Change of Plans

A plan is a great thing, no? I’ve learned over the last year that a plan is often just a suggestion (COVID, am I right?). Just as soon as I think I know what I’m going to do next, something–or someone–comes along and messes it all up. Or at least changes it up. The thing you thought was your next right step becomes differently prioritized. So instead of writing about my favorite past posts, I will tell this story instead.

I met with a friend today, to catch up over coffee after not seeing each other for a couple of years. We talked about our kids and what we’re learning about being moms of teenagers and how there’s just no instructional manual for those things (or if you have one that I don’t know about, will you share it with me?!). We used to work together and so the conversation eventually came around to what we’re doing now and what’s up in the education world. She told me about some amazing things she’s been doing in her program that were recently in the newspaper and how much she’s loving what she’s doing (which I hope that I can someday soon link to right here in this blog!). I shared about what’s been going on with me over the past year, and brought up how frustrated I have become with the pace at how fast everything is changing around me. Of course, change is inevitable (there’s a quote about something about change being the only constant, right?), but it seems like change is my only constant these days.

Because I am the only part of the equation I can control, I have had to think through the things that I might be able to do to get me back to my version of normal. Or at least to try to head towards that place where I am fulfilled and inspired enough that maybe the changes around me bother me a little less.

One thing that has disappeared from my routine of the last few years in this blog. Starting Over is evidence of that, right? Beyond the fact that I haven’t blogged for a bit, I haven’t been writing in any form at all. For me, writing (whether it’s in my notebook for me online for you), it’s how I process my world. It’s not that I haven’t stopped to think or reflect on anything since 2019, but I can definitely see how NOT working out my thoughts and feelings in writing has changed how I move through the world. I am less aware, less thoughtful, less likely to look for a new or innovative way to problem solve. Somehow for me the absence of that ritual has meant missing out on slowing down, stopping to really notice what’s going on around me and think about my place in it.

Another thing that’s been missing for me are my connections on Twitter. If you’re new around here, then you might not have heard the story of how I use Twitter to improve my practice, make connections and share my thoughts with other educators. Because I haven’t been doing that, I have missed so much of what has been happening in the world and seeing what others are doing. This one is a little trickier than the blog, though, because if you’ve spent any time on Twitter you know it can be a pretty vile place, depending on which threads you wonder into or who you read and follow. While I know that there was much YUCK that surely lived on Twitter in 2020, I also have no doubt I missed out on some really smart insight from a fellow educator that would have benefited me as I worked through that last year.

So what am I to do with this? I am in a weird place as a teacher right now, wishing for some things of the past and trying to look positively at the future through “change-colored” glasses. The pandemic has laid bare some of the things I hold dear as an educator, one being connecting with others and also feeling like my ideas are being validated. I cannot control what happens to me, but I can certainly have some influence on what happens with and in me. I can decide that I am going to write more often (remember the schedule I planned?), I can make time for Twitter and also connect with people in my real life (thank God for vaccines!). I can share my worries and frustrations with those in-person friends and let them help me work through them. I can listen when my kind, smart, AMAZING friend, Kerry, tells me how it feels when she comes in my classroom: how it feels safe, comfortable and alive, and how I make learning fun but how it’s still rigorous and full of language. I can listen when she tells me of how she’s doing such innovative and exciting things with her high schoolers, and cheer her on as she changes lives and inspires the next generation. And most of all, I can remember that all that I do in my classroom day after day (and all the hours and hours I spend at night and on weekends) is for the 20somethingkids. And for them, I will always be willing to change my plans.

What’s in Your TBR Pile?

Many, many years ago I was a presenter for Project Construct.  I had a super responsibility of teaching Missouri teachers about how to incorporate Readers’, Writers’ and Math Workshop into their classroom routine.  It was during this time that I learned about “nightstand books” and TBR piles.  Oh, you know, that 12-inch stack of books that sit next to your bed so you have them ready to go when you have a few minutes to read before bed?

Well, often my pile sits elsewhere than my nightstand, but for sure it’s always there.  And sometimes it’s taller than 12-inches.  Like in the summer when it’s about as tall as my 5-YO (she’s 40 inches right now, by the way. 🙂 ).  My current TBR pile looks like this:

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Anyhow, after we had learned about recipes and how they help guide us with book choices, we talked about something else readers do–make plans.  I started our conversation by asking a simple question: Why do people make plans?  I didn’t specifically say readers at this point because I wanted them to think broader and try not to guess my specific plan for the day just yet. Kids turned and talked to their partners and came up with SUPER ideas.  They connected this to how builders use blueprints and how important those are to making the building look “right” in the end.  They mentioned how writers make plans so they know what their stories are supposed to be (can you tell what we’ve been doing in Writers’ Workshop lately?).  They talked about how plans keep your organized and help you know what to do.

After that great start, it was easy to then expand the idea to how readers make plans for what they will read next.  This allows them to move smoothly from one book to another, without wasting reading time wandering around the library.  It helps readers think critically about what they want to read and why (I explained to my kiddos why each of those books is in my pile), and to be more purposeful in their choices.  This becomes especially easy if you choose books that are in a series, or if you “trust an author” and read all the books that they’ve written. I can TOTALLY do this with Ralph Fletcher, Sharon Creech, Jerry Spinelli, Joan Bauer and Liane Moriarty.

Kiddos had a great time trying out this strategy, and then send me their lists when they were finished.  We’re going to use them now and I plan to hold kids accountable to try out the books they put on their list.  While they can change, these piles (which are saved as pictures/notes on their iPads) help them think ahead and more purposefully use their time both in the classroom and at home.  I’m excited to see how they continue to help us grow as readers through this year and even beyond!

 

Flip That Room!

There seems to be a theme in my 5th grade class….(I’m not sure if I should take it personally, or just be really impressed that my kiddos are so creative….).

Today was a day full of lots of things: learning, noise, fun, business, reading, noise, creating, collaborating, noise.  But luckily most of it was not just what I call “noise noise.”  Much of the noise we made today was “learning noise.”  Noise that indicates lots of thinking and creating and sharing is happening.  And yes, it was loud.  But sometimes that’s just how we roll.  Especially when there are 25 of us in the room all talking at once!

So back to the theme I mentioned….we had to stop at one point today and regroup a little bit.  Writer’s Workshop was a wee bit rocky, and so rather than fight against the trouble we were having, we stopped, gathered together and agreed to try that lesson again another day.

Instead, I had them help me with a problem. I told them that I need their help to figure out how I could help them best be learners during our last few days of 5th grade.  We have work left to do, and we want to try to have a little bit of fun, too.  They had some great thinking, which culminated in the idea that parts of our classroom (or how they were using it) were not really working for us.  We agreed that we could work together to fix that problem and create a space that we could do some amazing end-of-the-year work in for a few more weeks.

We started with every kiddo creating their own dream plan of what our classroom would look like.  Then kiddos met in their tribes, presenting their plan to the 4-5 kiddos in their group.  From their, the tribes created a new plan incorporating the best features from each individual plan.  Then we shared out as a class, and voted on the one we thought would work best for us.

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Here’s what is sounded like during that time.  Remember, it’s loud, but it’s not. just. noise.  They are busy solving problems!

Can’t wait to share the final product next week!  Seems like another theme this week is that I forget to take “after” pictures!  Stay tuned!

Everybody Loves Reading!

Or at least they will when I’m done with ’em! HA!

One of the most important goals of the beginning of 5th grade–or any grade–is to help kids get to the place where they love school.  Really love it.  This is the case with the beginning days of my Reader’s Workshop as well.  Unfortunately, I have students that come to me and can honestly say that they don’t read because they want to.  They read because they have to, or they don’t read at all.  Boo. 😦

So in addition to conversations about how our Reader’s Workshop will function (like we had as we filled in this chart the other day):

Kids worked in pairs first and then we discussed together our thoughts about what Reader's Workshop looks and sound like, and how that helps us as readers.

Kids worked in pairs first and then we discussed together our thoughts about what Reader’s Workshop looks and sound like, and how that helps us as readers.

we also have lessons that give kids chances to see themselves as readers, and to see what is possible for them–no matter where they are starting.

Today we started with a conversation about mindset (growth vs. fixed) and tied it to this quote:

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We talked about how every reader is on a journey, and those journeys look different for every person.  We talked about how having a growth mindset–believing that we are capable of achieving great things if we keep trying, changing and making mistakes–helps us on our journey.    Then I described one reader’s journey from short, picture books with few words to reading Harry Potter using this pile of books:

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While the scenario was hypothetical (I know…sometimes stories I tell at school are made up.  Don’t sue me. 🙂 ), it is very much like what real readers do, and I wanted my readers to see that there are steps that they can plan to help them get from where they are to where they want to be (which in this case was the desire to read a Harry Potter book–a very real goal for many readers!).

After I told the story of how this reader traveled through their journey and after I piled these books high in Brittany’s arms (who so kindly volunteered to play the role of the reader in my story), I had everyone think about whether they saw themselves somewhere in this pile of books.  Maybe they were already on a similar journey to this one.  Or maybe they were starting in a different place.  Regardless of the answer, their next step was to consider their own personal reading journey and write about it.
I want readers in my room to understand and appreciate that we need to think past the book we’re reading and onto the next book and the next book and so on (I’m working through Reading Ladders to help me help them with this right now).  Everywhere has somewhere they can go!  Here’s to a remarkable reading year in Rm. 202!