Writing – #SOL

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I missed writing a blog post last week.

I was exhausted – the story of this school year – and I let myself slip into that exhaustion until I had convinced myself I just didn’t have the energy to put pen to paper or, in this case, fingers to keyboard.

But yesterday while I was responding to some comments on my last post I realized how much I was missing reflecting and thinking about life.

So I decided not to skip this week.

This also reminded me how important it is to give students time to reflect about their feelings, their learning and life.

That’s why I make sure that I insert small, medium and large moments of reflection into our classroom routines. Sometimes these are related to a specific assignment and sometimes they have to do with a general sense of self.

Sometimes we write. Sometimes we share orally. And, sometimes we reflect silently.

Listening to and reading what my students have to say about their learning allows me to get a glimpse into their inner thoughts that I’d miss otherwise.

Reflection is an integral part of any learning process.

So, I write to learn something new about myself that had previously lain hidden below the surface.

I appreciate the opportunity this community gives me to air my dirty laundry, so to speak, and grow in the process.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge.

Today’s rant – #SOL

Source: Free Photo Library

I wish I could shout this from the rooftops:

Kids will learn to read (and write) if

they have a knowledgeable teacher

who reads (and writes) for pleasure;

is familiar with appropriate age and grade level books for their students;

knows their students well enough to bring books into the classroom that they will enjoy;

reads aloud to students every day;

sometimes writes with students and shares their writing with the class;

provides individualized instruction at the student’s point of need;

is willing to try anything to support and guide students to become lifelong readers;

encourages students to use multiple strategies for comprehending text;

uses a mix of one-on-one, small group and whole class instruction;

uses a variety of instructional strategies and structures to address curricular objectives and the needs of their current students based on careful and ongoing observation;

realizes that a one size fits all approach benefits no one;

encourages and supports self-selection of books by students for independent reading;

incorporates daily independent reading (and writing) time into the class schedule;

celebrates the books that their students read and encourages students to read widely by sharing books in many genres and styles;

understands that, ultimately, reading (and writing) are ways of thinking;

is willing to address incomplete understanding in their practice by delving into inquiries about tricky problems of teaching they have identified;

recognizes that reading and writing are reciprocal processes;

celebrates students’ approximations when reading and writing and recognizes them as evidence of learning;

has faith that students can and will become joyful, purposeful and strategic readers and writers when exposed to engaging books and processes for responding to what they are reading;

eschews commercial programs and rigid decontextualized approaches to teaching and learning;

accepts that teaching and learning are complex and intertwined processes and there are no easy fixes or replacements for a knowledgeable teacher;

builds relationships with their students and views diversity and difference as assets for learning;

interrogates their own racism in order to become an anti racist teacher;

and understands that there is no magic age by which a child should be reading (and I don’t equate reading with sounding out words without making sense of the words, but you know that already), but rather recognizes the power of reading to change and enrich lives.

Did I shout it loud enough? Impossible to achieve? Maybe not every day and for every child, but we can aspire to be this kind of teacher for all students each and every day.

Will you join me?

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge.

I am sweating bricks

I am sweating bricks. (I know the correct word here isn’t sweating, but it’s the closest to how I’m feeling and it’s the most appropriate word I can use in a public forum.)

I am sweating bricks.

Why all the fuss, you ask? Well, we have a new K – 3 curriculum in the works for Alberta schools this fall. It is the worst curriculum I’ve ever encountered in my professional career because not only is it developmentally inappropriate, it is also politically oriented rather than based on accepted and/or innovative pedagogies.

It is the opposite of child centered.

Some parts are directly copied from the discredited Core Knowledge Foundation.

It teaches more US than Canadian history and is apologetic of social inequities and racism.

Many racialized, Indigenous and LGBTQ+ children will not see themselves in it for a variety of reasons, including the sheer enormity of facts we are expected to teach with little time for anything outside the curriculum. Right now, we have some leeway in terms of including other things not in the written curriculum.

So, I am sweating bricks.

The draft curriculum was only piloted by 1% of schools in the province; most school boards refused to pilot for a variety of reasons. Only 5% of teachers support it. There is a vocal parent movement against it. Our provincial professional association is actively opposed to it. Content area experts here have publicly written about all the reasons the draft curriculum, in all subject areas, needs to be scrapped. The few teachers involved in the curriculum review (and, yes, we were overdue for a new curriculum) were served with a gag order as a condition of their involvement in the review process. As soon as it was lifted several of the participating teachers spoke out against the review and the curriculum.

Need I say more?

Maybe that I’m sweating bricks?

I am sweating bricks because I find it morally and ethically reprehensible that I am expected to teach a curriculum that is not only sub-par, but is also insulting and potentially damaging to teachers and children.

I keep hoping that the ministry will come to its senses and #DitchtheDraft, but that is not likely to happen.

As I write this post, the realization that I will have to teach this in September is increasing my anxiety.

So, I am sweating bricks.

But I won’t give up. I will figure out a way to protect my grade 3 students from this horrible curriculum come September.

Any and all ideas for how to do this are welcome, so I can stop sweating bricks.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Tuesday Challenge.

Tuesday #SOL Challenge – You Matter

Yesterday I attended a session about diversity, equity and inclusion sponsored by my provincial teachers’ association.

The presenter was well-prepared and shared interesting information.

He used story telling and statistic to develop his argument and line of thinking.

He emphasized that most interactions are about how validated or not we feel. He said that everyone wants to know the answers to the following three questions:

Do you hear me?

Do you see me?

Do I matter to you?

He exhorted us to remember these three questions when teaching our students.

Today I kept those questions in the back of my mind as I went through my day. I wasn’t hyper focused on them, but I felt that they influenced some of the decisions I made and how I interacted with others.

During our class meeting, a student shared a concern that the way people were behaving in the hallway made it hard for others to maneuver around coats, backpacks and outdoor shoes. She said she was considering talking to the principal. So, I suggested she write him a letter. She did and I delivered it.

Later in the day, she gave me a paper heart. This from a student that can sometimes appear to be be a wee bit irreverent. I interpreted her action to mean that she felt heard, seen and that she mattered to me.

If I can do something to make at least one student every day know that I see and hear them and that they matter, I will feel like I’ve made a difference for that student. That difference could determine a turning point for them.

Every time that I am too rushed or bothered to show a student that I see them or if I’m suspicious of a student’s intention or because my bias has blinded me, I have failed to champion them. To lift them up. To teach them, and the rest of the class, what it means to truly care for others.

I have a lot of work to do.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge.

Day 31 – SOL March Slice of Life Story Challenge – 31 Good Things

Thank you to those slicers who have shared their good things this month. I found your posts inspiring, so I am sharing my own list as a way to celebrate and end the March SOL Challenge.

1. Books – lots of them.

2. Spotting my husband in a crowd and feeling blessed.

3. Watching movies with my son.

4. Talking to my granddaughters on FaceTime to end the day.

5. Checking in with my daughters and feeling proud of the young women they are becoming.

6. The wonderful and loving families that my daughters married into. I couldn’t be happier for them.

7. The specter of the Rocky Mountains from my bedroom window on a winter day.

8. The beach on a sunny morning when the day still feels new and promising.

9. The friends I’ve made online before that became a “thing”. To those I later got to meet in person and to those I’ve never met, I am grateful to have expanded the circle of people I call friends.

10. Hot, strong coffee first thing in the morning.

11. A delicious meal shared with family and friends.

12. Traveling again.

13. My passion for teaching.

14. My students, both past and present.

15. Public libraries and bookstores.

16. Music that makes you want to sing at the top of your lungs even if you can’t carry a tune.

17. Quality health care.

18. Compassionate doctors and nurses.

19. The ongoing journey to reclaim my physical and mental well-being.

20. Osa, our lovable, smart and cuddly German Shepard mixed dog.

21. Finding words to communicate my ideas so they reach into the hearts and minds of readers.

22. Movies.

23. The joy of playing Clue with family.

24. Family vacations to near and far away places.

25. A clean house.

26. A home cooked meal.

27. Ice cream and carrot cake.

28. A hot shower.

29. A glass of Perrier or Pellegrino or just club soda to quench my thirst.

30. A month-long writing challenge.

31. Love.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers March Slice of Life Story Challenge.

Day 30 – SOL March Challenge – Today

I don’t know what to write about today.

And, that’s OK.

I do know what I will write about tomorrow, though.

That’s a win, right?

I am proud of myself for writing a blog post every day this month, so far. I consider that a major accomplishment.

On April 1st, I will be switching to writing poetry for the entire month.

I’m hoping I will stay focused every day in April in the way I’ve been able to do in March.

I like writing poetry and trying new forms. And, I plan to write with my students as well.

I have really enjoyed this month’s journey, so far. Tomorrow’s SOL will celebrate that and 30 other things, too.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers March Slice of Life Story Challenge.

Day 29 – SOL March Challenge – A day in the life of grade 3…

This morning we exited a live Coding Quest lesson 1/2 way through because our classroom iPads weren’t working well enough for us to follow along with the instructor. Everyone was frustrated so we took a quick break.

We had a class meeting to talk about our Wonder Jar and instead ended up talking about Emily’s (not the child’s real name) suggestion that we start the day with silent reading in English instead of Spanish. Although my instinct was to veto that idea, I listened to the reasons some students gave for wanting to make the change.

And, then, Jane (not her real name) said: “I disagree. We’re still starting the day with silent reading, but instead of English it’s in Spanish. It’s still relaxing and gets our brains ready for the day.” (Although I’m paraphrasing, that was the gist of her argument.) More students spoke up to echo Jane’s opinion adding that there were other snippets of time during the day to read in English.

But what happened next was unexpected. Emily said: “I want to change my mind.” When I asked what made her change her mind, she mentioned the arguments made by a couple of her classmates.

I asked the class if it was OK to change your mind? They said, yes, and I seized the moment to emphasize that Jane had changed her mind after hearing the points of view of other students. A big learning opportunity!

In the afternoon we voted for our next read aloud: Wonder or Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas. Although I secretly hoped my students would choose Addison Cooke because it’s about Peru and we study Peru in grade 3, I was willing to go with the majority decision. Before they cast their vote by raising their hand, someone suggested that everyone close their eyes when voting so they wouldn’t be influenced by their friends’ choice. They chose Addison Cooke.

Writing workshop brought more pleasant surprises.

I conferred with two students who were writing together, but who don’t usually pair up when given the option to choose a partner to work with. When I asked how their partnership happened, one of them said that he was thinking about whom in the class he hadn’t yet worked with and that’s why he asked the other student to write with him. They also informed me that they had agreed to be honest with each other if they didn’t like their partner’s suggestion. When I asked how they were going to do that without hurting the other person’s feelings, one of them said: “I would say – ‘That’s a good idea, but I’m not sure that fits with the story.” As I turned to write down some notes about our conversation, I noticed that they had their story planner in between them as they wrote.

Based on the suggestion made by a student a few weeks ago, we have been writing about what we learned on a given day. Recently, I noticed that some students were struggling to come up with something authentic. Because I want them to celebrate their day, I told them they could write about what they had learned and/or what they liked. Today’s reflections were refreshing and a joy to read. Having a choice between what they learned and what they liked seemed to be a deal breaker.

I am so excited to go back to school tomorrow to learn with my brilliant 8- and 9-year old students!

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers March Slice of Life Story Challenge.

Day 28 – SOL March Challenge – Collaborative Dialogue

Today was our first day back after Spring Break.

The kids were chatty at first, but quickly got down to the task at hand.

They had think time.

They talked.

They read.

They wrote.

We laughed.

And, I tried something new.

Instead of the usual flow of a back and forth litany of questions and answers without pausing to consider what is being said, I tried to linger with each child’s response just a little bit longer than usual.

I asked for elaboration by saying: ‘Say more’.

I asked who agrees with what James (not the child’s real name) said. And, then again, ‘Say more’.

When it seemed like most of the possibilities had been exhausted, I asked: ‘Who disagrees with what Joan (not the child’s real name) said?’

And, at one point, I said: ‘Can anyone repeat what Andrea (not the child’s real name) said’?

Finally, I asked: ‘Does anyone have anything to add or a have a different idea they want to share?’

The conversations today allowed the kids to pause and consider others’ viewpoints. It forced them, in a non coercive way, to listen to each other with purpose. It allowed me to hear my students’ emergent ideas and prevented me from making assumptions about their thinking.

Tomorrow I’ll continue experimenting with the intent of deepening collaborative dialogue in my classroom.

Stay tuned.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers March Slice of Life Story Challenge.

Day 27 – SOL March Challenge – Circles for Reconciliation

Today I participated in my first Circle for Reconciliation.

It was an emotional and inspirational 1 1/2 hours.

We introduced ourselves and shared why we were there. I chose to participate in a circle as part of my journey to being an anti racist teacher and person.

I was nervous before the circle started because I was worried I would say something silly or offensive and not realize it. I also tend to talk a lot and didn’t want to dominate the conversation.

It turned out that the moderators were gracious and thorough in their introduction to the 10-week commitment we had made, making all of us feel welcome.

It was a great way to end the week and get ready for a new one.

I am looking forward to next week’s circle.

Here’s the Circles for Reconciliation website for any Canadian slicers who might be interested in participating in a circle.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers March Slice of Life Story Challenge.