55 minutes · Donalyn Miller · language arts

55 minutes

I have approximately 55 minutes to teach language arts.
It’s not enough time, of course. But then how much time is enough time?

As I work through this dilemma, I have decided that some routines are non-negotiable. Independent reading and read aloud need to happen every day, and my students need time to write and explore different writing techniques in a writer’s notebook. So far, I’ve been able to stay the course even if we’ve had to skip read aloud on occasion.

In the meantime, here are some things I’ve noticed so far:

Most of my students come in at the beginning of class and settle in around the room with a book; they know that the first 10 – 15 minutes are for independent reading and they take this time seriously.

I have my work cut out with some students who don’t like to read, or so they say. What they don’t know, or at least don’t think I’m serious when I tell them, is that my goal for this year is to make sure that everyone loves to read or, at least, likes it a lot more than they do now.

Some of my 7th grade students choose to write any chance they get. I’ve started calling this group of six kids, “the writing circle”. They don’t object.

I’ve heard my students groan when I tell them we need to stop reading during an specially poignant part of Out of My Mind.

At the beginning of class, my 6th graders ask if we’re going to read Esperanza Rising today. They don’t yet trust that reading aloud is going to be a fixture in our classroom. After reading a couple of chapters, one student says, “Hey, this isn’t a bad book at all.” Music to my ears!

We are talking about some universal themes in literature and writing about the one(s) we are noticing in our independent reading books.

We update our reading status every day and share what we’re reading with each other. By doing this, the kids are getting to hear about books that they might want to read. (Thanks to Donalyn Miller for sharing this idea in her book, Reading in the Wild.)

My students are starting to keep track of books read, books to read, and books abandoned on Goodreads.

We have launched our classroom Twitter account though that needs more thought and fleshing out on my part and with my students.

I will be figuring out how to maximize our 55 minutes so that every moment counts. How I’m doing that will be for another post. What matters is that over the next few weeks I will have solidified those 55 minutes so that we don’t run out of time for what’s important – reading, writing and talking about literature. But, for now, I think we’re doing fine.

Uncategorized

Celebrations

We have a new principal at our school.
He has come to us with a mandate: to change the culture of our school.
He is a man on a mission and I like where he’s going.

Every week our principal asks for celebrations.
We write up anything we notice during the course of the week that is cause to celebrate and send it to him via email. You can celebrate yourself, your colleagues or your students.

Source: https://bookweek-for-beginners.wikispaces.com/celebrations

Since school started a couple of weeks ago, we’ve done only one of these celebrations yet it has changed the playing field for me. So many positive noticings are contagious. It feels good to be acknowledged and it feels even better to recognize and appreciate others.

Our principal is committed to celebrating everyone as often as possible. I for one, look forward to these weekly celebrations. They’re fun and uplifting. So much so, that I think I will
find small and big ways to celebrate my students AND get them to celebrate each other.

A new tradition is taking root.

More on that another time.

beginnings · decisions

Reflections on a Rough Patch

OK. So, today I experienced a rough patch with one of my classes.
It made me realize how important it is to be patient and to make measured decisions, not just occasionally but every single time.

I’m not sure how things started to get out of hand or when I started to get impatient. I was giving instructions for a school-wide writing assessment, and I thought I was being crystal clear in my directions. I was taking pride in the fact, or so I thought, that I was being pro-active by anticipating all potential confusions. Then, the questions started coming and they didn’t stop.

I watched myself getting more and more frustrated by a situation that was quickly getting out of control. And, I was left to wonder what had gone wrong.

So, here are my take-aways from today’s experience.

  1. I gave too many instructions in a short time. 
  2. It would have been more effective if I had asked the kids do a think-pair-share after giving two or three instructions.
  3. I should have started the writing assessment right away. Allowing students to read independently before the writing assessment deflected attention from writing. Although the kids will have more time to finish tomorrow, it would have been better if we had spent the entire period on the assessment.
  4. Finally, I assumed too much, which is the worst mistake I can make, especially at the beginning of a new school year. We all need to ease back into school and some kids need more time than others.

Tomorrow I will walk into my classroom and try to get it just right…again. After all, as I wrote a few days ago, there is always room for new beginnings.

Atacazo · beginnings · Cotopaxi · recommitting

Beginnings

I had good intentions.
I was going to blog at the end of the summer.
And, then again after the first day of school.
And, finally, at the end of the first week.

But, none of that happened.

These last two weeks – one for teacher PD and working in classrooms, and the other, our first one with students – have been so incredibly busy that I’ve had precious little time for reading or writing. Despite the fact that this summer was somewhat unusual because I didn’t do as much reading and writing as I normally do during the summer months, it was still much better than these past two weeks. In addition to the typical start-up load of going back to school, I now have a longer than normal, albeit temporary, commute. This means I have precious little time for much of anything that isn’t essential.

Nevertheless, today is a new day. 
A fresh start. 
A second chance. 

As I look out the window of my bedroom I am greeted by brilliant blue skies, majestic mountains, and two volcanoes – Cotopaxi and Atacazo.

Cotopaxi 

We can only see a bit of the top of the volcano pictured below, so we don’t know if this is in fact the volcano we are seeing. However, this is my husband’s best guess from looking at maps of volcanoes in Ecuador.   

 
Atacazo

So, I take a deep breath and recommit to making time…no, I recommit to setting aside time to read and write so that I can continue to be a model for my students – someone who reads and writes on the way to becoming a better person and a more effective teacher.


My students and I have already started on a routine of independent reading and read aloud. They are beginning to expect this routine and are starting to plan for what they’re going to read. As they get into the habit of reading and writing at home, I am excited about the possibilities of what our classroom will look like once we’ve got a full reading/writing workshop up and running.

So, here’s to beginnings. 
They offer us another chance to get it right.
To connect with others.
To make a difference for my students.
And, if I can make just one connection, then I’ll know it was all worth it in the end.