Saturday, December 28, 2013

Oh, Winter Break. Are you here for me? Or the kids?


Just like all of my IG friends, I, too, have been spending my "break" relaxing in my jammies all day, eating cookie dough, and all that other good stuff that comes with having 8 days of no responsibilities.


I have ALSO been reading! dun*dun*dun!

Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing Elementary Series Bundle Grades K-5 with Trade Book Packs

This year, my district rolled out the Lucy Calkins' Writing Workshop for grades K-2.  Grades 3-5 will have the roll out next year.  Over the summer, however, I purchased the Grade 3 Units of Study.  So I have a little bit of a head start for next year, and my students will come to me ready for the Units of Study Grade 3!  :)

As you can read in my About Me, I have only really been teaching for a few months.  This past September marked my first legit school year. *yay!*  Nonetheless, when I started back in March, I was very intimidated to teach writing.  I had student taught 5th grade where the school had essays done once a month to comprise a student portfolio, and three students from each class were chosen to be "Writing Wall Portfolios" displayed in the hallway.  I was having a hard time adjusting myself from a 5th grade mentality to a 3rd grade mentality.

Then, one day, I just decided I would teach writing.  I had to teach it to invest in helping these students develop their knowledge of the world around them + it was in my schedule for a 43-minute block of time = TEACH WRITING! I picked up some of my undergrad textbooks, one being A Classroom Teacher's Guide to Struggling Writers.

I haphazardly threw together a writer's workshop for the last 3 months I had with The Students of Homeroom 9, and we were off!  They adjusted well to the workshop and thrived from where they had been before.  I will admit though, if Lucy had walked into my classroom I would've walked out the classroom with my head hanging low. :(

At the end of June, I approached my Literacy Supervisor and asked her what I should be looking at to improve my teaching.  She recommended Lucy Calkins Units of Study.  I finally caved and purchased the Units of Study for Grade 3 kind of late in the summer which meant I didn't have the proper time to sit down and read what exactly I was getting myself into.  When September came, like 3 days after my package arrived, I figured I was just gonna dive right into the Unit that was aligned with our curriculum.  I. was. lost!  I did a few of the sessions and then gave up.  A few weeks later, our year was already progressing into our districts Unit 2 curriculum alignment.  (Our district follows the NJ DOE Model Curriculum where we cover a specific standard at a specific time in the school year.) I knew I had to get back on track with writing because our unit was focusing on numerous writing standards.  If I wanted my students to grow as readers, I HAD to get them to write.  I tell them ALL. THE. TIME. "Good readers make good writers; good writers make good readers."

I can't preach something we don't practice.

Since then, I was faithful trying very, very hard in transitioning my students to a writing curriculum as well as lifting the level of writing.  I. DEMAND. A. LOT.  and yes, I demand A LOT out of my 3rd graders. To make that happen - to effectively reach all of my 27 / 28 (27 is my homeroom, 28 is my afternoon class) students, I HAD TO GET MY FEET UNDERNEATH ME!  I can't keep "wingin' it."
Ultimately, this post is about this book ... A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop (the second book - the greenish one).  My book looks a little different because my book: a) came with the Grade 3 Units of Study pack; and b) is part of the CCSS alignment pack. :)

I would HIGHLY recommend the Units of Study bundles for your grade level.  They are .. rigorous, but worth it.  I think the reason I became so discouraged with the way I was utilizing the units of study earlier in the year is because I had no idea where Lucy and her colleagues had come from to put this together and where each unit intended on the students going! It's like trying to juggle with one ball - it doesn't make sense.   Outside of the fact that the students I am working with have no background in the Grade 2 Units of Study let alone an actual writing workshop environment!  And, it is intimidating for teachers to teach writing when they ... aren't really sure how.  I wasn't about to give into the "skill sheets/worksheets" because - to me - that's not how students are going to learn to write.  They're going to learn from mentor texts and studying what other authors do because, in turn, that's what we're making students to be - turning them inside out .. from readers to authors.

I think the best thing I read so far from the Guide was a quote from the novelist Margaret Atwood.  She says, "The fact is the blank pages inspire me with terror.  What will I put on them?  Will it be good enough?  Will I have to throw it out?  The trick is to sit at the desk anyway, every day" (Donald Murray, Shoptalk: Learning to Write with Writers, 1990, 72).  That's how I feel as a teacher teaching a handful - and then some! - students to write.

"I can walk into a classroom, look over children's writing, and know immediately whether children are taught to write because strong, clear instruction dramatically and visibly affects student writing.  When teachers explicitly teach the qualities, habits, and strategies of effective writing, that writing becomes better - and the improvement is evident within days and weeks, not just months."
~ Lucy Calkins (A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop, 22)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

One year ago.  The tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

My second "mom" had taken me to school that day.  She offered to take me to school since the school I was subbing at was only a few minutes from her work, and, of course, it's always so much more fun to commute with someone.  :)  Anyways, I had worn my stilettos with my gray boot cut dress pants and a black top.  I was originally scheduled to sub in 3rd grade that day with a co-teacher, but by 8 o'clock, I was asked to go sub in Special Ed.  It turned out to be a K-2 LD classroom.  That is one classroom I never forgot subbing in.  I learned so much about special ed that day.

I may not have had a full-time teaching position, but on December 14, 2012, I was a teacher.  I was in a school.  In a classroom. Sitting at a desk with 2 other aides in the classroom and approximately 7 children.  One of the aides was calling students over one by one to the table near the desk. She was painting their hands a variety of colors to finish calendars they were making their parents for Christmas.

I remember it was the students' special.  The physical education teacher came to the classroom to excite the students for physical education.  The aides bundle the students up in their coats, scarves, hats, and mittens and went outside with the students.  I sat at the desk for those 40-minutes while the children went outside for phys. ed.  I looked at my phone and read the CNN, Fox News, and USA Today reports come through on my phone.  One by one.

I don't think I really processed what was coming through on my phone.  My phone was constantly asking for my attention with all the updates that were arriving on my home screen.  No other teachers had really discussed the same updates I knew they were getting on their phones.

Until around 2 o'clock.

When we went to another special ed classroom for Friday afternoon movie and popcorn.  I was starting to process what I had been reading all day on my phone.  The teachers and aides read news articles on the computers while the students were occupied with the movie.  They talked about a variety of things about what had happened.

It wasn't until I was waiting for my "mom" to pick me up that I sat in the office of the school looking out the glass windows that I realized what could have happened in that school.  Images of the principal coming out of his office to stop what he could, windows being broken down, the cafeteria to the left, teachers room straight ahead.  The classroom I was in .. just to the left.

Had I not subbed that day, I think the events of December 14, 2012 would have affected me differently.   But on December 14, 2012, I was in a school as a teacher responsible for 7 innocent lives.  I was in a school building during the day that gave me the time to think about something that could happen in that building the same way it did in Newtown, Connecticut.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

To the Students of Homeroom 9

7 things I’ve come to learn from being a teacher:

1.                    Children, students, are sponges.  They absorb anything you – their teacher, role model, “mom”, counselor, comforter, and comedian – do or say.  They pick up on the things that you subconsciously teach them.
2.                    Children, students, can do anything they put their little minds to.
3.                    Children are smarter than anyone gives them credit for – including their teacher.
4.                    Children just need someone to believe in them – because not every child comes from a home where somebody believes in him/her.
5.                    Don’t be afraid to let your students be independent.  They want the opportunity to prove their responsible and can do what you want them to.  After all, Rule #5: Keep your dear teacher happy. J
6.                    When you give students the opportunity to write, t h e y  c a n  w r i t e.  They just need some guidance.
7.                    A positive classroom environment – positive feedback, comments, sayings, and feeding into students’ intelligence – will take them a long way.  They’ll want to keep coming back to class.

This is a list of things that have come across my heart the past two months of teaching.  This is technically my first year teaching.  I started teaching in March – taking over a third grade class whose first teacher took an early maternity leave, followed by a sub replacement who took on a different position in the district, and then me. Mind you, I teach in a low-income district – my choosing.  In college, I focused on urban education.  It’s where I felt like what I did as a teacher was actually going to matter.  Yes, teachers matter to every child who walks through the classroom door, but something about an urban, low-income district makes me want to take on the challenge.  

Back to my first few months of teaching, it was hard – coming into a classroom two-thirds of the way through the academic year and picking up where everything was left.  I won’t lie, it was super hard to figure out where each child was developmentally and all teaching techniques, practices, and expectations that were being thrown my way left and right. I did it though – to the best that I could.  That’s all anyone asks for, right?  We ask our students to do the best they can, and at the end of the day, it’s all we, as their teachers, can do too.  Those 22 little third graders will never understand the immense impact they had on my life that let me evolve into the teacher I am just 6 months later.  Maybe they will when they look back in 5 years and remember all the times they visited me in my classroom while they were taking a bathroom break from their 4th grade teachers.  ;)

To my former students in homeroom 9, thank you… from the bottom of my heart.  We had some fantastic times together – the best and the worst.  You may not remember what I taught you, but may you remember how you felt in my classroom.  I hope you felt special because that’s exactly what you are.