“What was the defining moment you decided to be a teacher?” #Youredustory

“What do I want to do?” I didn’t start off wanting to be a teacher. While I had teachers who inspired, invested, and impacted my life, it didn’t occur to me, especially while I was in school, that I would want to emulate their vocation. I wanted to be doing things – not teaching others how to do things. Yes, honestly, in my early years, that’s how I looked at it.

My list of dream job choices included running a theatre company, delivering the evening news, or writing a best selling novel. However, after I graduated from college, I found myself going in a different direction and re-asking “what do I want to do?” I went back to school to earn my teaching license, but it still felt like a back-up plan. My career path continued with twists and turns and while I did work with kids I didn’t teach in a classroom right away.

In fact, it was not until I had my own kids that I had the “defining moment.” I was standing in the parking lot at my kid’s school talking to the principal and feeling frustrated. The reasons for the frustration don’t matter as much as the epiphany that I had when I realized — I could do this teaching thing and I would be really good at it. I’m still not sure that it was the “right” inspiration, but it was the inspiration that I needed to make it happen. Reflecting on that, it’s easier to understand now who I am as a teacher.

I love the challenge. Bring on the kids that are hard to teach. No excuses – no blaming – let’s figure this thing out and get these kids reading, thinking, and passionate about learning. I never feel like I am staying behind teaching the stuff that other do. Instead I know that I’m doing really important stuff– stuff that’s not all that easy to do– stuff that really makes a difference. It’s not glamorous – honestly, hanging out with middle school kids is the opposite of glamorous, but it is, as it turns out, that answer to “what I want to do?”

Advertisements

Define Learning in 100 Words…

Learning is the process of change or growth that comes from life experiences. Intelligence is malleable – what we focus on we will learn. The life long learning that shows up in mission statements is about creating and maintaining a positive attitude to learning. It’s a passion for learning that comes from deep within. Learning because the learner wants to: it is a deliberate and voluntary act. It’s a cycle of motivation, examination, reflection, and growth that continues beyond the classroom door. As a teacher, I create a culture that nurtures a learning mindset – acknowledging that I too am a learner.

One Word That Inspires Me in My Classroom – “Grace”

When I teach I strive to do it with grace. No, I’m certainly not a ballerina floating about the classroom. When I think of grace I think of a deeper meaning – one that goes with words like favor, good will, mercy, and honor.

Do I have a favorite student? Honestly, I believe that if I’ve done things right they all think they’re a favorite. My goal is to be a safe spot for the kids – a place where they can check in and feel connected. Middle school kids move all day and crave a place where they are unconditionally welcome. I truly believe that if I can make that connection, then I have a chance at growing a passionate learner – which is even more important than any curriculum or content.

Competition in the classroom that makes learning fun and supports healthy motivation is one thing – but I draw the line when it starts looking like sorting students. Good will for me means that I am going to do my best to ensure that all my students learn at high levels, and I will hold myself accountable to that. When the kids know that’s the goal, then the collaboration and support grows as well. We become a community of learners.

Mercy. My own kids are the same age as my students and I can attest that they really don’t have a ton of control over their own lives. Things go wrong– they run out of time – organizational skills fall apart – there is a game or extra practice that they didn’t expect– or even worse I ask them to babysit or insist they actually practice that instrument—there are rarely enough hours in the day. Mercy, for me is recognizing when a student is not there yet – and the reason for the “yet” may or may not sound valid to my ears – it doesn’t really matter. I’m trying to get over the need to judge or snap back with a “got-cha” and instead help them to make a new plan.

Kids learn differently. They occasionally sweat the small stuff and overlook the big stuff. Each comes to my classroom with their own story to tell, their own baggage, their own disappointments, and their own dreams. When I honor them as individuals and their work as precious pieces of learning evidence the tone of my day changes. There is an investment that we are willing to make in each other and the work we will do together. I feel and act more like a coach than a boss and I’m more willing to celebrate their individuality even if it does make record keeping and lesson planning a greater challenge.

This is where I am right now as a teacher. It’s a reflection on my vocation in this moment – a snap shot of my thinking. I have not always been here and I hope that a year from now I am further along on the journey. For me in 2015, I’m feeling the gifts of grace.

Supporting Creativity Through Interactive Notebooks

The Stanford Creativity: Music to my Ears online class has me thinking a lot about creativity. One big take-away is that creativity is something that takes practice. When someone says, “I’m just not creative” it means that they have not practiced being creative enough to feel confident about it.

When this describes whole organization it’s truly a problem. In an article titled Working Creativity, by Mark Batey a case is made for creativity at the heart of the skill sets needed for the future.

As a teacher creativity is a skill that I try to bring out in my students. One strategy that has really made a difference for me is the use of interactive notebooks. Right now students are using them to write research papers and I am really excited about how well they keep everyone focused and moving along. I’ve designated each page of the notebook to be one baby step in the process and tried to encourage students to both be creative and to follow directions.

I’ll be posting photos from our unit, but first I thought I would share a few resources that I’ve been stalking for inspiration…

Dawn Miller at IBTEACHINU Language Arts

Randy Seldomridge at The Middle School Mouth

Katie at Following my Heart to First Grade

 at New Teacher Resources

If you have others website to suggest or ideas for how to develop creativity through interactive notebooks I’d love to hear about them –  please pass them on!

 

 

 

Music to the Rescue! Assignment 3 of Creativity: Music to My Ears

 

I’ve been participating in an online Creativity course hosted by Tina Seelig at Stanford University. Seelig is the author of inGenius, a book I am also reading. Rather than do the assignments online, i’ve decided to do them with my students. However, this week we are on Easter break, so I drafted my four children ages 7- 13 to help brain storm.

Here is the assignment:

Clearly define – a problem that you want to solve. It can be a personal problem or a social problem. Be careful to frame the problem thoughtfully so that it isn’t too narrow or too broad. Make sure to read the paragraph above about picking a brainstorming topic, and watch the Reframing video for guidance on this.

Once your team has framed a problem, together you should brainstorm to generate at least 100 ideas for ways that MUSIC can help solve that problem.

We decided to think about how music can be used at school to develop literacy – especially in middle school students and this is what we came up with…

  1. Listen to Pandora study music when reading.
  2. Compare reading music to reading text.
  3. Have students make book trailers with music in the background.
  4. Study famous song lyrics as poetry.
  5. Get an MP3 song for every book read in a school year.
  6. Read about music history.
  7. Read and watch a musical.
  8. Create a classroom musical based on a book.
  9. Teach students to “read” music.
  10. Create music typewriter game – Maybe a iPad App.
  11. Play book based move themes during reading time (Harry Potter is a favorite).
  12. Create multi-sensory phonics games for struggling readers.
  13. Read about events sited within songs (We Didn’t Start the Fire would be an example).
  14. Teach students how to write their own songs.
  15. Make games where note letters spell words.
  16. Make a song to learn the steps of the writing process.
  17. Use songs to learn vocabulary words.
  18. Make a jingle for a book read.
  19. Create word puzzle using notes to write a paragraph.
  20. Attach a CVC code to classroom books where students find similar theme in books and songs.
  21. Writing prompt – Choose a song and write about what it means.
  22. Choose a book and brainstorm songs that could make it a musical (Mary Poppins is an example)
  23. Write a sentence using only the letters A-G – then play the sentence on the piano.
  24. Read about famous composers.
  25. Learn to play an instrument.
  26. Use rhythm to teach fluency.
  27. Use percussion instruments when reading poetry.
  28. Use percussion instrument to learn phonics – sounding out word parts.
  29. Play author musical chairs.
  30. Keep a journal for music practice.
  31. Learn about music during different eras.
  32. Study musical styles and compare them to parts of the book.
  33. Compare music eras to art and literature written at the same time.
  34. Write a jingle to learn the parts of speech.
  35. Match note names to notes on the staff.
  36. Let students sign for oral assessments.
  37. Make a scavenger hunt based on solving musical riddles.
  38. Make up rhyming songs
  39. Make up alliteration songs
  40. Find vocabulary words in songs.
  41. Songs often have a pattern – like A B A C – Write a story using a music pattern.
  42. Put memoires to music.
  43. Write the refrain to your research paper – Put your thesis statement to music.
  44. Give speeches about composers.
  45. Find songs about the topic you are learning about in a class.
  46. Write lyrics / poetry using new vocabulary.
  47. Play classical music during free writes.
  48. Sing along with recordings of literacy-based songs
  49. Write a poem or reflection about how a piece of music makes you feel.
  50. Study with music to help with recall.
  51. Let students play games on websites like San Francisco Symphony Kids, Dallas Symphony Orchestra Kids, or New York Philharmonic Kids
  52. Compare and contract the emotions of a character to popular songs.
  53. Study the brain science behind how music literacy helps reading.
  54. Study how music affects emotions (scary music in a movie for example).
  55. Use music vocabulary and dynamics to improve reading fluency.
  56. Let students listen to music without words when studying or working independently.
  57. Mix music literacy stations in with classroom language arts stations.
  58. Learn about storytellers and how they use music.
  59. Invite a composer as a guest speaker to compare music and literature revision strategies.
  60. Mark a speech with dynamics symbols for how the speaker is to present.
  61. Read and listen to storybooks based on song lyrics (Puff the Magic Dragon).
  62. Research the history behind holiday songs.
  63. Perform music in public as a way to feel confident giving presentations.
  64. Learn about different cultures though global music styles.
  65. Draw to music.
  66. Teach preschool students nursery rhythms
  67. Reflect on visualization from music compared to imagining a character or setting.
  68. Compare book genres to music genres.
  69. Study religion and history through music.
  70. Discuss the influence that a song can have on a culture.
  71. Conduct and report on a survey that studies music preferences.
  72. Analyze the author / composer purpose (To persuade, inform, entertain, explain).
  73. Analyze how a song is organized – Comparison / contrast, chronological, argument / support.
  74. Analyze word choice in songs.
  75. Compare dynamics to punctuation and conventions.
  76. Talk to composers and songwriter about where they get their ideas.
  77. Work on music pitch to build phonological awareness (in first and second languages).
  78. Study historic events through song re-makes (The Too Late to Apologize uTube video with the Founding Fathers)
  79. Compare the 6 traits of writing to the traits of music.
  80. Compare effective repetition in music and literature.
  81. Analyze how variety keeps interest.
  82. Compare and contract two musician’s voices
  83. How to musician improvise? What does this teach us about writing or speaking?
  84. Analyze chord tones compared to word choice.
  85. Why did the composer choose a certain note / chord? (Saving Mr. Banks movie – Spoon Full of Sugar – the unexpected – note goes up).
  86. Compare sentence fluency to melody – how do rhythm and flow add to a text?
  87. Consider transitions between themes and sections of music – compare them to transition words in writing.
  88. Create a KWL chart for a popular song
  89. Give student examples of fluent reading and with expression.
  90. Listen to Disney songs and look for clues about character traits.
  91. Practice unison reading to improve listening and pacing.
  92. Create classroom chants for hard to remember concepts.
  93. Play music between classes that is fun and inspirational.
  94. Compare sight-reading strategies to reading aloud.
  95. Compare song titles and book titles to anticipate what it’s about.
  96. Create a web or mind-map of a song.
  97. Write new words to a well known song (Think Weird Al)
  98. Compare perseverance in learning to play an instrument to learning to read – both take practice!
  99. Teach inference using a new piece of music.
  100. Practice active listening to build listening skills and an ear for pitch and fluency.
  101. Encourage passion for learning using music to make literacy fun!

Friday Reflection – the classroom library

What a long week it has been. I am waiting for my son to finish cross-country practice and taking a few minutes to reflect on the first two weeks of school. It’s nice to just catch my breath…

Three weeks ago I was given the opportunity to move from social studies to language arts. I loved what I taught, but this is truly an opportunity to “do what I always wanted to do when I grow-up.” Bonus – I get to it with an amazing team of co-teachers and a very supportive administration. I actually left an in-service asking another teacher if it was possible that our jobs could get better? I am that kind of happy!

All summer I have been hanging out in twitter world with the English teachers, the librarians,  and the authors. I instantly had ideas for what, why, and how I was going to tackle the world of English teacher. 40 book challenge… writer’s workshop… mini lessons… I was motivated!

Reality – after two weeks – I’m tired. 8th hour on Friday and I realize I’ve forgotten to eat anything since breakfast.

I’ve spent hours talking with students and parents about expectations and ideas. We will do the work of writers and we will try to become independent, veracious readers. I am working to establish the culture of passionate learning and stay one step ahead of the kids.

“No, you can’t turn that in yet… we are going to learn how to revise. That’s what real writer do.”

“Yes, I know it’s hard to write a poem, but we are going to give it a try.”

“Yes, I do have ideas for books you can read even if you have not read one since second grade.”

The students leave interested, wondering, tired – a lot like me.

Then a knock on the door brings a visitor with a box full of books. Books for my new library. Books for the new English teacher. Books to sort. Books I have not read. Books I read and loved. Books already being checked-out by my son who has wondered in.

And suddenly, I am not so tired after all…

 

Innovative Learning for Youth..Check out 4-H at the Fair

Distant from the office, the cafeteria, and the gym, back in the far north-west corner of my high school, there was a room. I was in this room once. I remember a bulletin board with some information that had to do with 4-H and county fairs. I thought, probably to myself, “How there could possibly be something going on in this building that I know nothing about? Did the farm kids really get their own room? I can’t believe my mother never signed me up for any of this stuff – she signed me up for everything.”

That was it. Pretty much all I knew about 4-H in a nutshell – a quiet room in the back of the high school that provided a mystery to my imagination. Oh, I also figured the booths at the county fair, filled with all kinds of projects, had something to do with that room. The 4-H clover thing was a big clue.

I was no city girl in small town Wisconsin, but I grew up on the east side of town near the lake. While we did have cows, a horse, and a cornfield all within walking distance, somehow the 4-H experience missed my circle of experiences.

Years later, with an inherited passion for “signing my kids up,” I finally figured out what 4-H is all about. Their mission is to engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development. The name and the clover represent four personal development areas of focus for the organization: head, heart, hands, and health. The goal of 4-H is to develop citizenship, leadership, responsibility and life skills of youth through experiential learning and a positive youth development.

At the start of the fall season, my kids sign up for projects that they will work on under the guidance of trained volunteer leaders. They have done leather-crafting, book clubs, arts and crafts, air rifles, Lego building, horseback riding, bee keeping and I don’t even think we have scratched the surface of what’s available. They also attend a monthly meeting run by youth leaders. They are learning how to run a meeting, how to organize volunteer projects, and how to speak in public. The season peeks with the county fair where they show their work and have it evaluated by a certified judge. Finally, they are required to reflect on the experience with a record book that tracks their years of participation in the organization.

Along with being a mother, I am a classroom teacher who is excited to find an organization that brings together the skills and experiences that the most innovative education leaders are writing and preaching about daily. 4-H provides an opportunity for hands on learning, goal making, creating, presentation, leadership, and reflection – 21st century learning at its best.

If you’re at a county or state fair this summer – I encourage you to check it out. That dusty, hidden room in the back of the high school might be the most exciting place to be.

20120726-083448.jpg20120726-083459.jpg

Anna Mae and Truman at the fair this week.

 

Monday Reading: Mindset by Carol Dweck

I spent the weekend with Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. It was a wonderful journey. My husband and I had a quick – child free – road trip to visit friends and I found myself reading and talking to him about the ideas in this book. There are chapters about  parenting, leadership, coaching and even how to reach that shy student in the back of the classroom. The book was recommended by within Angela Maiers’ book The Passion Driven Classroom and provides evidence for having a growth rather than a fixed mind-set.

I feel much more able to handle the students who say, “That’s too hard,” “I’m not one of those smart students,” or “Why do you want us to work so hard?” I am also ready to take on teachers who refer to certain students as “losers” and that coach who judges kids more than he inspires them! Watch out world!

On a more humble note, I have to work on how I talk to my kids to get them excited about working hard – and this book provides many useful ideas for just where to start.

Every Child Can

20120622-070555.jpg

When my oldest was 4, he came home from preschool asking to play the violin. My husband and I smiled and suggested it was something we would do when he was older. He insisted we did not have to wait. The violin can be played by kids he explained. His teachers taught him about Mozart’s, “powerful music.” After weeks of asking, I gave in and started making phone calls.

Fast forward seven years. I have three violinist and a piano player all using the Suzuki method. If you are unfamilar, it’s a method of teaching that uses the triangle; child, teacher, parent to ensure success. As a suzuki parent I carry out the lesson plans set up by the instructor each week.

The entire Suzuki philosophy—and the reason children can start early—holds that all talents are taught, modeled, and practiced from birth. The 7 year old who has “musical talent” really has only had 7 years of music education. Every child begins learning at birth and never stops.

Dr. Suzuki’s idea was that any child could learn to play the violin well given enouh quality time and instruction. My suggestion is that when kids have the right supports in place, they can learn a lot more than the violin.

So what’s happening when students don’t learn?

How often do I size up a student who does not have the right supports in place and fail to recognize the cause?

This debate plays out in my mind frequently. When I work with my son on his reading, when I hear my girlfirend say, “oh my daughter can’t sing- it’s not her talent,” and when hear teachers talk about bright students who fail classes I try to remember Suzuki.

Consider this… If kids are only able to master what they have a natural knack for, than what does it matter what I do as a teacher?

Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy responds that even if the student has to work at something, even if he or she needs 1:1 support, even if it takes a lot of effort from everyone around… Every child can.

If they can, isn’t worth the effort to make sure they do?