#FDOFG: …yet

I have written before about how important the word YET is in the lives of my students.  Well in my life, too, actually.  Even though it’s only the third week of school, I’ve already found many opportunities to help kids change their words from totally negative grumblings of “I can’t do that” to “I am not great at that….yet!”

And so like I’ve done with previous classes (this is one of those beginning-of-the-year activities I left pretty much the same because it works for almost everyone!), we talked about caterpillars and butterflies in relation to the idea of “yet.”  And then we got busy being creative!

After our butterflies were dry, we worked on adding a goal to them using this stem:


It was interesting to see what kinds of things kiddos wrote; some were related to things in school (like reading, writing or art) and some were about other things like bike riding, cooking, and some were applicable to all parts of life, like waiting or listening.  I’m excited to watch as these caterpillars develop into beautiful butterflies and  they see their “not yet” become NOW!!


Later these will hang in our classroom so we can be inspired by them each day, but for now they are on view in our hallway.  So great and SO PRETTY!!

**On a side note…the pictures from our work time were taken by Ms. Mimlitz (a FABULOUS teacher who works with us in 1st grade!), and may seem different than the ones I usually post.  I asked her to take care of documenting this activity because I was busy helping out as they worked and it was so interesting to see how someone else “sees” what kids do.  The process was so much more beautiful through her eyes; I realized my pictures never have kids faces, just them working.  I had chosen to do that purposefully in order to highlight the thinking, working, creating, PROCESS, etc., instead of interrupting kiddos to cheese at the camera….but as I see that the photos she took are so much more interesting to me, and I can see the JOY of the learners as they are working (I appreciate this as a teacher, but also with the parent hat on–I know I love to see the faces of my own kiddos smiling back at me on the screen!).  Now that I am reflecting on it, it makes me wonder how I’ve never connected the fact that the absence of students’ faces has meant that a HUGE part has been missing!  Seems so simple but such a big deal…I am there for those precious kiddos, and I WANT to see that they are both busy and enjoying themselves!  As I go forward, I will be looking both at what they are doing as well as HOW they are doing it.  Thanks, Ms. Mimlitz for helping to open my eyes to seeing my students and how I share our stories on our blog in a different way! 🙂

What do you see when you watch your kiddos working?  Did you notice the difference in pictures?  How important is it to involve students’ faces/expressions in the storytelling? How do you involve students in the documenting and recording?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Top 5 Reasons Why Twitter Makes Me a Better Teacher

I have been on Twitter for almost 5 years now (started in July 2011), and I can honestly say that it has been a great decision since day one.  Probably there are lots of people who haven’t evaluated their Twitter decision, but I wonder if the reason I did is because I use it solely for my professional life (where I am often evaluating the effectiveness of decisions I make).  Nope, no celebrities or sports figures on my “following” list; I follow other educators (of all levels, not just the one I teach), authors, librarians, principals, consultants, instructional coaches and other related to education.  I do also have a few family members (although they don’t really tweet), and also news organizations because even thought they are not teachers, they inform my teaching and keep me informed as a person.  I decided that meant they fit the criteria.

I went back to look at if I had already written this post (sometimes I have the same thoughts over and over LOL), and realized I haven’t really ever done that.  I did write about the fact that I use Twitter in a reflection I wrote for grad school a few years ago, and I wrote a post called Why I Blog, inspired by educator and author David Warlick (@dwarlick).  I realized I mentioned Twitter in that post, but only the fact that I’m on it–not why.

So I guess in some ways this post is five years in the making–hopefully that doesn’t mean it will be five-years long!  Here we go!

  • Personalized Professional Learning–in my pjs!:  Because I have been particular with who I follow, I am pretty certain that every time I log on to Twitter I will read a tweet that includes something I didn’t know.  Whether it’s someone who’s tweeting from a conference they’re attending, someone tweeting an article they’re reading (or have written!), a blogger publicizing their latest post, someone tweet a meanginful quote, a chat in which I’m participating about a specific topic or just a statement about the day, I feel smarter for having spent that time there reading.  Sometimes I am able to read the whole thing right then, but often I will retweet or save the tweet for later so I can find it when I have more time.  Either way, I am able to cater the learning I am doing to my needs, on my time, and like I mentioned before, to where I am (and what I’m wearing!).
  • Publicizing: While it’s certainly not the only thing, having someone to read the blog you’re writing is kind of an essential thing to keeping a blog going and having a conversation.  I use Twitter as a place to publicize my blogs, as well as the ones that my students write.   I use hashtags to add to the readership, and cater them to the topic of the post I wrote.  For my students’ writing there is always #comments4kids, and some typical hashtags I add are #2ndchat (2nd grade teachers), #1stchat (because I taught 1st grade last year and many things I write about could apply to that grade as well), #moedchat (MO educators), #ksdpd (my school district), #803learns (my school’s new hashtag), #tlap (Teaching Like a Pirate), #LearnLap (Learn Like a Pirate), #elemmathchat (elementary math educators) and #miched (Michigan educators–just met many of them in a chat last week!).  Often I add in ones specific to ELA (#rwworkshop, #tcrwp, #kidlitchat), science (#elemscichat) or social studies #elemsschat).  I could really go on forever with hashtags because they are kind of endless, but adding them can maximize the number of people who see my posts as they far outreach the number of followers I have.
  • Quick Sharing: Sometimes I do have time to write a blog (at least not at that moment), so I use my Twitter feed (@jenbearden) or our class Twitter feed (@jbeardensclass) to share what we’re doing through out the day.
  • Collaboration: One of the BEST things about Twitter (maybe I should have put these in order!) is that it has allowed me the opportunity to connect and collaborate with classes and teachers from all over the world–something I would not have been able to do otherwise.  I forged a relationship with a fabulous educator in Australia early on (Hi, Tam!) and even 5 years and a couple of grade-level changes later, we’re still working together because of our connection on Twitter. I have found many connections on Twitter that allow me to bounce ideas off of others (even if I don’t really know them I know that they’ll respond).  One of the best layers of collaboration that I’ve found lately is the ability to reach out to authors.  It really is mind-blowing to 2nd graders (ok, sometimes to me, too!) that the REAL author of the book they just read would take time to talk to them and answer their questions.  We’ve been able to connect with many fabulous writers this year and I LOVE LOVE LOVE that my kiddos are now the ones who suggest that we tweet at them our thoughts.  Some of our favorites are Ralph Fletcher (he might be our bestie by now; we LOVE his books and he has become a mentor to my students as he has been to me for years and years; Betty Birney (she came to our school so we reached out to her before she came and told her how excited we were); Mary Casanova (also visited our school and we shared our favorite parts of her books); Kate Klise (we had a super author visit with her and have since asked her some writing questions), Marla Frazee and Maribeth Boelts (used their books for a craft study last year and still tweet to them when we find new books by them this year), and Charles R. Smith, Jr. who wrote an important text we used in Social Studies recently.  Lastly, my kiddos have been able to connect with other classes from around the world simply via tweets on our class feed or even better with Mystery Skype–which are set up through teachers on Twitter.
  • Validation:  Sometimes you just need to hear someone else say you’re doing a good job, you know?  While I by no means do what I do for a pat on the back, or to toot my horn, but it does feel really nice when someone else agrees that what you’re doing is a good idea.  Having someone retweet your idea or respond to you and tell you they agree with your thought feels good.  Often it doesn’t even take anything on the other end, but just for me to see that someone is doing something similar based on their tweets or retweets.  This often happens during chats (which could fit into the collaboration section, too), as you can talk to other educators about a common topic, learning and growing together, as you share ideas.

I’m not even sure that this covers all the bases (I’m sure that as soon as I hit PUBLISH I’ll think of something else I’ll want to go back and add), and in some ways it’s hard to even put it into words how much I feel like Twitter is an important resource for me.   I’m hoping that this list at least gives some small idea of it’s great possibilities for helping both me and my students explore and connect with the world!

Why do you use Twitter?  What would you add to my list?  Leave a comment and tell us what you think!!  🙂




It’s the 100th Day–HOORAY!

In case you’ve missed our 100th Day journey, be sure to catch up on our previous conversations here.  And then stay tuned to read about what actually happened–spoiler alert: it was AMAZING!!

We began the day much like we normally do, with our regular routine of washing our hands and then working on the math apps we use every day: Front Row and Dreambox.  I got together some supplies, Tyrin took our pizza orders for lunch, and then we all got together to start our 100th Day of School.

We had narrowed down our choices to the ones that most closely matched our purpose for the day (reflecting upon or thinking about learning), but still we would not have been able to do all of those things in just the time we’re together on a normal school day, so I had to whittle it down even further.  Also, since we had come up with the SUPER list from our Little Red Riding Hood book as well, we actually had a new (and pretty big) job that we had added.

And since I can’t leave well enough alone, I gave them one more reminder about how this wasn’t truly our “100th” day, so we did a little bit of math: 176 + 176 + 100=452, meaning we were actually celebrating the 452nd day we had been in school!  WOW!  Too bad we couldn’t have had a whole list of activities related to that number!

First, I gave them a framework for book that we had decided to write together about our 100 days of 2nd grade and how much we had learned.  There were stems on each page that kiddos were supposed to fill in, and since we were doing it on our iPads, they could use pictures from their camera roll, drawings (that would then be added by taking a picture), typing or writing on the pages.  We use a Learning Management System called eBackpack to give and receive work, so they were to work on their pages (each kiddo was given 5) and then send them back to me.

Once they got started working, I began to call small groups over to start making muffins (based on our super smart ideas from Little Red Riding Hood: A Newfangled Prairie Tale by Lisa Campbell Ernst) to share with our 2nd grade friends.  There are conveniently (if you’re connecting to the number 100) 101 kiddos in our grade, so we had a lot of baking to do; we had figured out through some HARD work the day before that we needed to make 9 batches in order to have enough.  Wow.

Well, thankfully, my friend (who typically comes to help us during Math on Thursdays anyway) was free in the morning today, because looking back now there is NO WAY we could have made 100 muffins with 21 kiddos with just me.  Thanks, Mary Beth!  She took one table and I manned another one and we measured and poured, stirred and scooped and ultimately took all of our muffin tins to the Robinson kitchen to be baked.  Again, if not for Ms. Denise in the kitchen who took charge of the ovens, we wouldn’t have had any muffins.  She was a lifesaver today.

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Although I would have love to add pictures of the many trips we took to the kitchen and back, and share a picture of Ms. Denise, as well as how beautiful our muffins were while they were baking, I was carrying muffin tins and opening doors and having to be a teacher (hee hee), so you’ll just have to imagine that part.  I also wish there was smell-o-vision so I could share how wonderful our muffins smelled while they were baking (believe me, I was told my multiple people that they could smell them all over the school!), but alas, not this time.  Just imagine the most amazing aroma ever and that’s what it was like. 🙂  Ultimately we only ended up making 8 dozen (not sure what happened there), so we had to do some quick math about our shortage (which was a great lesson in scarcity!) and figure out how we could best share with our friends as well as have some muffins for ourselves.

After we figured out how many muffins we had:


we made some plans for how we’d get them to our friends.  We agreed (ok, well they did after I convinced them) that it was the right thing to do to give muffins to the other 2nd graders before we served ourselves and so we go together in groups and created little pitches to share with them about what we did and how we wanted to give so to them.

We had a little bit of time after both muffins and our book (but more about that in another post–we have some revising and editing to do there before we’re ready to share), so kiddos had a choice of a board game, reading, or writing.  I always love to see what they do when they are in charge:

Because our day was filled with two other special events (roller skating in PE and a farewell assembly for a beloved custodian), we only had time for one more thing, and we decided it should be puzzles.  After that conversation the other day and the question from Ja’Mia, we knew it would be fun, hard work and would definitely allow us to use all of the grit, patience and teamwork we’ve been building lately.  Look at what we were able to do!

For all the thought (perhaps OVER-thought) that I put into this day, I am pleased with what happened.  It was all that we wanted it to be (which was to focus on learning and growing) and we had fun along the way.  I think that they things we chose to participate in match up with what we are about everyday (engagement, choice, thinking, teamwork).  I enjoyed the day, and I’m pretty sure they did, too.  The last thing I heard before we left for the day was “This was the best 100th Day EVER!”  I agree, friend, I agree! 🙂



Everybody Now

It’s been happening in little bursts this year:

And EVERYBODY has a notebook!  It’s been a long time coming, and every writer in our class has done an amazing job of working hard to prove they are ready.  I am super excited at how excited they are about learning to be better writers by WRITING EVERY DAY!!  If you know a friend from Rm. 202, please tell them how proud you are of their hard work and grit!!

Library Redo

Remember last year when we worked on organizing our classroom library?  You might not, because I couldn’t find it on the blog….:(  Maybe the post I thought I wrote got lost in the “it-has-to-be-finished-and-perfect” list I told you about yesterday.  Well, since my pledge is to tell all the stories, not just the finished ones, I’ll share the parts of this story that we have finished (and that I have pictures of!).

We left at the end of 1st grade with a (mostly) organized library, which we had worked on together little-by-little last year.  We packed it away in that same way, which always helps when I put the classroom back together the next fall.  We figured out, though, that we had never gotten the boxes fully labeled, and so as we started using the books again this year, they got all mixed up.  We decided we should probably just start over; I was the only one who knew what most of the categories were supposed to be.

We started by pairing up, and first going through the boxes we already had established.  I gave each pair a box, and their job was 1) to figure out what their books had in common, 2) decide if they had any that didn’t match that category, 3) and then make a label that matched their newly decided-upon category.  All of the extras got piled up in the middle of the room for later.

The second year together has been a great learning process in many ways.  Of course, for many reasons, we’re doing many things differently, but there are also some things that are the same that they are doing differently.  This is a perfect example.  The understanding they have of genre and the difference between fiction/non-fiction, as well as the ability to see similarities and differences is deeper than when they did the library sort as first graders, so the same activity is even more meaningful than the first time.  Even the way they “get” why we did it, why we did it together (as opposed to just having ME take care of it), and why we should keep it organized is different than last year.


Don’t Steal the Struggle

I’m not even sure who said it,  but I know I first heard talk of it this summer when I was working with other teachers in my district.

First a little background: In light of the new Common Core State Standards, which are changing the expectations for teachers and students, our school district is reweaving our curriculum to match up with CCSS.  The best part of this whole deal is that teachers are at the heart of the work.  We spent four really intense days this summer learning and writing together, and then all this year a smaller group of us will continue that really great thinking to complete the documents for English/Language Arts (ELA) and Math.

Ok, so during our work this summer, a phrase was floating around that said: “Don’t steal the struggle.”  From the second I heard it, I knew it was something I’d be on board with. It’s actually something I’ve always felt really strongly about as an educator, but now I had better words for how to describe it–both for myself and to my families.

Then I had a situation within my own life happen last week that really highlighted the importance of this phrase for me.  And I’ll warn you ahead of time, that it’s an example I share as the “what not to do in this situation.”  I’m taking a class right now, and had an assignment due on Wednesday for the discussion forum for class.  I, unfortunately, had waited until late to do it, and so was in a little bit of a time crunch.  Last week was nuts at school with lots of meetings and conferences on Thursday night, so I had a lot on my mind (i.e. I was a little stressed out already!).

I sat for close to an hour drafting my answer to the discussion question (which was related to whether or not there is a paradigm shift in education from information acquisition to knowledge creation in American education), and was ready to post it.  And then–yes, you guessed it–when I hit POST, I got a weird ACCESS DENIED error message and everything I had worked on was gone.  Gone.  And no, I had not saved along the way.

So obviously there are probably other lessons to learn here besides the one I’m going to tell you, but this next part was the one I shared with my class related to struggles.   Unfortunately, my first reaction after that little bump in the road was to cry.  It’s kind of how I roll.  When I am dealing with something stressful, first I cry, then I write (usually in my own Writer’s Notebook, so I can figure out my feelings) and then I can figure out a way to deal with said frustration.  So here I cried.  Then I wrote–which was some rambling email to my teacher about what had happened and how I hoped she’d show a little grace when she graded my discussion post this week–and then I was able to think about what I should do next.  Pretty much I had two choices:  1) I could just quit, and not turn in a discussion answer this week (which would have several negative consequences) or 2) I could start over.  Well, needless to say, I chose option #2, and reluctantly started over with my answer.  Luckily, I remembered more of it than I first thought I would, and honestly I think the second version was actually a little better.

Ok, so what’s the connection to my classroom?  Well, go back to the “don’t steal the struggle” phrase from earlier.  The big idea there is that as an educator, I want to focus on not “rescuing” my students when things are hard.  Whether it’s in learning or something social or any other kind of problem they might have, it’s not in my students’ best interest if I swoop in and save the day every time they struggle.  I only teach them that things should always be easy, and that only an adult can solve problems for them.  That struggle is bad and that I’ll make it all better and fix it for them.

But of course that’s not true.  Some struggle is a good thing.  It’s during those feelings of disequilibrium, “pain” so to speak, when students are forced to figure things out for themselves.  To solve problems and use what they know to figure out what to do next.  And my students would tell you that they know that’s a really important thing to know how to do.  We had a discussion about this the other day and they had smart words about the topic.  They agreed that they wanted a chance to figure things out on their own first, knowing that I would support them as needed, but that I wanted them to try something first.  They knew that this was important because I’m not always going to be there.  Some day they’ll grow up will have to be able to know how to do that alone.  And several even mentioned the pride that comes with figuring out an answer for themselves.

My story was a picture of both what I hoped they didn’t do (just cry), but also what I hoped they would learn to do in a hard situation–figure out what to do to solve the problem.  Not quit.  Persevere.

So my new motto is Don’t Steal the Struggle.  It’s going to hang in my room for all to see, and to hold me accountable.  My kids understand it, and I think it’s vastly important as I help grow these learners into confident, capable citizens of tomorrow.  And like I tell them everyday, hard is good.  Hard is when we learn.