Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Writer's Notebook Wednesday

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

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

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Motivational Monday

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

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

Saturday, October 27, 2007

It's Spooktacular!!!!

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

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

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Surprise Package

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 25, 2007

You are special...

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

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Character Traits: 1st grade

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

Monday, October 22, 2007

My thoughts about your birth...

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

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

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Start of Something New

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Know your stuff and why you believe... - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more
This week I was faced in a staff meeting with something that I just don't understand. Last year, because my corporation is on probation, I was forced to start curriculum mapping. I don't understand mapping and it wasn't presented to me in terms that I understand. This week we discussed our maps in staff meeting. My assistant principal who really is a great person and pretty great at his job had the wonderful task of telling teachers that their maps needed to not be copied and pasted but tweeked a little to reflect their own personal classroom. This is understandable I get this, but I raised the question...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Today We Celebrate...(I needed this one today!) - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more
In my corporation we have a person called a K-2 specialist, really she is an angel! She pulls a cart into my room everyday for 30 minutes and works with the same children to raise their fluency, and phoneme awareness. She has to consistently progress monitor her students and they have a target that they are trying to achieve. When it comes to getting students tested for Special Education services she is a huge asset. Yesterday, one of my pumpkins brought their progress monitoring pamplet to me and showed me that he had hit his target. Well, I thought, we've got to celebrate. You know that the K-2 specialist and I praised him up one side and down the other, I mean he deserved that. However, when we met as a whole group later...

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

Monday, October 15, 2007

Is it possible?

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Reader's Workshop: Lessons

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Being a Community

Today during Writer's Workshop I was conferring with one of my sweetest cherubs. A little boy who is trying so hard to be a writer. He always has something to write but he is just not getting the adding on part. As much as I have mentored him it is just not happening. I was at a loss. Today... I look at my cherubs. I look at my other boy who can add on and on (and on and on ...). Now this boy, is a boy, he is smart, and loves to be the center of attention. Yesterday he got a "Today I did not..." note for his mom. He can be a challenge when he is at full throtle. During Writer's Workshop though he is delightful! Don't tell anyone, I think he may be a writer!!!!! Anyhoo... I say to the boys, "You know boy#2 is really awesome at adding more to his stories, boy#1 how about if you two go over there and have him help you add more to your story?"
Here's the thing:
Boy#1 shared later and his small moment was delightful. We all enjoyed the parts where he stretched it. He even mentioned that Boy#2 helped him, and thanked him!
Boy#2, beamed, blushed, and I didn't have any problems with him that day. It was really very cool. I might have uncovered a secret about boy#2 today, I will keep it and use it for the rest of this year... - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more

My day in numbers:
Number of kids who shared: 3
Number of kids I conferred with: 5
Number of charts made: 2 (Editing checklist, words we should know how to spell)
Things read aloud: 4 (How I Became a Pirate, Pirate Pete's Adventure, Social Studies big book, Today I Went Walking)
Number of lamps turned on/off: 7
Number of high fives given as they left to go home: 25

Saturday, October 6, 2007

What being a mother has taught me about teaching

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

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

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

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

I had a situation this week where a kiddo was crying because he made a mistake on his morning work. I took a deep breath and evaluated the situation: he is a perfectionist, he likes to do his best, he is upset at himself, and he doesn't want anyone to make fun of him. These are all good qualities! Instead of saying, "Oh, it's okay, shake it off, come on let's go!" I said, "Wow, it must be really disappointing that you made a mistake. I know that you always try to do your very best! I want you to know that everyone makes mistakes, our promise says that, but we still think you are the smartest boy ever! It is okay if you want to just put that work away and make a decision to do better on morning work tomorrow." Kids need to know that it is okay to make mistakes, but they also need an adult to acknowledge how they feel about these mistakes. - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Model, model, model...

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


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

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

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

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