Saturday, December 29, 2007

Three Cups of Tea

So late last week I visited Cloudscome's site and read a post about a book called, "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson I thought, wow, that sounds like a great book. I thought that I would check it out at my local library and then read it over the holidays. Instead, it called for me when I was at the Barnes and Noble bookstore. It beckoned for me to read it, I bought it and then couldn't stop reading it until I was finished. What an inspiration to teachers, people who consider all muslims terriorists, anyone!
Late last week I wrote a post about peace, about how I feel we need to bring our troops home, because I want them home. We have so much work to do, we have so much we need to do for others. We are going about this war on terror all wrong. One thing that so inspired me about this book was not this man's mission, but my heart change. I have not been so kind in my words about the terrorists. I have not educated myself about them, I have not wanted to, I have been a terrorist in my thinking. How am I any better than they? My heart was changed for this underdeveloped country. I found myself thinking, "no wonder." Here is a country that is basically illiterate. These taliban "people" come to their villages and offer to educate them, especially in the Koran, and when they graduate from their madrassa they offer them money ($300 American dollars, a yearly fortune to most) to join the Taliban. Do you see why I said, "no wonder?" If I were poor, illiterate, barely able to support myself, let alone my village, I would take the money and run!
Greg Mortenson, and the CAI, have been working towards peace for over a decade, they have been building schools amongst the poorest of the poorest villages. They have been providing for the refugees from war torn villages. But most importantly, they have built trust among Americans and Muslims. Something our government has been supremely failing, since the war on terror began.
So what can we do? How can we help bring about even more peace? Below you will find some websites, more importantly read his book. You too, will walk away with a different view of what one person can do!
Three Cups of Tea Website
Something I would like to do in my school or classroom is have a Pennies for Peace campaign. Children can bring in pennies and donate them. The monies go to build schools in Central Asia. Can you believe that for a dollar a day they can pay a teacher there? It only takes $12,000 dollars to build a whole school!
How can you help? http://www.ikat.org/index.html

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Peace

For the last several weeks I have been contemplating this word: peace. What does it mean? Why is it so important? Why does it keep passing through my mind? I sometimes get so crazed at this time of the year. I race this way and that, I make list after list, I buy and I wrap. I have so much to do. This time of year is not peaceful. While I was wrapping gifts the other day my children asked me questions about each person that I was wrapping for, we discussed what we bought and why we felt they needed a gift. My daughter asked what I wanted for Christmas.
I couldn't answer her, I don't have a list. I simply answered, "My cup runneth over, you are all I need."
This is what peace is, it is finally feeling content with what you have been given.
My mind has also been thinking about how we are a country at war, this Christmas our country is not at peace. Peace doesn't even seem near. Many families do not have peace in their homes because of the war on terror. This is where my heart has been drifting lately. I don't have a stance on the war. I have not kept abreast at what is happening, or even a timeline of events. I only know that I want it to end, I want our troops home. I, a person who has no ties to anyone in the military, only want them to be home because I want them to be with their families. I want there to be peace for them, I want them to be able to say, "My cup runneth over..."
So, how can I be proactive, what can I do to make it more peaceful? What can one person accomplish?
The USO, Until Every One Comes Home
Support Our Troops is a website that has a whole list of organizations that you can choose from to make the time easier for troops and their families. Visit and choose.
How will you contribute to the peace here on earth?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Writer's Notebook Wednesday

I didn't really write this yet in my notebook but had an idea once I read the challenge this week from Hipwritermama and the Two Writing Teachers. Here is the challenge:
"What are you going to do today, this week, this month, this year, to take yourself seriously? For the sake of your dream?”- HipWriterMama

This year I would really like to challenge myself to start sharing my knowledge with other teachers. I thoroughly enjoyed having a student teacher. I also liked having time to go into other classrooms while she was teaching. I enjoyed sharing with other students via conferencing and also leading mini lessons and sharing time.
I want my work that I have been doing professionally to be taken seriously. I want others to of me when they have questions or want to bounce ideas. I want to be taken seriously in a professional way.
I am also realizing that this challenge is not finished. I haven't the foggiest idea about how this goal will be accomplished or what steps I will take to see it come to fruition. I guess that is what a Writer's Notebook is all about...
If you have a suggestion, leave it in my comments area. (Even if you don't have a suggestion leave a comment. I would love to hear from you!)

Weight Loss Wednesday

Another 3 pounds. I was feeling very much like I hadn't lost a pound. I was feeling discouraged, but I stepped on the scale and saw the numbers drop. I was very pleased with my lost this week as I haven't been doing as much excercise. No excuses really just lots of Christmas type events that are occuring. This week should be better! That brings my grand total to 14 pounds in four weeks!!!!!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Myself as a reader... MEME

Jen meme(d) me about myself as a reader. Here are 8 things about me:
1. I can't remember not reading. It seems in my home you learned this skill naturally. It just sort of evolved. I remember the books: Kim's Kittens, The Firehouse Cat, storytime at the library.
2. My first chapter book in the third grade was Charlotte's Web. I read it over and over and over again. I still have the same copy in my classroom. You can see my third grade handwritten name inside, I loved that book.
3. I love anything historical by nature. There were a lot of good books at the turn of the century. I purchased several of them. One of my favorites is Letters of the Century, what a glimpse into the lives of everyone. I also enjoyed the book of letters that Nancy and Ronald Regan wrote to one another during their marriage. I love history I guess.
4. During the summer I am a voracious reader. I get to stay up very late to read whatever novel I have checked from the library. I can read several novels a week. The girls and I will come home from the library and the house goes silent, for hours...
5. During the school year I don't read as much for enjoyment, I read more Better Homes and Gardens, and Time magazine. On the weekends I enjoy the newspaper.
6. I call Nora Roberts books, "no thinkers." I love, love, love, love to read Nora Roberts' books, however, I can read them without really putting much thought into them. I love this! It is my way of unwinding, of getting lost.
7. I don't have a favorite children's author, I have several: Kevin Henkes, Patricia Polacco, Mem Fox, Eve Bunting, Mercer Mayer, Jan Brett, Marc Brown, Syd Hoff, I could go on and on and on and on. My students know that Mrs. Amick knows about books. It is my purpose to know much about authors and their books. Kids need that, it shows that books are so important.
8. I really don't like to receive gift certificates to the books store. What do you get there? It's too hard to choose. I always feel like a kid at Chucky Cheese who has lots of tickets, but not enough, and I can't make my choices. What shall I choose?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Weight Loss Wednesday

Okay, so last week I didn't post about this? Guess life just got in the way!
Here is my day in numbers:
Number of pounds lost last week: 1.9 (only 1/10 of a pound away from 2!)
Number of pounds lost this week, December 12, 2007: 2.9 (only 1/10 of a pound away from 3!)



(My precious Babs in her festive Christmas wear, with her dear sweet Sydni, an icing duo! Love that Babs!)
Number of cut out cookies baked, and iced: 59
Number of knives licked by Sydni: 4 (there were four colors of frosting!)
Number of different kinds of cookies baked: 4
Number of years baking an obscene amount of cookies in one night: 10????
Number of Hershey Kisses left unused by peanut butter blossoms: 4



We do it every year. We load up all our baking gear, literally my aunt, mom, and grandmother bring baking sheets, big bowls, all their sprinkles, vanilla, powdered sugar, food coloring, sugar, flour, etc. My kitchen gets overtaken. Grandma begins by unwrapping chocolates, my mother begins making seven layer bars, and I begin making Mexican Wedding rings. My aunt prepares her peppermint bark while the children roll out dough to start cutting out cookies. It is mass chaos basically. It is the best chaos ever! The kitchen heats up, the coffee pot starts steaming, and the chatter begins. We laugh, we bake, we love. In the end, after all the cookies, bars, bark, and frostings have been finished we gather our tupperware and start sorting. We divvy up the goodies, hug each other tight and head for home. My girls get tucked in by Newt Ny, Amy, and Mimi Ford. Sydni can't sleep because her veins have sugar racing through them. The cookie extravaganza is complete...

If you invite me to a gathering, guess what I'll be bringing? It is so worth it when you come to my home unannounced, guess what I'll be serving?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

When words come along

You ever notice that words come along at just the right time? I have been thinking about my first first graders. They are currently in fourth grade. Many of them are in Jen Barney's classroom. I wish that I could apologize to them for the things I didn't teach them. Oh, the things that I know now! I guess that teaching will always be like that. We should never get to the point where we believe we have this profession mastered, kind of like life. I was visiting Ruth's blog and found that she had replaced her quote that she leaves on the side. Here is the new quote:
"You did what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better."
~ Maya Angelou
I wasn't a terrible teacher back then. I just didn't know what I know now. I didn't know about the 7 keys to comprehension. I didn't know about Writer's Workshop, establishing community, building relationships, working with high/low achieving students, etc. I did know how to teach in small groups, shared reading, phoneme awareness, some writing, etc. I did what I knew how to do. Now I know better, and I am doing better. I feel more empowered by my knowledge. I feel like I also am at a level of helping others. Most importantly, I am looking for knowledge that will help me be better. Isn't that what it's all about?
This is a wonderfully reflective quote, I am glad it came along when it did.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

My daily something...

I have had this picture frame since we were married. We got a calendar full of inspirational sayings attached to a wedding gift. That was 10 years ago...
This one got yanked from the calendar right from the start, it seemed to relay what life should be about. It should be about patience, forgiveness, and the knowledge that we all make mistakes. Daily, it is my little bit of "something." I leave it for you today...




"Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love."
Ephesians 4:2

Thursday, December 6, 2007

"I read it all by myself..."

Two weeks into the school year I sat down next to one of my little girls. She is shy, engaged in learning, and not very confident. During Reader's Workshop I asked her, "How's it going? Would you read this book to me?" We were at our beginning stages, we had just done a mini lesson on reading books by looking at the pictures, I didn't expect them to be using print strategies. The little girl's eyes welled with tears and she said, "Mrs. Amick, I don't know how to read."
This was my first bump in the road for this student. I guided her every step of the way through our lessons on print strategies. I showed her how to "read" pictures. I praised her in front of her peers. She started to read, she is making great strides. At parent teacher conferences I met with her dad. He is so excited about her accomplishments. He has seen her grow so much this year. He is excited about her progress.

Fast forward, December 6, 2007:
"Mrs. Amick, Mrs. Amick I can read this book all by myself!" She is holding up Mem Fox's Harriet You'll Drive Me Wild.
I talked with her about her first weeks and her disappointment she felt when she couldn't read. We cried, that little first grader and I cried together as our hearts filled with pride over her accomplishments.
I know today that if this feeling ever goes away as a teacher, I am done. I will no longer be effective as an educator. She can read the book all by herself, that is student achievement.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

More from "The Art of Teaching Writing"

Valentine for Ernest Mann
You can't order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the coundter, say, "I'll take two"
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.
Still, I like your spirit,
Anyone who says, "Here's my address,
write me a poem," deserves something in reply.
So I'll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live ina way that lets us find them...
Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us,
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but
not quite.
And let me know.
-Naomi Shihab Nye

My Life's Work

Lucy Calkins has a wonderful book that I have been reading called The Art of Teaching Writing. I know it is older but I had never read that book before. My school library has wonderful professional books and so I checked this one out. Today I perused through some of my favorite pages and found this quote from Nancie Atwell's book In the Middle:

"I'm a writer and a reader.
Writing and reading and teaching them to you are my life."
As I read those words I allowed them to sink in and register to me. This is a motto, this is a mission statement, this is me. I want to start placing this quote in my opening newsletter at the beginning of the year. I want to post it in my room. I want people to know this about me. Most importantly, I want my children to know this for themselves.
Today I had the pleasure of truly collaborating with my Language Arts Facilitator and my Fourth Grade Friend. Kathy is looking for ways to show my staff the true value of the workshop. Jen said, "I wish they could know that this is our life work. This is who we are as people." (Why can't I say profound things like this?) Here are some of the challenges we feel could be bumps in the road:
1. How do you teach the importance of community?
2. How do you show someone how to get started?
3. How do you show the research behind this best practice?
4. How do you make it seem attainable?
5. How do you go from information being dumped into the brain to learning from your own students?
Collaborating with these two I walked away with my mind in a haze. I made some copies from Lucy Calkins book The Art of Teaching Writing, I hope Kathy will use them to plant the seeds of change with my other colleagues. We have much work to do.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Weight Loss Wednesday

Okay, so the week before Thanksgiving I was on a 1200 calorie diet. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving I only lost 1 1/2 pounds. The Friday after Thanksgiving I started drinking my shakes and bars. Consuming only 980 calories per day I lost 4.5 pounds. So I have lost a total of 6 pounds in two weeks. I was a little bummed at first because I instantly start tallying up "12 weeks equals..." in my brain as the nurse is reading the numbers to me. My husband, that dear sweet man I get to spend the remainder of my days with, simply says, "Sarah, when was the last time you lost 4.5 pounds in a week?" My answer he already knows, "NEVER!"
I love how he can put things into perspective for me at times.
So, I guess I'll update you on how the next week goes for me. I'll keep you posted!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Debbie Miller

Lately I have been rereading sections of professional books to help get me through this making connections portion of my reader's workshop. The best book of all from a first grade teacher's perspective has got to be Debbie Miller's Reading With Meaning. I recently reread the introduction and the chapter about making connections to prepare myself. One thing that caught my eye was the uneasiness that Debbie used to feel prior to her knowledge about the seven comprehension strategies. She talks about how parents would approach her and ask her if she was whole language vs. phonics, or how she felt about invented spelling vs. spelling. She always felt like she was being backed into a corner.
Now, she knows what she believes and why she believes it. She has a response to their interrogating questions. She challenges teachers to read, reflect, read some more, ask questions, and develop their beliefs. Today I was asked if I would help others with certain components of our literacy model. I answered affirmatively that of course I will help. However, as the day went on and I mulled it over...
-I've come a long way, by taking my own initiative to grow and learn.
-It can't be learned in minutes, hours, or days.
-There has to be a willingness to understand that this can help children, a drive to want to do what's best.
-Attitudes must change!

I know why I do what I do in my classroom. I have read, reflected, reread, asked questions, formed a community of teachers learning too, asked more questions, watched tapes, read again, and reflected some more. Debbie Miller has taught me that when I am confident in my own means of educating students, because I have studied best practices, then others will not question what I do. They will trust and believe my thoughts and ideas. Notice I said, "because I have studied best practices." You can't make this stuff up, you can't fly by the seat of your pants, you can't sum up what you do in minutes. This is where I am coming from... do you have the same drive?
I guess I am willing to help but I want to help those that are willing to pick up and help themselves, because the children are waiting.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Day to Give Thanks

This morning I awoke on my day off at 7:00 a.m. I was grumpy. Today I headed to my grandmother's home to help her with Thanksgiving. I was grumpy. My grandmother is 82, she has raised seven children and a mentally handicapped nephew. She is the central maternal figure of my mother's family. Without her I'm not sure we would gather. When I arrived at her home at 8:00 a.m. she had forgotten that I was coming, she is forgetting a lot lately. Her face takes you in when you arrive and you are so important in that gaze. We sat around two steaming mugs of hot tea while she finished her breakfast. Then the work began, we sat out plates, napkins, the good silver. We baked corn muffins, and warmed Sara Lee pies ("Only $1.99 Sarah, that's a deal!") She directed me while she sat and retained her strength. About two hours into the work and labor my grumpiness subsided. I had her all to myself today. I asked her about the city's politics, I questioned her about her history, I had her all to myself. While mixing corn muffin batter I watched her feebly folding her starched napkins, I watched her step carefully on her wobbly legs, and my heart wept. Silent tears slid down my cheeks as the knowledge of her aging body reached my heart. My grandmother's years are catching up with her, she is getting old.
My unwillingness to help could have prevented me from that special time that I had with her today. I had no obligations, I only wanted to stay in my bed to sleep. I am thankful that I didn't, because I had her all to myself...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Someday...

While I have a student teacher in my classroom I have been checking lists of books out of our library at school and reading them. Last week I went through a list of books that was created for teaching personal narratives. While perusing the shelves I came across a section of books by Charlotte Zolotow. I came across her book, "Someday." This is a book about a little girl that basically describes her dreams about what people will say and do to her someday. It's a very cute book and not very long. I suggested that my student teacher just read the book for enjoyment for the opening of the school day. The children loved this book. Today I used it for my making connections introduction. It's a lovely little book...
During reader's workshop I noticed a little boy in my room just writing away. I pulled up to him and asked him to read me his piece. His piece of writing was a modeling of "Someday" the book. He took his own personal experiences, his own wishes and dreams, and made his own Someday book.
This is something that I have never experienced as a teacher. I have set the tone and stage for great writing to occur, and my students are taking full advantage. I am so excited to see them reading like writers. This is what we want for them to be able to do easily.
Walking away, I don't think I helped change this child's life as a writer, but he changed my life as a teacher...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Work of Making Connections

Up until now my class has been following a scope and sequence for Reader's Workshop. This scope and sequence has been one that I compiled from many sources through my own professional reading this summer. Up until this point it has been pretty heavy with print strategies, reading for meaning, and story elements. However, now it is time... for making connections. (Let me preface by saying that I have made connections during my read alouds, it shouldn't be foreign to my students, they have heard the language) My thoughts are mixed, it is so exciting to teach this portion of the workshop, but it is a huge part! I feel like a drum roll should occur and we should toast this work. But, I also feel a heavy burden of responsibility. I want to make sure they understand, I don't want to jump in and roll without taking my time.
Here are my plans:
Monday: A review of metacognition. We have touched on this and the kids know the phrase, "listen to the voice that you hear as you are reading." But I also want to introduce schema. I am going to do this by showing them bits of paper that contain my background knowledge. I'll use a lint roller to roll up my schema. The roller is my brain, and the bits of paper are my schema. Schema sticks in our brain. I'll model using my schema during read aloud during this time.
Tuesday and Wednesday: I have chosen some books and wrote down my own connections on post-its. I will have a huge piece of chart paper that we will post all of these post-it onto. Later we'll take the post its and make decisions based on text to self, text to text, and text to world.

Here is some language that I really want to see my pumpkins using:
I made a connection...
It reminds me of ...
My prior knowledge...
When I was thinking about my own thinking...
The voice said...

I will teach this unit slowly. I want to make all the connections at first and leave them thirsty to make their own. I was thinking that this unit could take 4 weeks, maybe longer.

Okay, discussing this with you all makes me feel more confident, more prepared, and not so nervous.
I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

It's Time For An Intervention...

I posted about this here but it was time for an intervention...
Last January I decided to make some changes for myself. I started walking 3 miles and watching my diet. I have cut out lots of stuff from my diet, no more chips, no more salad dressing, avoidance of all things decadent (especially hard at school), drinking 64 oz. of water a day, etc.

Nothing happened, not one pound, not a single dress size, nothing...

Yesterday, I met with my behaviorist, doctor, and physiologist. The intervention is here, this week I am living on a 1200 calorie diet so that next week my body won't be so shocked when I drink only 980 calories a day. That's right I said drink my calories. I should lose approximately 40 pounds when the 12 weeks are over!

Here are my reasons for the intervention:
1. no results
2. depressing thoughts about my body image
3. obsessive thoughts about what was going into my body

Since my appointments will be on Wednesday I thought I would keep you posted about my progress on Thursdays. Wish me luck!


On a lighter note and very funny:
My five year old was reading a book that her sister checked out from the library. I asked her what kind of dog was on the cover of the book. "It's a pepper dog mommy!"
"What?"
"See Mommy! He's white with pepper all over!"

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Motivational Monday

The important thing is not so muchthat every child should be taught,
as that every child should be given the wish to learn.

-John Lubbock

Last week during Motivational Monday, Jen, at A Teacher's Life left us with this quote. I commented that over anything that is a struggle for me as a teacher. I know what to do when behavioral concerns arise, I have a variety of options. I am concerned though when a student doesn't come to school with a desire to learn. In the first grade this is just sad to me. I can understand why they didn't want to learn when they were in the fifth grade, they had had years of experience with failure. But what about the first grade? My only conclusion, a home that doesn't support or push the student towards education.

My comment for Jen was this, "What can we do to help those students that don't wish to learn?"
I then said that I needed to think on this, here are the thoughts that I came up with:

-Foster a trusting community.
-Be a teacher that doesn't argue with children. Be a teacher that states their expectations clearly.
- Be someone they can trust, not someone that is unpredictable.
- Show your love of learning, and show them you can learn something from them.
- Be in constant contact with their parents even if you drive them nuts. Kids need to know that you and their parents are communicating.
- Find out their interests and make them look important in front of their peers.

Got any other advice? We could sure use some thoughts about this topic. Below you will find a quote from Obama's book. My friend Mandy read it over the summer and left it at her blog. It is haunting to think about...

"When their eyes stop laughing. Their throats can still make the sound, but if you look at their eyes, you can see they've shut off something inside."

-Dr. Martha Collier

An excerpt taken from Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Does reading to your child really help?

On Thursday I had Parent/Teacher Conferences. I spent my afternoon and until 8:00 p.m. meeting with 23 out of the 26 parents of my children. I prepared folders for them that had a wide variety of activities that they could do with their child. I hope they will use them. I set goals for my students and discussed what I was going to do to help their student achieve these goals. I then asked for them to support their child from home. I said this phrase at least 23 times, "If you push from home and I push from school then we can get them to their first grade goals."

Most importantly I tried to display my passion for their child as readers and writers. We displayed our Celebrity Writer Profiles in the hallway to be read as parents waited. Most parents of first graders are concerned about their child's handwriting, I am not. It is getting their mind to switch from handwriting to being writers. Most parents do not believe that their child could be a writer, I need to change their minds.
My passion for reading must come through as well, we must truly get parents to believe that reading to their child can make a huge impact on their child's outcome as a student. I always try to praise the parents that do read at home, trust me, a teacher can tell who is being read to and who is not! I try to sway those parents to be reading at home. There have been studies that have shown the huge impact reading at home has on young readers.
So, why is reading with your child so difficult?
If you know it has a huge impact then why aren't you doing it?
How can we get parents to understand this?
I don't pretend to have the answer to this but here are some things that I tell my parents during that conference:
1. I know how busy your life is, I have two small children, a full time job, and a home. Reading can be the furthest thing from my mind, but it can also be the most quiet moment of my day. My kids and I hunker down and snuggle through some great books!
2. It only takes 10-15 minutes, we have that amount of time to devote to our children.
3. Older brothers and sisters can help!
4. If they see it as important for you then they will assume that it is important for them as well.
5. I have given you monthly homework packets so that you have time for reading. I have made time for you, there is no excuse!

Some teachers dread the parent/teacher conference, I look forward to that time. It is a time for me to display my passions and goals for their student. They should walk away knowing that their child is in very capable hands.
What do you do to encourage reading at home for your students?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Walk in the Park...


Yesterday, a warm, late, autumn day found us at the local park. This is not a city park but a park in the country. We headed to Mattea Park to do some hiking. This summer we headed to Mattea park on a day that was not humid and not too hot. We hiked in the woods and smelled the summer smells. Yesterday, we saw a rainbow of fall colors as we hiked in these same woods. I heard my youngest daughter say, "what an adventure!" We sat on the bench by the creek and watched the leaves as they floated like boats on the current. My daughters climbed a crooked Sycamore tree and dangled their feet above the ground. Under our feet we heard the crunch of the dry fallen leaves. We pointed at the nests of the squirrels high above in the canopies. Birds swooped through the trees, alerting the others that we had arrived. The dog raced ahead of us as we hiked in a single line, turning I saw his doggy smile as he looked back waiting patiently for his pack.

Later, as I turned the corner I saw my two, each with a stick in their hand, on a journey into the unknown. Their imaginations, hiking, on a marathon to nowhere. Then, the smallest of the group, map upside down in her hands, guided us through the woods. Pointing to each sign, looking for the way, we arrived back at our car.

On our way home, the car sat in silence, little eyes gazing out the window pondering the journey. Quiet smiles spread upon their lips, and all was well with their little world.

Motivational Monday

"Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours."~ Ayn Rand


Ruth, at Inspiring Readers and Writers, has been posting quotes on the side bar of her blog in hopes to inspire anyone who reads her blog. Well, this has been up for a couple of weeks and I enjoy reading it everyday. I have copied it for my quote wall in my classroom so that I can view it without technology. Why do these words speak to me? Why do they motivate me? Hmmm...


I teach with some great people. Some people I work with are like a fire that can not be quenched. I love to be with them, ask them questions, watch them, and then use their talents and wisdom to be a better teacher. I also work with people who don't care so much about what they are doing as a professional. They don't give their 100%, they don't treat children with decency, and they need constant fanning of their dwindling ember. The latter of the two people tax me, when I think about what we could do if we were all a collaborative effort... it's not motivational, it's dreary.

This one quote makes me feel like it is attainable, even with people whose flame is snuffed out. Because of this one quote I feel like it is more about what I can do and not what the others around me are doing. I can't focus on them, I must focus on my work, my children, the attainable goal of lifelong learning. These words motivate me in the middle of adversity to keep going, because "it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is" mine!

What words encourage you when you are feeling boxed in on both sides?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Writer's Notebook Wednesday

It's a little late, I know, but it took me a while. I wasn't quite sure how it was going to end. I took the style from Langston Hughes, Carl Anderson mentioned it during the conference that I attended. The style of the poem he used had a repeating line and then the last line kind of ends like a thud.
My subject is the crazy things that kids say, are you amazed at what they say that just land like a thud into your conversations? It makes me really think about what I say to my own children, are my words careful? We never know our impact with words, or their effects long term. Here is the reflection of all that through poetry:

Kids Say
Words I hear all through the day
word from kids, imagine what they say
Words come harsh, words come quick
we never imagine how they'll stick.
Words from mom, words from dad
land on kids leaving 'em forever sad
Words come harsh, words come quick
we never imagine how they'll stick.
Words in haste, words from others
they make waste, oh sisters, brothers
Words come harsh, words come quick
we never imagine how they'll stick.
Words long, left, unsaid
leave the soul, empty, unfed
Words come harsh, words come quick
we never imagin how they'll stick.
Words in joy and hope that are said
words help the empty soul rejoice instead
Words come harsh, words come quick
we never imagine how they'll stick.
Words that build, support, and please, "Come quick!"
Let's imagine the child on whom they'll stick.
Those words come quick...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Motivational Monday

I just finished Carl Anderson's book, How's It Going? this weekend. I was smitten not with the conferencing portion of the book but in the afterward. I recently went and heard Carl speak about conferencing and learned a lot of things. I was taken with his sincerity with students and creating a sense of trust amongst the student writers. In the afterward he really shares this with his reader. Here are some of the things that I found motivational:

"To teach writing well- to confer with student writers well- we must be affected by our students and the details of their lives. That is, we need to fall in love with our students for the first time."
He shares the story of his first year teaching and running into one of his students 11 years later. This brings back his memories of how smitten he was with this community of students. How he discussed their writing incessantly with others. And how he begged for them to let him keep some of their stories, "I wouldn't have to let go completely. I could keep them forever," he says.
He then goes on to add,
"Aurora [a former student] took me back to another lesson about conferring well I learned earlier in my career, and it's this: students need to fall in love with us, too."
This week I wrote a post about my notes that I have left around the classroom. My little M. showed me how it feels to be valued and "loved" by her teacher. This week she wrote during Writer's Workshop, "I love my teacher. My teacher loves me. We love each other." I have been interested in her as a writer, not interested in her writing. She has learned so much more than if I had focused on what I could fix.
This Monday, I want to motivate you to look at your group of kids, whatever grade level they may be and ask yourself, "Do I know them?"
Take a minute to write at least 3 things about each one of them, something that is unique that you will remember, something special. Remember those things as you go into conferencing... how will you change their life as a writer? How will they come away unscathed, and loving you all the more for it?
At the end of the year, will you be wanting more? Will you beg them to keep their writing so that they won't be lost to you forever?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

It's Spooktacular!!!!

A conversation heard at the Amick household 1 month ago:
"Mama, mama, guess what Haley's gonna be for Halloween?" says Sydni.
"I don't know, what?" says Mama.
"She's gonna be a scaaarrryy Witch, HEE, HEE, HEEE,HEEEEE!" replies Sydni.
"Yea, Mama, Hay's going to be a witch with a broom stick!" adds Sophie.
"We want to be witches too! Can we? Huh?" says the girls in unison.


Friday, around 4:30 at the Amick household:
"Jenny sent home these costumes with me today! Let's try them on." says Mama.
Mama helps each girl dress in their witch costume. Sophie has a dress with a mask, and a bat cape. Sydni has a witches hat and a spiderweb collar. Sophie is please with her costume, she is already pondering what shoes she will be wearing as they are about to leave for the Zoo's Halloween extravaganza. Mama looks over at Sydni, quiet tears streaming down her face.
Bewildered Mama asks, "Sydni, why are you crying?"
"People will tell me I look cute!" screeches Sydni
Daddy adds, "You do look cute, Syd!"
"I don't want to be cute! I wanted to be scary, and frightening!" shouts Sydni.




Friday, October 26, 2007

A Surprise Package



About a month ago I got an email from Rebecca Kai Dotlich she is an Indiana author and poet. She had found me through a google search and had been reading my blog. She was so inspired by my words that she checked out the Adopt A Classroom link on my blog to see what I needed! Lucky me, she asked if if would be okay to send me some signed books that she had written.


Well, today I walked to my mailbox at school and was surprised to find a package for myself. Inside were four of the most beautiful books. Inside she had signed and left a very personal message. Thanks Rebecca!

Here are just a few things that I thought about:
1. It is nice to be thanked by someone. We have thankless jobs at times, especially since No Child Left Behind. It seems that since that has been signed into office that we are questioning our teachers, not thanking them. And, sometimes my job can be viewed as babysitting. I teach children to read, a skill they need for a lifetime, it is very far from babysitting.

2. My words matter. After reading my words she was inspired to give. My words matter. My words matter. My words matter. What a great lesson in writer's identity, for me and my students. I can't wait to share this with them.

Rebecca makes personal author visits to schools, she also does some workshop type things with kids in helping them to write their own poetry. If you are interested in author visits she would be worth checking into for your school. Please send some business her way! (Just use the link above!)


Thursday, October 25, 2007

You are special...

Jen at a Teacher's Life has a special piece of paper hanging in her classroom. It says, "Jen, you are so special. I am so glad you are in my class. Love, PJ"
This was Jen's favorite teacher when she was a kid. She loves PJ. Still, as her face warms with nostalgia you can see how much this one simple act has changed her life. She kept that note all these years, it is an artifact that she keeps in her Writer's Notebook. This note has made a difference, throughout the years. Think how simple. Its sentence structure isn't grand, its words, not even that descriptive. The message however, powerful!
Katie, from Creative Literacy wrote a post about writing notes. Living in the computer age we just don't do this anymore. We even send greeting cards via email, YUCK!

Have you ever gotten a note from your teacher? This week three of my students have gotten notes taped to their desks. Each one of them "found" them on their own. They say simply, "You are so special. I am so glad you are in my class." Today was my favorite. Little M, a student who is working with my K-2 interventionist, has been making small steady gains. We are so proud of her. Today, it was just her turn to get a note, just because she was the next one on my list. But, today, the k-2 lady praised her and told her, "I'm going to tell Mrs. Amick." Little M came up to me later, she wanted to know if I had been told. I praised her for her hard work, hugged her, and her face beamed. I said, "Have you been to your desk yet?"
I stood back and watched...
My struggling reader, read each word, asked a stronger reader about "special" and "classroom." I watched the information be absorbed and accepted. I watched her hug her piece of paper, touch it lightly, and hang it back on her desk. One finger resting lightly on her name...
You are so special means so much and is such a small act.
How are your words affecting your students positively?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Character Traits: 1st grade

This path that I have taken with Reader's Workshop feels risky at each step. I have a rough outline of where I want these kids to go, and I feel that we are taking these steps in stride, but really we are like pioneers. Each week I plan and attack, and each week the students retaliate with confidence. This week is a prime example:
We have been studying print strategies since the beginning of the year. Yeah, we spend much time organizing ourselves and developing procedures, but mostly, print strategies. (BTW: I am sick of print strategies right now!)
Monday, we began the work of story elements. We discussed what a character was and the clues to prove. Our chart:
Characters Are:
(Sometimes)In the title
On the cover
In the pictures
Tuesday and Wednesday we began a chart that looks like this:
Character Traits
...Who.........Trait............ How do you know?
We have been filling this chart with characters like, Skippyjonjones, Little Whistle, The Little Old Lady Who Names Things, Harriet Harris(You'll Drive Me Wild). At first I was nervous, what if they say their traits are a girl, a siamese cat that thinks he's a chihuahua, those are not character traits. Here is the kicker, it didn't happen, they must have gotten it from my example and they rolled with it. Yesterday, and today I gave them a mini chart like the one above and asked them to record that information with their partner. During sharing time they did beautifully. They got it, I had a wow moment!
Tomorrow, the setting. I have great titles to discuss: All the Places to Love, Through Grandpa's Eyes, and Night is Coming. Wish me luck!

Monday, October 22, 2007

My thoughts about your birth...


"Is she really ours?"
I was so scared for your life
I feel sick
Am I here or there, cloudy thoughts,
in and out of drowsiness;
You have such a small mouth
tiny fingers with nails-
even tinier.
My heart fell instantly in love,
I have known you longest;
So many fears- your hearbeat,
my pressures, who will make it?
You... not breathing
Me... sedate
Your dad... in the middle of it all...
Behind me as they wheel me out-
I hear the embrace, the quiet sobbing,
"I can't lose her, she's so sick, I can't lose her,
she's mine."
Now you are ours, and I can't believe-
you're seven...

I wrote these thoughts on the eve of her birthday. She and I struggled for life during her birth. My husband watched both of us be very sick for several hours. Now, she is vibrant, alive, and seven.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Start of Something New

Tomorrow is the day, we met on Friday to discuss her comfort zone, my releasing of control. I am so excited! My student teacher is starting tomorrow. Luckily, she has been in my building since the start of school, she has gotten to know the staff, and she has seen my classroom in action. I have asked, and she is ready, and man is she good too. I have so much I want to share with her, to discuss with her, mostly, I want her to love her experience.

I want her to walk away prepared to take on her own classroom. I remember my experience, it was hard, my teachers didn't have discipline/management strategies in their classrooms. They did but it was screaming, yelling, and threatening. This is not who I am, and it ended negatively. I was ready for my own classroom but I had no skills for management. I had to find these tools on my own. Thank goodness my next school was a school that had many teachers who's philosophy was to treat children with kindness and respect.

Here are some things I am not ready to release control of while she is there:
1. Writer's Workshop: man, I am just getting my groove and loving every minute of the work. My kids have learned so much. I will relinquish the control, my I will miss it though!
2. Reader's Workshop: this is my first year and we are finally going to start the work of making connections, learning the story elements, etc. I will give it up, but I will miss it!
3. The connections: my students and I are so connected. We have gained so much ground with each other, it will be hard not to miss them. I will definitely step in and see them at the end of the day, sometimes I guess. That will be hard.

Here are some things I want to get done while I have no responsibilities:
1. I want to do conferencing in other classrooms, with writing and reading.
2. I want to do some mini lessons in other classrooms, especially where other teachers are struggling with elements.
3. I want to really check out and review some books from my school library and really get to know them.

I love setting goals, and now seems like a good time. Good luck student teacher!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Know your stuff and why you believe...

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This week I was faced in a staff meeting with something that I just don't understand. Last year, because my corporation is on probation, I was forced to start curriculum mapping. I don't understand mapping and it wasn't presented to me in terms that I understand. This week we discussed our maps in staff meeting. My assistant principal who really is a great person and pretty great at his job had the wonderful task of telling teachers that their maps needed to not be copied and pasted but tweeked a little to reflect their own personal classroom. This is understandable I get this, but I raised the question...

"Can someone help me understand how this helps my individual students? I just don't understand the whole concept?"

Now, picture it, a group of teachers that have been dumped on when it comes to responsibilities, they have just accumulated tasks over the years and noone has removed any of them. They are weighed down, many of them have been here for years, they have never seen the point in raising their voices, they won't be heard. As I begin talking they are nodding, their body language is changing, they are ready to use their voice, they too don't understand.

Afterwards, when the uncomfortable is over, they thank me, they mention buying me shirts with "rebel" written on them, they say they wished they had the courage.

My mind is a haze, my thoughts are confused, when did asking for clarification become a rebel's cause? When did fighting for my students take courage?

I had a conversation with my assistant principal this morning, not to apologize for standing up for my own beliefs as an educator, but to just ask, "did you get what I was asking? Do you understand my point of view?" (disclaimer: yes he did and thanked me, even tried to help me understand)

I made a decision this summer, while discovering best practices, that I was going to be intentional, that I was going to stand up for my students, that I was going to expect the best...from everyone! That's what I expect from my students, why not expect the best from everyone else? If we set the standard, people can either fold, or step up to the plate and follow through.

Does anyone know where I can get a rebel t-shirt?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Today We Celebrate...(I needed this one today!)

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In my corporation we have a person called a K-2 specialist, really she is an angel! She pulls a cart into my room everyday for 30 minutes and works with the same children to raise their fluency, and phoneme awareness. She has to consistently progress monitor her students and they have a target that they are trying to achieve. When it comes to getting students tested for Special Education services she is a huge asset. Yesterday, one of my pumpkins brought their progress monitoring pamplet to me and showed me that he had hit his target. Well, I thought, we've got to celebrate. You know that the K-2 specialist and I praised him up one side and down the other, I mean he deserved that. However, when we met as a whole group later...

"Boys and Girls I have an announcement to make, we're going to celebrate! Today Little Boy made his target with Mrs. K-2. You see when Mrs. K-2 assesses her students she makes a chart like this. Today when she made her chart she discovered that Little Boy had gotten his line to the target. That means he has worked really hard and we should be very proud of him. As a community we need to celebrate these things together, because we care about each other. Would you help me give him a celebration?"
Everyone claps, hoops and hollers, and Little Boy blushes, beams, and builds his confidence.
I needed to remember this today, when the rest of the world only sees his numbers on a test, I needed to remember that he is a boy, who needs to feel his worth.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Is it possible?

Last year at Christmas I decided to start walking, three miles, nightly. I have kept up this promise, while not every single night, it has been a consistent amount of walking. During tax season my husband surprised me by purchasing a elliptical trainer so that I wouldn't have to walk during those cold Indiana nights. I have not seen huge results with my body, in fact recently I have begun to doubt myself, to question why, and to seek other options. But still... I walk. I got to thinking during my walk this evening that I haven't been at this a whole year, what if it takes two years, what if I see results soon? I am healthier because of my walking, my dog thanks me, my heart thanks me, and my energy levels thank me. I am better because I am keeping at the challenge. I am learning how to endure, even when I feel like I've failed...



My pumpkins today reminded me of this story about myself. They have not been at this business of reading and writing for years, really some of them have just learned some of their letters. Today as I read aloud Fancy Nancy and we pondered the WOW words in that book I asked this question, "did the text tell you or did you infer that information?" At first, it was like I had just spoken in a different language, but then, one by one the light bulbs clicked on for them. When we discussed stretching the most important part during our writing time, I again realized, these kids have just begun the work of writers, look where they have come from! One student reminded me, "don't forget to use fancy words when you are writing!" So, why have they been doing so well?

I guess that I haven't said to them, "It's not possible, it can't be done." So many times as educators we say those words, or we hear them. Really, this is just a way for a teacher to say, "I can't, I don't know how, or they aren't worth it."

What about our readers and writers? How many of them have been at this for a year, or more? How many of them don't feel they are improving? How many of them don't see the benefits of their constant practice?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Reader's Workshop: Lessons

My friend over at becoming... asked about reading partners and the format of our reading workshop. I thought that I would post my first grade lesson for reader's workshop here for all to read and make comments. Maybe you have some ideas that I didn't think of and can help me too! (I love a professional learning community)

1. The mini lesson- Usually done in the community area (my square of carpet) we usually discuss something for about 5-10 minutes. Sometimes it is from a previously read touchstone text, sometimes it is me modeling a strategy, whatever it is I want my students to go and try it out.
2. Independent Reading time: (15-20 minutes) This is the time my students go and try out the strategy that we learned in the mini-lesson. Students have book bins with 3-4 books inside. The kiddos have chosen their own and then they have a card with their reading letter on it. That letter has a bin in my library that they must choose 2 books from. These are their on-level books. We even have procedures for this time too. This is the time that I meet with my kiddos for conferencing, I pull up to kiddos and just ask them to read aloud. I then question them about the strategies that they are using. We have really been focusing on the strategies so far but we are ready to begin the work of connections soon!!!!
3. After about 15-20 minutes my kiddos have 5 minutes to meet with their prechosen reading partner. We discussed, in a mini-lesson, what sorts of questions they were to ask their partner. We charted them and then I put them on slips of paper for them to use with their partner when they meet. Here are the questions:
1. What did you read today?
2. What was the book about?
3. Did you like the book?
4. What will you read tomorrow?
I thought that if kids have prechosen questions they would be on topic when talking and they would learn the types of questions that people ask when talking about books. It really has seemed to work. After introducing these questions we had a whole week where when you came to sharing, you only shared what your partner said. Kids really focused because they wanted permission to speak!!!!!
4. Kids wait for the music to start in order to head to the sharing area. I play "So Long Farewell" from the Sound of Music, to signify the end of the independent reading time. The kids must put up their books and meet back with me by the end of the song. Music has really been an integral part of my classroom this year. Wow, why didn't I think of this sooner?
5. Sharing- because I used to hate sharing I have decided to keep the sharing time very informal. I wrote about this previously, I just ask the kids to respond with how did you use the strategy that we worked on during this time. I at first thought, "what will they say? will they respond at all? will there be cricket sounds in the background?" Yikes! On the contrary, they really do what they are asked to do! Holy Cow, I am shocked and amazed, but I set the foundation for community, and it is leaking through the classroom.

So, there it is in a nutshell. I have loved this workshop. I am finding that the kids love that time to be readers. They are loving the time to practice. I am loving the time I get to know them as readers and people. I am finding that my kids and I are developing a secret language. There is a great respect between us, they know what to expect, that I am consistent, and that I really don't like it when people are hurt. I know they want to be loved and respected, they want their ideas heard, and they are in the middle of falling in love with books. The year is different, and I love it!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Being a Community

Today during Writer's Workshop I was conferring with one of my sweetest cherubs. A little boy who is trying so hard to be a writer. He always has something to write but he is just not getting the adding on part. As much as I have mentored him it is just not happening. I was at a loss. Today... I look at my cherubs. I look at my other boy who can add on and on (and on and on ...). Now this boy, is a boy, he is smart, and loves to be the center of attention. Yesterday he got a "Today I did not..." note for his mom. He can be a challenge when he is at full throtle. During Writer's Workshop though he is delightful! Don't tell anyone, I think he may be a writer!!!!! Anyhoo... I say to the boys, "You know boy#2 is really awesome at adding more to his stories, boy#1 how about if you two go over there and have him help you add more to your story?"
Here's the thing:
Boy#1 shared later and his small moment was delightful. We all enjoyed the parts where he stretched it. He even mentioned that Boy#2 helped him, and thanked him!
Boy#2, beamed, blushed, and I didn't have any problems with him that day. It was really very cool. I might have uncovered a secret about boy#2 today, I will keep it and use it for the rest of this year...
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My day in numbers:
Number of kids who shared: 3
Number of kids I conferred with: 5
Number of charts made: 2 (Editing checklist, words we should know how to spell)
Things read aloud: 4 (How I Became a Pirate, Pirate Pete's Adventure, Social Studies big book, Today I Went Walking)
Number of lamps turned on/off: 7
Number of high fives given as they left to go home: 25

Saturday, October 6, 2007

What being a mother has taught me about teaching

I am not going to say that being a mother has helped me be a better teacher. I don't believe in this statement. You can be an extraordinary teacher and not be a mother, it's not a prerequisite. However, these are the things I see in myself...

First, I have a clear understanding of this age group. My daughter is currently a first grader, I teach first grade. I know how long she has known her numbers from 0-100. I know how confident she is with those numbers. I expect her to know them, but when she doesn't I can remember that she hasn't known them for that long. I can expect bumps in the road, and I can still expect great things. I do this with my own students. Especially with the students that have no support. I think, "imagine how they are struggling in this world, they have had no support." This makes me a more compassionate teacher.

Second, my daughters hate to be yelled at, they hate to be told what to do, they hate to be reprimanded. So do kids in my class! I have learned that if I want anyone (adults and children) to do something appropriately I must ask them kindly to do it. And using the phrase, "Can you help me with this?" really helps. Kids want to be helpers. They want do well. They also desire consistency. If I want them to do something I must provide the environment, full of routine, in order for them to be successful.

Third, children aren't pre-programmed when they are born. They don't know all the social graces that we have currently. They must be shown those graces by adults. My children will say something or do something that I think, what in the world? They have never seen this situation and they are either responding in the way they have seen someone else respond, or they are just flying by the seat of their pants. What if you grew up in a home where the way to respond to anything was to yell, scream, hit, punish, fight, etc. How would you respond in the classroom, on the playground, in the cafeteria? My favorite phrase to say to kids is, "perhaps you didn't know, I will explain for you for the next time this happens." Instead of providing that yelling, screaming, punishing adult I provide that calm, assertive, understanding adult. I don't think I would have been this adult if I hadn't been a mother. I was that adult before children, and I am so thankful that I wasn't a teacher during that time.

I had a situation this week where a kiddo was crying because he made a mistake on his morning work. I took a deep breath and evaluated the situation: he is a perfectionist, he likes to do his best, he is upset at himself, and he doesn't want anyone to make fun of him. These are all good qualities! Instead of saying, "Oh, it's okay, shake it off, come on let's go!" I said, "Wow, it must be really disappointing that you made a mistake. I know that you always try to do your very best! I want you to know that everyone makes mistakes, our promise says that, but we still think you are the smartest boy ever! It is okay if you want to just put that work away and make a decision to do better on morning work tomorrow." Kids need to know that it is okay to make mistakes, but they also need an adult to acknowledge how they feel about these mistakes.
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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Model, model, model...

This week I spent a quiet evening at gymnastics practice. This is our second week at gymnastics, we are still getting the hang of it all but we are having so much fun. The facility is just wonderful, it is a converted warehouse that houses more balance beams, floor mats, and uneven parallel bars than I have ever seen. I get to watch the entire scene from the balcony glassed-in parent's room. From there I can see everything. On Tuesday while I was watching I was paying close attention to the pre-teenies as they were preparing for their upcoming competition. They were twirling, and flipping, and doing things with their body that I didn't know was humanely possible. They practice these moves in a center like rotation while their coach worked one-on-one preparing them for their floor exercise.
First, she ran through the movements while they just watched. Then she had them mirror her as she and the student tried the moves. Next, she did the movements while the student watched again. Finally, the student did the movements on their own, several times. Not just once but several times. If the student still had trouble the coach placed their hands, or feet where they were supposed to be.
Teachers of writing are a lot like the gymnastics coach, they must model, model, model. Students need this constant modeling to be successful. Even when teachers think that they should find their independence and do it on their own, they should still model. After teachers let students exert their independence they need to come along side their students and confer, and place their hands and feet where they should be. This is important work, if it were easy don't you think teachers would have been doing it for years?
At the end of the practice, the gymnastics coach gathered all the girls and spoke to them about their performances. They shared things with one another, they helped each other with movements that were difficult, and then they gave high fives, and "knowing" nods. This was their sharing time, and the coach took notes.
Our sharing time should not be much different from this example, it is a place to acknowledge our weaknesses, praise each other for the positive stuff, and set goals for the next time.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Housekeeping...

101st post
This is my 101st post. I forgot to celebrate number 100 and so I am celebrating number 101! It is so hard to believe that I have had that much to write about in the past months. Thank you to those people that have actually read what I have written!

Spotlight on a Teacher's Life...
My friend Jen, at a teacher's life, has been nominated by the newspaper as the teacher of the week. She is so deserving. I wanted to recognize her here because I am sure that she won't toot her own horn. If you ever need a fourth grade teacher, she is your girl. She makes me proud to be in this profession. We have so much fun together, and yet we are always so focused on what we have to accomplish. I am in awe of you my friend from the block. Enjoy your fame!

An author and a Poet...
Today I got an unexpected email from the author and poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich. She has written some poetry books and some picture books for children. If you don't know who she is please check her out. She has some wonderful lessons on teaching poetry to children. She also has a lot of information that kids could read about authors, like a celebrity writer's profile. She also is available for bookings for presentations for kids and teachers. She is from Indiana, so check her out!

My little pumpkins...
The number one reason why I love my students this year... "Mrs. W. has that book, Mrs. W. loves, loves, loves, that book!" My kids had a wonderful Kindergarten teacher last year. They read a lot of picture books. They know them all, she loves books. She reads them lots, and lots, of books. She has been known to read 4 books in one day to her kiddos. She knows the importance of the read aloud. Her students, my current 1st graders, love, love, love, a good story, I love that about my current first graders, they have a love of books!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

What is your deepest fear?

“Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘who am I to be so brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are we not to be? You are a child of God: Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people the permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”


-Marianne Williamson in her 1992 book “A Return to Love"

You can watch a video she gave in Washington D.C. recently (you can view it here). It was a very inspirational video about our call as woman to extend compassion to the world. She says during that video, "the look of compassion is sometimes fierce," when woman have to protect their children. Wow, what a thought as a teacher. I am to be a fierce woman in order to protect my children, not just as a parent of two young girls but as a teacher. My favorite statement came when she was talking about how they used to burn women at the stake because of their free thinking beliefs. She said, " Passionate free thinking women tend to raise passionate free thinking kids. Passionate free thinking kids turn into passionate free thinking adults who are difficult to manipulate and almost impossible to control." My goal as a teacher this year has been to run my classroom in a way that is student led. That means that my lessons are created solely because that is what my kiddos need. If we run into problems I simply ask, "how can we solve this?" I am asking them to be free thinking. The way that I instruct them is passionately! Look out world, I am raising children that are passionate free thinkers. They will be difficult to manipulate and almost impossible to control. I also hope that through the use of literature, my actions as a woman, and the lessons that I teach about being a community my students will learn a most important lesson in compassion. This compassion will change my small corner of the world.
My ultimate goal as a woman when raising these children is to protect them, keep them in the circle of compassion so that they learn and grow and become all that they are to be...

Marianne Williamson goes on to say in the end, "It is the task of a mother to say to a man or woman, a government or a religious figure, whoever that might be to stand up and say, 'Not with my kids you don't" Isn't it time that we stand up for the kids who are tested beyond measure, that are losing their innocence, who are hungry, poor, and abused and say, 'Not with my kids you don't!'
That my friends, is leaving No Child Left Behind...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Big D and the Others...

So I was one of the lucky ones that showed up in Coldwater, MI today to have my new book signed by Patricia Polacco. You can see me with the author at Jen's. It was a great day. I wrote a poem to commensurate the day. (Big D is Kathy's husband. Kathy is my facilitator at school. They came for the day. He finally got to meet us all, and he did a pretty great job knowing who we all were. Good job Big D!)

Big D and the Others...
A warm sunny morning
A crowded corner, a rainbow of crocs
Books- in laps, in arms, in bags:
plastic and paper
new ones, old ones, crisp and worn
Talking, questions, laughing, nodding affirmatively
A line forms, butterflies flutter,
Big D watches, with the others
Books laid flat, introductions are made,
a smile, a comment...
The others gather around the one on display
"Smile, say cheese!" says Big D
The others comply, the flash finishes
and Big D leaves-
The others elated, giddy with glee;
Books all signed:
in laps, in arms
butterflies set free...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Give me six weeks...

This is my 4th year teaching first grade. This is the grade for me. Twenty years from now if I am teaching 1st grade I guarantee that I will be happy. These kiddos are fantastic and scatterbrained and enthusiastic and immature! (That's my Kevin Henkes impersonation) Here is the thing about 1st grade, many of them, can't read, tie their shoes, solve simple problems, put up their chairs, get lined up in ABC order, remember all the letters in the alphabet, know all their numbers, play nicely with others, and they literally think the world is spinning around them. They are their own little world. I have to remind myself that in six weeks they will be different, they will make extraordinary gains in that time frame.
Really, it is the greatest metamorphosis you will ever see. I really am amazed each time it occurs. They settle into their routine, and then you see them reading. They read everything. They can't get enough of this reading thing. And then they write. These simple creatures that couldn't focus longer than 5 minutes to read Chrysanthemum and Tikki Tikki Tembo are now able to write, stretch the important parts, and use the magical words of story. It is amazing!!!
We do this every year in the first grade. We do it all in six weeks! But wait, there's more!
This year I added the Reader's Workshop, just like the writer's workshop it starts with a mini lesson, an independent reading time/conferencing, and then sharing. The first grade reader's workshop is very heavy on the print strategies. I used to teach these subtly, now I teach them with charts, modeling, and repetition. My students are armed with so much ammo for reading that they are moving very rapidly up the reading mountain. I am so impressed with this workshop. Here are some of its finer points:
1. The strengths of reading for meaning vs. reading for decoding. Duh, what's the point?
2. Partnerships that play off strengths. My students also are showing strong signs of conversation. They are challenging each other to read books and step out of their comfort zones. Wow!
3. My students love books, already. They all think they are good readers because they know the strategies that "good" readers use when they come to a word they don't know. They love reading! There is never a groan, here is what you hear,"Please, no pushing and shoving, we need to be safe getting our books, there's plenty of time to read!" (Those are my words!)
4. They are reading faster. They are reading faster. They are reading faster. Six weeks, please, at three weeks they were doing extraordinary things. I tell you it is amazing!

So, this week for a bulletin board to kind of celebrate fall, and six weeks of school I had the students answer this question, "what is something that you do as a good reader?" I got so many great responses. The best was just knowing that they are thinking like a reader. They know that learning to read is hard work. They are proud of themselves and all their hard work.
What I learned:
I have not accomplished any of this. This is not my doing as a teacher. This is my doing as a facilitator of learning. I have created an environment that guides them down a path that I hope will prepare them for second grade and a lifelong of reading. I am following a scope and sequence that I created for the year, but I venture away from it. I let the children take the lead. When I see a need, I address it in a mini lesson. This is the beauty of the workshop. It is not predetermined. It is directly built upon my students' needs.
What are you doing in your classrooms or work with children that they could be doing themselves?
How is your conferencing, and sharing time influencing your teaching?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Do my words matter? Revised

Recently I posted about a little guy that doesn't believe that his words need to be on paper because they don't really matter. You can read that here.

Yesterday, after much support my little guy shared an original piece of writing. Let me preface this by saying that I am not talking about a kiddo that is a struggling reader or writer. His ability level is perfect. He has an extensive vocabulary, he is a phenomenal reader, and he should be a writer. His identity as a writer needs to happen. So, I sat and conferenced with him this week. I even chose his story starter, "One day.." I chit chatted with him and we discussed many different things that would be pertinent to his background knowledge. We finally agreed upon the piece and I even drew the pictures to guide his writing. (Like I said, much support) Then, the curtain rose, the crowd was hushed, and the little guy began. At the end, we celebrated his work. I asked the kids, "Are his words worth hearing? Should we have him share again?" The kids all nodded in the affirmative. He beamed!
I am still certain that I will have to prod and push this guy as we go but I am happy to do it. I am hopeful that in the end, his identity will be that of a writer. That is my hope for one...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Sense of Community

Today was a good day. During the All Write Conference the other teachers from my school decided that we should start a club. A once a month group that meets to just share ideas. We decided to meet in each other's rooms and then bring something to share with the group. I remembered after the start of the school year that we had agreed to this and send out an all school e-mail. My principal embraced this and encouraged the teachers to attend. I am not sure how many people came but it was successful. We shared ideas, we talked, we supported, we planned, and we became a bigger community. We decided who would host next month. I am so excited to touch base with them again. I am not sure if it was all that we dreamed it would be... but it was something.

I also wanted to share one of the coolest things that I acquired for my classroom. My children love her. She likes seeds, she can stand on one leg for a very long time, and she is very interesting to watch. Many students from other rooms come to visit her in the morning (my how word gets around). Jen Barney's son loves her and thinks they should get one too. My own children can't wait for her to get home each evening. She is Abby the cockatiel.

She is a rescue cockatiel. I rescued her from the ASPCA, didn't know they had birds did you? I am unsure of her age but she is the sweetest bird I have ever owned. This is my third experience with cockatiels and so far she is extraordinary! I wanted to get her so that my kids had something that they could care for, it would teach them how to be gentle to smaller things, and they could learn about rescuing. Abby, is the perfect bird for all of those things. Here is a picture, only because my summer friend requested! (Love you Barneys!)

Monday, September 24, 2007

It's Fall...


My daughters and I were shopping this weekend at the Hobby Lobby. We noticed all of the great decorations that they have for Halloween and Fall. We love fall at our house. Both my husband and I love fall. He loves to fish and hunt in the fall. I love to walk outside in the fall. The crunch of the leaves, the smell of the trees, the sights and colors as you feel the soft subtle hint of winter in the breeze. Ahhh, fall.
My children were both born during the fall months, they love fall because of birthdays and the start of school. Ah, fall.
We go to a local orchard at least once a week and buy a bag of apples, we eat them one by one. We look forward to this event each harvest time. My daughters watch for the open sign by the Cook's Apple Orchard that says, "OPEN." We purchased two bags of Cortland apples, we took them home and peeled, cored, and chopped the apples. We froze bags of them for later use in recipes. We spent even more money to buy eating apples, small and sweet they are the perfect snack to carry on a fall walk in the woods. Ah, fall.
Later, in October, my daughter will go on a field trip to the farm. She will ride in a hay wagon through the acres of pumpkins and gourds. She will press apple cider, walk through a maze, and learn all about the upcoming maple syrup harvesting. At the end, they will have a hot dog roast. She will learn to love fall.
What do you love about fall?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Poetry Friday- A Child's Love of Rhyme

To build fluency this week we have been using those tried and true nursery rhymes that children just love. I never imagained that my room would be filled with little children singing Baa Baa Black Sheep and Hickory Dickory Dock. They love it and it really is improving their fluency! Funny question, "Why is humpty Dumpty an egg? And who are those soldiers anyway?" Gotta love the mind of a six or seven year old.

HICKORY DICKORY DOCK
Hickory dickory dock,
the mouse ran up the clock,
the clock struck one
the mouse ran down,
Hickory dickory dock!


HUMPTY DUMPTY
Humpty dumpty sat on a wall
humpty dumpty had a great fall
All the king's horses
And all the king's men
Couldn't put humpty
together again.


If you have small children at home, get those rhymes out, they will have so much fun. The memories will be great!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Seven Imp posted this post with these questions. There was a contest involved, I didn't get in on that but loved the questions. I thought they would make very interesting things to write about in my notebook. Here are my answers:
How would someone find you in a crowd?
My husband and I often laugh about this very thing. It just happened to me last week. Strangers come up to me, let see... EVERYWHERE and say, "Do I know you from somewhere?" I used to try to help them figure it out but now we just laugh. You will find me in the crowd because I am the short one with that face that is "just so familiar!"

If you had a secret room in your house what would be in it?
This is a sunny room that overlooks a wonderful scene. I have a dark room for my photos, an artists nook with paints and canvas. My notebooks have not just words but sketches of future paintings lying on a table by a bookshelf filled with books that are inspiring. In this room there is a chair with an ottoman that fits only me. Hardwood floors, white billowy curtains, a good lamp, can you smell the Murphy's Oil Soap?

Where do you like to walk to from your house?
To the wooded path that runs by our house. After leaving the woods you can walk down to the marsh, in the spring the red-wing blackbirds are the first to arrive bringing their song of spring. The dog and I linger here on the wooden path sometimes we even sit on the lonely bench to watch the world around us.

How will you change as you grow?
I will remain open to new ideas while using my common sense to lean upon.

What sort of animal would you like to be?
A Great Blue Heron, sleek, graceful, shy to the world.

If you haven't pondered these questions think about them. They are very reflective of your creative spirit. You know me, I'm all about artsy!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Some New Reads for Room 127

Each year our PTA gives us $50 to spend on our classrooms. These funds need to be spent on items that students will use, consume. This year I spent my dollars on new books from Scholastic. I basically got about $100 dollars of books! Yea! Today I read a book that I will definitely add to my Interactive Read Aloud list. It is the book, "The Three Questions" by Jon J. Muth.
This story is based on a story by Leo Tolstoy. Here are the three questions that the boy asks, :
1. When is the best time to do things?
2. Who is the most important one?
3. What is the right thing to do?

The boy asks his friends the answers, but he learns the answers through a life lesson of helping others. He becomes proud of himself for the work he has done but disappointed that he still doesn't know the answer to his questions. Finally, in the end the old turtle reveals the answers that were there all the time. I won't give away the ending, but the last line reads, "This is why we are here." Beautiful isn't it!




Also, another books we received today was: "Bear's New Friend" by Karma Wilson. I am a great lover of the Bear books. My youngest daughter reads them quite frequently. She loves the animal friends, the lovely rhyme, and the strong, rich vocabulary. Karma Wilson introduces a new friend, the owl. She also introduces the words shy and bashful. Really, a book that little ones will enjoy because they are so cute and sing-songy. However, I have often thought this series would be great for picking words that are out of the ordinary for describing ordinary things. The author is really great at using rich, strong, fancy words. A must read for all ages.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Do my words matter?

I have a kiddo in my class this year that contemplates this question during each Writer's Workshop.
Are my words worth the effort?
Do my words matter?
Why do we write?
So, I have been generating some different ways to get him to write. Here are some of my ideas:
1. Writing to a pen-pal.
2. Later, having him share his writing with that pen pal.
3. Have him keep a notebook that he can write down lists, writing ideas, keep artifacts, and just become a writer. (My biggest fear is that he is "just" a first grader, can he do it?)
4. Share my own writing with him, and perhaps pair him with an older student so that he can see those mentor notebooks.
My ideas are just in the beginning stages. I am awestruck at how much my summer reading and professional experiences have prepared me for this year and this group of students. It pays off in the end to study best practices (duh!). I am able to help my students as they grow as writers. If you have any ideas that could benefit my kiddo I would appreciate any help you have for me.