Feeling relaxed

The writing topics I posted on Monday evoke too much raw emotion for me to address at the moment, especially right now when I’m feeling so relaxed. That’s what being on vacation does for me, even a short one – I feel the tension draining from me with each passing day. I end up doing more of the things I like and that make me happy. I read more, write more, and spend more quality time with my family. I smile more and worry less. Let’s face it: I have more time that’s my own.

And, as Spring Break winds down I wonder how I can keep this feeling from fading come Monday. Is this the normal cycle of a teacher’s life or can we create another cycle that balances school and family?

Do you have some tips for staying fresh when school resumes? Make sure you post them here.


Writing List

I sit in the living room, half listening to my husband, son, and oldest daughter making tiramisu. I stay out of the kitchen as that is not my strong suit. My son and daughter are learning from my husband while I write my Slice of Life for today. There are lots of things I could write about but instead I make a list for another day when I’m feeling less confused and more lucid than I am at the moment.

Is your cup half empty or is it half full? Someone said that to me recently and I’m still not sure what the intent was or whether I should even worry about the intent or even if there was an intent. Nevertheless, it obviously bothers me because I’m still thinking about it more than a week later.

My first day of Spring Break. It snowed off and on today. When the sun finally broke through the sky I thought that finally we could look forward to spring – not. It snowed one final time.

My thoughts about where to go next in my career. I would love to spend more time writing and working with teachers. I also love working with kids and being in the classroom. What to do?

My oldest daughter is visiting for a few days. She’s leaving in a couple of days and my heart aches every time I think about it. That’s enough of that thought…

Breaking Night by Liz Murray. I wish I could remember who recommended this book but as much as I’m liking it I’m also finding it to be terribly sad. I can’t help but wonder how many children never get out from the cycle of neglect due to poverty, drug addiction, and abuse? It seems too much to bear at times and yet the resilience of these children is more than I could probably stand.

I’m stopping now. It’s time to take a shower, go to sleep, and wait for another day.


Canada Olympic Park – School Away from School (Post #2)

In my last post I said that Canada Olympic Park (COP) was the site of the 1988 Winter Olympics. Actually, it was one venue of several where various Olympic competitions took place; one of the many things the children and I learned during our visit this week.

On our second day, we spent the morning revisiting the 7 Olympic Values (see Post #1) and trying to find connections to the 7 Sacred Teachings (love, respect, bravery, honesty, wisdom, humility, and truth). The two specialists from the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) used a Venn Diagram to help the children find connections between the two sets of values. They had to use their best thinking to identify similarities as much of this was new terminology for them, though not new concepts.

Next, our teachers for the day took us on a hike through deep snow to the Paskapoo Slopes, http://www.paskapoo.com/, which is also known as the Eastlands, of the COP. This used to be a site for a buffalo run long ago. We stopped to listen to and watch waxwing birds. We saw bushes of Saskatoon berries and Alberta white rose. We also saw a few animal tracks here and there. We had a refreshing walk despite the few challenges that hiking in snow and ice presents.

In the afternoon we had inspiring talks by two athletes, a gymnast and a luger, from the National Sport School http://schools.cbe.ab.ca/b830/. Despite the many challenges they’ve faced – hip replacement and spine injuries – these two female athletes exemplified for the students many of the Olympic Values we had been discussing over the last two days. A special treat was to try on the gear that goes with being a luger and to practice some gymnastic moves.

End of day #2.


Canada Olympic Park – School Away from School (Post #1)

Today was our first day at Canada Olympic Park (COP) Open Minds School. COP was the site of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. It is now a popular park in our city highlighting a variety of winter sports. Our class is fortunate to be able to spend this week there as a result of our successful grade level proposal that has other grade 2 classes attending a variety of Open Minds School, such as Nature School and Zoo School.

Although it was a snowy day we were able to explore exhibits on two floors of the Ski Tower and to take a short hike around the ski jump area. Our focus for the week is the seven Canadian Olympic values of excellence, respect, peace, personal growth, fairness, leadership, and fun. We will also connect these to the First Nations values of wisdom, respect, humility, sharing, harmony, beauty, strength, and spirituality. I am looking forward to a great rest of the week. I plan to blog a little bit every day about our experience this week. Below are two posts by my students from today. The “old days” that Paige refers to below is the 1988 Winter Olympics.

What?!?! The snow came back!!! Aaaahhh…I wish the snow didn’t come back. It was hot and sunny last week but what about this week? This week is gonna be snowy and cold; even the snow is falling off the roof. It’s not just cold it’s freezing. Oh, I hate it when it’s freezing!!!
P.S. I’m at COP!!!

Today I went to C.O.P. We saw a lot of Olympic stuff. My favorite one was the uniforms they wore in the old days for the Canadian side. I had a lot of fun.
P.S. The uniform is a cowboy hat and other cowboy stuff.


Student-Led Conferences

This week, my students prepared for student-led conferences. They reflected on their learning by identifying important knowledge in four distinct areas: reading, writing, math, and Spanish. Then, they wrote these self-assessments as “I know” statements. Some examples are: I know how to check for understanding; I know how to add and subtract; I know how to make connections when I’m reading; I know how to stay on topic. “How do you know you can do this?” I would ask them. “Why is this important to know?” “How does knowing how to do this help you as a reader (writer, math student, Spanish learner)?”

Next, my students had to find examples of work that clearly demonstrated this learning. If they couldn’t respond to my questions they would need to start this process over again. And, if their evidence didn’t match their learning they would need to go back to their work and search for examples that did. Finally, they had to edit their writing and organize their work on their desks so that it would be available for viewing during conferences.

I conferred one-on-one with each child throughout the week to support their emergent self-awareness as learners. This wasn’t an easy process; sometimes they’d sigh loudly as I asked them to dig deeper for evidence or for statements to back up their findings. However, with support, many of my students were able to create suitable statements around their learning and to identify work that showed this understanding. I found this process was less stressful and painful than in the past. And, I think I know why.

At the start of our school day, one student, usually the student teacher of the day (class helper), writes a morning message to the class. I blogged about morning messages a few months ago after attending a session with a grade one teacher and others at the National Council of Teachers Annual Conference in Orlando. (For an explanation of how I’m doing morning messages go to http://waingortgrade2spanishbilingual.blogspot.com/2010/12/morning-message.html) But, this process has been evolving and a new post about these changes is overdue. Until then the previous link will give readers a window into what morning message looks like in my classroom. At first, all we did was check for understanding – what did you learn about Taylor, for example, from her morning message? Later, we began asking questions or making comments about a child’s message. Now, we are articulating our noticings about what each message tells us that child knows how to do as a writer. The child who wrote the morning message starts out by saying what the message shows s/he knows about writing. Then, we open it up to the class for their observations. I started out by writing the observations on a separate sheet of paper that was only visible to me, but now I write these on sticky notes and attach them directly onto the message.

So, what does this have to do with student-led conferences? First of all, these whole class opportunities have allowed the children to think through what they are learning to do and to notice what their classmates are also learning to do as writers. Sometimes the statements we make show that a child is beginning to do something, and at other times it is clear that s/he is already doing it consistently and so it becomes a statement of fact. An added perk that has come from these conversations is that the children will occasionally mention something they think is not correct in a message or ask a question about the use of a particular convention (one child wanted to know about the use of semi colons), which has given me numerous opportunities (teachable moments) to intentionally teach something that the children are curious about and want to understand better.

These discussions have been enlightening and inspiring for me as a teacher, and they have made it easier for the children to reflect on their learning for their student-led conferences. Yet, as powerful as this learning has been, I am cognizant of the fact that children don’t always transfer their learning from one area of the curriculum, or the school day, to another. This was evidenced as I observed the children having a harder time identifying their learning in subject areas other than writing for student-led conferences. I intend to help them to make this transition through whole class reflection times during other parts of our day.


Did I Tell You?

Did I tell you that it snowed yesterday?
I looked out the window and big, fat flakes were spinning and whirling in a frenzy.
I saw it all outside my classroom window.
And, then it stopped.
As suddenly as it started.
The water that had melted from the snow now turned to ice.

Did I tell you that I love you?
Or, did I forget to do that?
You would say it wasn’t on my list of things to do.
I say, we all have lists.
Some of us are better than others at juggling them.
I think of you when we’re not together.
Is that enough?

Did I tell you that I’m happy
When we spend time together?
I don’t need much.
Just you.
You should know that by now.
Did I tell you that?