In a recent post, Stacey at Two Writing Teachers, wrote about choosing one word to live by during the coming year and challenged her readers to consider one word for themselves, as well. Go to http://bit.ly/tkIFle to read her post and to add a comment. I wrote that my little word for the coming year was presence even though I had also been thinking about health as my little word. Then, this afternoon as I was thinking about what my Slice of Life would be for today I started rethinking my little word and presence somehow morphed into no. I know that sounds very negative – little words should be positive, shouldn’t they? But then I thought about it some more and for me no is positive and fits in with presence and even health. Can you have two or more little words to live the year by? In any case, I have decided to choose no as my little word for the coming year to remind me that I don’t need to say yes to everything nor do I want to. In fact, I need to learn how to say no more often, especially to things that take me away from my family and other activities that I enjoy and give me energy. It has taken me a long time to recognize that I have not been present to the things in my life that matter. But now that I have seen the light, so to speak, I am more determined than ever to keep what’s important at the forefront of everything I do. And, saying no more often will help me stay true to myself and what’s truly important. And, so it is.
I know all about the KISS Principle. I know that it’s best to keep things simple at first so that you can go deeper later on. I know that kids need time to play around with ideas long enough to figure things out on their own. I know all of this and yet… I forget or I plod ahead without thinking. So, yesterday and today I ran an experiment of sorts. I decided to go slow in math. I decided to talk through an activity carefully with the kids. I then asked them to repeat the instructions before I sent them off to work. I also started asking them a simple question: what materials are you going to need to do your work? What I’m finding out is that more children are being successful with their learning and are completing more of their work than before. It was a small change that has given huge results. Stay tuned. I plan to keep blogging about this in the future.
Over the years I have observed that the Monday morning transition from home to school can be difficult for some children. Heck, it is difficult for me, too! I find I need a few minutes to myself after the children have come in to clear my head and make space for being back at school. This is true no matter how early I come in to school on any given Monday. It isn’t only that we’re in a different physical space than the one we’ve been in all weekend but it’s also about the different expectations at school and at home. As much as I strive to make my classroom a place where students make choices and decisions about how they’re going to work, what they’re going to do, and where they can sit, it is still a space restricted by boundaries and regulations and, let’s face it, four walls. Recently, the concept of “brain dump” surfaced from two unlikely places – a spiritual advisor and Stacey at TwoWritingTeachers http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/mission-complete/ – and I decided to give it a try with my students. A brain dump is a piece written in a stream of consciousness style so that whatever comes to your head is written down “as is” without being censored. The idea behind this is to dump your thoughts on the page as a way to release their hold on you. After writing your brain dump you then throw it out without rereading it. I told my students to aim for a page of writing in ten minutes. They could write without regard to punctuation and spelling as long as they wrote whatever came to their mind as they were writing. I also told them that alternatively they could draw a picture detailing all of the thoughts in their head as they happened. The room was as quiet as it ever gets when we’re doing silent writing at the beginning of writing workshop. Everyone was writing. At the end of ten minutes, a quick glance confirmed that many children had a lot of writing on their papers. Some children didn’t quite believe me the first time when I said that they could throw out what they had written after writing it and they tentatively asked for confirmation at the end of the writing time. One boy told me he had shred his paper into strips before throwing it out. Another child told me he was going to save his brain dump because he might want to share it with the class later. I was the first to throw mine away. I’m not sure if this activity actually helped the children focus their attention back at school or not but I think it gave them permission to put down on paper what was going through their heads. And isn’t that the same thing anyway? Today the children wrote after they had started their morning routines. My goal is for them to come in and write before doing anything else. Then, I’ll be able to tell if this activity is helping or not in the transition from home to school. Either way, it’s worth a try.