Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Through The Eyes of My Learners

Our district has been implementing numerous technology initiatives this year, and it has not been a smooth transition. Many "special opportunities" have created huge learning curves for my colleagues as well as myself. Today, I sat in a meeting, trying to learn how to create interims on a database I have yet to understand. I listened to the instructor. I tried to follow her, but was getting lost as she continued to finish her talk in the time allotted. I began to feel completely overwhelmed. Everyone was talking at once and on different steps in the process. I was confused, unfocused, and on the verge of tears. So, I followed the defense mechanism that works for my learning needs. I left, went to my room, and closed my door. I sat at my desk with the step sheet and computer, and worked my way through the process. I am savy enough on the computer, but the past technology learning environments have not met my needs. I can't learn in a large group with everyone talking and asking questions. I don't need complete silence, but when there's too many conversations and questions going on around me, I can't focus. I need to process and reflect on my own, then ask questions as they come.

So, I realized how my treasures feel when I am moving too fast for them. There are some learners who are auditory. Some are visual. While I am a very visual learner, my daughter is auditory. I'm understanding how they learn. When frustration levels are high for my treasures, I'm going to remember this moment:

1. Give them time to regroup. Take a walk around the halls.

2. Stop tasks and come back another day.

3. Those learners may do better one-on-one or in small groups.

4. Write visual steps as well as auditory for all learners.

5. Students must "do" to understand.

Today, I walked in my treasures' shoes and that has made all the difference.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Blinkers...the sole purpose is to inform those around you of your decision to make a new direction. We've all been sitting at a stoplight, waiting for the car to pass, when they make a turn without turning their blinker on. Or, you're behind someone, thinking they are going straight and then they turn, all without notifying you of their decision.

As a teacher, I've always been one who has her "blinkers" on sometimes, not always. I teach with the state, district guidelines in my head, but always prepared to change direction as my treasures veer in another path. I am always open to their interests, questions, and inquiry so I can weave them into the curriculum as our year unfolds.

But, lately I've had to wrap my head around the fact that the paradigm is moving into a more "blinker" approach to teaching. Where are you going with this subject? When are you teaching ____? How will you assess and grade their learning? What is your purpose for doing this? Why are you not moving along as quickly as other teachers? All these are questions I've been asked lately and I'm not certain I have the answer. I look at my students. I know if I move slow this trimester, I'll be able to move faster the next two because the routines, the workshops, the expectations will have been set. For now, I'm working on finishing my "have-to" assessments. I'm learning what each student is reading and likes to read. I know who I need to touch base with daily in writing. I have my students who I need to have small groups in math weekly. I know who have some social issues. I am learning about my students. Perhaps it's not the "blinker" approach to teaching, but if I'm asked where I'm moving forward...that's where I'm going. I'm moving to a collaborative approach to learning where they will learn more from each other, than from me.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


We've been working on character development and identification throughout our writing workshops this week and my focus was for them to visualize their characters, then bring their characters to life in their narratives. Each student sketched and colored their characters for a "character museum" we'll share during The WOW Factor.

As with all beginning writing workshops, I'm constantly told "Mrs. Archer, I finished my story. Mrs. Archer, what do I do now? I'm ready to publish." All within 30 minutes of beginning. B was that student today. He was sharing with me his story he wrote on recycling because he looked around the room and saw the recycling bin over-flowing. Without much introduction or development, his character began with, "You must recycle." B understood his purpose and audience, but was failing to recognize the need to bring the reader up to speed with the character's mission. He would go back and write, then ask me another question. But, I could tell he wasn't getting the character development part. He even visited our school secretary, "the resident recycling expert" to ask her questions on why laminating film could not be put in the blue bins.

Later that afternoon, he was reading Loser by Jerry Spinelli, when he came up to me. "Mrs. Archer, I'm understanding what you mean by describing the character. Jerry Spineli described a character in the middle of the book so well, I was able to picture it in my mind. I'm going to try that tomorrow in my story." He got it!! No matter how many different ways I tried to explain my thoughts, he was able to grasp it by looking at a mentor text. B placed a post-it note in the spot to share during creation station (our writing workshop). These are the shining moments! These are special times!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Landform Museum

Anyone who knows me understands my apprehension for dirt, mess, and clutter. While I am not an over-the-top-Type A, I come pretty close to the mark. I understand that learning is messy. I recognize the need for play, discovery, and inquiry. I know students learn by doing. Yet, why does all the dirt, sand, and soil have to be in Ohio 4th grade Science !! We're beginning our Landform unit, and I've been thinking about ways to make it valuable for my students, yet doable for my "messy issues." I've been teaching 4th grade for three years, and very rarely do I teach the same way. So, I've thought up some ideas to make it a global project.

1. Using our textbook, landform readers, websites, and more: we're going to find similarities and differences between: mountains and hills, valleys and canyons, deltas and dunes, plains and plateaus. I created text boxes for the students to write their ideas for the landforms.

2. I was reading my last issue of Family Fun and there was a recipe for "All Natural Play Clay."
(Isn't great when the "universe" aligns with our teaching?") I'm sending the recipe home on
Friday so they can create 2 different landform colors of play clay and bring to school next week.

3. By taking a virtual tour through the Smithsonian, we're going to discuss the set-up of a museum, descriptive cards next to the museum features, and more. They are going to create 2 sets of landforms, and write descriptive placards next to their landforms with their research on it.

4. While writing this, I thought about having each group use the flip video to tape their landform ideas and talk, and then make a "virtual landform tour" to share with others in the school, home, and other classes.

I'm excited for this project to see how all my treasures stretch their thinking, their ideas, and themselves. My treasures matter.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday Musings

Tonight as I was eating my ritual of cereal before bed (a family thing), I traveled through my news sites and moved onto some teacher blogs. I haven't navigated to Two Writing Teachers for a while, but there I was reading her Monday Musings. I enjoy alliterations, catchy titles, and intriguing words. Musings... a synonym for considerations or meditations. falls freely off the tongue, but hardly ever used in conversations. Ruth shared her thoughts about herself, her teaching, and her goals. From her few thoughts, I recognize her frustration with change and paradigm shifts, her understanding of her "circle of control", and her thankfulness and gratitude for the life she is living. Musings...

I found myself thinking about my musings...:

*I am an all or nothing girl. I dive in with my whole head, heart, and soul, or I don't do it at all. So, much frustration, disappointment, and sadness is felt when my idea falls flat.

*I read 25 letters from my students today asking for more time to read, more time to write, and more time for math games.

*25 students are writing conversations to one another on a wiki that I introduced last week.

*I am fortunate to work across the hall from a colleague and friend who lets me process ideas to her and gives suggestions. I value her insight.

*My own children love to read and plan their book selections when we go to the library. They love math, also.

*I am filled with gratitude to the wonderful professional learning community I've found through blogs and twitter.

Musings...perhaps my word for tomorrow. What are your musings?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Friday AHA Moment

This summer, I fell in love and cherished The Book Whisperer while on vacation. I borrowed it from the library, read it on a train, took notes, and bought my own copy as a mentor text for my teaching. Donalyn Miller encompasses all I believe about reading, about passion, about doing what's best for kids, and most of all cherishing the special moments. Getting back to more reading time in the classroom, reading for pleasure, and having a purpose for a reading practice are all philosophies that come through in her writing. I found one idea of hers that I personalized and implemented in my 4th grade classroom...the Book Requirement.

Before school, I sat down with Lisa and came up with a 30 book requirement they must read and finish this year. Lofty, but doable if I commit to a 30-45 minute block of reading. I wanted it to be challenging, purposeful, pleasurable, and authentic, so I charted the requirements by genre. The chapter book choice had the most because I wanted my treasures to understand I value their uniqueness, their interests, and their favorites. Other genres only had a taste so they would try different genres. It's like trying new food. Some we like, others we don't. The important thing is we try.

Every Friday, I'm committing to meeting with each student, looking at their log, signing off on their finished books, and plotting them under the genre. This past Friday was my AHA moment. It was such that I had to walk over to a 5th grade room next door and share my findings. (She's doing something similar!)

The way the tally sheet was set up, I was able to see at a glimpse the reading patterns of my students. One student had completed his entire informational section. He loves reading about the ocean and fish. So, a brief conversation was in place to stretch his reading into a different genre. (He tried a graphic novel yesterday!) When I met with P, she had been tearing through the Bone series and realized her book choice only counted once. It was time to stretch her reading stamina into a lengthy genre. (I think this will be a year-long goal for her and I.)

My treasures are reading 30-45 minutes at a stretch. They're engaged. They're lost in their books and making recommendation to others. They'll be time soon to begin strategy lessons on responding to their reading. They'll be time to write. For now, I have a roomful of readers who choose to read whenever they can throughout the day. What a great AHA Moment!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Power of Puppets

"Gooood Mornnnin' First Graders!" This is the way Daniel the Spaniel, a 20 year old handmade puppet from my classroom days, has greeted all of his new school friends this year. Daniel says and does things that teachers wouldn't even think of saying or doing. Using his friendliest Southern drawl, he confesses to his audience that he likes "purdy girls", doggy naps and dog biscuits. But more importantly, when Daniel talks, croaks and sings, kids of all ages listen.

This year our school has about 75 new students. As a reading support teacher who comes in and out of the classrooms, I wanted a chance to introduce myself to all of the students in the school and offered to teach a mini-lesson to the class of the teacher's choice. I was surprised and excited by the response I received from the teachers. Several primary teachers who use the Daily Five approach in their literacy workshops, requested a lesson about picking just right books. One second grade teacher wanted me to talk about interesting words in books. And finally my biggest challenge was to teach a mini-lesson to a third grade group about reading a variety of "just right books."

The thought of working with a whole group of students (and their teachers) excited me but it also made my stomach flip-flop from nervousness. I knew that when I had used puppets in my classroom in the dark ages, the kids loved it so much that Daniel and several other stuffed friends became part of our daily routine. But I couldn't help but wonder if during these high tech times filled with video games, computers, digital cameras, DVDs, Ipods and more would still be entertaining...

With butterflies in my stomach, I ventured into the classrooms with a lesson plan in my head and Daniel the Spaniel stuffed in my bag. I may have felt nervous, but big, bold Daniel was not. He entertained, laughed, howled, chanted and even snored through his first appearance and many more. The children were mesmerized. They hung on his every word. The teachers laughed and giggled along with their students and some even cried. The experience was powerful and meaningful. The word spread throughout the school like a wildfire. To date, Daniel has made an appearance in most of the primary classrooms, several class newsletters, and even the school's monthly bulletin.

Although Daniel the Spaniel is missing some fur, a few eyelashes and even has a yucky stain on his felt mouth, I am confident that he will continue to spread the word about good fit books, interesting vocabulary, and many other important standards in our our high tech educational world filled with 21 century learners because Puppets are Powerful! You should try it "ya'll!"

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The WOW FACTOR important, yet so forgotten in our day-to-day routine. I've put sharing in my lesson plans, but incidentally I've gone longer in one area and I rush to catch up. Especially in these first few weeks, I'm so unsure of myself, my class, and my routines. This year, I've designated the last 20 minutes of our day as...THE WOW FACTOR.

The WOW FACTOR is time for kids to share part of their lives, their passions, and their celebrations with our community. It's a time to invite guests in to share their passions, their reading practice, and their ways of communication. It's our time to share. I know that it will never be forgotten, skipped over, or missed because it's written on our daily schedule. My treasures are now asking if it's their WOW FACTOR or do I have something planned. It's our time to cherish together.

We've had my partner and friend, Lisa, share her reading practice by using her lunch as an analogy. Her apple is her teaching books. Their healthy and help her grow. The vegetables are the online and internet reading and her chocolate is the books she reads for pleasure. My treasures understood what she was saying and used her ideas in reader's cafe the next day. Questions like: "I'm looking for a candy book, Mrs. Archer. Do you have any ideas?" or "It's time I look for a vegetable or protein book today." They understood her ideas.

Our Phys. Ed teacher, Sharon, came in and shared her running passion. She showed us how she keeps her running practice on a site, called Logarun. Her conversation about online running logs will be our "mentor text" when we move into online reading logs using a wiki.

Our new guidance counselor, Leslie, shared her reading practice. She didn't think she read much until I asked her to share with us. She realized on her own that she does do a lot of reading.

I plan to share flip video clips, student work, and they have come up with their own ideas to share. I didn't have a plan when I set out declaring a time called "THE WOW FACTOR" but it's evolving into something greater than I could imagine. That one change has revolutionized our daily routine. It's the Tipping Point. That one thing that makes all the difference.