Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Doggie Paddling Across the Atlantic Ocean: An Allegory for First Year of Teaching

That's what first-year teaching is: doggie paddling across the Atlantic Ocean.

I'm mainly concerned with keeping my head above water and breathing. And focusing on those two is really all I can handle. But sometimes I take a peek at the other swimmers. When I see the teacher-equivalents of Michael Phelps, I desperately and self-consciously try to learn butterfly. #disaster

Discovering that learning butterfly while immersed in the Atlantic Ocean is foolish and impossible, I aim to learn backstroke instead. My technique is terrible. So I desperately attempt freestyle. Okay. Freestyle might work. Nope, back to doggie paddle. #ohwell #betterlucknexttime

I started teaching third grade full-time at Sleepy Hollow Elementary in Fairfax County in January. I am continually observing, learning, and trying new techniques to get me (and the kids) to other side of the pond. Every teacher needs to know all the strokes to be an exceptional educator. But I have also found that using common sense and intuition is sometimes more valuable than desperately trying to mimic other swimmers. And developing great relationships with the children is the engine that powers us across the pond.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Last Day of Student Teaching

December 6, 2013
Today is certainly a bittersweet day. My last day as a student teacher at Meriwether Lewis Elementary School came all too quickly. It has been an incredible blessing working with Anne Straume and my wonderful third graders. I felt like a part of the MLS family from start to finish. I am so grateful that I was not only able to work with a remarkably creative and compassionate mentor, but I was also able to work with a whole community of caring and talented professionals.

A good-bye poster was waiting outside the classroom for me today covered with post-it notes from my students. Thank you third graders! I love you all, and I'll miss you!

Thank you MLS teachers, parents, administrators, and staff for welcoming me with open arms and making my experience here so special. Thank you Meriwether students for being your wonderful, creative, energetic selves. And a BIG thank you to Room 18 children and parents for the book you created for me, the lovely party you planned today, and the thoughtful gifts. I will miss you all dearly! Please stay in touch.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Survey Results Are In: Our Third Graders Love to Read

Donalyn Miller's reading instructional approach detailed in The Book Whisperer turned my world upside down in August and totally reframed how I approach reading instruction. 

As a student teacher, my main goal is to create a classroom environment where children enjoy reading and embrace their identity as a reader. 

As an adult, if you were told that every time you read a book you have to answer multiple choice questions, write several paragraphs about it, or do a book report, would that encourage or discourage you from reading? That's what I thought. 

So I avoided using worksheets, comprehension questions, book reports, cumbersome projects, and similar inauthentic assignments that burden the act of reading. And just let them read. 

As it turns out, they love it!

Today I gave the children a survey on what they like about the way reading is taught in our classroom. The results were amazing. Here are some examples of questions and responses on the survey. 

1. What do you like about the way Ms. Cantrell and Ms. Straume teach reading?
Some quotes from our students: 

"I like that we have a lot of time to read."
"They recommend you good books."
"[I like that] they let us choose our own books to read."
"They let us read so much which I love and they choose really good books for us and they give us good recommendations"
"I like how they read [out loud]."
"[I like] how they let us read every day in school."

"How you let us read a lot"
"That you give us a long time of READING!"
"I love the time to read!"
"I love everything about how Mrs. Straume and Ms. Cantrell teach reading in class."

2. Do you like reading?
100% of student responded "Yes!" that they enjoy reading

3. How much time do you spend reading on a typical school night?
The vast majority of the students reported that they are reading more than 20 minutes on any given school night. 

Children appreciate being given time to read in school. They like it when teachers just. let. them. read. I can see this reflected in the amazing quality of our students' behavior during reading time. They are always quietly focused on what they are reading. We are collecting data on students' comprehension and fluency and seeing increases across the board there as well. 

Donalyn Miller, if you're reading this, thank you! The Book Whisperer works!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Math Can Be Beautiful Too!

November 1, 2013

The children have been learning about multiplication as repeated addition. Today we started by practicing translating multiplication facts into repeated addition equations. Then the students used crayons and water colors to write repeated addition equations in an artful way. I loved giving the children an opportunity to experience math in a more visually pleasing way than just paper and pencil problems.  
Math can be beautiful too!


Field Trip to the Public Library

November 1, 2013
A few weeks ago my mentor teacher and I told the children about how we had visited the brand new library in Crozet together. When you go inside, it's so chic and beautiful it feels like you're walking into a classy bookstore.

The children suggested we take a field trip, and we did! They were so thrilled when the day came today that they actually skipped from the school doors to the bus.

One of our generous classroom parents donated reusable book bags so that the children could tote home a bunch of books and not have to carry a big stack of them. This brought up the discussion of how many books one person can check out from the public library- 75! The magnitude of this number sent murmurs of excitement through the third grade class. 

When the children arrived at the library they received an excellent book talk from one of the librarians and a behind-the-scenes tour of the library. She discussed these three books specifically. I was captivated by her description of the story The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare. I love reading survival stories and I've always been fascinated by Native Americans. So I checked it out to read over the weekend.

Finally, the children had the chance to explore the library and pick out some books themselves. Some students used the online library catalog while others browsed. I heard students making book recommendations to each other and saying things like...
"Hey, I found the Goosebumps books that you like!" One of the students asked me on the way out, "Are we coming back next Friday so we can return these books and check out new ones?

... These children are really starting to love books and enjoy reading! I am ecstatic! And remember...

Be a reader... join the movement.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Snapshots of Reading Instruction in Our Third Grade Class

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Introducing... The Book of Books
As each new day of third grade begins, students update their "Book of Books." We call it the "Book of Books" or "BoB" rather than their "Reading Log" or "Reading Journal." Students update their BoB. by recording any books they have started or finished. They are responsible for recording the title, author, date completed, and genre. When students aren't sure which genre a book is it sparks a conversation that carries over into reading instruction time.

Authentic Reading is Making Recommendations to Other Readers
We try to make our reading instruction as authentic as possible. How do adult readers find books they may enjoy? They talk to their friends. Our readers do a stellar of job of rating and recommending books for other students. When students finish reading a book that came from our shelves, they grab a post-it and put their name on it and write the number of stars they would rate it out of 5. Then we display that book somewhere on the shelves so another student can pick it up when he or she needs to start a new independent reading book. So far the system has worked really well and students are picking up many of the books their peers have read and enjoyed!

The $64,000 Dollar Question: What Do Good Readers Do?
Most of our reading mini-lessons are framed around idea of: "What do good readers do?" Students have a chart (below) in their Book of Books that they update each time we learn a new principle of good reading. I'm all about simplicity and this chart keeps lessons simple and the message, straightforward. Students feel a sense of accomplishment by filling up their charts with good behaviors that they can learn and practice to become better readers. We refer back to the principles frequently and reinforce the skills that we discuss. 

All Plans Are Subject to Change

That's my new motto. 

I've heard it said many times that the best teachers are flexible. Great teachers roll with the punches. They identify what's working and what's bombing during a lesson. They gauge how students are responding while they are teaching, and they adjust on the fly.

The Internet and technology are wonderful sources for the classroom. But they can also be big variables. For example, on Monday I planned to teach a geography lesson on Ancient Greece. I had Google Earth all queued up. And then--- KABOOM-- the thunderstorm rolled in and the Internet cut out.

So we rolled with it and focused instead on identifying geographic traits from a wonderful Powerpoint of present day Greece that my good friend Sarah Tisdale provided who lived there for a year. I let the children watch the Powerpoint slideshow and react to it. They called things out that they recognized and discussed their reactions with their classmates. Sure, it was a little chaotic at first. But it got the conversation started. Then we went back through and used the slides to describe Greece's geography.

We discussed that "acropolis" is a Greek word meaning
high city.
We discussed the meaning of the word peninsula. The Greek
mainland is a peninsula but there are many small peninsulas along the coast.

Olive trees grow on the rocky mountainsides.