My Favorite Part of the School Day
This post is really easy for me to write. Finding my favorite part of the school day is really easy for me to do, because it is by far my favorite part. After lunch recess my students come in grab a journal and meet me on the carpet in the back of our classroom for writer’s workshop. We always begin with a review of the previous lesson. Then I start with my storytelling example. Thinking about what I want students to be able to do I tell my stories. Students interrupt with the questions and connections my stories bring up for them. A spirit of storytelling falls magically all over the room. Students share their stories, heads nod in agreement and laughter sometimes erupts. Once the room is bubbling with interest, ideas, and challenges for making our writing better, I send students off to find a place in the room to write. With a countdown from 20 to 1 the room goes from bubbling and noisy to quiet. Students huddle over notebooks pouring their hearts out with pencil onto paper. I walk around checking in with students, reviewing writing goals, but most of all just listening to the stories they want to tell. Stories give me clues about who they are and what their families are like. Storytelling is such an integral part of the human experience.
As a teacher, I really enjoy spaces where I can set up rigorous goals for my students while building relationships with them. Writer’s workshop is a space where genuine questions about students’ lives lead into meaningful learning goals for their writing. Students don’t feel like I am pushing them to next levels of learning, they are just brimming with desire to share their story.
It never fails. I will be ending a conference or starting one and a student will say, “Ms. Simmons will we get to share out today.” It is as soon as I hear this that I know little writers are emerging, feeling proud and ready to publish their stories, to make their voices heard. I teach so students can learn their voices matter. I teach so students can learn their stories are important. In my mind these little writers of today are the voices of tomorrow that will demand liberty and justice for all.
#ReflectiveTeacher Post 9
The Unspoken Accomplishments
What is it that a teacher really accomplishes? Is it accolades from administrators, district higher ups, certificates, awards, units, or new degrees? Is it when a parent says, “You know what Ms. Simmons you are the best teacher my child ever had.” Is it an accomplishment when the principal calls and asks you to move into a position of leadership? Is it when students get excited because they have learned something new?
The really interesting thing, I feel my greatest accomplishments are not my accomplishments at all. They are the accomplishments of my students and they are shared with me. I believe I had something to do with them, but I know they are not mine alone.
So here is one of my greatest accomplishments in teaching. This is the story of a student. A student who struggled with authority, was very confrontational, and quite used to being the center of attention in a negative way. Every day was a battle for him. He had many triggers and many different behaviors that accompanied those triggers. But, boy some days he could be a real angel. Those were the days I longed for and the days that gave me the audacity to hope that I could make a difference in his life.
He came to me in fourth grade. He worked hard. His mother and father worked hard. I worked hard. His team at my school worked hard to craft consistent expectations, rewards, incentives, and help to increase his self efficacy. His classmates worked hard. They were forgiving of certain behaviors. They learned to hold high expectations for themselves, so his behavior didn’t lead to whole class disruptions. We learned to work together for the good of the group. So much so that at the end of the year I wanted to loop with them to 5th grade. I didn’t want to lose the momentum of progress this group of students had gained. I wanted to see these students through. With my principal on board our work continued into the 5th grade. We worked hard and we had a great time. It wasn’t easy, but we got it done.
Recently this young man came to visit me. He said, “You know what Ms. Simmons I have matured. I have learned to control my anger and I am doing well.” Our conversation was short. But I was more than proud. Is this accomplishment mine? Probably not. It is his for sure. But these are the accomplishments I hold dear. More dear than any of the possibilities mentioned above. My greatest unspoken accomplishments are the days where patience, support, and high expectations give a child enough time and hope to mature into the kind of person they really want to be.
In my mind the classroom itself is just as much a living part of the community as all the other members. I found myself today talking to students about systems within systems and how humans and the environment they inhabit interact. I try to set up a classroom that will facilitate interaction. I want a space that is inviting, comfortable, and generative.
The tables in the room are arranged into 4 groups that seat 6 students for the ease of conversation and cooperation on group related tasks, partner discussions, and table conversations. I worked really hard this year to set up a large carpeted area in the back for ease of choosing reading books, laying in a comfortable place to read, having classroom conversations, or playing cooperative games during free choice time.
The one thing in there that I don’t see that I would like to is a sofa. I have always wanted a nice comfy place where students could take a time out, discuss stories, read together, or have conversations with me. I understand that my room is really set up to encourage a lot of talking and that doesn’t always work to my advantage. However, I know students have to feel comfortable talking to each other in regular conversation before they will open up in risky academic discussions
In the spirit of honesty I am always jealous of those teachers who manage to make their rooms look like the rain forest, a jungle, or outer space. Maybe one day I will be able to live out my dream of having students come to school and find one of these awesome designs.
It has taken me quite a while to pick an area of improvement for a teacher evaluation. Trying to approach this post from that stance made me realize I really don’t improve my teaching at all because of evaluation. When I think about choosing an area of improvement because I want to give students more effective instruction it feels much more genuine.
The first Monday of the second week of school I engaged my 5th graders in a review conversation about what social studies/history content they received in 4th grade. After the 15 minute discussion I presented them with a team challenge to put a puzzle together that would introduce them to the 5th grade social studies topic. Teams of students put together a 60 piece puzzle of the United States. While they were working they talked about places they’d been, wanted to go, and what they knew certain areas of the country. I walked around encouraging and participating in some of the group discussions. Upon the conclusion of the puzzle I asked the class what they thought we might learn and what they were interested in finding out. Afterward one student said to me, “Ms. Simmons this activity really opened up my thinking.”
If I had to choose an area of practice I really wanted to get better at, it would be designing tasks that really open up student thinking. The longer I teach the less I see myself as a giver of information. I see myself as a facilitator of discovery, a sparker of curiosity so to speak, and in some ways a devil’s advocate pushing students toward critical thinking. The initial purpose for this task for me is a fun way to get students working together and thinking about the geography of the United States since we begin our study with geography. But as this student saw it her mind opened as the discussions progressed. We shared stories about places we’d been, we discussed possible historical content, students hypothesized about content from what they knew happened in certain places, and when I heard comments that implied content I would chime in I can’t wait until we start learning about that. Sometimes I realized by observing students which activities open their minds, but in terms of craft this is the area I am most invested in improving.
I am so guilty of assigning random tasks that don’t really fit with anything that came before and not much that comes after, just for the sake of giving students a chance to use technology. In past years the extent in tech integration has been, “Oh you finished early, why don’t you type your poem as a next step.” I’ve witnessed classrooms with long lists of interactive games websites for students to play so they can have computer time, but im not guilty of this one. With that said I know many students enter the classroom with tons of tech skills. Technological advances are happening so quickly, I don’t always have time to think clearly about the integration of technology. I usually end up just imposing technology on a lesson in a way that doesn’t really make clear sense.
Last year I took the largest step of my career toward using technology in a way that facilitates learning. This change came when I was introduced the Edmodo app. This app helped me to give students more personalized guidance navigating the internet, a storage place for important links and files, a place to grade assignments and quizzes, and also to interact informally with students. The interface is much like Facebook. Students were able to interact and personalize their pages while under my watchful eye. This year we have a Chromebook cart available for classroom use. I am really looking forward to discovering how this technology enhances our classroom experience.
My technology goal for this year is to create American history units of study using the Chromebooks and the Edmodo app as the students go to website for guiding their internet experience. My goal is for students to discover how to manipulate the technology because they need it to engage in the learning. Now I need to set a timeline for myself to plan out units for geography, early Americans, explorers, colonies, and the American revolution. Wish me luck!
Since 2010 I have been dreaming of the day when I blogged regularly about teaching. So when I saw the Te@ch thought tweet for the teacher blogging challenge I figured I would give it a go. After all two things a teacher is never short of is interesting stories and deep reflection.
Blog Post 1
On my goals for the school year.
Its funny how after over ten years in the classroom, the first thing I think about when it comes to goal setting is SURVIVE.
One week into the school year, 22 reading assessments, balancing the components of the weekly schedule, determining seating arrangements, planning get-to-know you games, preparing for the upcoming inquiry PD sessions I will be co-facilitating, the numerous other things required in the preparation for a school year, I finally feel like I can even come close to having a goal beyond plain ole survival.
A FEW GOALS FOR THE YEAR
1. Engage students in critical conversation everyday.
2. Listen closely and allow student voices to help guide instruction.
3. Incorporate technology seamlessly into the curriculum
4. Laugh out Loud as often as possible