Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Useful Accidents.

On Monday afternoons, my daughter has gymnastics. That evening, I planned to make flatbreads for dinner but in order for that to happen on a gymnastics night, I needed to make the flatbreads the day before or the morning of, which I didn't. So after gymnastics, we made a quick stop at the store to pick up a pizza crust. I grabbed a package of thin crusts, and headed to the check-out with the kids. As I put our items on the belt, I realized that I had inadvertently grabbed two packages! I thought about putting the extra one back, but then decided I could just throw it in the freezer to have for next time.
Fast forward to dinner prep and I opened one of the packages of pizza crust. To my annoyance, it was moldy! As I opened the second one, I prayed it would be edible. And it was. The irony was not lost on me--if I hadn't accidentally grabbed that second package, and decided to keep it anyway, we'd be having a dinner crisis. And if I hadn't opened the moldy one first, it would be in the freezer right now, waiting to give me an unpleasant surprise the next time I decided to make a pizza!

So, what do you make of it? I always say: everything happens for a reason! (Needless to say, I made a quick run to the store this morning before work to return the moldy pizza crust...)

{Click the orange slice for more stories over at Two Writing Teachers}

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lessons of Adulthood

If you've ever read Gretchen Rubin, you are familiar with her Secrets of Adulthood--the seemingly small lessons we learn in the process of becoming an "adult." When I was a kid, or even in college, it seemed like my parents had a manual for dealing with life. In my ripe old age (not really--I'm only 36!), I realized that the manual is self-written. Every day, you learn a new rule when dealt a new challenge.

Here's what I learned yesterday, and don't laugh!

The dishwasher has a filter that can be removed and cleaned. 

Okay, so it's not a major revelation, but in some ways, it's a game-changer. My dishwasher hasn't been behaving efficiently. I thought it was just because it's not really a top-of-the-line dishwasher. But when I noticed some food stuck to the bottom of the dishwasher, I leaned in to remove it and noticed that it was actually stuck to the rim of something that had arrows indicating Open and Close. It was slick with grease, so I grabbed a towel and turned the rim. Out came a filter, the mesh coated with a thin layer of white grease and some soggy greens stuck to the inside. If ever there was a moment when you expect to see a light bulb literally appear over someone's head, this would've been the moment!

I gave it a rinse under the tap, and replaced the filter. I turned the dishwasher on this morning before I left the house, so we'll see if there's anything to be gained from this lesson!

Secret of Adulthood: Most appliances have mechanisms that allow for simple home maintenance to keep them running smoothly.

{Click the orange slice above to read more SOL stories!}

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Back to School!

We've been in school since August 26th, so Labor Day Weekend felt a little anti-climatic. I will be happy to see the hot weather go, and welcome the cooler days of Autumn. As it is, the mornings and evenings have been cooler even if the days have been very warm, or downright hot. I'm thankful to work in a school with air conditioning! I remember the hot classrooms in my old school in the Bronx, and it was not pleasant. The heat made the students lilt, and it was hard to motivate for learning. 
Now, I look forward to going to work, knowing that I'll be comfortable as I work with students and help the literacy coach set up new systems for making intervention tools available to teachers (which is something I'm excited about and is a whole other blog post!) 

So, hi-ho, off to work I go in this un-back-to-school-like weather. 

{Click the orange slice above to read more SOL stories!}

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Winding Up.

Though I haven't been a classroom teacher in over 7 years (as long as I taught now, I just realized!), the prospect of the first day of school makes me giddy. Of course, I had grand plans this summer to do some work-related reading and writing for the new school year but par for the course, it didn't work out that way. I'm facing a lot of unknowns in this coming year--everything from my schedule to the work I'll be doing. 
Before school let out for the summer, there was talk that my role would be expanding to include reading intervention along with writing intervention. I'm excited about this but I also don't know what to expect as the program is being revamped, and I haven't been part of that planning process this summer.  With work off my mind, I've taken advantage of our flexible schedules, with no pressure to do something or nothing. 
Last week, I got a letter in the mail about a district-wide convocation which will feature Taylor Mali as the keynote speaker. And with that, my mind is back on school and wondering what the new year will bring. In June, I brought home my notes and journal with the goal of reviewing them and making notes for the upcoming year.  That will probably be the extent of my planning and while it's a strange feeling to have no concrete plan at this point in the summer, I recognize that is the nature of my new role as a paraprofessional...which I guess is not so new anymore, is it?, with a school year under my belt already. 

{Click the logo above to read more #SOL15 posts from other slicers!}

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Exit Slip

It's hard to know what to write, on this, the second to last day of school, for me. This year was big, as you readers know. I went back to work, I moved from being a classroom teacher to being a paraprofessional, so much growth and learning happened for me this year.
I spent much of the year feeling insecure, wondering if I was doing things the "right way," knowing that there was so much I don't know, trying out different strategies and ways of teaching, crossing my fingers that something would stick, being nagged by a feeling that I should be doing more even though I'm only here 20 hours a week.
But I'm ending the year on a high note, with a positive evaluation from the higher-ups, and some changes in the works for September that will allow me to do more meaningful, deeper work with the kids. As I pack up my room for the summer, and sorting through things to keep and things to chuck, I'm doing the same with the content I taught this year--what worked and what didn't work, keeping a list of ideas I want to carry over to next school year, and new things I want to try.
And because I will always be a teacher, I know part of my summer will be spent thinking about these things, and doing some "teacher" reading, and I don't mind at all!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Getting Down To Brass Tacks

I often feel a sense of urgency when the kids walk into my room for writing intervention. Twenty minutes is not a whole lot of time, and in this season of testing and field trips, (and before that, snow days!), I get even less time with the kids. At the beginning of the year, I started intervention sessions with a Do Now-type activity or a quick jot but began to shuttle that in favor of getting right to work.

Even if I get there fast, I still need to take it slow. I didn't know it was possible to spend twenty minutes working on just a few sentences, but it is, I've discovered.  When I reframed my thinking to approach intervention on the sentence level, I poked around the internet for ideas and examples of this in action. Specifically, I was trying to figure out how to scaffold this small unit. Why focus so much on the sentence? For one thing, working with a whole piece of writing can be overwhelming. It can be hard to know where to start when the entire piece is riddled with poor sentence construction, grammar mistakes, and a lack of elaboration. And there's also this, from Doug Lemov:
Over the past few years I’ve come to believe more and more strongly in the power of the sentence as a tool for developing proficiency in reading and writing.  The fundamental problem, for students who don’t write or read as well as they could, is often that they aren’t good enough at creating sentences that capture the nuances of a complex idea or the relationships of complex ideas and they similarly fail to successfully untangle the nuances and interrelations in such sentences when written by others. 

So, how do we scaffold sentence construction? The same way we scaffold everything else for kids: I do, We do, You Do. In Lemov's Art of the Sentence, that means providing sentence starters. It is important to model well-written sentence, and to make these models interactive so that students can get a feel for how to write a well-crafted sentence. Training wheels, if you will. In his post, Lemov shows how, in the beginning, sentence starters are generous and as students begin to gain skill, the starters become more sparse.

But I also want students to understand how elements of a sentence relate to each other, and that means teaching straight-up grammar. In a session with a student that I see for elaboration, we went through a piece he wrote, sentence by sentence. In each sentence, we identified, where used,  the independent clause, the dependent clause, and subordinate conjunctions.  If we want students to write complex sentences full of specific detail, breaking the sentence apart like this allows students to see the opportunity for refining a sentence. The student was also able to see how adding or changing punctuation marks would alter the meaning of the sentence. And in the cases where there were two dependent clauses, with no independent clause in sight, parsing the sentence made that error obvious.

In my haste, however, I've often forgotten to focus on the most important aspect of these intervention sessions-- the strategy itself. Though I know I need to first develop background knowledge, discuss the strategy and model the strategy, according to the principles of SRSD, I often rush right to the implementation of the strategy. It's overwhelming and counterproductive--it really beats the point of intervention in the first place, which is to move the kids towards independence. With only four weeks left in the school year, my sense of urgency is growing but like I told a teacher today, quality over quantity.

I continue to grow and learn in this new role as a interventionist, and I'm really thankful that I've had the space to do that, that it's not just me figuring things out. The literacy coach with whom I work brings years of experience to her position, but she also is figuring out what RTI should look like in this new context-- a part-time paraprofessional, limited to periods of the day when students are not in core classes or taking specials. But we're teachers. Somehow, we get it all done.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

#Rhizo15: My First Thoughts

Oh, yes. Look at me, posting twice in one week... like I said, it's been a slow week because of testing. 

And speaking of testing, I learned about #Rhizo15 in my Twitter travels this morning. My very uptight and anxious nature is completely uncomfortable with the concept of Rhizomatic Learning, developed by Dave Cormier. It's one of these things that sounds intriguing to me but also makes me squirm with insecurity. Where's my roadmap?!

But there is only the sketchiest vision of a map. I can work with that, though.

Back in 2004, I took a road trip through the Andes with a few friends. We rented a pick-up truck in Quito, Ecuador and took off for Guayaquil. Have you ever driven through the Andes? Probably not, because it is not possible to drive through it. You have to drive around it. Around and around and around and around. Higher and higher and higher, then lower and lower and lower. You get the picture. Here in the US, we have the luxury of well-lit highways and road signs every few miles that reassure us that we're headed in the right directions. You can pull off the road if you need to pee and grab a bag of gummy worms. In the Andes, not so much. Those curvy roads are the width of a one-way street but are meant for two-way traffic. And there are no lights. And there are no road signs. The "map" we got was a picture of some lines that showed approximate locations of some major cities. Were there even any distances on it? I doubt it.

It got darker and darker as we wound our way around the mountain. Then, it got foggy. Driving through a cloud forest in the dark on a twisty road with no guardrails is not for the faint of heart. Also, we were fighting off feral dogs that kept trying to jump into the truck bed. (Not kidding.) So, what did we do?

 Mike drove, and I leaned out the window shouting "right, left, right, left," so that we would not take a nosedive off the side of the mountain while Sue and the other Mike fended off the dogs. Then, a truck with bright headlights appeared behind. We quickly pulled to the side to let the truck pass and then followed that truck's lights all the way down the mountain, matching it's every turn until finally we coasted into a sleepy town on the outskirts of Guayaquil, in the earliest hours of a new day.

That was a nice anecdote, but where was I? Oh, testing. This week, Dave asks what kind of learning can't be measured?  What should we be counting?  The very nature of my job requires me to measure and track everything, as a writing interventionist. I count how many words students write in a given period of time, I count how many different types of sentences students construct in a piece of writing. I count how many words have been spelled incorrectly. I count how many pieces of punctuation have been missed. And I track it all, looking for upward improvement.

But is there anything valuable about writing intervention that can't be counted and charted? Maybe. How about the realization that adding an exclamation point completely changes the tone of a sentence? Or that a comma can alter the meaning of a sentence? How do I measure the intensity of the lightbulb that flickers on in those moments? I don't think I can, but I'm sure it counts!

Emily Purser asks:
Meanwhile, the powers that be at my institution are of the 'questionable' variety of view that a valid indicator of our 'performance' as educators would be to count the number of hits on our website.... if only they were kidding. Not only that, but it's a website we didn't design, and that doesn't represent my work in ANY way that I find meaningful or accurate! please. But what are they supposed to do? - they're being given silly spreadsheets from on high will boxes to fill with numbers. They could stop being so compliant, and shout "a pox on your box!"... but then maybe there is something sensible to measure, that we can supply instead? 

Is the trouble with the tools, or the tradesmen?

I say, it's a combination of both. True, valid measurements of what students are learning requires time, money, and wherewithal. School administrators are typically short on all three.  Packages and programs produced by publishing companies are alluring. It makes things neat, systematized, standardized, reproducible and easier to think of skills as widgets. I get it, I really do and I freely admit that having a program makes my life easier too. After all, I get twenty minutes a week or every other week with each student. Efficiency and effectiveness become important, even when I know that kids need time and space to delve into the messy work of writing. I strive for balance, and work around this by focusing on the micro elements of writing-- the sentence, the word, the puncutation.