Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Long Anticipated Debbie Miller Post

Ah, Debbie Miller, where to begin? First, I not only got to go to a two day conference given by Debbie Miller, but my Lang. Arts facilitator asked if I wanted to go to lunch. "Sure!" I said. Lo' and behold, guess who we ate lunch with? You guessed it, I sat quietly taking it all in, asking little questions here and there, I was in heaven!!!!
Here is what I have taken with me:
(honestly, how can you sum up two days of extraordinary insight, here is just the skimming of the surface. because as i am writing this piece i am coming back and thinking of the thousands of things that i really could have written and shared, they will come out, just later. i may be still pondering them as well!)
Conferencing: she says is the heart of the workshop, but it is also the hardest part of the workshop too! She says when you pull up to a student or group of students be thinking,
What do I know about this student as a reader?
What do I know about myself as a reader?
W hat do I know about teaching reading?
How do they know where my students will be on day four of the week?
She says that basals have good stories in them but they are not all that we should be offering students as literature.
Create anchor charts after the lesson. Use a notebook or a lesson plan and write the important things that are going to go on the anchor chart later. We all know how fidgety kids get while we are writing! (Duh! What a no brainer!)
She also mentioned that there should be a really great balance between surface structure (decoding and phoneme awareness) and comprehension strategies.
allow children to use everything!!!
large poster paper
the freedom to create their own
mostly, just let them lead how they'll respond to what their reading.

And finally, what I noticed about Debbie Miller, the person:
She is small in stature. I am 4'11" and 3/4 of an inch. Debbie is not much taller than I!
She is very soft spoken, not timid, she just has a soft tone about her.
In social situations she is quiet- not withdrawn, an observer really.
Her philosophies, goals, aspirations- you don't wonder about them! She lets you know right up front what she is all about!

Here is the best quote of the whole time spent there. I imagine that it sums up the whole workshop model and all that I believe in as a teacher.

"Each time one prematurely teaches a child something he could have discovered himselft that child is kept from inventing it and consequently from understanding it completely."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I Miss You Already

I'm leaving tomorrow after my second glorious day in the presence of Debbie Miller and driving to Chicago to meet my best friend from college. She is flying in from Colorado Springs and we are going to spend the entire weekend together. I am thrilled, but the mom in me still... misses them already.

I miss you already...
"I miss you already," I whisper goodnight
packing, and planning, for an incoming flight
I kiss them, and nuzzle their faces with care
Knowing the weekend will be one with flare!
"I miss you already," I murmur to them
treasuring faces like a precious gem.
I clean, prepare, about to take flight
Pushing off feelings of guilt with all of my might
"I miss you already," as I lay down to sleep
A memory with a friend, a weekend to keep
I love, I hug, I kiss, and treasure
every moment, precious, we spend together.
"I miss you already," as she boards on the plane
leaving, refreshed and finally sane
A moment between friends, refilling each one
parting, and returning after a weekend of fun

Monday, February 18, 2008

It's Contagious

Last week my corporation held a conference at my school. Mindy Hoffar and Kathy Douglas led these professionals through the workshop that will hopefully send them back to the beginnings of Writer's Workshop. During that time I had the opportunity to teach my own students a lesson while these primary teachers watched us go about our daily business of writing. I then went and debriefed them and their questions. They had many! We talked about many things but so far all of the comments that I have heard have been very positive. I so want for those teachers what I get to be a part of everyday. I was so proud of my kiddos and their willingness to teach teachers. They did a phenomenol job and the teachers were impressed with their procedures, and routines. Mostly, they respected the way we treat "writing," with high esteem.
My favorite questions was from a teacher who asked, "what if a student approached another student to confer with them and they were busy writing? How would you handle that so that they didn't interupt the writer?"
This was a no brainer for me, I said this, "You know I would never say that they would never bother someone who is writing, but I think that if you would ask them they would say that you should never bother the work of a writer! We hold writing with such honor in our room that they would probably find someone who wasn't busy!"
At that moment I felt the proudest of my kids. They truly feel that they are writers, that their words matter, and they respect each other as writers.
Today, during collaboration I was asked, "Sarah, what has lit a fire in you this year with regards to writer's workshop?" This is a hard question to ponder... I guess that I just know more, and I feel more purposeful about what I want to accomplish. I feel like I have really honed my skills over the summer, and I was and am still armed with much to share.
I enjoy sharing!
Still to come... Debbie I come!!!!!!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

How Can I Respond?

My first graders are spectacular, I think I have mentioned this before, they are moving right along with our plans in Reader's and Writer's Workshop. We specifically are doing some great things in Reader's Workshop. One of the awesome things that I am seeing is that my kids are responding to what they are reading, daily! We began a discussion about 2 weeks ago about managing our post-it notes, sketch notes, and question marks. How could we keep track of all these things organizationally? I brought this up to my students during a community time.
I had thought that I would like to show my kiddos reader's response notebooks next year if I got to loop with them. However, the timing was right and they seemed led to begin the work of readers. We discussed many different ways that readers respond. I showed them my "Teacher's Ideas" chub pad that I take just about everywhere professionally. I showed them my own reader's notebook that I keep at home by my bedside. I write little quotes, and questions, or new book I want to read. It's purely for enjoyment that notebook is...

So we took the leap, we got our guided reading notebooks from the basket and we placed them in our bins. I made a little piece of paper that became an "I can..." reference for responding to literature. Here are some of the important things I placed on that paper for each student:
How Can I Respond?
I can...
-Make a connection
this reminds me of
when I hear these words I thought of
-Ask questions
I wonder
-Make an image that I have as I read
-Make an opinion statement
I believe or I think
-Start a page of words that I think are fancy!
So everyday my kiddos go off to read and then I see them writing in their notebooks. I think perhaps they are just drawing or wasting time, but when I conference with them they are writing remarkable statements! It is just amazing what my kids can do when I trust them to do the work of a reader.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Writer's Notebook Wednesday

A Winter's Walk
by Sarah Amick
Each night when I go walking
The snow crunches under my feet;
Some nights when it is cold and frosty
a crackle, pop, snap is what I hear.
On nights when I am not able to see my breath
my feet sink with each insulated step;
But last night as I went walking
The fog enveloped me like a warm fleece
My feet slushed in the newly warmed snow;
Each night when I go walking
The snow becomes apart of my walk
Insulating, a world of wonder created by its

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

For One Moment

My usual routine during Writer's Workshop is to draw 3-4 students back to my kidney shaped table and have them write for a while. As they write I confer with them about their pieces and take notes and try to help them individually as writers. "Fix the writer not the writing!" -Carl Anderson. Well, today I was doing the usual when I noticed that one of my students at the table was busy. I didn't feel like I should interupt her process and so I just conferred with the others. I waited and then she revealed her piece.
With tears streaming down her cheeks she read a piece about being adopted, and seeing her birth mother for the first time. I asked her questions about her feelings, I asked her why she wrote certain words, and I asked her what provoked the tears. She said, "I just feel them." I nodded my approving nod. We discussed why she chose now to write this piece as that moment was months ago. "It felt right to do it now," she answered. I didn't fix her as a writer today, I let this workshop be exactly what she needed it to be, an opening to her heart. As she fell into my arms this strong, unwavering little girl needed to know that getting that out did not need fixing. My fixing came in the knowledge that writer's write mainly for themselves, especially when they have emotions that they don't know how to handle.
I wish that I could find the words to console her and her many questions about why she was adopted. Ultimately her writing and her freedom of choice is consoling her, allowing her to feel on the outside the storm that is occuring on the inside.
I was amazed as I reflect now at the moment that all of this occured. I now can see the world's brake being pressed. I know that today was the day that I needed to really be open and welcoming. I am forever grateful to have the opportunity to work with these children. To see them grow and change and conquer their world as readers and writers. I am also grateful that the groundwork for community has been laid and we rest firmly within its sanctuary daily.
Today, I had a moment, I am part of a community.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Power of Choice

After Christmas I launched a unit of study in writing. The unit was for All-About books. Immediately upon returning from break I noticed that my students enthusiasm for writing had diminished. Previously I posted about their behavior in the classroom and my return to the beginning of the year basics. Something was missing...
Daily I had a different student say, "Mrs. Amick, I wish that we could write like we used to."
I started pulling eye teeth just to get my kiddos writing their pieces. Even my wonderful facilitator Kathy came in to check us out.
The truth be told: they hated it! I hated it, it wasn't for
I called and collaborated with my friend Jen and we discussed these questions:
Why is is not working?
Do they not understand?
If you quit the unit will you come back to it?
Are you making the task of writing dreaded?
How will you stop the unit, what words will you use?
I decided, because I have the power to choose for my pumpkins what is best for them, that we would stop the unit and go back to the way we used to write. I told my pumpkins that sometimes writers put things in a drawer to gain more information about their topic, or character. We decided to put this unit away for a little bit, but we all decided that we needed to come back to it later. I told them to get their favorite story starter ready because they were just going to write narratives for a while. My pumpkins, my little first graders, those sweet cherubs of mine...cheered! Literally, I heard clapping, "yea!" and then silence as they set off to gather materials, and find their spots. It was the best writing day we had had since break. We gathered for sharing at the end and than we discussed why they needed to go back to this type of writing. One little boy shared I think what they were all feeling. He said, "You know over break I thought about all the things that I could write about and I just didn't have the chance. Now I can say what I wanted to say." The power of writing was felt in that room but so was the power of choice that I feel I have as a teacher of writing. What my students need is what should drive my instruction. I am just glad that I have a collaborating friend, and the vision to see when change needs to occur.
Guess what? Behaviorally my students for the rest of the week, AWESOME! Go figure!