Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pulling It Out of Thin Air

You must be kidding, they say. Seriously. "Me...write?" I have no idea where to start. No idea.

Well, that was then, Spot. That's where we started. Happens every year. That's why we spend the first six weeks of school focusing on the many ways to pull an idea out of thin air. Most kids think that the ability to write well is some sort of mysterious gift. My hope is to teach them otherwise. It's a game of practice and endurance...and I am the personal trainer. There's no mercy, Spot, we take no prisoners.

And now...we've just finished our Memoir Unit, Spot. I have a huge stack of papers to read and make comments on. And you know what, Spot? I'm actually eager to see what you guys have come up with this year. Kids have not only settled on an idea and crafted it, but they've learned to "step away from the text" and hear the comments of others hearing their story out in the world for the first time. We randomly fishbowl-conferenced and the audience was able to tell the author what three ideas they walked away with after the reading! We even had 'personal connections,' Spot! And that truth, the best way to compliment the author.

Here are a few of the mini-lessons we covered along the way: Word Puddles, Writing off a List,
Right in My Own Backyard, The Places to Love, Cherries...and the Pits, Mind Your Mentor, The Heart's Tug/Playing up the Hot-Spots, the Look Back Factor and many, many more! Many people tell me kids can't write these days. That notion is so unfair. People think texting, Twitter and Facebook are wrecking their writing. But you know what, Spot? This is so untrue! Learning to make your ideas clear in 140 characters is no easy task. It connects kids to an instantaneous audience! But in order to make lifelong writers out of kids, we need to give them more time in school to work at it. A good idea takes a long time and a lot of hard work to spin!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Eager Al

Okay, so here he is, Eager Al. I'm listening as hard as I can, honest. My eyes are going to bulge out...I'm listening so hard! Can't you see me? Can't you hear me? Oh, yeah Spot...I see him, and I hear him. He's bouncing out of his seat. (And by the way, I do love him!)

He's one of my most enthusiastic students! Eyes on 1-2-3 needed! His eyes are always on me. BUT! Those eyes and that brain can't be connected, I think. Not that this little doggie isn't smart. No! He's a smart little cookie. But he's working too hard to hear the whole thing, wrap his head around it...and then get what he needs to do something about it. Two seconds after I've given directions, he asks me this question, "What are we supposed to do?" OR with the homework board in plain sight, he says, "What's the homework?"

For you new teachers out there, here's the important response to this situation: STEP AWAY FROM THE STUDENT! Take a deep breath, and smile. (Not that sarcastic kind of smile either.) Eager Al is a Nervous Nellie. He wants in his worst way to get everything right. He's a worrier with a capital W! But he's the WORST kind of worrier, because he has a shut-off valve right in the front of the brain. If it looks or smells like directions, Spot...I swear, his brain goes right into sleep mode. You don't even know it! So...we're working on this right now. Breaking down the task, small steps, proximal seating, restating the know all the RtI lingo. We used it in special education for years, and now it's moved to a theater near us.

Here's what keeps me coming back, though. Eager Al says to me just this week, "Hey, Mrs. know those Pen Pals in Africa?" I say, "Yup, I sure do." I hold my breath thinking about whether he'd turned in his letter, which he did. I look over at him and he's smiling the broadest smile I've seen all year, and he says,"I'm really going to make this a friendship that will last." Makes me smile just to think about it. (Now follow my friend John's you can see where are letters are traveling to:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Ideal School

Wading through the newspaper one night, I came across a back article on The Ideal School, an integrated school started by two moms of children with Downs Syndrome in NYC. They built their enterprise on the proposition that class size mattered and that 25% of their students would have some sort of disability.

Their class size: 16. Ah, intimacy. A chance to be heard and responded to. Differentiated Instruction? Well, of course. The key to anything done well in education is about getting to know your students WELL! If I have the time to hear what's going on inside my kids' heads and to witness the ins and outs of their writing, listening, reading and speaking, I'm sure to hit a home run every darn year.

But, Spot? The doggies out there, just don't want to share their money with the schools and the kids inside them. It's a tough thing to think about. But every time money and education come up in a discussion, money will win every time! Sorry Spot, until they care...deeply, all of our schools are in jeopardy! We need more teachers and more classrooms filled with less students. Think about the impact we could make on those city classrooms if we could take them from 30+ students to just 16?

I just got a new and wonderful student today. She became doggie #24, and she was my priority. But it's going to be a while before I'm able to get to know her really well...and that is just a simple division problem, Spot. There's one of me, and 24 of you...and only a little under 7 hours in a day. Can you do the math and get back to me? I'll be looking forward to it!