Posts Tagged ‘elementary’

Making Lemonade

December 17, 2018

Now is about the time of year when I give my fifth grade students an assessment on literary analysis. We have spent a fair amount of class time learning how to write proper claims and arguments, and we have also discussed the type of language that is best suited for the tone of academic writing.

These essays are part of my year-long data gathering; I use these to determine growth among my students across the year. So when I look at their work, I’m hoping to see kids using the structure and conventions I’ve taught them.

It is so very hard to be patient.

It is so very hard to look at these novice, rough-around-the-edges attempts with a generous eye.

It is so very hard to look at where the kids are now, and not be so very discouraged about how very far we must go from here. To not look at the papers and give up because it all feels like one hot mess.

I knew that if I sat down now to fill out the rubrics on their writing, it would just make me crabby. Everyone knows they don’t want a crabby teacher evaluating their work.

So, I decided to hit the brakes for a bit and get the students involved. I had them read their work aloud to themselves to get a feel for how it “sounded” to them.

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Then, I asked them to choose a recent work to compare to their beginning of the year writing, and reflect from there. The questions were:
-When you compare your work from the beginning of the year until now, what strikes you or surprises you?
-In what areas have you seen the most growth in your writing?
-Looking at the most recent essay, what areas do you see yourself needing to improve or strengthen? What skills do you need to learn?

Lo and behold, as they do just about every time, my students came through. The level of thoughtfulness and insight that the kids brought to their responses was encouraging and refreshing. Just as I had hoped, their reflections on growth reminded me that indeed, their writing has come a long way since the beginning of October. Much to my relief, many of their areas for improvement were the same as what I would have suggested.

In a busy and stressful time of year, this activity was a reminder to listen to my loveys, to allow them the opportunity to reflect, and to celebrate their growth and development.

Quite the holiday gift.

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On Teaching and Transparency

December 14, 2018

I’m always complaining that I don’t have enough mentor texts to teach my students about reading and writing concepts. I can never get enough. That’s why I was so excited to introduce a concept to my two fourth grade groups yesterday and today.

I got the idea from Kristin Ackerman and Jennifer McDonough’s book, Conferring with Young Writers: What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do.  They suggested creating reference books to teach writers about skills and strategies they can use in their work. Want to learn more about personification? Find the reference book to see multiple examples, then give it a go in your own writing.

Over the coming weeks, my students will mine both their favorite books and their own writing for mentor texts to create these resources, and they are as excited about the proposition as I am.

But that’s not what my post is about. Sorry to disappoint.

Here’s the thing.

The top of the student form reads, “Mentor text submitted by______.” As soon as I passed the papers out, a student asked, “What’s a mentor text?”

What’s a mentor text?

What’s a MENTOR TEXT?

You mean, that thing that I use nearly every. freaking. DAY in the classroom to teach you reading and writing skills? And agonize over how I will find more? And more quality ones? And plan nearly every. freaking. LESSON. Around?

You don’t know what a mentor text is?

The answer was no. Not one of the nearly 20 fourth grade students had any clue.

And I thought, how is that even possible? How is it possible that there is something so incredibly integral, so incredibly critical to what I teach, yet my students do not even know what I’m talking about?

To say it was eye-opening was an understatement.

I’ve done a bit of thinking since then, and here’s what I’ve come up with.

There is a lot of teacher language that my colleagues and I use. We use a lot of technical vocabulary around reading, around writing, or behavior, or learning. What is stopping me from using that language around my students? What stops me from calling things what they actually are?

Frankly, I’m not sure that anything really is.

I’m not entirely sure where this will all lead, but there is one thing I know for certain. As a teacher, I need to think deliberately and with intention about the language I use. If I want my students to use the language of craft, and the language of learning, I have to make sure that I am open and clear with them about what I’m doing, and how I’m teaching.

My students DO know what a mentor text is now. At least they’d better, because it came up at least eighteen more times in our conversation. But my other blind spots? The other assumptions I’m making about their knowledge or vocabulary?

My guess is, if I’m becoming more transparent in my teaching, those are going to come up soon enough.

They will have to.

Going with Plan B

April 18, 2017

I wasn’t going to have them watch it.

As part of my daily blogroll, I came across the wordless animated short “How to Wait for a Very Long Time,” and the first thing I thought as I looked at the title was, “This will be a quick way to teach my kids patience and persistence.”

And then I watched the video. It’s about 3 minutes long. Go ahead and click here to watch. (I promise I’ll wait for you.) You may as well, because I’m spoiling it below.

Needless to say, this video is NOT about patience and persistence.

I worried that students would be let down by the ending. That they would be disappointed with how abruptly the guy dies at the end. That they wouldn’t see the point. That on this day, which marks two years since my brother’s passing, I would not be able to manage teaching anything close to this subject matter. That it was better to go forward with my plan book as written.

And yet. When a great opportunity to have rich discussion or work on literary argument arises, I’ve can’t help but grab it. So…onward.

As a group, we watched the video three times.

First time? I stopped at the title and had the kids predict what they thought the lesson of the story was. That’s just before I confessed to them that MY prediction was dead wrong. Then they just notated plot.

The ending surprised them just as much as it did me. There was a lot of, “Whoa.” and “Oh!” and “Wait…what!?” We spent time sharing our surprises and questions. And yes, ALL of us fell for the easy predictions from the title. Silly us.

Second time? Pick up on everything we missed the first time. Talk to people around you. What’s the ONE THING you NOW believe is the point of this story?

Third time? Note the evidence to support your claim…then get writin’.

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Once again, my kids surprised me.
Once again, they inspired me.
Once again, they allowed me to see things in new ways.

Proving, once again, that some of our best teaching moments aren’t the ones we put in the plan book.

 

 

The Best (and Hardest) Part of My Day

April 24, 2013

(overheard in my third grade math group as some kids were trying to put a math problem together from random words and numbers)

Them: Mrs. Levin, this is hard!
Me: Yep. It is. You’re not complaining, are you?
Them: No.
Me: Oh good. Because you deserve to have things hard sometimes.
(more work, more missing the target)
Them: Is there even an ANSWER TO THIS?
Me: Yep.
(more work, still no answer)
Them: This is IMPOSSIBLE!!
Me: Nope. Nope, it’s not.
Them: This is so FRUSTRATING!
Me: Yep. And you deserve frustrating. You deserve the chance to work for something really hard.
(more work, still no answer)
Me: (taking some index cards with the words and numbers on them) Here, try arranging these until you find something that works.

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(shuffling the cards, switching and swiping, still no answer)

Them: Mrs. Levin, are you SURE this has an answer?
Me: Yep, I’m sure.
(more shuffling, more debating, until EUREKA!)

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THE HARDEST PART
Watching them and saying nothing even though these kids were SO DARN CLOSE, SO MANY TIMES. My tongue still has bite marks on it.

THE BEST PART
Me: See what I mean? You struggled through something and then you did it? How do you feel now?
Them: Super-awesome.
Me: Yeah. ‘Cause you ARE awesome. Awesomely awesome.