25 February 2009

Slice of Life: Sub Plans

My students will be participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge beginning on March 1st. Here's a sample I wrote for them...

I unlocked the door and flipped the light switches. As the cold fluorescent lights slowly warmed up to the idea of providing light, I glanced at the clock: 27 minutes after eight. Twelve hours earlier the hallway was filled with the sound of excited chatter, stories shared to get a laugh, and anticipation of a new day.

Our classroom has a different feel to it at night. There is a calm, but almost eerie, stillness. The feeling is such a stark contrast to the feeling in the morning. In the morning there is a feeling of potential, possibility, in the stillness.

As I sat down in front of my computer to write my sub plans, I wondered if my students would feel that potential the next morning despite my absence.

A pause

I took a personal day today to take some time to regroup.  Life has been moving too fast, my thoughts have been scattered, and I've been uncharacteristically impatient with both my students and my own kids.  

As I was browsing through a large envelope of quotes that I've collected from various sources over the past fifteen years, these two resonated with me today.

"Now and then it is good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy." - author unknown

For today, my goal is to be a person.

18 February 2009

How do my beliefs and practices line up?

As I've mentioned before, I began this blog as a result of a book study of Teaching With Intention. It was my purpose to look closely at what I believed and ask why I believed it. My goal for the coming months is to pick apart and analyze what I do in my classroom on a daily basis. As Debbie Miller writes:
Once I developed my belief statements, the next step was to align with my classroom practices. I looked closely at everything I did; I looked closely at everything I asked kids to do. From the beginning strains of the song "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" at the start of the day through the final chorus of "Happy Trails to You" at day's end, everything came under scrutiny. Nothing was sacred.

I'd ask myself questions about my practice: Where's the evidence of this belief in the classroom? What kinds of things should I be seeing, hearing, doing to support this belief? Where does this practice fit into what I say I value? What studies support this practice?
I'm not looking to rewrite Teaching With Intention, Debbie Miller did an excellent job the first time. I am, however, always working to do what is best for the students who call my classroom their "home away from home" for nine months of the year. I am also not afraid to be honest about what I know and don't know. Since moving to fourth grade almost three years ago, I've tended to feel like "all I know is that I know nothing" more often than not. It's my hope that by reflecting on my daily practices I will truly be "teaching with intention."

11 February 2009

21st Century Literacies in Elementary Classrooms

[Last week I posted a question on the Elementary Teachers - English Companion Ning. This is part of my reply to my own question.]

As I try to clarify my own thinking on the issue of integrating the 21st Century Literacies into my classroom, I find myself in the middle between the opposing sides of "stick to the basics" and making "tech geeks" out of my students. When I re-read my reply to Michael I felt like I sounded like a Neo-Luddite who didn't see a place for computers. In actuality, prior to coming to 4th grade almost three years ago, I taught at the middle level for ten years, primarily math, science, and computers. We had a two teacher team which allowed for a great deal of integration of technology and cross-curricular projects. In hindsight, I feel like I sometimes went too far to the extreme of integrating technology possibly to the detriment of the curriculum and the development of thinking skills in my students. So when I came to 4th grade I decided that I would focus on my core curriculum without the technology.

As I have moved closer to my personal philosophy of education and have become more comfortable with 4th grade curriculum and workshop philosophy, I have found myself integrating more technology. This time, however, I am making every effort to make sure that the "ends justify the means" and that student thinking and learning are enhanced by the technology they use. What follows are some of the ways that I either am integrating, am planning on integrating, or am brainstorming integrating technology.
  1. Moodle. Upper elementary teachers in our district are required to teach half an hour of keyboarding skills to our classes each week (in addition to an hour of computer instruction they receive every other week). Each Friday, my students and I head down to the computer lab where they use All The Right Type for twenty minutes and then we will often login to Moodle for a while to discuss a topic. I used Moodle with my 8th grade students in the past, but had been reluctant to use it with 4th graders. They are learning how to use it quite quickly (although some are more interested in posting 250-point font emoticons of smiling devils than the content they write - thank goodness for the the administrator delete feature). Recent topics have included: "What's the best book you've read this year?" "What's the most important thing you've learned this year?" or the basic "What are your plans over Christmas Break?"
  2. "Our Living Minute." This recent article on Choice Literacy has me wondering if adding this structure to our classroom's Morning Meeting routine would allow for opportunities for students to meet some of the standards of the 21st Century Literacies. I'm not sure, but it may be worth a try.
  3. Book Review Vodcasts. The reading teacher at my daughter and son's school has recently been creating vodcasts of book reviews by students at the K-2, 3-5, and 6-8 grade levels. I showed them to my students and they were quite interested in the project, but I have been wondering about the management of actually getting the videos recorded and edited. What's the quickest way to do it?
  4. Class Wiki. One of our larger 4th grade Science projects involves the study of the animals of the Great Lakes. In the past, students have researched an animal, created a life-like, 3-D model of it, and then written a small book on the attributes of that animal. Lately I have been wondering what it would look like to create a class wiki on the animals of the Great Lakes, incorporating their writing, an image of their model, and possibly some poetry similar to the text insectlopedia. Considering that most of my students are typing around 10 WPM, how long would it take to complete it and how much would I end up doing for them? Probably too much? Would the time spent be worth the learning that results?
So, those are a few of my ideas. Your thoughts?

That Workshop Book by Samantha Bennett

Yesterday I picked up a new book called That Workshop Book: New Systems and Structures for Classrooms That Read, Write, and Think. I first read about it last week when it was mentioned in an article called Our Living Minute on Choice Literacy. Evidently, I had missed its arrival some time last spring (or probably was just too overloaded at the time and hit "mark all as read" on my Reader).

Once I finally got all three kids to bed last night and sat down to tackle my nightly homework (scoring mid-year spelling assessments and reading the next three chapters of Nonfiction in Focus for next week's book club meeting were on last night's agenda), I found myself hooked before I finished the table of contents. I'm sure the other work will get done sometime this week...

It will be some time before I have any time to write my reflections on it, so in the meantime enjoy this review from A Year of Reading.

09 February 2009

A gentle reminder to myself

I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while doing it.

05 February 2009

As a proud parent...

My seven year old daughter, Martha, is featured as one of the "Friday Book Reporters" at her school this week.

Two colleagues and I have been chatting about creating podcasts or vodcasts, possibly about the books they are reading. The technology is there... where's the time?