Monday, May 29, 2017

#SOL17 Homework and Used Cars

Words matter. This, we know. Words paint a picture in our mind, giving us positive or negative feelings. The words "hot chocolate"? Instantly makes me feel cozy, warm, and happy. The word "dentist"? Dread and pain come to mind. 

When I was younger, cars that were not new were "used." Somewhere along the line, that became "pre-owned." How much lovelier does "pre-owned" sound than "used"? Would you want a "pre-owned" car or a "used" one? 

I've been thinking about "homework" quite a bit and the connotation it has. Who wants to do it? No one. It conjures drudgery and something to just get through to be able to enjoy the rest of the day. As a parent of a kindergarten student who has to do homework, it is our worst time of day. Tears flow. Frustrations bubble. 

I know the research says homework is not effective in elementary school but I also know many parents have not read that research and expect homework. When I think about the arguments FOR homework, I know some will argue it teaches responsibility, helps connect families to what is being taught, and allows the student to practice. 

Here are my counter arguments:

-I don't think homework teaches responsibility. I have some students who have had to take on far more responsibility than I ever had at their age- cooking meals for the family and taking care of younger siblings. Assigning homework does not make someone more responsible. My students who struggle with organization still forget to pack their materials, do the work, and bring it back. Merely assigning the work and checking it does not foster responsibility. I also think it offers an advantage to the students who have parents who can sit with them and make sure they are doing the homework/bringing it back. Some students do not have this support at home for various reasons. Is it far to blame them because they do not have a parent that is able to help them?

-I do think sending homework home shows parents some of what is happening in the classroom. But are there better ways? A class website, newsletter, videos of instruction...aren't these ways we can show parents what we are learning? Also, utilizing family dialogue journals where students and parents can write to each other about what the student is learning would be a way to connect parents to the curriculum.

-As far as allowing students to practice the material, here's my issue. (I'm specifically talking about math homework.) The students who don't understand the math will either get the homework wrong, have someone at home do it for them, or they won't do it. How does any of this help them? The students who understand the work- do they need to do it again at home? Could students practice math facts or engage in some kind of motivating problem solving that wouldn't feel tedious or difficult? 

I think about the time it takes to check that homework is done, to send notices home for students not doing it, to follow-up that notices are sent back the next day. The time to give out homework and write it down....this all becomes a big chunk of the school day. And to what end? Does it make students more excited to learn, more creative, more engaged? If not, why are we doing it?

I'm really trying to get my thoughts together on homework to come up with a plan for next year. I know there are many others who've been thinking about this idea and writing about it. I'm really curious what this community thinks about homework and it's role in education. 

No matter what I decide to do, I know I'm changing the name to "Home Opportunity" which sounds so much more like pre-owned than used! 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

#SOL17 Dear Self: Please Excuse This Blogger

Dear Self,

Please excuse me (us?) from our weekly blog post. I know we've committed to writing here at least once a week because it is important to stay in the writing habit. We (I?) believe in writing and know that teachers who teach writing make a difference for students. 

It's just, this has been a busy week. A hectic weekend, rolled into a rewarding yet exhausting professional day of learning. A long drive home in the rain. Two children to feed and get ready for bed. By the time 8:30 pm hit, Kathleen (She? Us? You?) could barely keep her eyes open. Every good intention was made to wake up early, exercise, then write this week's post.

Except the alarm was on silent and Kathleen woke up with a start, half an hour later than expected. She chose to exercise, because, well that's been a big priority. She was just about to get her post done when Megan (4 year old daughter) started crying and the clock said she was already late for her morning shower. 

Then a busy day at work, after school PD, dinner, homework.....a stuffed work bag. Too much to do, too little time.

This week, she didn't carve out enough time. Next week, you have my (our?) word that the blog post will be much, much better. 

My Best, 

Monday, May 15, 2017

#SOL17 Advice from Walt

On Saturday, I took part in a Writing Marathon at Walt Whitman's Birthplace as part of the Long Island Writing Project's Saturday Series of workshops. (That's Walt looking rather proudly over my shoulder.) I've been a Long Islander all my life and shopped numerous times at the Walt Whitman Mall but never visited his birthplace before. The weather was gray, chilly and rainy, but May meant there was still greenery everywhere as I explored the house where Walt Whitman lived until he was four years old. 

During one part of the Writing Marathon, I came upon the opening to Leaves of Grass, entitled "This Is What You Shall Do":

"Love the earth and sun and the animals,
Despise riches, give alms to everyone who asks, 
Stand up for the stupid and crazy,
Devote your income and labor to others,
Hate tyrants, argue not concerning God,
Have patience and indulgence toward the people
Take off your hat to nothing known or unknown,
Or to any man or number of men,
Go freely with the powerful uneducated persons,
And with the young and with the mothers of families,
Read these leaves in the open air,
Every season of every year of your life,
Reexamine all you have been told,
At school or church or in any book,
Dismiss whatever insults your own soul,
And your very flesh shall be a great poem."

 How very timeless! Published in 1855, it's amazing how true every word is, still, in 2017. My favorite line- "Read these leaves in the open air, Every season of every year of your life." 

I'm grateful to be part of the Long Island Writing Project, which is so often nourishment for my professional teaching soul, taking me to places in my own backyard that I've yet to discover. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

#DigiLitSunday Summer Slide

As a teacher, what do I want most for my students? My fondest wish is that my students become caring, passionate, engaged, educated citizens who are curious, think critically and seek out knowledge. Is that really asking too much? Of course, this is what I aspire to be, too- the kind of person who continues learning, growing, and uses that knowledge to make the world at least a little bit better. 

The whole issue of "summer slide" is, for me, like an iceberg. There is so much below the surface that we need to think about. If students stop learning- stop reading, writing, and thinking- when not in school, what are we really teaching? Are we teaching for compliance? Are we teaching students to fill out reading logs but despise reading, to just wait for that period of time when reading can, in their opinion, blissfully stop? Isn't our mission- all year long- to inspire students to be learners, thinkers, and yes- readers and writers? 

Each year, I get a list of the reading levels my new students were in June when they were second graders. Each September, many students have dropped a level or two or three. Sometimes more. Some didn't read all summer long. They didn't write either. And this makes me so sad because chances are, these kids don't see themselves as readers and writers, as people who read and write because it enriches their lives. They don't see these activities as pleasurable or part of their identity. 

This doesn't sit well with me.

Last year, we tried something to hook our students into reading. I created summer digital newsletters, using Smore. We had a padlet where each week, students and staff members could share what they were reading and this was included in the newsletter. The newsletter featured videos of teachers and staff members reading a summer themed book as a way to give kids some more read aloud time and feel a connection to the school during the summer. The newsletters also included some summer slide infographics and events at the local library. 

Another thing we tried was 2 summer book exchanges- each hosted at the local library. We had a photo booth and bookmarks for kids to color and everyone who came got to choose new books to read. Kids even made video book reviews in front of a green screen. 

This was our first time trying something like this, so of course there are ways to improve upon what we began. One thing I'd like to try is asking parents to sign up for the digital newsletter ahead of time, to explain more about summer slide and have them receive it in their email box instead of just finding it on Facebook or Twitter. I'd also like to create a hashtag for our summer learning, so students and staff members could share what we are learning throughout the summer. As part of the Two Writing Teachers blog series, Keeping the Learning Going Throughout the Summer, I shared an idea to use a bingo board as incentive for summer writing. Writing could also be shared via padlet during the summer, just like reading. 

Digital tools make it easier than ever to keep a learning community connected. Summer can be an exciting way to see students try independent writing projects and have them share their learning across different media. Readers and writers can share and be part of a community of learners. Do we take advantage of these ways to keep our students connected? And, most importantly, are we creating communities of learners who are energized by what they read, write and share and are eager to do it through all seasons? If not, we have more to think about than just the summer slide. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Writing Strategies Book Study: Goal 6- Elaboration

My four year old daughter knows how to ELABORATE. She tells me detailed stories of her school day, her make believe doll stories, and even retells stories I've told her about when I was younger. She includes many details and even interesting language! But elaborating in writing isn't something that comes easily for many of my third grade students. 

I am taking part in a collaborative book study of Jennifer Serravallo's The Writing Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Writers, organized by Kelly Malloy.  The Writing Strategies Book is divided into goals and each week, another educator blogger is sharing about that goal. You can find previous ones here:

Goal 1 (Composing with Pictures)
Goal 2 (Engagement)
Goal 3 (Generating and Collecting Ideas)
Goal 4  (Focus/Meaning)
Goal 5 (Organization and Structure)

The goal I am sharing this week is Goal 6- Elaboration. Jen says, "Elaboration is the specific information a writer uses to develop her topic. Elaboration includes but is not limited to details, facts, anecdotes, dialogue, inner thinking, setting description, character description, statistics, reasons, information, and direct quotations from interview subjects (208)." 

Jen made a point I thought was so true- she said, "What's sometimes challenging for students is that they assume that their reader knows everything they know. Writers then neglect to include enough information so that the reader can also visualize what the writer is visualizing (209)." This makes so much sense when I think of many of my student writers who do not provide details to help the reader understand what is happening. 23 strategies are listed for this! I will share 3 of my favorites. 

6.5 "Nudge" Paper 

This strategy says, "When you feel like a part of your draft needs work, but you're cautious about making changes right on the page, take a strip of scrap paper. Try out your idea on that page. Consider if you want to apply them to your entry or draft (216). 

I think this is a low-stress way to push students to try out another approach to a lead, and ending, or any part in the middle! I also like that the writer gets to decide if the change works for him or not. 

6.10- Prove It 

This strategy asks students to think of their idea or claim and make a list of reasons to support their point. This is perfect for my current unit of study, persuasive speeches! Students write their opinion and list the reasons why that opinion is true. Under each reason, facts or details are listed to support the reason. Once again, the charts and visuals are so helpful here!  Boxes and bullets are used to make the point very clear. 

6.25- Cracking Open Verbs

"Went" and "Go" are often the culprits- the crime? Dull verbs. Jen explains that writers try to "precisely describe"  how a person does something. Students can think about the emotions and feelings behind the actions of a character and replace dull and boring verbs with more "invigorating" ones!

Oops, she did it again! Jennifer Serravallo has once again created a user-friendly, amazingly helpful resource for teachers who want to help their students grow as writers....just like she did for our readers with The Reading Strategies Book. Thank you, Jen, for a book that will be useful for years to come and thank you, Kelly, for coordinating this book study! 

Adventures in Dog Sitting #SOL17

We are absolutely, positively, not getting a dog. So don't even think it.

We spent the weekend dog sitting my brother-in-law's chow chow, Rylee. My children, Alex and Megan, were beyond excited to be dog sitters, since they beg me quite often to get a dog. My son even wrote a letter to the Easter Bunny, hidden in a plastic egg, asking for a dog. It's enough to break your heart and break down your resolve to NOT get a dog.....well almost enough. Not quite enough. Because we cannot get a dog. 

A dog is a big responsibility and a big expense. A dog needs time and attention- both of which I am short on. It's hard enough to give my children the attention they deserve- how will I have anything left over for a dog? So no, no dog.

But there have been moments where I felt myself soften ever the slightest. When Megan came out of the shower and we opened the bathroom door to find Rylee waiting outside, looking for us.....well that was kind of cute. The way she follows me when I walk from room to room....rather sweet. Her fur is so soft and she has the cutest triangle ears. But no. No dog. 

When I was younger, I begged my parents for a dog. I envisioned a little dog with a red bow on his head, under my Christmas tree. I yearned for a dog. But now, all these years later, I see why my parents never relented. A dog is a big responsibility, a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of work. 

We are absolutely, positively not getting a dog.....I think. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

On the Bench #SOL17

The calendar still read "April", but Saturday was a sneak peek into summer. The air was warm as the sun beat down on the three of us as we arrived at the "sandy park"- the one with sand on the ground by the playground equipment. My son, Alex, inching closer to seven and my daughter, Megan, newly four, took off their sandals and ran to play. 

It occurred to me, for the first time ever, that I could watch them from the bench. They could easily navigate this playground and I didn't need to be right next to them. Alex has been independent for a while, but I've been trailing Megan up till now. I took a seat on the bench and watched them play.

Then it happened again, on Sunday. Megan was able to play in the basement, on her own, with me upstairs in the kitchen. Alex was on the computer- also fine without me right near him. I was able to cook and prepare some food for the week ahead while everyone was happily occupied. Astounding. 

For so long, I needed to sit on the floor right next to them, or hold hands as stairs were climbed on the playground. I was urgently needed. And like everything in life, that comes with pros and cons. Being urgently needed means you are at the center of your child's life but it leaves you out of your own life a bit. Now that my children can do more for themselves and by themselves, they need me less urgently and I've rediscovered at least part of the day that can be for me. 

This weekend, that extra time meant I reorganized a tupperware shelf that had become a sea of mismatched lids and old, unfitting bottoms. I made the shelf neater and organized, tossing what no longer was useful. When I need a container, I will save time and frustration. Win! 

I'm really okay with being on the bench.