning signs exhibited by second grade are exhibited by plenty of students. Noting that students later identified with mental illness or behavioral health problems had such symptoms doesn't mean we should have been able to identify it early. It's much more complicated than this makes it sound.

That last statistic, about the children with documented traumatic experiences, hit hard for me today. We had a practice lock down this morning. I explained the procedure to my first graders, attempting to keep it not too scary but understandable about why we do it and how. After I finished a number of students wanted to share. The first one told a story about a time her family had to lock their doors and call the police because a person downstairs had a knife and killed someone (not sure if someone actually died because she also said the person who was killed was put in an ambulance). Others shared times they had to call the police or get an ambulance, although no other stories were quite as scary to me.

I know many of my students over the years have experienced traumatic events. I'm not sure I know how to help them. Recognizing that they have these experiences or that they have symptoms of mental health issues doesn't mean I have any knowledge about what to do next. I'm lucky enough to be in a district with lots of resources. That's not true everywhere. Our kids deserve the best we can give them. All of them.