Twitter is often a source of inspiration for me. I certainly feel inspired tonight after reading this Twitter thread about Mrs. Landingham. I'm grateful to the colleague/friend who retweeted it!
I am a huge fan of The West Wing.so this thread had an even greater impact on me. Did you read the thread? Take some time and read it.
Not on Twitter? Oh for heaven's sake! Join and read this thread! NOW!
See, aren't you glad you read it? Because, like me, you now know that if you're willing to work hard, ANYTHING is possible. I have some life goals that I can't get to because I am in the throws of raising two children. I wouldn't have it any other way This tread was a nice reminder that that there is still time for me to chase my goals and achieve my dreams. Just in case you need more convincing, there was also this Twitter gem too!
A new statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics promotes the power of children's play.
Read the study here: The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children
I am not surprised by this statement. Not even one little bit.
The newest educational acronym being tossed around is SEL. SEL stands for Social/Emotional Learning. The acronym is out there in force because we have a problem. Our students are not coming to school demonstrating the same social competencies that we've come to expect in elementary school children. In addition, they're lacking many of the emerging 21st century skills, like age-appropriate problem solving skills, that we used to see in our students just a decade earlier. The article, though lengthy, is a fantastic read. I am going to focus in on just two points made by the authors that i agree with whole-heartedly.
Play really does enhance the development of children. I'm sure that physical education teachers can speak to the physical benefits of play and athletic coaches would likely endorse play because of the physical benefits. As a teacher, I see tremendous benefits too. Many were outlined in the statement. Play helps children to grow more creative. They are more effective problem-solvers, communicators, and decision-makers as a result of play.
The article was explicit in defining play. The benefits were extensive. However, the barriers are real too. Two such barriers are prevalent in the communities where I live and teach.
Technology: Technology in all of its forms has gone a far way in making our lives more productive, entertaining, efficient, and fun. However, I believe that technology is having a very negative impact on our children's social/emotional learning. Back in my day (I was born in 1972) we played outside from morning till the street lights came on. We were allowed home for meals but that was it. We played outside in the neighborhood with our friends. We were engaged in constant social/emotional learning as we communicated, problem solved, creatively made up games and activities, etc. We knew when we had made a social misstep because our friends became mad or upset. We could see the consequences of our actions. With the proliferation of technology integration, students are often happy to sit at home interacting with friends over devices. There are many reasons why this is a bad idea with the least of which being the lack of physical exercise many kids are getting. Most concerning is that children are not seeing the impact of their words and actions on others. I don't believe that children are setting out to be intentionally rude online. They just never see the reaction to their words or actions. Having opportunities to practice social skills is important in the development of those skills. Given limited meaningful practice, it is no wonder we are seeing a sharp drop in skills. Our students are not learning empathy through online gaming or social media platforms.
Playdates and playing sports. Structured play is not the same as free play designed by children. Today's children are scheduled to death. Many play multiple sports per season. Parents have the best of intentions, really. They are trying to endorse an active lifestyle by signing their children up for all kinds of sports. Busy parents who feel bad because they're unable to spend a lot of time with their children, try to make up for time lost by offering them enriching activities. Parents invite other children over to play and plan out every detail, ensuring that the event is "quality". Today's parents are scheduling or structuring their child's every waking moment. The child is not developing the executive function skills necessary to thrive. They are not developing as creative solution seekers. They are not developing essential social competencies because there is always an adult present to make sure everything runs smoothly. Today's child doesn't learn how to work to ensure that things go smoothly for themselves.
As is typically the case when I notice a problem, i don't have an answer on the ready. I just know that play is really important. I'll think deeply this year about how I can structure less and give students authentic opportunities for social/emotional learning. I'll let them struggle through the tricky parts on their own. I'll coach them when they need it and cheer them on when they falter and when they succeed. Honestly, I think this business of social/emotional learning needs to be on everyone's radar including both parents and educators. If our kids are learning the social/emotional piece, I feel that all other deep learning is in jeopardy.
A friend and her family visited me on the Cape today. It was a gray and sort of miserable weather day. We made the best of it. At one point during the day, and for a short time, we sat out by the chess board and enjoyed the perennial garden around us.
We talked about writing. We talked about how writing can have a cleansing effect. Sometimes, putting our experiences down in print allows us to be free from them. However, sitting down to write can be a daunting task. This blog has sometimes been daunting but I'm surprised at how far I've come. Writing one post after another has been possible because I've set some good ground rules for myself: I'll share them.
A parent sent me an email today. She wasn't sure if she ordered her child's school supplies from the school or if she'll need to go out and gather them. She knows she has ordered them from the school in the past, she just can't remember if she ordered them this year.
I am right there with her! I actually can't remember anything! Funny thing is, before having my own kids I would have been all judgie. I remember parents sending in occasional notes explaining why homework wasn't done. Regardless of the reason, I'd wonder about their commitment to their child's education. Terrible. I realize this now. Now, I have two children of my own and I work full time. I have two children and one has ADD. The other is a 14 year-old girl who even though she is "100% delightful and awesome in every way" can be a moody little nightmare who is sweet, one moment, and nominating me for Worst Mother of the Year, the next. The dog is perfect, except for when he is ticked off that we're spending time with friends and decides to pee on my bed and go all Kujo, tearing up my clothes, or worse yet, my guests' clothes! My husband is amazing. He does grocery shopping and laundry and helps around the house. But sometimes, he has a lot of crap going on at work or is traveling. Inevitably, his busy weeks line up with my busy weeks and the kids end up having a zillion things going on and life gets a little ugly for a bit. We survive.
Wouldn't the survival be just a touch easier if we didn't feel like we were being judged? I'm too judgmental. While I can't control people who may judge me, I can work to be less judgie.
This can be hard. Sometimes I add a nice blog post to my classroom website. In it I document evidence of the impressive learning going on and I include cute pictures. I email parents to tell them that the blog has been updated. Then...nada...nothing. I don't expect a letter outlining all the ways that the parents think I'm extraordinary. I don't. However, a thirty second, "thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading about what is going on in my child's classroom" would make a huge difference for me. I'd feel appreciated. I'd feel like my hard work was worth it. Wait! Stop!
That is not why I share out in my classroom blog. It is not to get feedback. It is not so that parents will acknowledge my hard work. I share so that parents know what is going on in the classroom. When I don't hear back from them, well, I know I've shared the information. Mission accomplished.
I have no idea what kind of week the parents are having when I send out that email. Reading my blog could be #37 on a list of 50 important things that they've got to do to support their child that week.
I'm going to keep doing my best. I'm going to try to stay focused on my goals and intentions. I'm going to take time to be actively empathetic. I will try to judge less and support more.
We are all in it together and this business of raising and educating children is no easy task.
I may be seriously crazy but I think I'm all in. #classroombookaday which was started by Jillian Heise (@heisereads) is a project where any classroom teacher, PreK through 12, commits to reading one picture book a day to his/her students. One book. Every day. 180 books.
The challenge is in finding 180 books that I'll love. They're out there in great numbers. I'm not worried about that. I will just have to develop a system for reviewing and selecting. There are tons of resources on Twitter and Facebook too. I know that I'll love some choices better than others but I know we'll share some amazing literature as a result of this project. I know my students will NEVER forget the year they read 180 picture books.
What I won't have to do is plan in depth lessons around the books. It is not about that. It is about taking ten to fifteen minutes a day to read a book, together, for the pure pleasure of enjoying a book. This kind of shared experience will be just one more way that we'll build community. The byproducts are too many to list but I will share Jillian Heise's infographic outlining some of the benefits.
I know I'll select some books with specific goals in mind, but from everything I've read so far, the above benefits just sort of happen out of the shared reading experience. When I used The Daily Cafe with great fidelity, I often read a picture book a day. I agree. Students learn to naturally identify theme, make connections, see and describe the development of characters, etc. Even as I write, I think it sounds a little like lazy teaching. It is not. It is just REAL. I can choose to guide the conversation. I can pose any question I wish. From my experience, I can honestly say, KIDS ask all the right questions.
Anyway, I am pretty excited to have made this commitment. I think I've decided where to build my display. I'm eager to get back into the classroom with my yard stick to see if the place I've planned out will actually work. I know that my students will love seeing the display grow in the same way that I've loved seeing the number of blog posts I've written climb. Look at this amazing photo from Kristina Hanson (@hansonhallway)! I'll share a snapshot from my room once I'm up and running.
A dozen days left and then I meet these kids. The excitement if growing.
I just finished a three-day project-based learning (PBL) workshop with the Buck Institute's Joann Bentegroh (@joannbentegroh). I have, since the very early years of my teaching, been fairly project-based and I was eager to learn more. I was especially interested in receiving training from the Buck Institute who is widely acknowledged as an organization who leads educators toward the gold standard in project-based learning. I was not especially interested in giving up the real last week of summer on the Cape (I always return the week before school starts for classroom set up, etc.) for this training. Just being honest. In hindsight, it was 100% worth it. How often can we actually say that...about anything?
I think there are three major reasons why it was worth it.
I threw away two gigantic trash bins filled with books tonight while working in my classroom. I feel terrible. I feel wasteful. I feel guilty. I feel free. And, I'm not done.
I've been reading, From Striving to Thriving this summer. The authors talk about updating the classroom library so that it is fresh and inviting and meets the needs of the striving and already thriving readers in our classrooms.
I had such a hard time following this advice. The authors give more guidance around discarding books through online resources made available to readers of their book. Are the pages yellow? Is the cover damaged? Are pages falling out? Are they stinky? Many books didn't make the cut. It was hard to just chuck books. Some of these old and smelly books held pretty fond memories. I found myself thumbing through them before they hit the bin. I'll add another piece of criteria. If you've been married for more than 15 years and the book has your maiden name in it, it should probably go. Here's another: if you wrote your name in it, in all capital letters, when you were six, it needs to go!
I get why these books shouldn't be donated to needy kids. They deserve better. My students have left these pitched books untouched for a few years (maybe more). I have zero reason to believe that any other child would want to pick up these books to read them. I feel bad not passing them on to newbie teachers just starting out. Guess what. Their students are not going to pick them up either. Kids are picky. They know what they like and they haven't liked these books for a long time now.
While vintage may be all the rage these days...not so much when it comes to fourth-grade classroom library books. But can you stand how cute this oldie but goodie is?
So, this book, along with all the stinky yellowed ones, hit the bin. I'll be cashing in some gift cards and breathing some fresh life into my library.
I'll be printing new, bright, and exciting labels for my book bins that will help the library to stay organized and will invite my students to try new authors and genres. I'm pretty fired up to share this new and improved library with my students. But first, there will be dish washing...and lots of it. Can't put shiny new labels on dusty, stinky, book bins. Truly. NOT fired up for this part. It will be worth it. Right?
I spent the day today in a project based learning workshop offered by the Buck Institute for Education. Being home for a few days, there are so many things I want to accomplish. I thought I'd have a hard time focusing. Surprisingly, but not without great effort, I was able to stay present. I was almost always focused on the conversation in the room.
The presenter did a very good job of leading us through the process of designing a project that will enable students to gain mastery of content and skills in a way that will make learning meaningful and long lasting.
There were a few teachers present from the fourth grade as well as a special educator. We decided to focus on our Social Studies standards as they are brand new. Our initial thought was to design a project that would enable our students to meet the standards connected to the study of the United States regions. There are 39 comprehensive standards included in the Social Studies curriculum framework. Standards 16 through 39 focus on the five regions of the U.S. We became quickly overwhelmed with designing a project that would effectively address so many standards. Instead, we focused in on the standards having to do with natural disasters in the U.S. regions. There are fourth-grade science standard that are also focused on natural disasters including standards that address weathering and erosion. While our project will be rich in the standards, will engage our fourth-graders, and will provide for some DEEP learning I am concerned because I don't see how we can "cover" the rest of the regions standards given the time we have to teach.
Actually, meeting the standards in any of our disciplines seems like a very daunting task. We have all heard that the Common Core state standards call us to go deeper with our students, focusing on fewer standards, I seriously doubt any of the authors have spent serious amounts of time as a fourth-grade general education teacher responsible for meeting ALL these standards in 180 days.
I'm going to go ahead and attach the fourth-grade social studies standards here. Check them out. What are your thoughts on the matter? Is it doable? Keep in mind, our students are nine and ten years old! Then, if you're still feeling brave, click to open the science, mathematics, and English Language Arts standards too. I am trying not to become too overwhelmed. Really. I am.
MA History and Social Studies Curriculum Framework - fourth-grade only
MA Science/Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework - fourth-grade only
MA English Language Arts Curriculum Framework - fourth-grade only
MA Mathematics Curriculum Framework - fourth-grade only
Given the mere number of standards and the depth of each standard, how is it possible to go deep with our students? Even a traditional teacher, who delivers instruction using whole-class methods,, committed to "covering" the standards, would be hard pressed to get the job done.
Project based learning, where interdisciplinary projects can address multiple content areas and standards at once, is our best bet in going deep and addressing many standards. I do not see how all standards can be met. I can't help but wonder if there are authors of these standards or teachers out there who think it is possible. If so, please challenge my thinking. I want to believe it is possible too! (But only if it means powerful, memorable, deep learning for my students.)
I seldom have the courage to stand alone. I recently read an opinion in the New York Times. I uncovered the article after one of my colleagues tweeted it out with a glowing endorsement. I read the article and I immediately disagreed with this colleague (we often have a different take on education issues) and especially, with the article's author.
What did I do? I wrote a blog post on the matter. (see post Opinion, Day 45) What didn't I do? I didn't comment on my colleagues post or even comment on this article in a tweet of my own. Time for a daily dose of metacognition. Why was my response to blog but not to tweet? What is going on in my head?
Here are some possible reasons:
I did not have the courage to stand alone in my conviction though. I know that you cannot be an effective educational leader without this willingness to stick out your neck and take a stand regardless of who is standing behind you, if anyone.
I am opinionated. I know that others value my opinions. I'd really like to find the courage to share my opinions in a professional way and not get so bogged down by the potential consequences of my share. This is just one example of a time when I did not have the courage to stand alone. I know I can figure out a way to be the dissenting opinion, be heard, be respected, and move on. Perhaps this is one area where some real practice will do me some good!
My husband is taking the kids biking in P-Town tomorrow. They're teenagers. They don't need constant supervision or entertainment. I can get things done when they're around unlike when they were three and four and they used to follow me around the house making a mess as I cleaned. However, I sometimes feel a little guilty about neglecting them to do school work. It is summer after all and goodness knows they show lots of patience during the school year when they often have to take a back seat to my school work. Tomorrow, I can work guilt-free knowing that they're having a good day.
While there are so many things on my to do list that I can't accomplish from the Cape, here is the short list for tomorrow:
At the end of the day, I'll head home so that I can participate in a three-day workshop on project based learning. So, I'll need to do some packing.
I know I won't finish everything on the list. Some of the things that I add to my start of school list are absolutely extra while some are essential. I can't help but think that the extra stuff really makes a difference for kids. My biases really do inform the decisions I make. I believe that fun, memorable, learning sticks. Therefore, even though some of the things I do are superfluous and rather time consuming, they simply cannot be scratched from the list.
Sometimes I wonder what my back to school prep would look like if I only did the essentials. I'm not wired to operate that way. I'd begin the year feeling miserable and that feeling would likely set the tone for my school year.
I'm hoping tomorrow is productive. As I work through the to do list I'm going to try to view each task as a choice. Each task represents just one more thing that I'm choosing to do so that the students and I can have the best year of learning possible. I'm hoping the power of positivity fuels my day!