Monday, April 21, 2014

The Power of Quiet~ Changing Perspectives and Opening Minds

I have learned many things from being a parent.  Some things I expected to learn, like how to make the best macaroni and cheese or how to do laundry, read a book and cook dinner all at once. These are the things parents expect to learn in the throes of parenthood, these are the easy parts. Fortunately, parenting runs deeper, parenting teaches us about sacrifices, differences and perspectives.

Our daughters are perfect replicas of my husband and me. The daughter most like me is alive and happy in the throws of people. Our other daughter who is most like my husband, is happiest curled up with a good book or hanging out with a couple of close friends. I have admired her love of quiet moments, times spent inside books and her ability to avoid drama.  This world has been unknown to me and it's a world I desperately want to understand.

Changing Perspectives and Opening Minds~
My perspective (or lack there of) on the power of quiet became evident one day when my daughters and I were shopping and I saw some cozy bean bag chairs.  I wanted these chairs for my classroom; I knew the kids would LOVE these chairs! Unfortunately, the chairs were $30 a piece and a little on the large side.  As I walked through the store I couldn't stop thinking about the possibilities of these chairs in our classroom. But where would I put them and how could I justify spending $60 on beanbag chairs!  Innocently my daughter asked me,  "Why do you always build your spaces for partners?  Maybe some kids want to cozy up alone."  These words opened my eyes and changed the way I look at teaching, learning and the world.

I bought the ONE chair and I created that cozy spot for ONE in our classroom and guess what?  The kids LOVED this space! They loved this space so much that THEY made a schedule for the space!  Seeing the popularity of this area and the quality of thought and work that was coming from this alone space I created 2 more independent spaces in our room. I was shocked when I noticed they were the first spots chosen as kids settle around the room to work!

New Found Power and Value~
The power of these quiet spaces demanded time for reflection and refining in my teaching practices.  What was it about these "alone spaces" in our classroom and the time my daughter spends reading and reflecting that transforms thoughts and focus?  What was it that I was missing? 
In my quest to understand and appreciate the power of this alone time and the power of quiet I started to listen more carefully to those around me and that's when I found the resource that changed my perspective on the power of quiet.  While talking with @CathyMere and @MaryLeeHahn,  Mary Lee shared a book and a recent post on a Ted Talk that explains the value and thought process behind quiet.  I was fascinated by her conversation and knew this book was moving to the TOP of my list!  

Susan Cain author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking -- Kindle edition is only $2.99, explains that it is only in our aloneness that we can go to that place where we are most challenged and work through our thoughts for our understanding.  Cain discusses the influence of an audience and fear of judgment that can actually change our thinking when working in groups. She explains that we are instinctively mirroring the opinions of the group without our knowledge and suggest we are best to go off and perceive our ideas then collaborate to take the thinking further.

Reflective Connections ~
As I thought about Cain's message I found confirmation not only in what I see in our classroom, but also in the way I work.  In order to feel prepared and to be an active member of a discussion I find I need time to think through the agenda and make notes of my thoughts prior to the group think.

 Cain suggests we allow our student's to be who they are and allow time for kids to work independently and in collaborative ways. She suggests we have time alone with our thoughts to allow them to grow and solidify. Cain encourages us to know ourselves and work to our strengths and share these gifts with the world.

Transforming My Teaching~
As I looked across my day I realized I had built in quiet time and group time in most parts of my day except math.  I have adjusted our math workshop to allow the kids to get lost in their math thinking and already I have noticed improved focus and some kids making shifts in deepening their understanding of math concepts.  

As I observed the power of quiet think time in our classroom I asked the kids to reflect on this time. You can see their thinking here.  It was humbling to listen to the kids openly reflect on their focus, process and learning.  These reflections have helped to shape our lessons, individual conferences and assess student learning.  I have found value in building in time for independent work and will continue to make space (and time) for kids to be alone with their learning. 

You can learn more about the Power of Quiet here~ 

Mary Lee's post- Last Week's Ted Talk

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Powerful Influences from a Powerful Educator

 Mary Lee Hahn is hosting a fantastic link-up to celebrate Franki Sibberson's 50th birthday! I am honored to be invited to participate in this event! Franki has influenced many educators and students. It only seems fitting that she be celebrated! 
I don't remember the exact moment I met Franki or even who introduced us but I do know she has influenced my teaching, my writing, my reading and even my being.  It doesn't take but a second to feel  like you're friends Franki.  She is so humble, she truly seems unaware of the impact she has on so many people.

I love that Mary Lee invited us to celebrate Franki's birthday in this way. This is a great way to show Franki how many lives she has touched and as we are mostly speaking as educators its not just our lives but also the lives of our students (20 some each year)!  That's an impact that can't be denied!

I am hesitant to list the  Franki  influences in my life.  The connections are so interwoven, they are almost impossible to unravel… but,  I guess there are a few standout…

Franki and I will always have our memories made in the Sheraton Lobby with our favorite author @itspeterbrown #NCTE13

Franki taught me that readers are Still Learning to Read beyond first grade! This was especially helpful when I moved from first grade to a 2/3 loop!  #ifnotforFranki I would have been floundering in supporting and pushing second grade readers!

Franki's blog is an influence to all who stop by to read.  Franki's blog always inspires me to read, write and think.  One post that has forever change the way I teach poetry is  Poetry Picnic.  I love all the ideas in this post and revisit it each March as I prepare for April's Poetry love.  Poetry Tag is still my favorite and in the midst of this poetry month I am looking forward to next year!

I am sure as I read on in this weekends #ifnotforFranki post I will be reminded of another influence Franki has made. Her connections and touches are truly to embedded in who she is and who she's touched they are impossible to separate!
Thank you Franki for being Franki!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Celebrate~ this week! Top Ten List of Why it's Not all Bad to be Sick

Each Saturday I join a team of wonderful writers who gather to share and support other writers as they Celebrate~ this week. You can join or find more writers on Ruth Ayer's blog, discover. play. build.  As I started thinking about this week's post it was a struggle.  In the last 3 weeks, my husband endured a five hour back surgery and is slowly working to recover, my daughter and I have had the stomach flu and just this week I was lucky enough to develop Bronchitis which resulted in missing 3 more days of school (I already missed 5 days for my hubby's surgery)!  What I really wanted to do was start a new blog, Black Clouds Over Our Heads, how or what would I possibly celebrate this week? 
As I drove through the POURING rain to my doctor (for a follow up appointment) I started making plans for all I needed to do to get my family moving forward again.  As my list began to grow laborious I realized there had been some benefits to being ill, it wasn't all bad.  I know I might be stretching Ruth's beautiful message a bit, but @Ruth_Ayers reminds us~
We only get one shot at this life. One chance to make the most of it. One chance to live in the moment. If we aren't careful, it is easy to become tattered and worn and even a little undone. 

I have to tell you and I know it's hokey, but after I made this choice things started to change.  I left my doctor's office with a positive report and when I walked outside the rain had stopped and it was SUNNY...Seriously!

So here it is, in honor of David Letterman's announcement and Ruth's amazing perspective~

Top Ten List of Why it's Not all Bad to be Sick

10.  You can stay in bed ALL DAY guilt free. (My loving family is from THE School of Stay in Your Room Until You're Better School of Advanced Medicine.)

9.  You can wear your pajama's all day.

8.  Showers are at your leisure and sometimes not mandatory.

7.  You can enjoy your king size bed all alone.

6.  No alarms required.

5.  You can go to the rest room any time YOU want. (No more waiting for lunch breaks or planning periods.)

4.  You don't have to cook.

3.  You have control of the T.V. REMOTE, finally.

2.  Your amazing friends and family send you well wishes and check in on you regularly.

1.  Your students show you they're writers. Writers who write for themselves and without teacher prompting!  (All the posts you'll see were posted in my absence. Please click on the link and join the celebration! )

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rethinking Math~ Building a Workshop for Mathematicians

I have been struggling to wrap my head around math and how I want math to look and sound in our classroom for a quite while.  I just can't seem to find that just right fit for our class.  I am fortunate to teach in a district that has provided us with a plethora of great resources including math coaches, assessment tools, flexibility, curriculum map and trust.

So why have I been struggling?  I am not really sure, that's what makes it so difficult.  I know the kids need to have choice and creativity. I know they need to develop a strong number sense to develop as mathematicians. This is what makes my head spin.  I know what to teach; I understand why it's important, I understand the need for ownership and higher-level thinking. But how do I do this in math?  How do I develop a math workshop that mimics our literacy model?

Our literacy instruction is delivered in a workshop framework that supports the kids at a variety of levels. This model allows student choice and agency in their work.  It encourages the kids to become life long readers and writers. The kids feel comfortable to take risk, choose their learning style and experience the success necessary to move them forward. Now, isn’t this what we need for math?  Ok, just plug math goals, standards, tools, and books into my literacy framework right? Easy peezy, lemon squeeze! (As my first graders would say) Well, yes and no!

A Workshop For Mathematicians~ 
As I thought about our math workshop compared it to our literacy workshops I wondered how I could adjust our math block to follow this same framework?
I started with these must haves~
               Math read alouds
               Opportunities for building number sense routines
               Independent work time
               Whole group focus lesson
               Partner discovery time   
               Opportunities for small group instruction
               Individual conferring
               Sharing discoveries
 I also wanted to make sure my kids had choice in their work, tools, and work space while working toward goals (they set) to support number sense and problem solving.

Building the Workshop~
Building the workshop began with stepping back and watching the kids interact with peers, numbers and tools in working to solve math problems. I watched to see the choices they made when working independently in math.  The Developmental Math Assessment (DMA) helped me to see where my kids were performing and what they needed to move forward.  I read professional books and had endless conversations with my team and my PLN to deepen my understanding of what mathematicians need and what it means to think deeply about math.

 Professional Resources~
@KassiaOWedekind's book Math Exchanges, helped me understand math spaces, guiding students and how kids build an understanding of number sense. If you haven't read this one I would add it to your list! You can also follow Kassia on her blog, Math Exchanges Guiding Young Mathematicians in Small-Group Meetings. 
Teaching Students Center Mathematics by John van de Walle and Lou Ann H. Lovin helped me to see the levels and stages of developing math understandings. The Number Concept Activity (from the DMA) book helped in designing large and small group lessons.  Number Talks by Sherry Parrish helped me understand how to deliver lessons in a way that teaches the students to solve math mentally and think flexibly about numbers.  For math read aloud titles I turn to Kassia's blog where I can find titles and encouragement to find math in our lives. @MandyRobek's blog Enjoy and Embrace is another resource I often turn to books and math in my life.

So What Does This New Math Workshop Look Like?

So How is it Going?
I am pleased with all parts of the workshop, but this didn't happen easily or quickly.  Having a workshop that is open takes explicit teaching and observation.  I need to be right on the pulse of what my kids need and they need to understand themselves as learners and the responsibilities of the workshop.  I need to make sure I have everything in place that will allow the kids to work towards goals with a clear focus and intention. The kids need to understand what it means to work like a mathematician.  They need a clear vision of what their understandings are and what they need to practice.  With all this in place I have to step back and let the kids work.  This takes trust and a willingness to accept all that goes with kids leading the way. Some days it's messy, really messy. Some days it's loud, some days it's that working "hum" teachers dream of and some days it's a chorus of Mrs. Frazier.  No matter the day I know that with practice's and trust it will pay off.  The workshop will help kids learn to think flexibly about numbers, think deeply and creatively in problem solving, they will work as life long math learners. 

Right Down to the Share Circle~
This is my favorite part of the math workshop!  This is the time mathematician’s gather to talk math!  Kids share their learning from the day.  We don't share the WHAT we did in the math workshop, we share what we DISCOVERED or LEARNED in the workshop. Sometimes we ask our peers for help, or give them ideas to push their thinking forward. 
The chart below is where we collect our new learning. To have learning placed on our "Math Ah-ha's!" chart the learning has to be true every time. We test our friend’s ideas and learning, if it's always true it goes on our chart. We know if it's on the chart it will help us as mathematicians! 


So what does math look like in your room? What are your favorite resources?  I am always looking for easy to improve our classroom and love learning for all of you. Please leave a comment  and share your thoughts. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Celebrate this week- Support, Humor and Squirrels!

I think all of us have experienced that Sunday night sadness. You know the sadness, it's the feeling that takes over when we realize our weekend is coming to a close and we have to go back to work or school on Monday.  In my 23 years of teaching I have experienced this feeling a few times.  It isn't because I don't like my job, as a matter of fact I LOVE my job!  I can't imagine doing anything other than teaching.  Occasionally their are those years when what occurs outside our classroom makes it difficult to go to work.  Well, this week I want to celebrate my extraordinary team!  They make going to school so enjoyable we often start our hallway chats and banter via text before we even get to school!  

I am actually hesitant to write about the power of the support from this team.  It will be a challenge to assemble the correct words to express how much these three mean to me!  These ladies make me laugh, support me in challenges, push me to stretch myself and they always see the perspective of the kids first.  

We have only worked together for 2 years and I feel as if we have been together for years. Each one has a unique strength, we know each others work patterns and have come to plan and work in a way that supports  while at the same time pushes  just enough.

This week I have realized more than ever the power of a strong team like ours.  I have been out all week and my team has stepped in to support me at home and at school. I've found candy and dinner on my door step,  words of encouragement in my inbox and all a guest teacher could need to lead a group of eager first graders for a week!  

This has been a difficult week for me, I have been helping my husband endure and recover from back surgery. Knowing that these three were looking out for my class, my family and me has meant the world to me!  We all have demanding lives and sometimes life happens, but knowing you have true friends standing behind you makes life easier, happier and gives us reason to celebrate. Support like this  doesn't come without true caring and respect. Thank you Carolyn, Cathy and Marie for support, humor and of course all the squirrels! 

Thank you Ruth  and the Two Writing Teachers for this amazing communities!  I hope no one minds the double dip on the post! 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Celebrate~ this week! Finding Courage

I have toyed with participating in the Slice of Life (SOL) writing challenges.  I look to the writers who participate in these 
challenges as writing mentors. I am not a confident writer and thinking of my work  standing besides the writing of these writers intimidates me.  Well, this year I took the risk. I dove in and I am letting my novice writing stand along side the gifted writers in the SOL challenge. 

So what happened this year that gave me the courage to dive in?  
           My class of 6 and 7 year old writers! 

When I asked my class if they wanted to join a 30-day writing challenge they cheered.  There is just something about the word challenge that motivates most (not all) first graders.  Instantly the questions began to fly. 
Do we really write every day? Can I write in my notebook?  Can we write in our blogs? Can we comment on other blogs? What happens on the weekends? Can we draw?  Can we share it with our blog friends in Hong Kong? Can we write in writer’s workshop? Can we write fiction? Does it have to be a personal narrative? Can we write poems? Can I start now?
The excitement was palpable and at this moment I knew we were it in together. The excitement of these first graders gave me energy.  I stepped up to the keyboard, started writing about the slices of my life, and clicked the scary ORANGE button. I  released my work to the world of writers that I have idolized for so long and joined the #SOL14 writing challenge. 

Just yesterday a very spunky little writer bubbled up to me, pausing only long enough to say, "I have 4 pages on my blog now and 26 comments!" She quickly turns to run back to her blog as she continues-  "I really a writer now!" 

Yes! Madi you really are a writer now! I already knew that, but now SHE knows it too and that’s what's important! 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Happy Heart

Today's celebration is sweet and simple, I don't want to take the chance of of allowing my words to take away from the celebration.  My youngest daughter is a young 17, she has been in the "Mom you're embarrassing me stage." You know, the one you dread, the one that makes you beg for even a hug. Well, I say has been because recently I have witnessed a  few glimmers of hope that this dreaded phase is over! 

Amidst the hints of this stage coming to pass was last nights encounter. I went in to say good night and force  give her a hug. When I entered her room she was laying on her bed, I bent down to say goodnight and give her a hug. As we hugged she said, "I love you mommy, I know I don't always act like it and sometimes you wonder , but I do, I love you and I appreciate all you do for me."  

With this I went to bed with a happy heart….