Slice of Life: Thanking the Colleague Who Taught Them Before You

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I try, as often as I can, to acknowledge the efforts that my fifth grade colleague in the grade below me does with my current students, as I often see evidence of her handiwork when they become sixth graders. I’d like to think our schools would be a better place if we did this kind of acknowledgement more often. None of us teach in a vacuum. None of our students learn in a vacuum, either. We all build upon what has happened before.

The other day, I sent my colleague (C.S.) this note (B. is our special education colleague):

Dear C. (colleague),
I am starting to look over some of the first literature-based open responses with evidence from text and they are a solid batch (with a few outliers). I am noticing a pretty strong understanding of the format, with students working to find and cite evidence, and the use of the T Chart organizer. As much as I say “we are building on what Mrs. S did with you,” they are just as likely to say “this is like what Mrs. S taught us last year.”
🙂
I am grateful for the work you do, C., as it sets the stage for sixth grade (as I hope the work I do will set the stage for seventh grade). Our earlier collaborations and discussions around open response writing (with B. as a bridge between us) is definitely making a difference.
Anyway, I wanted to let you know. Thank you.
Sincerely,
Kevin

Peace (acknowledged and appreciated),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Four Presentations in the Days Ahead

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

In the next two weeks, I am facilitating or co-facilitating four different workshops at three different places, and while I am making good progress, I still feel a bit scattered, thinking through all of the tasks I have to do to get it all into place.

October Presentations

This weekend, my Write Out colleague Bethany Silva and I are doing an online presentation for the 4TDW (teachers teaching teachers about technology and digital writing), and we used Zoom this weekend to finalize most of the planning. Online presentations like this are tricky because you want to engage the audience and encourage them to visit resources, but then you need to have them all come back to the platform. The virtual conference is free, by the way, and our session on Write Out (an initiative between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service) is on Saturday, from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

A week from today, meanwhile, I am gathering with some grade 3-6 colleagues in our school district, as I have been asked to lead a Professional Learning Community around Project-Based Learning. I have a bunch of activities and activators all set up, but there is limited time, and we will meet only one more time this year. Yeah, not really a PLC. More like a PBL teaser, but I’ll do my best to get conversations started and underway.

Finally, two other presentations take place a week later at our Western Massachusetts Writing Project’s annual fall conference. on October 13 at UMass Amherst. There, I am doing another version of the Write Out workshop (but this time, more localized, around our work with the Springfield Armory National Historic Site) as well as a workshop about digital annotation and the Writing Our Civic Futures project from Educator Innovator. My aim is to get us annotating a text (by Linda Christensen) on paper (first, solo, and then as a workshop), then together, online, joining the crowd annotation project.

Phew. October just started, and it already seems busy.

Peace (sharing it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Class of Infectious Curiosity

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I almost title this post “The Chatty Class in Room 8” or “The Class of Non-stop Talking.”

But I didn’t, because the more I thought of this one particular class of sixth grade students (out of four groups that I teach), the more I realized that the talkative nature is driven more by wondering and curiosity than anything else. I’ve had plenty of classes through the years where the talking was difficult to keep in check (and I am pretty lenient most of the time) and where small clusters of students (last year, it was a group of boys) think class time is social time all the time, and that the teacher’s voice is one to tune out.

Not this group.

These students always have their hands raised, always want to contribute to the conversations, whatever the topic might be. They always are asking insightful queries to their classmates during presentations. They bring us on tangents, true, but interesting ones, with odd angles of looking. They always seem to want to know more, more, more.

And I think that curiosity is infectious, is it not?

I noticed the leaders of the class — smart, strong students — being kind to others, by asking them to share more, explain more, think more, question more. And their classmates have followed their lead, which is quite interesting to watch and to see. They’ve already built on my work with them to create a safe space to wonder in.

So, even if the room gets loud at times, it’s the right kind of loud. The curious kind. The kind of talk every classroom in every school, everywhere, should be open to.

Peace (and wonder),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Starting the Year Write

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Three weeks in and my sixth graders are already writing up a storm. We’ve done a short story prompt (using a map of imaginary land as setting for an adventure); explored characters in a short story read-aloud with evidence from the text; designed a treehouse in their writing notebooks; and now are working on sharing and explaining their aspirations for life in our Dream Scene project. We’ve composed with media on the computers and doodled in the margins of text on paper.

I like to come out of the gate with a lot of different kinds of writing. This allows them to enter as writers from various directions — not everyone loves open response analytical writing, not everyone loves writing fiction — and allows me to get a glimpse of where they are at with skills and imagination and basic writing skills.

Some of my young writers are already amazing me with their skills. Others, they are already worrying me, too. My role is try to help my students at both sides of that spectrum, as well as those in the middle, to move forward and make progress, and find joy in the act of writing.

And so the year begins.

Peace (in text and beyond),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Surfing the Edge of the Data Flow

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I sat through a staff session yesterday at our school, where our school psychologist walked us through the use of new intervention assessment tool we will be piloting this year. All students will take the assessment and then we as teaching teams will analyze the data. It’s not quite Response to Intervention but we’re moving in that direction.

Good data, as we know, is valuable. Too much data, we know too, is overwhelming and worthless. I’m not making any insights into this new system. It looks fine and well-designed and likely will be useful for me as a classroom teacher. The sample reports bored down from grade overview, to class overview, to student overview, to skill overview. There’s a lot there.

I am, however, always worrying about losing students as people into the flow of data analysis. Schools are awash in data. We get reams of it from our state testing (a school year later after the assessment, which is not always too helpful) and from our trimester reading assessments (which take a lot of time to conduct but give me valuable insights). Add to that the regular classroom assessments, and soon it feels as if it is an avalanche we are surfing.

I remind myself to … breathe. And then to take each bit of data that is useful and, well, use it as best as I can. If not for intervention groups, then for classroom instruction and for writing workshop and for all the times I interact with individual students.

Otherwise, we are awash in noise.


Look What I Did – Fade to Daft flickr photo by hellocatfood shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

I remind myself, also, to remember: students are not data point, not now nor ever. They are young people, with strengths and weaknesses, some of which might be uncovered by data and some of which might be discovered through human interactions. They are complicated people with lives outside of school.

Just like us.

Peace (01100001 01101110 01100100 0010000001101100 01101111 01110110 01100101),

Kevin

PS — https://www.binarytranslator.com/

Slice of Life: These Days of Discombobulation

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

It’s easy to forget what creatures of habit we are … until something disrupts our routines. For the past few years, my teaching schedule has been fairly stable. Most of my classes began on the hour, so I knew as the minute hand approached the 12 that we had better start getting ready to switch classes. The visual cue was my friend.

This year, all that has changed. We’ve added a new intervention block into our day, and our specials (art, music, etc.) got shifted later into the morning, and then our lunch got moved ten minutes later (our sixth graders don’t eat until 1:15 p.m.). This has meant that the flow of day is always in flux, and I am constantly relying on my paper schedule to figure out where we are in the block and how much time we have left.


discombobulation flickr photo by TheoJunior shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

I’m discombobulated. (And a cool word to say out loud. Go ahead.)

Which I suppose is par for the course at the start of the year for students, too, and so my sixth graders and I are in this together. I’ve told them, be patient — we’ll all be where we need to be when we get there.

So far, so good.

Peace (starting),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: A Doodle Every Day

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

For all of July, we in the CLMOOC community were drawing and doodling and sharing. With today’s theme of “exit” now complete, I was trying to figure out how best to grab all of 31 of my doodles together. I’m still hoping to do a collage, but this video version via Animoto will have to do for now. The use of the artistic garden animation theme seemed … appropriate.

Many of the crowd-sourced themes connected to the Write Out project, which is another open learning adventure that took place the last few weeks.

I used the Paper app on my iPad for my doodles, and making art is always tricky for me. Writing is so much easier. Words flow faster than visual ideas. These pieces were all done with fingers, not stylus. Sort of like finger-painting. So, some of these doodles I made I like a lot and some, not so much.

What I appreciated most was the call and invitation to doodle in a networked community, and to share with others, and to see how my friends took the same idea in different directions.

Day Thirty-One Exit Point

Peace (on the tip of the pen),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Get Out and Wander Around

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I’ve been part of the Write Out project, and although I have in the past spent quite some time at our local National Park Historic Site — the Springfield Armory — mostly the past week, I have been wandering our local neighborhood on foot to pay closer attention to nature.

Yesterday, I started a walk before the summer rains returned. In the early morning, it was downpours for long stretches of time, following on the heels of rain the day before. I wanted to see the river, and boy, was it flowing! I had wanted to get a few more pictures, but the rains drove me home.

After the Rain

Recently, I wandered on foot to the nearby city-protected watershed area. It’s a beautiful place, and I startled a Blue Heron on my walk and then watched it float effortlessly and seemingly with patience right over the reservoir. I didn’t get the heron on camera because I didn’t want to interrupt the moment.

Walking the Watershed

Finally, the nearby bike path is also a protected Greenway Space, so I spent time along there the past few days, too, poking my way off the foot trails.

Mill River Greenway Walk

What have you been seeing in your world?

Learn more about Write Out, a partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service.

Peace (in the world),
Kevin

Slice of Life: What Would Mr. Rogers Do Is the Wrong Question To Ask

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

There’s a moment towards the end of the fantastic new documentary about Fred RogersWon’t You Be My Neighbor? — where a gentleman, Junlei Li, who works at the Fred Rogers Center looks directly at the camera, and says something along the lines of: It’s not what Mr. Rogers would do. That’s not the question we need to be asking. It’s what are you going to do?

The comment comes as the film wrestles with the current climate of incivility, of unkindness, of using media for personal gains by finding and exploiting the faults in others. Fred Rogers saw the world was changing in the years before his death, and he was saddened by it.

Aren’t we all?

Li’s point is that we can’t look to media figures, just as we can’t look to sports icons, to change the world for the better. We have to look to ourselves, and how we treat each other, how we tap into kindness and caring and understanding. It’s heart-breaking that such talk sounds old-fashioned in the current age of a president who acts like a thug on the wires, but it’s true.

We can take care of each other. We need to take care of each other.

My wife and I — and pleasantly surprising us both, our 18-year-old son joined us — got out of the scorching heat yesterday to watch the movie in the theater, and my wife and I were nearly crying at times (not sure about the kid). I didn’t watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kid, but I know of him, of course, and of his work. To see his journey and his mission, and his impact on kids through the medium of television, is powerful viewing.

There’s another moment in the movie that also stuck with me. Right at the end, all of the people who are being interviewed as given a minute to remember someone who impacted their life in the positive. The camera stays with them, holding their gaze, quietly, as they think and remember, and even cry at the memory.

Let’s remember those people who helped us, and be the people who others might remember, too.

Peace (in the heart),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Beat of the Drums Connect Us

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I wish I had taken a picture, but I didn’t. So imagine this: On the stage in the high school auditorium, there are about 175 seventh-graders, sitting before African hand drums or holding onto colorful boom-sticks. In the audience, there are about 175 sixth graders, listening to the sound of the entire seventh-grade class drumming and singing a song of welcome to the upcoming class. A visiting drummer/artist who tours the world working with schools is leading the way, helping the students find the beat.

At some moments, everyone in this space — all 350 or more of us — are chanting and drumming and finding a common rhythm together. It is an amazing experience to use music to create connections, to tap into the rhythms of the beat as a shared experience.

Then, as seventh graders leave to head home on their bus on their half-day schedule, our sixth graders take their places at the drums at the front of the stage, and in minutes, the auditorium is alive again with the heartbeat pounding of drumming and percussion, finding sync together with hands and fingers and sounds and voice.

And so begins the day of our sixth grade students joining other sixth grade students in our sprawling school district at the regional school, where in September, they will become classmates as seventh graders for the next six years. I hope they will remember this — how they all came together in this space to create something magical through music.

Peace (in the beat of the heart),
Kevin