Saturday, May 30, 2015

#celebratelu15 The Highly Effective Fish Series

Today I am celebrating "evidence" that in spite of the CCSS and APPR spurred socio-political turmoil, there is "highly effective" learning happening for real students in real classrooms. While "some" are busy debating whether a test score is a fair way to evaluate a teacher, I am celebrating real learning that has already transitioned out of the classroom preparing a second grader for the future.  

Here's her story: On her own, at home, during snack and recess, without being prompted to do so, without being given a reason to write, S wrote the first (in what I hope will be) of a series of short stories about wanting a fish!  She gives lots of reasons (arguments) including the fact that she has left over fish food at home.  Why waste it?  (waste not want not).  She wraps up her arguments with an idea that made me smile: You can share your secrets with a fish.  Indeed, you can, and that may be why we ALL need a fish!

Happily, this piece of evidence will be used as her teacher fills out her end of the year report in a few days. Happily, it will not be just one piece of evidence that determines her grade!

Sadly, this little piece of evidence will not be used to evaluate this student's teacher. Like so many of those comments and writing snippets that provide evidence of teaching and learning, it does not easily fit into a test score.  Yet, it is compelling evidence of a highly effective teaching-learning model!

When you look at Charlotte Danielson's rubric for 3c (Engaging Students in Learning). you see highly effective characteristics!(student intellectually engaged in challenging content; complex thinking by students; students explaining their thinking; student initiation of inquiry, enthusiasm, interest, thinking, problem solving.

When you look at the standards and compare, you can see that the teacher and the student knew the objectives of the lesson and could transfer the learning to a new task!
CCSS Grade 2: Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply reasons that support the opinion, use linking words (e.g.,because, and, also) to connect opinion and reasons, and provide a concluding statement or section.

When you look at this story, you just have to smile!  Thank you S, for sharing your story with me and for letting me share this with other teachers.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

After the storm.

Beautiful words by Maya Angelou #quote
This morning, Maya Angelou was at the top
Of my morning Twitter feed,
I thought it meant I was supposed to be nicer,
Kinder, and more forgiving today.

Late in the day, I learned of great loss, at the top
Of my late afternoon Twitter feed.
I thought it meant I was supposed to notice,
Enjoy, and appreciate my life.

Then, I drove through hail, driving rain, 
Rivers of water puddling at the bottom of hills,
Rain that turned my silk curtains
Into rags at the window.

Finally, I saw this in the night sky, I remember
There will always be storms,
There will always be rainbows after the storms.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

#sol15 Times are a' changing in Stormville

Stormville, NY
Memorial Day Weekend

Stormville is close enough to NYC for people to ride up to the country for an afternoon.  It's close enough for people from Connecticut drive over for the day. Thus, the Stormville Flea Market has grown from it's humble 6 table beginning in 1970 to an impressive truck-camper-tent-media strewn event taking place only on holiday weekends (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Columbus Day). Hands down, it is Stormville's claim to fame and attracts far more people than our next biggest attraction, Green Haven Correctional Facility! 

Last weekend there were the usual vendors hawking tee shirts and kettle corn alongside the dedicated greyhound rescue people. There was also a crew from a reality show, headed by local TV personality Lara Spencer, filming people shopping, presumably with the intent to "flip" their purchase and make money!  There was also some of THE BEST PEOPLE WATCHING on Earth, if you are into that sort of thing.  There were people wearing outfits that made even me, certainly not a fashionista, wonder, "What WERE you thinking?"

There were, however, a few signs that things are always a' changing.  There was an all-the-refills-you-want-soda-vendor (I thought that was an interesting idea, but wondered if they would survive a hot day?).  There was also a sign for an ATM!  Just for the record, there are NO banks in Stormville. However, now I know that a few times a year, you can get cash at the "food court"!  

For those of you who live in a big city or suburbia, that may not seem like a big deal; however, for those of us here in Stormville, who have one pizza parlor, one deli, and one gas station, this is newsworthy! 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Why Blog? | CTQ

Why Blog? | CTQ

#celebratelu15 Making a difference by what we say and do

I was inhaling my yogurt while simultaneously preparing for the next group of little people when I heard a vaguely familiar voice.

"Hi there my reading teacher," he said softly,poking his head into my room. "You used to be my reading teacher.  Do you remember me?"

The boy was much taller, much leaner, more confident and self-assured; yet, the voice and the face were certainly familiar. I needed to move out of a "here-and-now-with-yogurt" mode into a "back-in-time-with-students" mode!

In a flash, I remembered that challenging year.  Those mornings nestled on my floor cushions reviewing behavior contracts and talking about "good choices."  I remembered afternoon yoga sessions and scavenger hunts - rewards for both of us for making it through the day!   I smiled as I remembered the day I "hired" him to be a reading buddy for a younger student. I thought about advocating for supports he needed to be successful in school and in life.

"Yes," I said smiling.  "How are you?"

"I'm doing great," he added confidently. "I'm in  (^%$ grade now.  I'm here for the band-demonstration-concert.  I play the $*(%,," he added confidently.  "I just wanted to stop by and see my reading teacher."

And in the wink-of-an-eye he was gone, smiling his trademark line, "See you later."

For me, however, happy-grateful-thankful thoughts of him lingered for days.  He had certainly grown up over the past few years.  I hoped he was really doing as good as it seemed he was doing.

So this week, while I am certainly "celebrating" and grateful for all the sacrifices of so many this Memorial Day weekend, I am also celebrating all those who make a difference in the lives of others by what they say and do every day.

Monday, May 18, 2015

#sol15 Five, Fabulous Teachers Standing in a Row

Five, fabulous teachers
Standing in a row,
They earned their robes,
Sashes, scarves
Attending and teaching classes,
Reading, responding, reflecting, 
Questioning, and observing.
Producing lesson plans, 
Drafting IEP goals,
Considering Essential Questions,
Designing and administering assessments,
Turning and talking,
Discussing Frindle,
Singing phonemic awareness ditties,  
Performing reader's theater, 
Practicing guided reading,
Reading and writing informational texts.

They (and classmates not in this photo)
Have been Slices of My Life
This semester, last semester!
They are the reason 
I attended and taught classes,
They are the reason
I read responses, reflected, 
Questioned and observed.
Thought about lesson plans, 
Pondered IEP goals,
Reconsidered Essential Questions,
Focused on formative and summative assessments,
Fostered turn and talk,
Reread Frindle, 
Performed reader's theater,
Sang Row, Row, Row Your Boat off-key,
Demonstrated guided reading,
Focused on reading and writing informational texts.

They are the future,
For lucky children and districts.
They are 
Lined up ready to be
Put into service 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

#celebratelu The words just popped into my head!

The boys sat around my table as I introduced the text with more words than usual.  One of them declared, "I can't read this!" 

"We're reading this together," I assured them. Yes, I was taking them out of the comfort zone. They were not likely to be reading this with 90% accuracy as determined by "Instructional Zone Standards." I might need to "carry them" through the text. Yet,I would never know what they might do if we didn't take flying leaps every once in a while!  It was a "stretch" into Level C texts were you find simple stories with 2-6 lines of text on page! It's where they would need to use more than text predictability and picture support.  They would have to sound out some words,such as Jill and Rob. They would have to recognize some high frequency words, such as she. look, can, here!  

On the first few pages, our reading was strongly supported by my cues. "Look at that first letter. Get your mouth ready. Let's tap that out together. That doesn't make sense.  Let's try that again."  Then, my voice faded into the background and the boys began to take charge of the text, just the way it is supposed to be. By the end, it was clear that one of the boys had taken the lead on the shared reading and the now familiar names and high-frequency words seemed to be coming out of his mouth almost effortlessly!  

It was time for their lunch but they did not jump up from the table. Instead, they lingered and one kindergartner asked the other, "How did you know all those words?"

Without stopping to think for even a moment, the other responded confidently, "They just popped into my head!" 

"Yes," I thought as I shooed them off to lunch, "that is just what words will do." 

SO today, I celebrate those magical-more-powerful-than-Disney-cuing systems that allow words to just POP into the heads of kindergarten boys (and other readers, too)!  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Let it Go Parody

May and June are VERY stressful for teachers.
The days are endless.
The workload heavy.
There is an unbelievable amount
Of stuff to do as we prepare
To close up shop for the summer.
NO other business does this 
Shut down-open up thing!
As much as I love July and August..
I wonder, every year, if this stress is worth it?

Lately, whenever we see each other
Passing by, in the hall,
Rushing to the bathroom
Late for a meeting, 
Planning for next year, 
A colleague and I go into 
"Let it Go," mode.

She usually breaks into the chorus,
I figured we needed some words!
So, here, with deep respect for a very popular song, it is!

The blooms glisten on trees today
The birds are starting to sing
A schoolyard in transition,
It definitely looks like spring.

Let it go, let it go
You will not believe what I have to do!
Let it go, let it go
Not sure if I can or can't wait
For this year to be through! 

I know too well
What they're going to say
I've got folders, binders, and spreadsheets to do,
I don't know how at this moment, but
I'll somehow figure how to get through!

Let it go, let it go
I will be free in when summer arrives
Let it go, let it go
I will dance when I see summer skies!

Here I stand
And here I'll stay
While the storms-of-spring in school
Make us all gray!

My classroom looks like a hurricane
There are papers, projects and even a few rhymes
A happy thought crystallizes this warm spring breeze
We could, if we had a chance, celebrate this moment in time.

Let it go, let it go
This will all be over soon!
Let it go, let it go
We'll smile again at the end of June!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Write it down

I know WHO they are,
My Aunts,
Their faces, younger, happier 
Seemingly carefree.
My Grandmother,
Looking like the cat 
Who swallowed the canary!

But I so wish I knew
What they were dressed for,
Where they were going,
When this photo was taken,
Why they are so happy!
I've been looking closely
at this for a while,
Recursively considering
 the year, the occasion, the possibilities.

Was this before they left the farm?
Was this a visit back to the country?
Was this a graduation, wedding, 
Was this for Easter Sunday?

I've looked recursively.
I've looked closely.
I've wondered;
but, I do not know.

Future generations will have to search
Photos mixed among clouds.
They too will see faces 
that look vaguely familiar
They too will know only one side
of the story
unless we write it down.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

#sol15 Handwriting 2015

Some of you may remember what this is....but most of you will not.  Teachers used to focus on handwriting!  In fact, my grandmother, a teacher long ago, was proud to the end of her impeccable handwriting. In the early 1900's, this was HOW students were evaluated - perhaps it was how teacher effectiveness was evaluated, too. In those days, it didn't matter WHAT students wrote; rather, what mattered was HOW it looked.

Even in the early days of my own teaching career, handwriting mattered.  We had these great little chalk line makers and filled chalkboards every night with "seatwork" for our students to copy. In those days, my print and my cursive writing were pretty good - although nothing like grandma's beautiful cursive.

Writing Workshop model, Donald Graves, Lucy Calkins, CCS or whatever else has come down the pike, we've come a long way in the last 115 years.  We now consider WHAT students write FAR more important that HOW they write.....and there are those who argue that handwriting does not matter in a computer generated writing world!

I was thinking about how rare it is that I use handwriting as anything other than a tool for taking notes FOR ME these days as I filled out sticky notes documenting my year in my APPR reflective binder this afternoon.  The "ing" that I typically "slur" into a sort of "g" when I take notes was not good enough for this document destined for other eyes and so I had to write some notes more than once (wasting sticky notes along the way!)

It's sad, in a way; we'll never go back to the flourish!  Yet, it's good in a way, too! We'll never go back to a focus on form over content. However, we do need to make sure our students and our teachers can write notes that others can read - even if some day, binders like this are replaced by "virtual" - Google Drive Driven proof of our reflective teaching!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

#celebratelu15 Central Messages From The Broadway

I don't often "get to" Broadway although it is only about 90 minutes (without traffic) from my home. It's crazy expensive even if you wait in line for the super-duper discount tickets and you still have parking/train/food! It takes planning and preparation to get to the big city and partake in the magic and excitement!   
Yet, every once in a while, usually when I have an accomplice pushing me, I make the effort to dip outside of my usual weekend activities (shopping, cooking, cleaning, bill paying) and head to the big city.

Last week, my cousin was in town and so I cleared the deck (skipped shopping, cleaning and bill paying)  and headed in hoping the breathtakingly beautiful spring weather would keep the theater lines short! We scored a couple of 10th row available seats at the Hirschfeld Theater to see Kinky Boots. Like  always, there was magic in the theater as passionate performers brought a timeless story to life.  For two hours, my mind and my heart were filled with singing, smiling, dancing and clapping. It was a simple story with a clear central message reminding us to honor and respect the diverse people we meet on this journey. You never know who will be your partner in the next chapter of life.

I left the theater with the message lingering in my mind.....all week.....just like the residue of reading a good book. So this week, I celebrate theater, costumers, musicians, stage hands, and all the many talented, hard-working actors who work late, every night, to bring good stories and central messages to life! They have super powers indeed. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Check out @LifeLimits's Tweet:

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Every single time, it's a miracle

Today we read Big Cat.
There are many beginning-reader stories 
about big cats.
Yet, there is something amazing that happens, 
every single time, as beginning writers
find their stride
grappling with sounds in
phonetically-regular words. 

So, after reading Big Cat
we shared the writing.
I controlled the pen, 
they did the thinking.
  We wrote about big cat's 
thinking (in the bubble).  
I wanted a happy cat; however, 
my boys wanted the cat to be mad,
so I made his face grimacing and 
his bubble thinking, "I am mad."
Then, each of them eagerly grabbed their own pencils,
drew their own Big Cats,
gave their own Big Cat a thinking bubble
and wrote what their Big Cat was thinking.
I saw the writing emerge,
eagerly, excitedly.
"I im hB,
certainly made me happy!  
to represent a complete sentence about their Big Cat.  
Seizing the energy of the moment,
he drafted a complete wonderful sentence,
"Big cat is happy."

This is not the first time 
I've watched a beginning writer find his stride.
This is not the first time 
I've drafted a quick mentor text.
This is not the first time
I was happy we had read Big Cat.

Every single time those fingers 
take control of the pencil,
it's an exciting, fabulous miracle.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Teacher Appreciation Week

It's teacher appreciation week,
 Time to stop and notice what it takes,
To prepare for one, single math lesson.
One special education teacher.
 Two very full hands,
Three separate, different timers, 
Four task/behavior/focus motivators, 
Five behavior charts,
Six carefully placed chairs.
Lots and lots and lots of 
Many, many, many modifications of
Program, teaching methods, 
Reinforcement, assessments.
That's what it takes
Every day.
To be a teacher.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

#sol15 If I were in control

"I don't like this," she whispered without looking at me. I was pretty sure she meant her "new normal" but I didn't ask.  "I don't want to be so $&-+;: old. I don't want to walk with that ()#$%&( walker.  I want to do my own cooking, my way. I want to pay my bills, my way. I want to do my own laundry, my way. I don't want (#&#* people here in my house watching over me. I want to be in control of my life."

"I know, but we are not in control of everything" I responded philosophically.

"Don't give me that #$%)(&%&() line," she responded, this time assertively and with authority the defied the rose covered house dress that hung loosely on her frail frame. "If I were in control, things would be very different!"

This time, I rubbed her shoulder and said nothing because frankly, there really was nothing I could say!  I too wish I were "in control" of so many things that I cannot home (dust balls, weeds, laundry, time, patience...), in my family (home, hearts, health, her, suffering, interactions...), in my school (reading, writing, word study, priorities...), in my profession (negativity, respect, professionalism, life-long learning ....), and in our world (acceptance, peaceful coexistence....) The list of what I would do if I were in control is longer than the Mississippi and wider than the Atlantic!

"We are not in control of everything" I reminded myself as I kissed her sleeping forehead, walked past her waiting walker, and left for a quick walk around the track where for 15 minutes I had some control of my heart rate as well as my emotions. There, as I went around the bends, my mind and my heart merged, for a moment, in memories of what was and reminders of what will be. I found a line from the Serenity prayer, circling the track with me....
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

#celebratelu15 Dear Students

Dear Students,
  • There is something magical, almost surreal, as trees bloom, April turns into May, and beginning readers, who once struggled with what seemed (to them) to be an insurmountable task, begin to put together the pieces of reading into the process of making meaning from texts. I sat back yesterday and watched that magic happen, again, and again, and again.
  • There is always something special about a student-teacher bond forged on a shared challenge/. After I've worked with a struggling reader for 8 months (or for 18 months!) we know each other well!  There is a level of mutual understanding and respect that comes from tackling something and watching the fruits of your labor. I celebrate how you miss me when I have to go to a meeting.  Guess what? I miss you too!
  • I celebrate, along with you, pencils, stickers, hugs, and the opportunity to sit on a red cushion and read to me.  I celebrate shared reading, shared writing, shared moments in your life.  
  • I celebrate a student, who like Picasso,told me he was in a "Blue Period" before reading club that day!  After reading club, he told me that he, like Picasso, was in a "Pink Period." I celebrate readers and writers who find themselves and relate to the texts we read.  Perhaps it was the virtual museum tour?  
  • I celebrate weekend....a chance to refuel and refresh...for all of we can do magic again on Monday.