Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas Through Their Eyes

You know as a teacher, this is the dreaded season... children are on some kind of holiday roller coaster ride and it travels right through my room for six hours a day! Late nights watching Christmas specials, family parties, holiday shopping at school, cookie making, sing alongs, and it goes on and on and on...Their behavior is wild, they chatter endlessly, and they are consumed about about "the big man!" AAAAAAGGGGGGHHHH!
In the last week I have been asked 22 times about my beliefs in Santa:
"Mrs. Amick, do you believe in Santa?"
My response is always the same, "I believe in anyone who brings me gifts!"
And so, instead of allowing myself to become grumpy about their misbehaviors I have decided to relish in their spirit. It is a magical time of year, we forget that as adults. We get so busy making sure we've purchased the perfect gift, and made the perfect food. We forget that Christmas is about spending time with family, friends, and traditions. The children love traditions, they love that every year when you put the tree up that you play music. They love to buy you that cheap "stuff" from the Holiday Shop at school. Christmas is love lived out loud to them!
Everyday I am witness to this... they share their family traditions, they sing carols spontaneously, consumed with their list, and always counting down the days. The magic is right in front of me, if I could bottle it I would. It is uplifting, spirited, and nostalgic. Little first graders addicted to Christmas, all day long.
And, as most of my colleagues are grumbling about the effects of Christmas upon their students I will remember that I am a very lucky individual...for I get to see Christmas through their eyes!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Making A List...

Recently, my mom asked me what I wanted to for Christmas. Actually she asked what my whole family wanted for Christmas, and today as I pondered that question here is what I came up with:
-A watch that has a velcro band and a timer.
-An iPod docking station.
-An iPod thingy that helps you play your iPod music through your car radio. Not sure what that is called.
-We're getting a Wii for Christmas and I would love that Mario Kart, that looks like fun!

Here is my teacher list:
-We need more markers, crayons, post-it notes.
-Biscuit books
-Mo Willems
-The new Skippyjonjones book
-some new books bins, ours are falling apart

What's on your list?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

It Was About Two Years Ago...

Today during my three miles of solitude I began thinking back to this very same time two years ago. Two years ago I began a rigorous weight loss program that lasted 12 weeks. I drank 980 calories a day, was monitored by a doctor weekly, and met with a support group. I lost 35 pounds during that 12 week period. What followed that 12 weeks was 5 weeks of life changing nutritionists meetings where we discussed how I could change my life and never return to that shell of a person. And, for two years, I have managed to keep the pounds off, because I made serious changes to my lifestyle. I decided that I was worth the hard work. I decided that if I was going to be a good wife, mother, and teacher, that I needed to take care of me first. Here is what I learned: (And here is my before and after pictures that I wrote about in another post! Yikes!)

I exercise 6 days a week. Mostly, I run, but there are a couple of days during the week where I walk briskly through my neighborhood. These are days when my old body needs to recuperate so that the following days I can beat it mercilessly with a run. And, I love to run!

I eat well. I eat daily roughly the same things, I'm okay with that, but I do allow some indulgences every once in a while. I just run more...but my diet is more balanced than it has ever been.

I drink water. 64 oz. is my minimum. I have always been a water drinker but I have certainly kicked it up a notch. I panic when I forget my water bottle. What will I do? Why? Because I know that at the end of the day I am going to feel miserable because I haven't hydrated enough. I am amazed at how well I feel now that I keep myself full of water.

On Thursday, while many people were still sleeping in on their day off of work, I got up at 6 a.m. and drove to a small town with about 300 other crazy folks and ran in a 5k race. After the race I went to my annual Thanksgiving feast, but after the eating my children and family went for a hike through the woods. Instead of sleeping off that turkey, we hiked it off. My life has certainly changed!

I have learned through it all that the strength was always there, it was just being pushed around by self-doubt. It was trying to break free from within, it was in there screaming, "I'm here, just call upon me!"

I have a necklace that I wear daily, it reads, "All the strength you need is already inside of you."

Now, I run, for life, for hope, for my health, and to push my inner strength. I ask it each and every day, "how strong are you?"

I am never satisfied, always wanting to take it one step further, to see it run faster...

It was about two years ago...that I found my STRENGTH.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Magic of Boxcar Children...

What is it about this book? My third grade teacher read this book to me, stopping at very important parts of the text for us to hang on the cliff until the next day. It's the same today, I stopped when it was time for music and I heard the groans from my children. "Awwww, we have to stop?"
Lester Laminack says, and I paraphrase here, that the read aloud should be like crack to children. Hanging on your every word students should leave the read aloud wanting more, getting just enough, but hungry for more...
I think that teachers underestimate the value of reading aloud to students. When children hear that rich language flow from an adult they soak it up like a sponge. Teachers must be aware, they must practice, and they must use those tried and true texts that they love. Children notice when you haven't read the text prior to the performance. They will notice when you don't "perform" well.
When do you use the read aloud in your classroom? When do your students get to settle in and fall in love with a text?
-In the morning, to open the day. This is a time to enjoy new books, or read books that you will study later, or when you are able to use a book to discuss procedures or how to treat one another nicely! The opening read aloud is so important!
-During interactive read aloud, this give students the opportunity to discuss, share, and express themselves. Discussions like these really give me insight as to how my students are understanding the comprehension strategies, but it allows them to think critically. Really higher level thinking occurs here.
-Chapter book read aloud- for first grade this is difficult because their attention spans are all at varying lengths. We start with very short books, like Junie B. Jones, Magic Treehouse, and Frog and Toad. Now, we are moving into lengthier texts, like Boxcar Children and Charlotte's Web. This book is to discuss, to retell, and to just lovvvveeee.
- Thematic Books- these are books that introduce topics in Science, Math, or Health. Children need a wide variety of different types of books when you are introducing a topic. Some children enjoy poetry about animals, nonfiction books that give information, and even fictional characters that teach us about topics.
Reading aloud is so important!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Fish Out of Water

Lately, I have been feeling like a fish out of water...
We have acquired a lot of new mandates this year, taken our assessments to the max, and I have a whole new group of kids too! I, at times have been gulping for air...
But, I have also been mentoring myself with good professional books. They have been taking me back to my basics, they have been pumping the air into me and pushing the air out of me. Breathing for me when I haven't found the air on my own.
Georgia Heard, Lucy Calkins, and Debbie Miller to name a few have been asking me,"what's important here?"
"What do you know about how children read and write that will help you make THESE kids successful?"
I am aligning my practices and diving back into the water. I have work to do, and the establishment can go along their merry way. I am effecting student achievement, I am producing readers and writers. I know what I am doing, I have research backing me, and a whole ensemble of specialists guiding my every move.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Wonderful Place

One of the books that I received from Stenhouse Publishing Company was Georgia Heard's new book that she wrote with Jennifer McDonough called A Place for Wonder. You can read some of that new book here, and you won't be disappointed. First of all, love Georgia Heard, not sure why she seems to speak to me personally when she writes but she is just so passionate about encouraging our youngest writers. I love her poet's eye view of the world and she fosters that in this book. This book is littered with quotes about wonder, writing, and wonderful encouragements for teachers. She seems to understand the plight that we are all in this topsy turvy world of assessment driven instruction. And yet, she doesn't stray from the fact that our youngest learners need to be held in their world of wonder, that that world need not be taken away from their early in their learning. She understands that school can be a place where children are dumped information into their little minds instead of discovering it for themselves.

Here is what I loved about this book:

1. My Aha moment came when she discussed how students withing Jennifer's classroom were researching their wonders to make an All About Book about their wonder topic. They had several texts, website, and copied information (that was developmentally appropriate for 1st graders) within the classroom. They put these materials in logical common places and students were allowed to peruse them during Reader's Workshop, but, they were not allowed to remove them from the area to write down what they learned. In an effort to keep them from copying the resource the students were not allowed to remove the materials, they had to go back to their writing spots and jot down, in their own words, what they had just learned. Oh, so that's how you get young writers to not just copy the words out of the resource!!!!!! Duh!

2. The Wonder Wall, a place where the community of learners can write their wonders in public and then the other members of the community can use what they know, their prior knowledge, to answer the question. Jennifer brings a wonder to the whole group then once a week and asks the community to help answer the question. My students have been loving this aspect of their wonders. It has given them expertise about subjects that are sometimes not covered in my basal. It requires them to think about their inferences and to use their judgements to figure out real wonderings. It also has helped the community to know that we are all experts about certain things because of our interests.

3. The Wonder Box- a lid to a paper box really but what is contained inside is things from nature that we have brought in to share with each other. We wonder about a lot of things and we have placed them inside a booklet that I made that holds their wonders. Here are some things that we wonder about:

How does a snake eat such big things when they are so long and skinny?

How do the shark's teeth get out of its mouth and into the sand?

Why is that shark tooth black?

How do the people who sell shark's teeth collect them all to sell?

Where do all the colors come from on the shells, and why are they all different?

I can't wait to begin our unit on nonfiction, we have so much knowledge now about text features, and we also have things that will be so much more interesting because we have asked ourselves questions! If you are looking for a good read then buy this book, you will not be disappointed because Georgia has done it again!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Watermelons and Cousins

Every summer my family would drive nine long hours to visit my father's side of the family. Most of our time we would stay with my grandfather and then ventured out each day to visit whomever was in the area. Usually during our time "back home" my family would arrange a reunion of sorts. This was always my favorite day as all my cousins would arrive. We played hard this day. Dirty, and sweaty from our games.

My family only had three girl cousins so the girls always played boy like games. First, we always hiked up my grandpa's hill. Through the woods we would walk loudly trying to scare away black bears that could be sleeping in the summer heat. Later, we'd hike over to grandad's creek to wade amongst the tadpoles and crawdads. Splashing and laughing we always skipped rocks, tried to catch minnows, and listened to lunch's call.

My grandfather had an enourmous supper bell attached to his front porch. I always imagined this bell calling my uncles to supper too. Upon hearing the bell we raced to Grandad's kitchen and grabbed a plate. The boys could eat heaping plates of food. And, there was always watermelon.

My grandfather always purchased three watermelons. One he cut up, removed the seeds and the adults ate it with a fork. The second watermelon was meant for us, his grandchildren. This watermelon was cut in slices, and we ate it for dessert. We sat on the backporch swinging our legs and spitting. One by one we shot those seedy bullets from our mouths seeing which one went the furthest. Time spent together lasted all day, but we knew that our time would end. A mom or a dad would summons a family of children and our time together would be over.
At the end of our time, while the late summer sun was waning we would all fix our gazes upon my grandfather's third watermelon.
While we were occupied with one another and our togetherness, he had cut the watermelon in fourths and placed it in the sun. The sweet juiciness drew them in like the reunion drew family together. From wherever they were they swarmed and rested upon my grandad's watermelon. Various colors, symetrical wings and patterns, the butterflies covered the watermelon. Using their straw-like mouths they sucked up the melon's sweet nectar. In the summer's sun they were stunning, and magical. We quietly watched as filled with my grandfather's watermelon they flitted off, like cousins leaving a reunion.

Here is the piece of writing that I am thinking about submitting to the Gallery of Writing for the National Day of Writing, October 20th. What will you submit?

Friday, October 9, 2009


Recently, I posted that our corporation was experiencing low morale. Today we gathered in our meeting place and heard from our principal the "what if's" that can occur in our coming months and years. Low morale was again the cloud that hung over our school throughout the day. Today, I too started to be swept into that whirlwind that causes people to give up, to pack their bags, and say, "I'm done." But then, at 8:40, the bell rang, and I gathered up my all important papers and walked down the hall to room 134, took my post and hugged 22 faces that greeted me.
"Good morning Mrs. Amick!" they all exclaimed.
I closed my door, played 'Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,' took attendance, and read Skippyjon Jones. I concluded my unit on nursery rhymes, and fluency. And on, and on, and on...
Later, as I progress monitored my students (because I get to progress monitor EVERYONE now!) I noticed their gains. I smiled as they zipped through the NWF portion of the test. During reading groups after conducting running records I moved several students significantly to higher reading levels. My morale boosted, they are learning to read! I knew they would, because I continued to focus on what is important. Enjoying good books, allowing choice during reading time, and conferring with them. We are reading, reading, reading! One of my students overheard my conference with another student, as I said, "I want you to practice that today." He exclaimed, "Because practice makes perfect!" (I had to giggle!)
Morale IS low, the things I am faced to do are just for collecting data. Some things will remain the same, I've got to allow my students ample time to choose just right books, ample time to read and practice, ample time to discuss what they are discovering about themselves as readers, and together we will become lifelong lovers of books.
Low morale cloud or not...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Place For Wonder

On Friday, I got home from school and this package was sitting on my counter! "I wonder what they have sent me now?"
I opened the package and found this book inside! Georgia Heard, yes, Georgia Heard, my poet hero has a new book about creating an environment for primary children to read and write nonfiction!!!!! AAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!! I am so excited to begin devouring these pages. I have read the acknowledgements, and the introduction and man do I love this book already! In the introduction she says this:
"such values as a silent class instead of students engaged in meaningful conversation, learning to take a test instead of discovering and asking questions, sitting silently at a desk all day preparing for a test." (Can I get an amen?)
Later she says,
"What's happened to education in which our youngest students are forced to practice for a test at the exclusion of play, curiosity, and exploration? Tests can't measure the esssential habits and understadings of young children that will make them lifelong learners." (Again, with the amen!)

I haven't gotten much further but my husband and I discussed at length that that is where public education is, "knowledge factories." What I don't understand is why can't we seem to get this knowledge to the people who are making the choices for us? Why can't we seem to get the research that is showing that we are raising a whole generation of children who can not think for themselves because there is really only one answer to the problems on the test? When will they see that we are just opening up brains and dumping knowledge in whether they are ready or not? When will they discover this and a real change will occur in the world of education? Who do I need to speak to, because I've had enough?!?!?!?!

New Books

Stenhouse Publishing sends me books to read and review. Currently I am involved with an online discussion group that is discussing Jennifer Allen's new book A Sense of Belonging a book to foster and keep new teachers. While I liked the book I didn't find myself learning a lot, it didn't fit my needs. I asked a colleague who is a coach if she had read Jennifer's first book, Becoming a Literacy Leader and she lent it to me. I am not a coach, I am a first grade teacher, but Jennifer Allen is a coach and both books share her desire to foster teachers as a coach in her building. If you haven't read either of her books I encourage you to a least stop by Stenhouse and read the first chapter and discover this woman's heart for helping teachers. I want to teach in Jennifer's building! I get the feeling that I could go to her to "mull" things over, that I would be encouraged to try new things, that she would help come up with research and materials to support my thinking. I get the feeling that she doesn't just say what is the standard phrase that the state wants her to say, that she has her own beliefs and can support them. She is working hard and loving her work. Her idea of a coach is mainly to coach the teachers, to make available literature that improves their teaching, study groups that encourage conversation, and mentoring texts that teachers can grab and use at a moments notice. Her idea of coaching is what it was meant to be! If you are a coach, or a principal, or even have ideas about what can benefit your school then stop over and get this book!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Low Morale

My school system is experiencing "low morale." This is a result of low test scores over several years, becoming a Title 1 because of our free/reduced lunch status, and many many jurisdictions from the state. "Low morale" is a phrase that many people are throwing around. I have been pondering,
"what do we do about low morale?"
"What can I do, right where I am, to improve the morale of my colleagues?"

Ultimately, I can do nothing to change the attitudes of those working around me. But, this attitude, this constant talk about what the "corporation" is doing to us is daunting. I love my school, I love the people that I work with, I love the leadership that my principal provides... I am in a good place. The morale is everywhere! I would dare say that if we took a poll across the United States in public sectors that we would find that most educators are desperate to find the solution that helps our public education. This desperation is good. GOOD? This desperation is good because it can be a proponent for change.
While I can't change the attitudes of my colleagues towards the administration, or the parents, or the state, or our community I can begin discussions that lead to change. Eventually, that discussion will circle around to the real reason why we're all here: the children. I hope to lead that discussion where instead of complaints, and moaning we decide that we can't do anything about the factors and decide to pull ourselves up by the boot straps and do whatever it takes for the sake of these children. We do this by:
-Knowing what we believe to be true about the instruction of reading. What do we know? How do we know it? What kind of research do we have to support it? The rest we throw out.
-What do we know about people that can help us motivate parents, and their children? How can we get them more involved, and how can we show them what to do with their children? Even though we don't have parent teacher conferences because the state took that away from us, we may have to sacrifice our time to help these children and their families.
-What do we believe as teachers individually? What do you believe? Once a teacher has established this they can go into that classroom and put those beliefs into practice. My core stays the same:
I believe that all children can learn, I believe that they learn by doing, and that working with a teacher in a small group, or individually is how they learn best.
These are my beliefs, now I must display that in my teaching.

It is daunting! The teaching of children will always be daunting. Don't come along if you're not up for the task. But, if you are willing, able, and optimistic, come along for the ride. For those of you who are on this ride already, let's talk, but in that talk let's help change occur...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Big Day!

This summer has brought a lot of changes for me this year. Last year I looped up with my first graders to second grade and had a blast. After last summer I was preparing to meet my treasures after a long summer break. This year, after much contemplating I made a big step. I moved schools...
I loved my old school friends, I loved my students, I loved having lots of prior knowledge there...but I wasn't satisfied, I wasn't content. An opening at another school became open in the first grade. I heart first grade. If ever I have loved an age of elementary children it is first graders. You see so much progress in a school year, it is a sight to behold. The school that had this posting is an excellent school, out of all the schools in my city it is one of my favorites! I applied, and after interviewing I accepted a job at my new school. I had to move!
I packed my bags, boxes, crates and whatnot...
And, here I am, ready to begin a new school year at a new school, with children I don't know, coming from families of unknown names, and I don't even know some of my colleagues names. I am content though, I have assembled my classroom, I have readied my books, gathered my materials, looked at my class list. On the eve of this new beginning I am nervous, excited, but ready for change.

This summer I chatted online with a former student through Facebook, here is the just of our conversation:

Student:"so mrs. amick, i went to registration today and they said that you don't work there anymore :-("

Me: "Yea, i moved schools this summer."

Student:"i don't get it mrs. amick, i won't see you everyday :-("

Me: "you know how i told you in the 1st and 2nd grade that i wanted you to take risks as a writer and a reader. and to do that that sometimes you had to change the way that you do things? i'm taking a risk as a teacher by moving. change is good remember?"

Student: "yea, i get it, but i'll miss you. i'm proud of your risk taking though. sometimes you have to work hard to see great results."

Me: "i'll do my best!"

Student: "i'll still miss you, but we can talk here."

A new year is starting for me, I am thrilled to see what change happens for me and my students.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Cafe Book

Recently, I posted about reading the Daily 5 because I was having trouble reading the Cafe Book. I understood the concepts but it seemed like I was missing the beliefs behind this book. I would recommend reading The Daily 5 first and then The Cafe Book. They springboard one right into the other. I would like to take you through the book and make my comments by chapters since there is a LOT of information inside this book!

The CAFE Book by Gail Boushey & Joan Moser "the sisters"

Chapter 1: Introduction: The Beginnings of the CAFE Menu Assessment System
This chapter basically gives you an overview of the research behind the CAFE, it's assessment tools, and how it is still a work in progress. I do have to say that throughout the book the sisters continually comment about how they continue to see and hear how teachers take this material and make it their own. They are excited to see the pieces played out in the classrooms around the country and they invite you to visit their website to ask questions, and moderate discussions. True lifelong learners never stop learning and growing!

Chapter 2: The CAFE Notebook and Record-Keeping Forms
I found this section very helpful. I have struggled with how to keep all of my conferring notes in order. Also, what do I talk about in a conference with a student? The sisters take their reader through their notebook which is really a binder that holds everything within. I went out and purchased a binder, personalized it to make sure I could always find it, and printed out the forms for each student. I am excited to give it a try and see how beneficial it is for record keeping. "We have gone through many, many different styles and formats for these forms, always trying to reduce what we collect to the information we truly need to assist students and capture how they are changing and growing as readers and writers." Collecting what we truly need is all teachers truly want!

Chapter 3: Step-by-Step: The First Days of School
This chapter gives a very descriptive review of how to get the ball rolling during those first couple of days of school. I didn't find it to be very useful specifically, but it did get me thinking about my own classroom and how I begin getting my classroom ready for Independent Reading. This chapter however was where The Literacy CAFE Menu was introduced. While I didn't think that in the first grade level that we needed to be so formative in the setting of our goals I did like the menu. It allows me as a teacher to look at that menu and confer more precisely with students. This is going to be an awesome tool for me to use during the conferring.

Chapter 4: Conferring with Children: Principles and Examples
Ever thought: "What should I say that will change this child as a reader/writer?" The sisters have developed a chart that deals with this question specifically. It is the, "Seven Elements to Successful Conferences." Wow! Someone make that into a poster so that I can use it every day! Actually, as mentioned before they have come up with a CAFE menu that can be used to help figure out what a kid needs to work on in Reading. What areas do we need to improve upon? Then we can use the menu to teach precisely and quickly during a conference. Within the CD-Rom that comes with the book all of the forms can be printed and used. I like that, because so many times there are forms within the book but they have to be made by me again, and they're never the same!

Chapter 5: Eavesdropping on Some Conferences
This chapter sort of explains itself, it is just some examples of conferences and how they have used the menu to help them with a student.

Chapter 6: Whole Class Instruction
One thing that blew me away in this chapter was a teachers ability to assess students and move through the strategies according to what they need as a class. There is a sequence, but they encourage teachers to move according to what the class needs! They do say, "These professional judgement calls come fairly easy to Joan because of her expertise with assessments and her experience with CAFE. New teachers who are trying to juggle assessment protocols, school standards, faculty expectations, student and family relationships, and a variety of academic lesson plans may feel too overwhelmed to select CAFE strategies based on emerging student needs. It is perfectly appropriate to follow the given sequence, alternating between columns to provide balance during the first months of school."
Then I got to thinking about my student teacher from two years ago. She still asks me for professional books to read. She still is trying to grasp this literacy thing, not because she is not knowledgeable, but because she is still trying to better herself. She is still trying to learn all she can to be the best that she can! This menu would help a new teacher tremendously because it gives them an outline to follow. The seven keys to conferring is perfect for someone who is not confident in their abilities yet!

Chapter 7: Strategy Groups
This chapter stretched me as a teacher of reading. I believe in small group instruction. I struggle, and have been contemplating having strategy groups as opposed to guided reading groups. I am still not sold. I may not be able to relinquish that control... I am a work in progress! However, it makes perfect sense except for in the first grade. I am wondering, "how am I going to teach those print strategies if they are in a small group right there in front of me?" Again, it is about me giving up that control.
I am not sold on the Daily 5, but I do see some very strong elements in the program. One of the things that I feel strongly about is making the learning of reading a very natural progress. I firmly believe that it should not be about setting goals and pressing on to meet them. I just believe that we need to see a skill, and then practice it. At my grade level I am not ready to add more "goal" pressure to them. (Just my opinion!) I do however like many other things about this book! I love the forms, I love the sequence of skills in the menu, I love the units that are in the back of the book. It gives people who are new to this readers workshop thing a very clear and precise path to follow. It would be a great buy for student teachers, or a principal or administrator that is trying to move towards the workshop model.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Daily Five

Okay, so I've been on hiatus. I have still been teaching, and reading, being a mother, wife, and etc. On top of that though I had been taking classes to renew my license and that really drained me for some reason. Now I am back ready to blog, and ready to continue growing professionally, not because I was made to do it but out of desire.
Stenhouse Publishers sent me the Cafe Book by the "sisters" to review. I got about halfway through the book and realized that I didn't have much schema about the The Daily Five. I was missing a large puzzlepiece of this book. So, instead I picked up The Daily Five and began reading it over the course of a couple of days. I learned a lot, and found it to be a very good read. After reading The Daily Five I picked up The Cafe Book and it has been a much easier read. Expect my review in a couple of days.

The Daily Five had a lot of good quotes that I had read over the years but had forgotten their meaning. As you all are beginning the start of you school think of your room arrangements, your communities, and your explicit instruction. How will these words guide your preparations?

"Just adding more time and space for independent reading is not enough. I'm advocating a carefully designed, structured reading program that includes demonstrating, teaching, guiding, monitoring, evaluating, and goal setting along with voluntary reading of books students choose... When an independent reading component is added, test scores go up." -Regie Routman

"Eventually, I realized, of course, that nothing was wrong with "these kids." They don't get it because I hadn't shown them how. I'd told them to be respectful, thoughtful, and kind, but I hadn't shown them what that looks and sounds like."
-Debbie Miller, Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades

"Whe we follow routines day after day, our students can use their energy to grow as readers and learners rather than to figure out what we expect them to do. And we in turn, can focus our energy on teaching, not managing, our independent learners."
-Kathy Collins

Don't forget to plan for establishing routines, and developing routines!

Monday, March 16, 2009

"Everything you need is already inside."


I have been spending a lot of time at lately as I log my hours of running on their website. I have entered and accomplished my first challenge of 25 miles. I have been documenting my times and setting goal after goal after goal. This quote came to me in an advertisement and I quickly jotted it down, placing it in my writer's notebook.

Mulling it over for the last couple of days I have finally found why it is so meaningful to me at this time. Today, I stayed home from school to take Sydni to the doctor, my husband arrived home at 3:00 and by 4 I was out running in the afternoon sun. I struggled during that 2:63 miles. My mile pace was high, I was supposed to run 3 miles and only could make it 2:63. I felt like my legs were lead, and I was seriously considering vomitting. I gave up!

Later, when I put my kids to bed I decided to take a walk with the dog. Lucy is my smallest dog, but she was meant to be a sled dog, she can pull someone literally anywhere she wants to go. Tonight, she wanted to run and boy did we run! We paced each other for 3:50 miles, my pace 8'11'' per mile. I darted home and realized, "this was in me all the time."

My students have been with me for 1year and half now and I am slowing dreading the time that is quickly ticking by us. Each day is another day that I will never regain with them. Today I decided that I need to share this quote with them. I know they are not runners, I know that they are 7/8 year olds, but I want to share these meaningful words.

What they need as readers is already inside: they have the skills, they know the language, the fix up strategies, and they have word power. Its time to set goals. I am excited to have them set reading goals for the end of the year. I am excited to see where they want to head. I am ready to let them lead, supporting them in their learning.

My writers need a little more support, but they are coming right along. They are so observant as readers that when they write they are willing to try different writing styles and forms. They write so freely, and they share so willingly. I want to set some goals there too but I want them to know that I support them completely.

Ultimately, I want them to know that I didn't give up. Today, it ate at me, this stinky run. The rest of the afternoon and evening I was restless, I couldn't wait to get back out there and see what was inside of me. I wanted to see what I could do! I wouldn't let it rest for another day, it had to be resolved today. I want my kids to know that giving up is not an option, that trying day after day is hard work. Work that is hard is worth doing, over and over until our goals are accomplished.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Another Day With Debbie Miller

So Thursday night I stayed up late thinking I would have trouble sleeping anyway, and I was right, I awoke 20 minutes later than I wanted on Friday morning and flew through my routine. I arrived later than I wanted to my classroom but I still wasn't late. Debbie had not arrived yet and so I busied myself in my room making sure everything was perfect. My stomach was not a ball of nerves, I was not nervous, but I was jittery. I was anticipating the day, I was hoping she would approve of the work I had done with my students, I was hoping she would see my anchor charts and affirm my work. (Weird huh?)
I helped others find the room we would be filling, I talked with my friends, and then there she was walking down my hallway. I introduced her to some colleagues, showed her where she would be speaking, and then took her luggage to my van. When I returned to the building she asked to tour my room. She walked in and took a circle around my room, we discussed the individuals that would be attending today, and then made a decision about what they needed to see her do in my classroom. She decided that they would benefit from seeing my room as a room where Readers' Workshop had been in place for a long time. What an affirmation that my work is apparent!
The time arrived my students gathered on the rug, she read them the Alphabet Tree by Lee Lioni, and then dismissed them to go "happy reading." My students went dutifully to their seats, got their books out and began, and Debbie Miller had true conversations with my pumpkins. I stood back and reflected what I was learning from this whole experience.
-I need to live in the moment during workshop, I cannot let others things seep into my time. I need to be in the moment so that I can really listen. I need to sloooooowwwww doooowwwwn!Listening is very important and I need to be better at it!
-I need to read Choice Words by Peter Johnston. I feel like I am careful about what I say with children but that I am still learning. Researching this more can only make me better.
-I think what my facilitators learned is that this sort of reading instruction is the most important, and it doesn't fit into a little box that McGraw Hill is selling. Reading and thinking go hand in hand.
"If we teach kids to be readers and thinkers the assessments will show that." -Debbie Miller.
They have some really challenging thinking that is going to come from this workshop! Talk more about that...and keep me posted ladies!
-I have a lot of work ahead of me, I am challenged by her thinking, challenged by her words. I think that if I didn't come away feeling that way, then she would feel like she wasn't doing her job. She challenges me, in every way imaginable, and I relish in the fact that we all challenge her. She is a lifelong learner, not the master of it all. I like that about her.
As I dropped Debbie off at the airport she hugged me and told me what a pleasure it was to spend this time together. It was the experience of a lifetime, one I will cherish for a lifetime. It was a chance to challenge my beliefs, question their alignment, and continue practicing!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Day With Debbie Miller

Today I had the pleasure of listening to Debbie Miller in Warsaw Indiana. She is such a soft spoken speaker but she is mighty with her words and they pierce to the very being of a teacher's soul. This year has been a rough year, we have been thrown a lot of "new" stuff. Every administrator begins a conversation with, "I can't believe how much we've thrown at you all this year," and yet they still keep throwing...
I needed to sit and absorb what she had to say today. We get so bogged down with this crazed world we call education. We zoom around dibbeling and dabbeling, and TRCing and creating assessment after assessment, and before we know it we miss the point. We haven't stopped to listen to anyone, let alone the children in our classrooms.
I feel like a piece of salt water taffy stretched thin, but today I felt like someone started to walk me back to center. Debbie says that we must make this workshop all about being in the moment, planning surface or deep structure lessons that are explicit enough that they create the unpredictable. In this unpredictable situation we can come alongside children and guide them. It's about slowing down and listening to them think aloud, and modeling what that language is so that they can use it later. It's about creating a place of comfort that makes them believe that they are valued beyond measure, and that books have brought us to this epicenter. This is real teaching.
Here is what I have decided that I need to work on with my students:
-I would like to guide them more in their response in literature.
-We need to strengthen their partner work, really modeling this because I haven't done enough of it with my students.
-Sharing, we could stand to think more about the way that we share with one another.

I leave you with this quote that I loved from today:
"Sometimes we have to give children our words until they find their own."
-debbie miller
March 2009
I have more to share with you after Friday, you see Debbie Miller is coming to my school, and my classroom, and she will be working with my students. You'll pardon me if I am walking on cloud 9, but my hero is coming to town!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy

We have been working so hard over the last couple of weeks, it seems I have lost track of time! We began the month of January working on All About Books. Last year when I introduced this unit of study my students were not ready for it and so I tabled it until I felt they were. This year, with prior knowledge with this genre, they were very excited about beginning the work of nonfiction. I added a a conclusion page this year to my books because I wanted to scaffold their learning for third grade. My students walked away knowing several things:
-an introduction page is a lead, it leads your reader to want to read your writing.
-a conclusion page helps wrap things up, and it again leads you back to the topic at hand.
-celebrations are fun, and they mean a lot in a community.
We celebrated after Muffins with Moms last Friday. This is an all school event where we invite the mothers in to school to say "thanks," and offer a chance for us to meet and greet them. My open house for our All About Books was directly after that event. What I find most amazing was my students behavior as they entered the classroom that morning. We had not discussed at length what they were supposed to do when they came in that morning. However, when they entered the room they immediately began to unpack, pick up books, read them, make positive comments on their comment page. There was a quiet hushed tone throughout the room, they were doing everything that I expected but didn't state.
I asked reflectively later: What made them know what to do? What triggers in my environment told them to do these things? How did the excitement of reading others' words create this reaction?
Later, at the close of our day we watched a celebration video that I had made last year after our celebration, and we watched a collection of photos that I have taken over the course of our time together. It was an act of togetherness, there was silence as their emotions took it all in...
"Mrs. Amick, these pictures sure bring back fond memories!" said one of my boys.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Determining Importance

I introduced this topic last week using an activity from Comprehension Connection. I gathered my students and with a bowl of water, some spaghetti noodle and a strainer we discussed how readers must determine what's important when they read. My students made some interesting comments:
"You know when you put spaghetti in the pot it is hard and crispy, it needs the water to soak up, but it doesn't need all the water. That is what it is like when you read, you soak up some of the new information but you don't need it all."

Interesting thoughts that led me to this, Teaching With Intention by Debbie Miller. She has a lesson where she takes a group of students through the process of discovering things they already knew, adding new schema, and deleting misconceptions. This week we are moving in this direction. I have selected 16 shark books for us to peruse, not to gain new knowledge about sharks but to take a look at ourselves as readers. That new information is our ability to determine what is important. What does it mean to me as a reader?
The more I am reading and discovering, the more I am realizing that determining importance is not about finding the main idea. It is much more than that. Determining importance is more about searching a text for the things that I need as a reader. What does it mean for me as a reader?
This is determining importance.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My Break From Blogging(excuse, after excuse, after excuse!)

So, I can't believe that it has been since December 30th since I have last blogged! I have many excuses:
1. The stomach flu hit the Amick household between holidays, and I took two family members to the ER during the night. I spent the next 24 hours opening windows during the dead of winter, and keeping lysol, 409, etc. in business. I think I might have sprayed the dogs with that stuff too!
2. We made our annual trip to Chicago to visit with friends over the New Year's holiday. Five adults took 7 small children into the city to ride the L. My was it ever fun, Chicago from a whole new perspective. Children would rather watch construction occuring on a barge from a bridge, ride the escalators in every store, and play with revolving doors. Yes, their perspective is quite different.
3. I have been sick, not with the flu, but with an upper respiratory cold. We had an ice/snow day on Wednesday after returning from school, and Thursday I was miserable. Friday I stayed home from school and just rested, while running a fever. My workouts have suffered and I am far behind already with school work.

Not a great start to the New Year I have to say, but today is a new day and I feel better than I have in days. I am ready to go back out and start walking, regaining my strength with every frozen breath. I am ready to dive into my unit of All About Books, and Determining Importance in Reader's Workshop. More posting to come...