Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Troubleshooting: Questions Edition

March 15, 2019

It started out easy enough.

My second graders were sharing the questions they had written with one another, and to promote supportive listening I had the kids nominate strong questions for a light-hearted “awards” ceremony.

Our “Questies” consisted of 3 categories:
*Questions we’re most curious to find the answer to
*Big questions, that nobody really has the answers to
*Questions we’re jealous of because we wish we had asked them ourselves

I solicited nominations, and it went well. At least…in TWO of the three categories. See for yourself:

We knew which questions we were jealous of, or curious about, but we just couldn’t seem to nominate any big questions. Which means a few things might be happening:
*None of the kids wrote any big questions on their homework.
*The kids weren’t listening to one another as well as they could have.
*The kids don’t know what a big question is.

Situations like this always present themselves like a choose-your-own-adventure story. I’ll have to start by diagnosing the homework assignments. If there are several “big” questions on there, it looks like we’ll have to do some activities on how to be a listener.

If there aren’t any “big” questions on there, I’ll have to figure out if it’s because kids weren’t giving their full effort, because they’re not connecting deeply with the reading, or because I need to do some teaching on what big questions actually are, or how to ask them.

I do know that, as a teacher, I do this kind of problem-solving every day. Multiple times a day. Sometimes in bigger ways like this, that make me stop and think. But most of the time, I’m performing dozens of these calculations without even noticing.

And what will the answer be to THIS question? What will be the diagnosis of my “Question” question?

Only time – and a bit of investigation – will tell.

On Teaching and Transparency

December 14, 2018

I’m always complaining that I don’t have enough mentor texts to teach my students about reading and writing concepts. I can never get enough. That’s why I was so excited to introduce a concept to my two fourth grade groups yesterday and today.

I got the idea from Kristin Ackerman and Jennifer McDonough’s book, Conferring with Young Writers: What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do.  They suggested creating reference books to teach writers about skills and strategies they can use in their work. Want to learn more about personification? Find the reference book to see multiple examples, then give it a go in your own writing.

Over the coming weeks, my students will mine both their favorite books and their own writing for mentor texts to create these resources, and they are as excited about the proposition as I am.

But that’s not what my post is about. Sorry to disappoint.

Here’s the thing.

The top of the student form reads, “Mentor text submitted by______.” As soon as I passed the papers out, a student asked, “What’s a mentor text?”

What’s a mentor text?

What’s a MENTOR TEXT?

You mean, that thing that I use nearly every. freaking. DAY in the classroom to teach you reading and writing skills? And agonize over how I will find more? And more quality ones? And plan nearly every. freaking. LESSON. Around?

You don’t know what a mentor text is?

The answer was no. Not one of the nearly 20 fourth grade students had any clue.

And I thought, how is that even possible? How is it possible that there is something so incredibly integral, so incredibly critical to what I teach, yet my students do not even know what I’m talking about?

To say it was eye-opening was an understatement.

I’ve done a bit of thinking since then, and here’s what I’ve come up with.

There is a lot of teacher language that my colleagues and I use. We use a lot of technical vocabulary around reading, around writing, or behavior, or learning. What is stopping me from using that language around my students? What stops me from calling things what they actually are?

Frankly, I’m not sure that anything really is.

I’m not entirely sure where this will all lead, but there is one thing I know for certain. As a teacher, I need to think deliberately and with intention about the language I use. If I want my students to use the language of craft, and the language of learning, I have to make sure that I am open and clear with them about what I’m doing, and how I’m teaching.

My students DO know what a mentor text is now. At least they’d better, because it came up at least eighteen more times in our conversation. But my other blind spots? The other assumptions I’m making about their knowledge or vocabulary?

My guess is, if I’m becoming more transparent in my teaching, those are going to come up soon enough.

They will have to.

Right Poem, Wrong Assignment

April 24, 2018

Today I had my fourth graders write about something small, taken for granted, or unappreciated. We started with a poem I wrote and shared about lowly feet. Then it was time for the kids and me to get cracking.

I meant to do the assignment along with them. I really did. But I couldn’t think of ANYTHING to write. So after a few minutes of being blank (which felt like an eternity) it struck me that perhaps boredom itself goes unappreciated.

In I went to compose a poem elevating boredom through poetry. But then a different poem came out. It’s still one I kind of like, so I’m sharing it here.

The kids still have me on the hook for the real assignment, though.

Boredom

When my pencil
(poised above paper) awaits,
Anxious to do the bidding
Of my master/mind
Yet no command comes
A standoff:
As my hands
(eager to get moving) wonder
What is wrong with
The machine that moves them
And my mind
(unused to blankness) panics
When finding itself
In silence.

So my imagination
(relenting to this break in the action) sighs,
Succumbs to numbness,
Twiddles its thumbs
And waits
For a lost, lonely idea
To find its way
Home.

Going with Plan B

April 18, 2017

I wasn’t going to have them watch it.

As part of my daily blogroll, I came across the wordless animated short “How to Wait for a Very Long Time,” and the first thing I thought as I looked at the title was, “This will be a quick way to teach my kids patience and persistence.”

And then I watched the video. It’s about 3 minutes long. Go ahead and click here to watch. (I promise I’ll wait for you.) You may as well, because I’m spoiling it below.

Needless to say, this video is NOT about patience and persistence.

I worried that students would be let down by the ending. That they would be disappointed with how abruptly the guy dies at the end. That they wouldn’t see the point. That on this day, which marks two years since my brother’s passing, I would not be able to manage teaching anything close to this subject matter. That it was better to go forward with my plan book as written.

And yet. When a great opportunity to have rich discussion or work on literary argument arises, I’ve can’t help but grab it. So…onward.

As a group, we watched the video three times.

First time? I stopped at the title and had the kids predict what they thought the lesson of the story was. That’s just before I confessed to them that MY prediction was dead wrong. Then they just notated plot.

The ending surprised them just as much as it did me. There was a lot of, “Whoa.” and “Oh!” and “Wait…what!?” We spent time sharing our surprises and questions. And yes, ALL of us fell for the easy predictions from the title. Silly us.

Second time? Pick up on everything we missed the first time. Talk to people around you. What’s the ONE THING you NOW believe is the point of this story?

Third time? Note the evidence to support your claim…then get writin’.

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Once again, my kids surprised me.
Once again, they inspired me.
Once again, they allowed me to see things in new ways.

Proving, once again, that some of our best teaching moments aren’t the ones we put in the plan book.

 

 

The Premiere! World Takeover Day

April 17, 2017

 

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You know, as a teacher, I’m never quite sure which ideas will go in one ear and out the other, and which ones will take hold.

Several months ago, my fifth graders and I were talking about the power that we each individually have. I joked that we should each look in the mirror in the morning and tell ourselves to take over the world that day. And that they should come back to me with how they took over the world.

Apparently that stuck.

Fast forward to just before spring break. The kids and I watched speeches from kids who felt passionately about important issues. I asked what they were motivated to do. Lots of inspiring answers here.

One student? She wanted to have us make videos about how we each took over the world.

I, in my standard teacher mode, shrugged, “Why not?”

 

So here is the first installment of what will hopefully be many. It gave me goosebumps, moved me to tears and gave me inspiration in a tough week. Here’s hoping you do the same. And if you have any comments for the delightful ones you see in the video, share them and I will happily share them with my loveys. Click here and enjoy!

 

Using Images to Establish Mood

March 19, 2017

A little while ago, my fourth graders and I began to pair poetry and art to show how words and images are powerful creators of emotional imagery.

First, we talked about art. What mood do artists create, and what techniques do they use? Color? Light? Shade? Brush strokes? Position and treatment of the subjects? It was wonderful to see how clear and articulate the kids were when it came to discussing their thoughts.

From there, it wasn’t a far leap to talk about poetry. Just as artists use their craft to fill viewers with emotion, poets also have tools to accomplish the same task with readers. Instead of using brush strokes and shading, however, writers use tone, figurative language and descriptive vocabulary.
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To further drive the lesson home, we examined Albert Bierstadt’s Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite (1870). Each student reflected on the emotions the painting stirred up within themselves. Our goal was to make our readers feel those same emotions though poetry.

For me? I did the same. My writing began with a brainstorm of the emotions this piece of art brought out in me, then a poem to (hopefully!) invoke those emotions in my reader. I started with a draft, showed students how I edit for word choice and clarity, then asked them for further feedback. It got messy!

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I wound up with the following poem. Enjoy.

Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite

Sometimes my eyes don’t see it
Through the brush,
The fog,
The trees.
But my heart
Remembers it is there.
The mountain lays in wait,
Its sun-washed steep face solitary as the journey itself.
My legs demand respite from the climb.
My soul answers a higher calling:
To sing from the heights,
To discover the next summit.
It wills my feet onward.

Onward.

Post-script: My students’ poetry was absolutely FABULOUS. Both they and their parents were floored to see what their talent and creativity could accomplish. Here’s to more amazing writing!

When in Rome

March 17, 2017

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Whenever I assign my kids creative writing, I like to join along. For starters, it helps keep my own creative juices flowing. More importantly, I want my students to see me as a writer, right along with them. I want them to see what successes struggles I encounter as I work to improve my craft.

Today, we had fun with poetry. The teachers are having a staff lunch on Tuesday (World Poetry Day!), and I asked my kids to write food poems to serve as placemats. We grabbed the construction paper, set out some markers, stuck on some cool tunes, and we had ourselves a writer’s workshop! The two poems below are my contributions. Not sure I’d call them exceptionally deep or earth-moving, but they were fun to write. (And, I hope, fun to read.)

The World in a Fruit Bowl

Joy: an apple
Upon first bite
When tongue
And teeth
And tastebuds
Find their perfect
Crunchtartsweet.

Apprehension: blueberries
All together,
Baby and granddaddy,
Nestled in a bowl.
Sweet and tangy?
Achingly sour?
One way to find out.

Despair: that melon
You picked out the other day
That felt perfect
And smelt perfect
Only to reveal
Its darker self
As sandpaper
And mush.

I Won’t Do It (And You Can’t Make Me)

I don’t fall for those famous food lies,
“Open your mouth and close your eyes.”

Or that phrase guaranteed to sicken:
“Try it! It tastes like chicken.”

Another thing to make me say “Ew,”
“Drink it! Surprise at the bottom for you!”

And the best way to get me to fight?
“No dessert ’til you take that last bite!”