Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Community that Cares

I'm not a fan of rewards and incentives for learning. No points for reading books. No treasure chest for "being good". No parties for being the "winner". It's my hope that I can foster a sense of "I can do it" or "I can make this happen" in the minds and hearts of my students and that they read voraciously, write with commitment to an audience, and take the initiative to learn because they're interested and intrinsically motivated.
I hate hate hate choosing one student over another for our school's Student of the Month award. I hate it because I saw the faces of the other 27 children when I announced our first homeroom "winner" at the beginning of the year. Why didn't all these students deserve the recognition of Student of the Month? Why couldn't I choose them all? Why did I have to choose one in the first place?
I love my school and my amazing administrators and am learning so much as a sixth grade teacher this year. And I've learned that it's okay to not always agree with those practices or ideas that have been put in place at school. I do have to submit my Student of the Month award nominee every month, but now my students make that decision each month. What I dreaded that early September morning is now an amazing experience to witness each month. I watch as my students nominate, negotiate, share positive and encouraging comments about their classmates, and then, as a class, they make the month's selection for THEIR Student of the Month. Each student in the class shares a positive note about the friend they chose for the recognition. It's watching them be honest, say smart things, write from their heart, and congratulate their classmate that makes me realize that I don't just teach and learn with a group of students. I teach and learn with a community of sixth graders who care about each other.
I'm off to school the teach and learn from this amazing community of caring, motivated, inspired, insightful, reflective, test weary sixth graders.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Non-Negotiable Needs

During our morning meeting time at the beginning of the year, I asked my students this question--"What do you need from a teacher in order for you to learn best?" Below is the chart of what these sixth graders said that early September morning. It's March now, and I realize that no matter the time of day, the time of year, the kind of class, or the age of the student, I need to live out this list for my students. They deserve nothing less.
I'm off to help my kids survive the morning's standardized testing and then (most importantly) to teach and learn from them.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lowry and Laminack and Literacy and Learning

Spring Break was great. I left the cold, rainy Alabama weather, and enjoyed a few days of sunshine in New York. One of the highlights of my trip was getting to spend time with Lois Lowry and Lester Laminack before Ms. Lowry's keynote at the Literacy and Learning Institute on Long Island. I spoke the next morning, and it was great sharing my thinking about writing and learning with such smart teachers. Thanks to friends (David Schultz and Denise Trainor) for inviting me to be a part of the conference. I always learn more about my profession and find myself re-thinking my teaching each time I present to groups of educators. And FYI Mr. Duncan--there ARE teachers out there who refuse to spend time "Racing to the Top" to boost test scores, but instead will spend entire weekends learning so that they can make school the best place it can be for each individual student.

Speaking of tests and Racing to the's standardized test week(s) in Alabama. Tomorrow begins our two week high stakes testing "fun". I have two things to say about this:
1. " Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."--Albert Einstein

2. Hey Kid, Listen Up! (Everyone needs to read this Powerpoint from Marion Brady.)

I'm off to school to confer with my writers as they publish their very first fiction books of sixth grade and film their movie pitches for our "Make The World A Better Place 'Provokumentary' Project". (Note: This doesn't include filling in standardized bubble in answer documents.)

Friday, March 12, 2010

What Are You Reading?

Today begins Spring Break for us, and that gives me some extra hours to catch up on reading. Please send your suggestions---adult novels and professional titles! (I'm taking a break from kid books this week!)
Thanks and TGIF!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

YES, Sixth Graders Can Make a Difference!

Wow--what an amazing two days. Mr. Fab started by handing us this powerful reminder about childhood before we even began our work.
"When we adults think of children there is a simple truth which we ignore: childhood is not preparation for life, childhood is life...

The child is constantly confronted with the nagging question, 'What are you going to be?' Courageous would be the youngster who, looking the adult squarely in the face, would say, 'I'm not going to be anything; I already am.'

We adults would be shocked by such an insolent remark for we have forgotten, if indeed we ever knew, that a child is an active participating and contributing member of society from the time he is born.

Childhood isn't a time when he is molded into a human who will then live life; he is a human who is living life.

No child will miss the zest and joy of living unless these are denied him by adults who have convinced themselves that childhood is a period of preparation.

How much heartache we would save ourselves if we would recognize the child as a partner with adults in the process of living, rather than always viewing him as an apprentice.

How much we would teach each other, adults with the experience and children with the freshness.

How full both our lives could be.

A little child may not lead us, but at least we ought to discuss the trip with him for, after all, life is his and her journey, too."

- Professor T. Ripaldi

We learned everything from how to be a movie director, write a script, sell a pitch, work as a team, call others to action....and change our school, our community, and our world for the better.

The power of the last two days hit me at about 2:30 yesterday. Mr. Fab and I sat with a group of boys to hear the progress they had made on creating a movie "pitch". These sixth graders so eloquently explained that their movie pitch was to "stop bullying in middle school". The boys started telling Joe about a student in our grade that had been bullied this year and would be a great person to interview to bring "a personal story" to the pitch. The bullied child (I'm calling him J.) happily joined the movie group's conversation and explained his feeling as a kid who'd been bullied for years--that it "gives me a sick feeling in my stomach" and that " I'm bullied almost every day of my life". I could kick myself for not having the video camera running during this entire conversation. All the boys spoke from their hearts--and our movie group boys vowed to protect and stand up for J. (and start a "middle school club to protect, stand up for, and be friends to kids who are bullied") They finished the conversation, shook hands, and went back to work. Mr. Fab and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes.

Childhood isn't a time when he is molded into a human who will then live life; he is a human who is living life. These children are living, contributing members of society who have the power to change lives for the better. Yes, they can. Yes, the are.
Mr. Fab continued to remind the children that the Paper Clips documentary happened because one child asked "How much is six million"? He reminded them that they have the power, the intelligence, the creativity, the curiosity to ask questions and pursue the answers that can change our world for the better.

I'm off to school to be a partner with these children in the process of living.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Can Sixth Graders Make The World A Better Place?

I believe they can.

Still living on the energy from Dr. Tim Tyson's keynote at this year's Dublin Literacy Conference, and inspired my all my Dublin blogging friends, Franki Sibberson, Mary Lee Hahn, Katie DiCesare, Karen Terlecky,Cathy Mere, and Mandy Robek.....This is my very first early morning to blog and share the work my sixth grade students are doing this week.

First of all, I'm a education conference nerd, and if I didn't have to present, I would have been at every single session of Dr. Tyson's at this conference. Second of all, when I learn something I think can make a difference in the lives of my students, I tend to go after it. Third of all, because I'm fortunate to have an amazing school administration and team of colleagues, our sixth graders are going to have the opportunity of a lifetime this week---working with award winning producer, writer, and director, Joe Fab. He's the mastermind behind Paper Clips, an amazing documentary about how students responded to their learning about the Holocaust. Our sixth graders, inspired by the movies of Dr. Tyson's middle school students and led by Mr. Fab, will learn how to create their very own "provocumentaries" (That's the name coined by my brilliant colleague Keith Minisman, who also got Mr. Fab here for us--movies that will provoke an audience to think, act, and make change in their world)

Yep, it's standardized testing season, but I'm fortunate to work with people who believe it's not the " test score" but the real learning that matters more than any test out there.
And yes, I believe that this week and for the rest of their lives, our kids can make the world a better place.