Sunday, January 22, 2012

Let Them Lead

I have to blog this because I laughed out loud as I was reading it.

I'm working on my Capstone and I'm studying conferring, and I'm reading this book No Better Way to Teach Writing, which is about how a group of Australian teachers. After listening to Donald Graves and reading one of his books, they decided to implement Writers' Workshop, which they called "The Conference Approach." One teacher highlights her struggle to let the child lead during a conference, allowing him to teach himself rather than just telling him what to do:

"Wait," I said. "Where is that part in the story?"
Irritated, he looked, then said, "I haven't wrote that yet."
"Well, where would you write it so the reader knows your story is about a car race?"
He picked up his pencil and wrote the sentence--at the end! Into my impatient mind flashed the uncharitable thought, 'No, dimwit, write it at the beginning.' But I managed to stay silent...When he finished, I asked him to read it back.
...he said..."That sentence doesn't make sense there."

Isn't it amazing what can happen when we allow children to take the lead in conferences? Providing lean prompts, asking good questions, directing children to notice and consider pertinent aspects of their own writing...because she let him figure out for himself that it didn't make sense, this student learned a skill that he could use in subsequent pieces, all on his own. He learned the importance of telling the reader what his story is about, and how to use an arrow to insert information that is missing from the beginning or middle of a piece.

Holding back our own ideas and letting children lead in difficult, but so powerful.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sometimes, Listening is Teaching

As I'm diving deep into the heart of conferring, I'm learning so much about how to listen to kids when I converse with them about the work that they are doing. Every so often, particularly with students who don't demand quite as much of my attention, I'll ask a simple question and the child will freeze. I am then hit once again with the painful realization that they think that the purpose of teacher questioning is to inform them that they did something wrong. What a horrible message to receive.

I had this experience just yesterday with one of my little ones. He was writing a story about playing in the park with his family. I was watching him, just observing and writing down everything I noticed him doing as a writer. When he erased part of a word and changed it, I asked him "Why did you do that?" 

He froze.

He stared at me, with a cross between mild wide-eyed shock and frowning confusion. He seemed to be thinking, "What did I do wrong?" and "What do I say?" Since kids erase for a number of different reasons, I was genuinely curious about his thought process. And in fact, he hadn't done anything wrong. He'd done something very right. I just wanted to know what it was.

Debating how thaw out this frozen moment in the conversation, I rephrased my question. I said, "I noticed that you wrote that word, and then you went back and changed it. I just want to know what you're thinking. Can you tell me what you were thinking?" He then informed me that he was thinking, "...that it was the same as this word (he pointed to a word in the previous sentence). And I already said that." He changed "and we played the played" to "and we played the game", which made perfect sense. I then complimented him for independently going back and rereading his work to make sure it said what he wanted it to say, and I told him how smart that was and that good writers always do that. By the end of our conference, he was smiling and happily writing again. We didn't have time to get to a teaching point, but I didn't care...that was enough.

Sometimes our teaching point is as simple as:

I'm not listening to correct you, I'm listening because I care what you think.

Friday, January 13, 2012


I have the greatest kids in the world. I really do.

After two weeks of vacation, it was hard getting up before sunrise and driving to work again. It's always a bit of a rough transition getting back into the swing of things. But it's times like that when I remember that I love my job, and that's why I do it.

I love that nearly every day, someone draws me a picture. I love that half of the pictures say "I love you" or have hearts somewhere on them. I love that my kids jump up and down and squeal and wave every time they see me, even if the last time they saw me was literally 2 minutes ago. I love how when I take them to science or music or gym, they stop and hug me goodbye, even though they know I'll be back to pick them up in an hour.

As I was walking my students to the buses after school, one of them bounced off toward his bus (I was going to say walked, but this one, if he were a cartoon character, would be Tigger). Then he suddenly stopped right before he reached the door. He turned around and said "Bye, Ms. M!" then ran toward me, arms outstretched in a goodbye hug. I smiled to myself as we hugged and he turned around and ran back to get on the bus.

We don't get paid much, and politically, this is a rough time to be a teacher. But when I see their sweet faces first thing in the morning and bask in their random hugs throughout the day, it really is worth it. I love my job.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Happy New Year!

Image: dream designs /


That's what I love about each new year--it is absolutely bursting with possibilities. All of the amazing things that you can do for yourself, for others, with others. Your hopes, your dreams, your goals. Amazing things that you don't even know will happen, are going to happen to you this year. There is nothing to be discouraged about, no disappointment, no failure. The past is gone. Things are made new. 

This is my first post in a few weeks, so I know that the year isn't as new today as it was 10 days ago. But even better: since the first day of the year, I've been complimented, hugged, smiled at, loved. And I have had the opportunity to compliment, hug, smile at and love others. I've moved closer to accomplishing my goals and dreams. I've shared exciting news and celebrated great moments with others. 

And this year has just begun. 

I know it's a bit cliche, but I am re-training my brain to see the possibilities in my classroom. To look at my children and simultaneously see both where they are and where they can be. To look at a child who is struggling, and think, "You are such a smart kid." And then, of course, to tell them. 

And beyond that, to see the possibilities in myself. It gets a bit overwhelming at times to learn so much in so little time--we have weekly professional development, which in addition to my own personal development, is a lot of information to take in. Sometimes trying to remember and master everything at once feels really overwhelming. But I have to look at myself, look at my teaching, and see possibilities. I'm growing as a teacher. My students and I are learning together every day. Like I used to say my first year of teaching (and can now say with more confidence and less stress), a year from now, I will be infinitely better at my job. And I can't wait to see the results. 

What possibilities do you see/hope this year holds for you?