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


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!"
"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?