Category Archives: #DigiLitSunday

Advocacy

Some late night ramblings about advocating for our students. Thanks to @margaretsmn for provoking us on #DigiLitSunday.

Advocacy – 
to speak out for those who may not be able to do so for themselves
because they’re afraid,
they don’t know how or
they can’t.

To be the voice of our students.

To speak out means to
risk being labeled a troublemaker,
not a team player,
insubordinate
just because we advocate for students.

There’s something wrong with that.

There’s something wrong when 
decisions are made for the benefit 
of adults in a school.
When we take the easy way out
because…well…it’s the easy way out.
No confrontation.
No risk involved.
Staying in the safe zone.

Comfort level.

But, our students deserve more than that.
To have their backs.
To be their advocate.
Because if not us,
then who?

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Filed under #DigiLitSunday, advocacy

Earth Day

Earth Day is designated    

as the one day during the year to focus 
on the environment.
A day to honor 
Mother Earth.
A day to renew our commitment 
to the environment
by changing
habits and activities
detrimental to a healthy Earth.

The first Earth Day took place 
more than 40 years ago.
A lifetime for some,
but a second of time 
in the history of the Earth.

It’s ironic, 
given the short sojourn 
of humans on Earth,
that we have done so much 
to make the Earth vulnerable  
in order to make our lives easier.
We never considered 
what we might lose 
in the process.
Until it was too late.

Earth Day was born as a reminder
that we are on this beautiful planet
for only a short while.
So, we must be stewards of our home.
We must take care of it.
It’s really as simple as that. 
Every day
and not just on April 22nd
of any given year.

Not only have humans 
accelerated climate change
caused changes in the ozone layer
accelerated pollution of all forms
negatively impacting animal and human life,
but we have lost a critical connection
to the place we call home – 
Earth
The Pacha Mama.
And, we have lost a vital connection 
with each other.
And,
now,
we try to reconnect
with nature
with ourselves
with the Pacha Mama
by making changes to plant
a seed, 
literally and figuratively,
to make Earth healthy again.

Happy Earth Day.

  

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Filed under #DigiLitSunday, Earth Day

Why are We Doing This?

I love the topic that @MargaretGSimon from Reflections on the Teche has teased us with for today’s #DigiLitSunday blog post.
Why are we doing this?
Why are we doing this, indeed! 
Sometimes asking this question can be risky. 
It didn’t used to be that way. 
At least I don’t remember it being this bad. 
When I was a new teacher, “why are we doing this?”, was expected and taken seriously. 
It demonstrated that the teacher was thinking about her or his practice and the needs of students. 
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that everything back then was peachy keen! 
Not by a long shot! There were schools where this question wasn’t encouraged at all. 
However, at the time, smart administrators recognized that asking this question, and similar questions, was likely to lead to great conversations. In the current educational climate, it seems that asking, “Why are we doing this?”, immediately shuts down any further discussions and the asker is seen as a troublemaker and not a collaborator. 
Wow! 
But, I think we owe it to our students to continue to ask, “why are we doing this?” 
Why are we spending so much time on external tests that don’t give us information that matters? 
And, more to the point, why are we testing kids three times a year, more in some cases, on computers that sometimes don’t work?  
Why aren’t teachers’ assessments of their students considered valid enough? 
Why aren’t we using our time to read, write, participate in Mystery Skypes, or anything else that lets kids explore learning?
Why aren’t student projects, conversations and teachers anecdotal records and observations considered valid assessments? 
Why are we doing this?
Why are we using external test data to decide whether or not a student needs an intervention
Just the phrase, “an intervention”, gives me the chills, and not in a good way. 
Conventional wisdom says, “let’s do a 6-week intervention to fix this student. Then, we can show “growth” on the next external test results.” 
Hmmm. 
Why are we doing this?
And, more to the point, why don’t we stop?

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My Burning Question(s)

Slicing every day in March!!
#DigiLitSunday

+Margaret Simon has challenged #DigiLitSunday bloggers to think about this: what is your burning question?

My first response? I don’t have just one burning question. I have many burning questions. There is so much that I still don’t know even though I’ve been teaching for many years. You’d think that I would have things pretty clear by now – structures, routines, and lessons established in my head and replicated from year to year. But, of course, the fact that every year we have a new group of students entrusted to our care means that, while some things can stay the same, many things cannot. We have to reinvent our classrooms from year to year to meet the strengths and needs of our students.  

When I reflect on this prompt, I invariably start with the should know’s and don’t know’s before coming up with burning questions. Although I’m sure that’s not where this question was hoping to take us, I feel compelled to get those out of the way first. So, here it goes…

I should know how to structure writing and reading workshop so that I don’t have to think about this anew at the beginning of the school year. (Burning question: how can I use my writer’s notebook to help students better use theirs?)

I should know how to set up stations in math so that they run smoothly all the time. (Burning question: what purpose do math stations serve and how can I keep them running smoothly from week to week without too much maintenance on my part? Well, maybe that was two questions.)

I should know how to stay focused on what’s important for students’ learning without getting sidetracked by the latest mandates. (Burning question: how can I put mandates into perspective so that I don’t lose focus about what my students truly need to grow as learners, thinkers and innovators?

I should know what I know and don’t know. (Burning question: how can I narrow down my professional learning focus to one area at a time and do that well before moving on to something else?)

But, I don’t think it’s about a universal idea of knowing and not knowing. The prompt that +Margaret Simon has teased me with is about the questions, that emerge from listening and getting to know a new group of students throughout the year. These questions, although similar from year to year, reflect the students that are in my class right now. 

So, another burning question that has emerged from this rumination is:  how can I guide this group of students to engage with learning this year? 

  • How can I tap into the interests of this group of students through the topics I am required to teach during the year? 
  • How can I start with the interests, expertise and concerns of this group of students first and stick to those despite the multiple demands on my time and energy?
  • How can I convince this group of students that math is another lens from which to view, explore and understand the world, in much the same way that reading and writing allows us to do this? 
  • How can I figure out ways to effectively weave the interests, expertise and concerns of this group of students through what we’re learning…without getting derailed by demands, mandates and outside issues?
  • How do I keep my focus on the students that are with me right now?

I do know why all of this is important. I even know how to do this successfully (I’ve had many experiences to fall back on), yet I get sidetracked by external distractions that, in the large scheme of things, don’t matter for my particular group of students in any given year. 

I do know what works and when I’m not sure, I can engage in research about what to do to help students (and me!) learn better. 


Wow! That prompt took me down a long-winded path to arrive at a response that feels right for this moment. There is always more. 

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Filed under #DigiLitSunday, #SOL17 Day #26

Vocabulary Instruction

Vocabulary, like anything else, is best learned by reading a lot. It’s a simple truth that the more we read, the more words we encounter, and the more words we will learn as they appear in different contexts. 

Yet, sometimes this doesn’t seem to be enough. We sense that we need to do more for a student who is struggling. Or, maybe we feel internal or external pressure to demonstrate that we are doing more, even if that more does not really help. 

In my school, this conversation surfaces when we have students in the middle grades, or later, who have not had a rich experiences with books or who are learning English as another language. This is compounded if these students do not have a strong literacy background in their native language. They may have few strategies for figuring out new words. They may get stuck on a word they don’t know or can’t pronounce. They don’t understand that reading on is a viable strategy because it places due emphasis on constructing meaning.

This issue takes on a new urgency as we increase our reliance on metrics. More and more, we are using scores on standardized tests to determine next steps for students who may not be “typically developing” with their peers. We are going back to a time where we gave undue attention to deficits rather than strengths and growth. 


Nevertheless, ignoring the importance of vocabulary development is not the solution. I don’t have quick fixes, but I have a few ideas that while not new, may be under utilized in the classroom. 

  • Teach students about cognates, when appropriate.
  • Help students identify prefixes and suffixes. Discuss how they change the meaning of a familiar word. 
  • Help students to recognize root words. 
  • Anticipate when unfamiliar and important vocabulary may prevent students from learning, and help students use familiar parts of complex words to learn new words. 
  • Use the new vocabulary in the classroom and encourage students to do so as well.
  • Encourage students to use precise vocabulary in their speech and writing.
This is just a start, of course, but making our vocabulary instruction intentional will go a long way.

What are your thoughts about effective vocabulary instruction?

Thanks to Reflections on the Teche for this space to share our posts on weekly topics of interest.



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Purpose

#DigiLitSunday

purpose

This is a word that demands attention. 
Commitment. 
Focus. 
Seriousness. 
purpose 
We all seek purpose in our lives. 
Without purpose we are lost.
Stranded.
Without purpose we have no direction. 
That’s why we look for something or someone to give us the praise – validation – 
that we sometimes desperately seek. 
The validation that will reassure us our lives have purpose. 
But, external validation is not what we need.
As a mom, my purpose is to support my children as they carve out unique paths in the world. Although I cautiously dole out advice, it is just that. Advice. What my children do with it, and everything else they encounter, is what makes their life their own. 
As a young mom, I was drawn to Khalil Gibran’s poem about how parents are simply conduits for their children to this life. As they grow older, we need to let them go. 
They need to make their own way in life. They need to define their own purpose. 
In my relationship with my spouse, we have a shared purpose: to make sure our relationship grows and remains healthy. This is for the long haul. 
As a teacher, my purpose is to love, encourage and support my students to grow their best selves. This is a lofty purpose. Not something to take lightly. To dismiss or delay it until next week. It’s a responsibility that I take it seriously. 
purpose
It’s what gives meaning to our lives – both personal and professional. 
purpose
Figuring this out, given the recent elections in the US, is what will get us through the next four years. At least, for me. Each one of us must determine what role we will play to fight bigotry in all its forms.
There is no better purpose than to help influence the future as teachers, as activists, as parents. 
Purpose. Purposefully. With intention. Not potential intention, but action. 

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Filed under #DigiLitSunday, Reflections on the Teche