Friday, August 22, 2014

The 1st Week: Building a Foundation

My simple reflection from the first week back in the classroom is this:

Building a foundation for learning takes time.

The pressure to "start _______ (fill in the blank yourself)" is great. And yet, in order for the learning community to function smoothly, the foundation must be carefully built. The way I explained it to my students is that you don't build a house on the dirt; you first pour a foundation that will support it.
I spent this first week with my students building the foundation that will support our learning community and help us thrive. I'm amazed (always!) how much time everything takes.

This is the FOURTH blog post I've written today (!) as we reflect weekly on a faculty Ning, and I update both the 4th and 5th grade classroom blogs. In each of those posts, I reflected from a different vantage point (and for a different audience) on this creation of the foundation for learning.

From the 4th Grade Classroom Blog (parent audience)

One main difference between learning in school and learning outside of school is that in most schools, students are consistently grouped with their same-aged peers. Imagine having the same eighteen people come to your house every weekday! The opportunity to learn together extends beyond academic subjects and into developing the important life skills necessary to be a positive member of a community. Building a foundation for social learning is one of my main teaching goals for the first weeks of school.
To this end, we did many activities this week including introducing classroom norms, mentor sentence of the week and “read to self” which is the first component of the Daily 3.

From the Faculty Ning (colleague audience)

I will confess that I am a notorious "step-skipper" meaning I have little patience for detailed procedures and drawn-out step-by-step plans. My mind works creatively and I am very non-linear, which can be a blessing or a curse. So, it may seem odd that I am such an advocate of the Daily 5, which is nothing (in the beginning) if not detailed, linear and repetitive. 
I know that this is good teaching, and I know it because I have seen how well it works. If we had time to teach and model everything this thoroughly it would be great, but the truth is that teaching is a constant process of deciding what is worth the time. As I am beginning the process of building the Daily 5 foundation with my students, I am again seeing for myself how well this series of lessons works to create a structure for personalized literacy instruction. 

I also asked my students to reflect on the week.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

How Summer Yoga Inspires My Teaching

This summer, my friend, Rina, and I decided to take weekly yoga "field trips." I have been practicing yoga for….well, forever, and have practiced at the same studio for many years. As a result of taking a few classes this summer with new teachers in new places, I found myself growing in my practice in ways that I have not grown in years. At my usual studio there is a sameness from one practice to the next. While I find each class challenging and enjoyable, I had become too accustomed to the routine.

What can I learn from this that I can bring into my own classroom? How can I create the daily rituals and predictability my students need to feel comfortable without creating an environment that is slightly stagnant? Too much routine creates too much of a comfort zone and can stifle learning.

Here are some thoughts...

Change it up!
Predictable routines are a necessity in classrooms, and both students and teachers rely on them. Bringing an element of fun or surprise, though, will keep everyone on their toes. Beautiful day? Why not hold class outside? I remember one day last year spontaneously holding a plank contest with my 4th graders. A small thing, but it brought smiles, laughter and requests to do it again.

Set the bar REALLY high
One of the hardest things for me is to push kids just the right amount. I tend to set a high standard and to know that everyone is capable of achieving it through hard work. However, some kids have not internalized habits like persistence. It is my job to push them just enough that they see their own potential, but not so much that they go over the edge. Because I am dealing with unique individuals, this point is different for everyone, and everyone responds differently to being challenged.

What I don't agree with is setting the bar low so as not to make anyone feel bad. I would much rather see kids strive and fall short of the goal than to see them make the goal easily and be cheated of working hard. Learning to challenge oneself, try, fail, get back up, try harder…that is the essence of learning to learn.

Remember that growth isn't always a linear process
In yoga practice it's normal to be stronger on one side of the body or to be able to do different things from one day to the next depending on how you're feeling, what else has been going on, the frequency of the practice. With school learning, everyone expects a linear progression. But there may be reasons why the 4th grader who knows the rules of capitalization, messes up on a particular day. Teachers know this, but it is very hard not to feel disheartened sometimes when it seems that progress is not being made in a straight line with students moving right along mastering concept after concept.

Create a space for practice
Deep, lasting growth is developmental, with some steps forward and some steps back. I like my classroom to be a place of practice (like my "regular" yoga studio) but with opportunities to try new skills (like my yoga field trips). Once you've experienced what you are capable of, it changes future practice, giving opportunities to integrate the new learning into the established practice.