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

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.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Poetry Friday, A Little Late

So today was crazy long! We had our Harvest Festival, I got to paint perhaps fifty faces in an hour. I got skills!!! Anyway, my girls got to walk around with their dear old dad while playing games. It is always so fun because you get to see old, old, old, students that return. You see everyone in such a positive fun setting. I am exhausted, and my daughters were ready to snuggle. We got jammies on, our set of books, and we hunkered in for the night. I hope you enjoy!

by Sarah Amick
A giant comfy family bed
fluffy pillows craddle our head
Quiet giggles, little heads nuzzle
We hunker down our bodies like a puzzle
A long fall day-
So tired from our play;
laughing, snuggling, reading books
settling in, heads nestled in nooks,
A moment of quiet, and sweetly warm
content tender, and away from worldly harm
All crowded with limbs in the family bed
My girls, my sweets, a memory in their head.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Interactive Read Aloud

Picture the spring, when first graders are almost second graders, my facilitator comes in to teach Interactive Read Aloud. I love it, I think it is very closely why I began to teach. I think, "wow, this is something I can do!" Fast forward-
Twenty five early fall first graders huddled in a circle trying desperately to sit still, focus, listen carefully, etc. Imagine, their teacher ready to just chuck it all until spring! This was until...
I read an email from that very same facilitator, I sat with a much shorter book and magic occur ed!
Mem Fox's, she never fails, Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild was the text that I used to introduce a better Interactive Read Aloud. We sat in a circle, we sat with a friend of our choice. I read, and then after the first transition in the story I turned to my partner and modeled!!! the the conversation they were to have with their partner. (Did you miss that? I MODELED for them.) We discussed what we did correctly, we talked about staying on topic, and then they practiced. It was a magical lesson. I am once again on board.
Here are some things that I really need to introduce:
1. How to talk in the group without raising their hand, just not getting that!
2. How to agree, add, and disagree while supporting their responses.
3. Staying focused on the read aloud.
4. Management, management, management...
Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Poem for 9-11

We can all remember when we found out what happened that day. We can recount the thoughts that raced through our minds. It was a pivotal moment in American history. We had a choice, to rise up or let the evil ones succeed. Today, as I walked through my neighborhood with flags hung half-mast I thought of this poem: - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more

A Poem For 9-11
by Sarah Amick
A flag half-mast
moments of silence...
long lists of names read in memoriam
flowers laid on places of rest
words spoken reverently;
This is how we remember 9-11
My head held high
Raising my kids in the land of the free
Crossing my heart and singing-
our nation's anthem,
Attending parades and standing in honor,
as our flag passes by;
This is how we honor America and those lost on 9-11
Drive to work each morning,
love others as we would desire to be loved
worship a God of our choice
Be who we want to be
Rebuild and protect
Enjoy freedom, and all its amenities
Hold your head high
This is how we prove our resiliency
to those who caused 9-11...
We Live, so we never forget
I tried not to allow the sad thoughts to creep through today, that would be giving them what they want. Instead, for those that were lost, we need to live, and not let a day pass idly by...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Want Less...

So a while back I posted a poem about wanting less, you can read it here. On Sunday the sermon my minister gave was about what drives you. I got to thinking about what drives me... my children, my husband, obviously, but also my level of professionalism. I love what I do. I am a pretty dedicated professional. I was wondering, do I keep this balanced? Do I give too much to one or the other? Hmmmmm.....

A while back I wrote this poem, and I didn't really know where it came from? Perhaps it will touch you in some way. In the end, answer that question for yourself, "What drives you?"

If I were selfish...
by Sarah Amick
My car would be cleaner
My language would be dirtier
I would always be late;
My bed would always be made
I would never return your calls,
check on you, or listen carefully to your pain;
If I were selfish
My laundry baskets would never be full
I would spend more money on delicate food,
My health would be unimportant but...
my gym membership would be expensive
If I were selfish
I would shop even when things weren't on sale
I would not value holidays, traditions,
or nostalgia
If I were selfish,
I would go on vacation and take pictures,
not of people, but of places.
If I were selfish
I would use the words:
I, my, and me with frequency

Friday, September 7, 2007

A Poem for Working Mothers

I wrote a poem for the summer entitled "Summertime Mommy." You can read it here. Well, a start of a new year has inspired a new kind of mommy. I love being a mommy, but we all know the guilt, responsibility, the heart strings that encompass that role. It is truly not understood until one has children of their own. So, here is "Working Mommy."

Working Mommy
by Sarah Amick
Feels the guilt as she's driving away
Her thoughts are divided:
One listens attentively to the business at hand;
The other wanders to where she left her heart.
She values small qualitative moments
while juggling the motion of her world
Her hands are never idle.
This mommy organizes every minute of her day
never a down time, her world is always
time on task- always motion
Her heart is always drawn between
her dreams, goals, and responsibilities
The world of self, and selfless
She is always the last on her agenda
Always putting herself to the bottom
She is needed
Her list is full
She will make herself matter...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Purely Unscientific

So on Sunday I created a post about my 5 year old's thoughts and ramblings. One of the phrases that Ruth really like was the part about living in a "purely unscientific world." I got to thinking about this last night and I made basically a list poem of things that children (mostly my children) make up as their "scientific" reasoning. I came up with quite a list, I thought I'd place it here:

-If you keep the caught frog, his mommy will miss him.
-The stars are here for wishing.
-Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.
-Thunder is God bowling in heaven
-Watching the light on the refrigerator, does it go off or stay on?
-The moon says good morning to the sun
-If you plant an apple seed you will get apples
-If you swallow a watermelon seed it will grow in your belly
-Wearing no coat will cause a cold
-Whenever you are cold, cocoa will make you feel better
-If you open your eyes during prayer, you will get diarrhea (Okay, this is from my childhood. I had a friend who told me that once and I absolutely believed her!)

So then today I read this book to my students:

My students know this information already. I didn't have unscientific responses to the questions that are within this book. If I asked my 5 year old daughter and my almost 7 year old I am sure that I would get completely different responses. Not just because my youngest daughter doesn't know this knowledge but I think it is because at this age she still believes these things. So when do they lose this ability to ignore the scientific? When do they start to answer questions like "how do the flowers know when to come up in the spring?" or "What is snow?"
I can go back to the purely unscientific world but I have to choose to do so, she lives there daily. I choose to go there for my creativity, my nostalgia, and my sense of play. When I am back in this world my seven year old just rolls her eyes and says, "Mooom!" She knows I know, the other one doesn't. So when do we lose it and why do we fight so hard to lose it?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Sarah Says, and So Do I!

Sarah from Sarah Says, left this definition from Wikipedia:
Positive Mental Attitude (PMA): The philosophy of having a positive mental attitude is the belief that one can increase achievement through optimistic thought processes. Having a vision of good natured change in the mind. -Wikipedia
She then goes on to ask these questions:
"So, what do you think about PMA? Does it work for you? How does it impact your teaching and/or classroom?"
A while back Ruth challenged me to think of a word that I could coin for myself and I said: optimism. After reading this definition from Sarah I was shaking my head because this is what I believe. I have to admit that my hope, whether I am sitting down with a student, a colleague, a parent, etc. is that I am having PMA.
Teaching first grade can be very tiring, and taxing, especially the first couple of weeks. Even during the school year I always try to establish good behavior by praising the good behavior around me. It goes a lot like this: "Boy, I sure do like the way that Jack is standing quietly in line!" I praise and then the rest of the children fall into line. It's positive and I feel less stressed when I notice the positives. Amazing what a positive mental outlook can bring to your day.
I think PMA does work for me and I think that it is catching. Think about people that you come in contact with, when they are negative you either conform to their negativity or you don't spend much time with them. When you are with someone who is positive you tend to stay longer than you would have, walk away with a smile, and good things are accomplished.
I challenge you to think about your Positive Mental Attitude. Does it work for you? How does it affect your teaching and/or classroom? If you don't have a PMA then what can you do to work towards a better one? What changes can you make?
Think about the potential in that definition, especially the phrase, "one can increase achievement through optimistic thought processes." Imagine...

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Wee Thoughts

So, today there is a daytime moon. It's beautiful. My almost 5 year old has her reasonings why the moon would be out in the daytime. Purely unscientifically we have told her that the moon and the sun are awake during our lives to provide us with light. When the sun gets tired it goes to bed and then the moon arrives. They do this every day and night. Today upon seeing the daytime moon my daughter said:
"Maybe the moon falled asleep before it was supposed too. It just needed a nap. When it woke back up it was daytime. You know mommy the moon doesn't get to see the peoples ever and so the moon decided to stay away all day. I bet he is really going to be tired tomorrow. Look, here is the nuts in my apple!"

I thought to myself, what a wonderful story. I like living in a world that is purely unscientific. I mean I know the reasons why the moon and sun arrive each night and day. Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah.... Sometimes it is just more fun thinking about the sun and moon as living breathing creatures that need sleep and they want to see the "peoples."

Oh yeah, the "nuts" in the apple? They are really seeds, we brought those home and talked daddy into putting them into a plastic bag with paper towel moisture. When they "hatch" we're going to plant them so that we can have an apple tree in our yard.

Also, she wants to know if it would be okay to take noodle soup to preschool. "Do you think that would be a nice snack to share mama, wif my new friends?"

Ah, the wee thoughts....

Saturday, September 1, 2007

First Grade Conferencing

So, before my students begin writing I have them plan their writing with a friend. This is where I say, "Go knee to knee with a friend and discuss what you will be writing." One of my students last week went knee to knee with me. I said, "What are you going to write about M?"
M. said, "I want to write about candy."
Me: "Do you know a lot about candy?"
M. "Oh, yes, I love candy!"
Me: "So, will your piece be an all about piece?"
M. Blank Stare (means what is Mrs. Amick talking about?)

Here I am beginning to be intrigued. We don't do all about pieces until later. M. is a struggling reader. She is not at the top of the writing scale either. She is average first grader. How can I support her? Think Think Think Think

Me: "M. I would really love to try something with you and I think we could share it with the class when it is finished. Would you like to work together on this?"
M: Big smile, nod, affirmation!

M. and I sit and discuss how she could make an all about piece about different kinds of candy. We discuss and make a list of her favorites. We describe her first candy, the Snickers Bar. She begins and is very successful. She creates several first grade sentences about the Snickers Bar. At the end of writing we discuss that each day, if she wants, she can write about each kind of candy. (How exciting!)
I go home and write! I write about cereal. I create a mentor text for M. to show her the next day. We have been writing already! 10 days into the writer's workshop and already I am amazed at my children and their accomplishments.
I will keep you posted on the, All About Candy book! - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more