Week 2, Nerdlution: A Failure and an Aha

nerdlution-button-tiny-01-1This week has fallen a little short in terms of meeting nerdlution expectations.

Excuse number one and only: Parent conferences.
I just don’t have the same time with my students and we have been letting the classroom tweeting slip. Conferences start at 7:30 am and resume at 1:00 pm once the students leave. They continue till about 6:00 pm.  At that point I clean up and organize for the next day of conferences and teaching.

Home by 7:30 to read a few posts, emails and tweets.   I see the #nerdlution stream on tweetdeck.

Oops. Tomorrow I think,  we will tweet.

There has been lots of things to tweet about, but when my student came up to me today ask me about tweeting she wasn’t sure what to say. I told her think about it and come back, we’ll tweet later. She forgot. I forgot. But the thing that sticks with me is she didn’t have anything to say. Hmm.

Note to self. If she wasn’t sure what to say, what did she realize, learn, or do in my class for the last two hours?  Hmmm.

We wrote, read, discussed poetry. BUT she didn’t have anything to say. That said volumes. Hmmmm.

Got to get on this tweeting thing a little more.

Here’s me with an aha a little late in the game: tweeting classrooms are a little more accountable for their learning. AND tweeting classroom teachers are a little more accountable for their teaching.

Thank you #nerdlution 2 for pushing me. Thank your Michelle Haseltine for hosting our thoughts. Check here for more information about nerdlution.

Celebrating the Planned and the Unplanned Moments

celebrate link upThank you Ruth Ayers for the space, Celebrate this Week, to reflect on things worth celebrating. It rejuvenates and focuses me on the good.

FIRST: The One and Only Ivan and Reading Graffiti We started Ivan Monday. This incredible read aloud has offers so much. It’s hard for me not to stop constantly and just gasp or giggle at certain points in text. Ivan is a poet, a dreamer, a philosopher. He sets the tone for all we do this week. Our Reading Graffiti Wall is christened with student selected lines from Ivan.2014-01-17 19.06.22

SECOND: Memoir Writing  The perfect line from Ivan launches memoir.  First we studied mentors Bad Boy by Walter Dean Myers. and essay-like memoirs from former students. Then we developed a chart of what we are shooting for.2014-01-17 19.08.37

Gathering began, and I saw little glimmers of possibility as I conferred with students–

“What are you working on?”

“I’m writing about my grandmother, but it’s hard, you know my mom’s mom, she just died.”

“What are you working on?”

“I’m writing about my dad and how I miss him.”

“What are you working on?”

“How letting go of rescue animals is hard.”

Oh my. Next week, we begin the touchy work of holding on and developing those heartfelt moments. Moments that fifth graders (sometimes) don’t want to see, or (sometimes) aren’t quite ready to look at, or (maybe) are afraid to show. As students gathered and I conferred, the number of “I don’t know what to write about” was down to practically zero. Groans were heard when we had to stop writing.

THIRD: Poetry Began. It was a shaky start. Three simple questions guide us for now: 1) How do we know it’s a poem? 2) What does it mean? 3) What tools does the author use? A great starting place I gleaned from this NCTE recap post by Stacey Shubitz.  This is where we begin and build from. Once again Ivan guides us in our work. He tells us gorillas are poets. I tell my students we will be like the great apes and not the slimy chimps, chattering away. We will model ourselves on Ivan. We will study and craft. Remembering what makes a poem, looking to build our own crafting muscles along the way.

FOURTH: Quiet Time with Students. Wildfires on Thursday meant bad air quality, so students were off the yard and in classrooms for two days. No outside play was allowed. Friday after school I sat at my desk, eyes burning. I felt like taking a nap. Students linger.

My classroom at 4:30:  Two students lay on the carpet reading magazines, several are at desks reading books, a couple are sitting in the back reading blogs. They take an occasional break from reading to talk about a book they want to read next or to share something they just read.  

They stay until they’re picked up. This isn’t unusual.  They want a quiet, comfortable place to read, to talk, to write, to create something. They share things that they are thinking about with me and with each other. 

The custodian walks in to vacuum, so the students decide to do some investigation outside.

A few minutes later, “Hey, Mrs. Harmatz, wanna come see our experiment? I’m proving that dirt sinks and soil floats.”

I see a dark substance, apparently the “soil” floating on the top and another dark substance, the “dirt,” on the bottom of a plastic beaker.

“What’s the difference between soil and dirt?” I ask.

“Soil has cow poop in it,” she responds.”Feel it. It’s light and spongy. That’s why it floats.”

The experiment continues.  Adjustments are made. Questions are asked. Soon the discovery is made that there are tiny pieces of bark in the soil and that’s what floats. Wood floats in water. So much for the cow poop.

As I think back on this week, I want to celebrate all of the things that worked. Things that came together like I had hoped, but more importantly the moments created by students — the quote from Ivan, chosen by a student that fit perfectly with memoir; the notebook entries and discussions with students that showed a glimpse of what they have inside; and after school time when students meander from reading to investigation.  Moments that shed light on who they are and what they think. This week I’m celebrating these moments that build relationships  and learning–moments to experiment, to write, to read, to just be.

Embedding Celebration

celebrate link upToday is the first day of Thanksgiving Break. Lots of extra time to relax and reflect as I look toward the crazy month ahead.  Students will be just a little “off” from now till the New Year, and who can blame them. Rather than be a bit frustrated with this phenomenon, this year I’m embracing the celebration. In fact mindfully embedding it. Not just during the holidays, but throughout the year.  And I don’t mean I’ll be throwing parties all year. 

Inspired by  Ruth Ayers’  Celebrating Writers, it seems that a healthy dose of celebration needs  to be added to the mix of choice, collaboration and creation in the classroom, and not just in writing. Inherent in celebration is a break, a breather. Breaks are good. We recharge. Things seem possible. The task ahead looks doable. Breaks can propel us into our the next learning cycle.

Celebration needs to be  embedded – present every step of the way. Learning is messy and often difficult. In light of the elevated expectations of Common Core, students and teachers could feel like they are going backwards rather than forwards. The more fragile the learner,  the more challenging the learning, the more frequent the celebration.

Celebration could start with a complement or reflection on previous learning. Then continue throughout the lesson, conferring and student work time. Masterful teachers instinctively seem to know when to celebrate learning. Perhaps we should mindfully plan celebrations at points in the learning work  that we know will be challenging.

Take time to notice and name what is accomplished, take a breath and celebrate. With each celebration comes a embedded boost of encouragement, a reflection on what’s done and the implied belief that the next step is possible.

So here’s my new teaching template that not only names what I teach, but asks me to plan celebrations. A reminder that celebrations need to be embedded, daily to keep the learning going.

Making a Safe Place for Risky Thinking

I was a quiet and cautious kid.  I did not take risks. Share my ideas, not likely. i’d much rather play it safe.  I was the last kid in  swim class to jump off the high dive. To this day I remember the paralyzing fear. I was hanging in space alone, on a bouncy board, the pool so far away. Why did I jump? There was no other way out. I couldn’t turn back. I’d be lying if I told you I loved it. I didn’t. I still hate that hanging in space feeling. I was forced to do this. It was a requirement of the class.

tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com –

Over time, my risk-taking quotient increased. This year in teaching I’ve taken the biggest risks, made the biggest changes. So much of this change has been because of the network of teacher/learners on twitter, their blogs and their always supportive stance.  

It’s scary…

I regularly see the tweets: How to Get Teachers Over the Fear of Tweeting. I “get” that fear. At first I lurked, unseen no one would know. Then my big mouth got the better of my fear and I finally tweeted. Pushing the tweet button was a jump. For days I worried about tweet I’d made. I survived and unlike the high dive, no one made me. I did it on my own. Then I got support. I was retweeted. Oh my gosh, someone agrees! Maybe I’m worthy?

Once someone followed me, I was hooked. I belong! Now tweeting is as easy as breathing and as gratifying as eating ice cream.  I rush home to get to chats, and I’m extremely upset if I miss them. I was on a mission to get others at my school involved. A few adventurous souls do. They tell me they enjoy what I tweet, and I retweet them. I figure if I can get a few to put their toe in the water, maybe they will jump in.  As each one gets support, starts to belong,  they will spread the word to at least one other person. 

Responding to blogs was the next scary thing. Again I worried about what I said. But the responses I got back from the bloggers made it not only ok, but welcome. After all these are teachers, of course they were encouraging. 

With success, all of a sudden you crave it

So with all this encouragement, how about a blog? From the kid who wouldn’t raise her hand in class. Why? In large part because of the generous and supportive spirit of the twitter teacher community. While it was scary,  I felt safe, safe enough to try. 

My most recent jump, direct messaging. That may sound strange as another step, but it is personal. A reaching out to one person, no hiding. I worried: am I being presumptuous? Asking too much?  I was really concerned about something in my classroom and one person jumped into my mind. One person who would take the time and have the resources to help. So I direct messaged  Fran McVeigh. What followed was a long conversation about my writer’s workshop. Strategies were developed. My next steps clear, and a reminder to stay calm, take a breath. Thank you Fran, you’ve never met me but you know me!

Bringing my personal learning back to the classroom space

It’s week three and lots of parent questionnaires are rolling in. Another first this year, thank you Pernille Ripp for the generous sharing of your questionnaire. The responses are beautiful. I immediately felt that tremendous love and concern parents have for their kids. I felt honored to be let into their lives and obligated to foster these fragile beings. Amy Smith’s eloquent blog sends a message we all need to keep in our forethoughts when we invite our students in to class. All have their strengths and their fears.

They are me. Afraid to jump, share, speak, be. So what does it take to feel safe enough to  jump, to take risks with ideas, to put your thoughts in the air, on paper, on a blog? Here are some things I learned about risk taking and learning during my summer of lurking, tweeting, commenting and blogging. I think it applies very nicely to our classroom spaces.

Requirements for a Safe Place for Fragile Thoughts and Almost There Ideas

Where Risk Taking to Learn is Encouraged

1. There must be free will. It is not forced. There is a choice.

2. You are allowed to watch, to lurk.

3. There are baby steps that are supported: I agree!

4. There is a cheering section: Thank you, your thoughts matter.

5. There is a chance to lead other learners: You are the expert, show us.

6. There are experts to lean on, to help us through our tough moments:

Who can help me?

7. There are open spaces without judgement to express and discover

who you are,  and what you believe.

 As always, feel free to share your thoughts.