Saturday, March 31, 2012

Slice 31: Night Covered The Road

Slice of Life 31: Night Covered the Road

Twilight……when the sun has played hard and shined bright but is tired and slowly sinking behind the horizon. I know you’re wondering at this point why Ralph Fletcher didn’t have me co-author Twilight Comes Twice with him, aren’t you? ☺

When I set out on this Slice of Life Journey, I didn’t realize my journey began at twilight. I wrote my little heart out for nine days (well, almost nine days… rule breaking a little and combining two slices into one here and there).
I was on a roll. In these 31 days, I was going to write and comment and learn from so many of you about your lives, your passions, your talents, your gifts. And I would cheer you on to keep writing. You wrote back and gave me encouragement. You gave me insight. You made me think. Your words gave me ideas. Your words made me smile. The writing journey had begun.

And then, the sun dropped behind the horizon and night covered my world. The darkness became so dark, so pitch black like tar I stopped dead in my tracks. Fear and sadness and self-doubt and hopelessness settled in, and it was all I could do to even turn the computer on to read work email that absolutely required a response.

The I have nothing to say…..It’s supposed to be perfect….People are counting on you to be smart and wiseNo one will notice if you haven’t written….Who cares….Just get through the day…Those commanding voices filled the night air. Day poured tar into my soul and night suffocated me.

But sometimes in the dead of night, when you think all the world is fast asleep, there are friends out there who find you. Even though that friend’s eyes haven’t adjusted to the light, she senses your presence, sees your outline in the darkness, and points to the brightest star in the sky.

When you set out on a journey
And the night covers the road ahead,
That’s when you discover the stars.

I can’t promise that there will always be starry nights, but what I can do is love today and live it the best that I can. Thank you all for being inspirations, new and old friends, writing…and life-living mentors to me. Ruth and Stacey, even thought the journey didn’t play out as planned, thank you both for giving us all this opportunity to discover ourselves in the darkness and in the light.

Normal day, let me be aware
Of the treasure you are
Let me learn from you, love you
Bless you before you depart.
Let me not pass you by
In the quest of some
Rare and perfect tomorrow. –Mary Jean Irion

To the possibilities of this sunny day and the coming starry night,

Friday, March 9, 2012

Slice 8 and 9: TGI

TGIF. Thank Goodness It's Friday. I say it every week with gusto. Fridays make the Mondays and hard days tolerable, but today instead of TGIF, it's TGI....

TGI. Thank Goodness I.

Thank Goodness I...

TGI-have Ruth and Stacey and the countless friends across the country and all over twitter who remind me of the power of writing and community and standing up for what's right for children

TGI-have an alarm clock that sounds at 4:00am so I can wake up to coffee and get some writing on the page before school (that is, unless I turn it off...yesterday's reason for no writing)

TGI-have a job learning from 120 sixth graders every day about reading, writing, and life as a middle schooler

TGI-have a principal and friend who is a true instructional leader. She trusts me to think deeper, work smarter, and try harder to give myself the benefit of the doubt...and to do what my gut says is right for children every day.

TGI-have friends and family who pull me out of work mode and say "Let's play. Let's watch a movie. Let's have wine and cookies. Let's go on vacation. Let's take a nap. Let's eat at that great new restaurant. Let's stay up past our bedtime and tell stories. Let's read a book that has nothing to do with school. Let's remember that life is short and our days are gifts."

TGI-have the weekend to work and play... and be thankful to God for the people and opportunities I have in this incredible life of mine.

TGI-have one more cup of coffee...because it's only 5:15am......

To the possibilities of this new day,

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Slice 7: World Read Aloud Day, The Story of John Richardson

Thank You, Mr. Falker: The Story of John Richardson
Re-reading books I love is one of my most favorite things to do. Re-telling happy stories is also a favorite. So, for Slice 7 I'm re-telling a story about a favorite reader and writer that seems most fitting on March 7th, World Read Aloud Day.

The story begins almost 14 years ago in my third grade classroom in Birmingham, AL. John, a favorite custodian and friend to all the Corgill Kids, stopped by every day to empty the trash, refill the paper towel dispenser, and soak in a bit of reading workshop. One day John was browsing the picture book shelves with several third graders, and picked up the book, Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco. I love everything Patricia Polacco, and told John he had chosen one of my favorites....but I didn't share what the story was about. He asked if he could take the book home to read, and of course, I was happy that he would be reading this book to his children and grandchildren.

Days passed and I had forgotten that John borrowed the book. He still continued to visit us every day, and he always asked the children about their reading and their book choices.
On one of those ordinary reading workshop days weeks later, John brought the book back and asked if he could speak to me privately. He had Thank You Mr. Falker in his hand as he spoke.

"I have a secret to tell you, Ann Marie. I can't read. Will you be my Mr. Falker?"

Thinking for weeks now that this man had been reading this book to his grandchildren and enjoying it at home, I was stunned. I learned that John, this kind, hardworking man in his mid-sixties, couldn't read and had gone through his entire life pretending. He made it through ninth grade without a single teacher learning his secret. He worked an entire career in a factory without a single person knowing his secret. And now, he was working in our school, a place full of readers--a place that called him to be a reader too.
I learned later that John had his wife read the book to him at home. It was simply a miracle that he chose Thank You, Mr. Falker from our shelves.

From that day forward, John and I met in the early morning hours before school and during the summer learning to read. We read books together that John later read to his favorite groups of kindergarten students. We read books together that John would then share with my students in our reading workshop and morning meeting times. Soon after, John began to write too in his shiny blue writer's notebook. Poetry became a favorite of his, and he read and wrote lots of poetry on those mornings together.

I’m happy to say that because of Patricia Polacco's Thank You, Mr. Falker and two years of early morning reading workshops, John Richardson, and I met to read, write, and talk---and my friend, who learned to read in his 60's, reads, writes, and shares with others how being a reader and a writer has changed his life.

John now speaks at his church and reads scripture to the congregation, shares his struggle (and triumph!) in literacy with groups in the community, is still invited to read to classes of students—and is still writing poetry! In fact, I have a framed copy of one of his first poems, “The Great Red Bird”.
I’d say it’s a “freeing” piece of work, about a little bird returning to his nest and learning to fly.

If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, or cool one pain, Or help a fainting robin unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.” --Emily Dickinson

To the possibilities of this new day.....

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Slice 5 and 6: Two-A-Days

Two-A-Days, sometimes referred to as Hell Week or Double Sessions, is a term in American football to describe when a team holds practice twice a day.

Two-A-Days, sometimes referred to as Hell Week (middle school 9 weeks testing and grades and report cards) or Double Writing sessions, is a term in AM's Slice of Life Writing Challenge to describe when she writes a two day slice blog because she didn't do it the day before.

So....I think I'll try poetry today. A kind of listy poem, with a bit of repetition.

It's called Not. Doesn't. Isn't. Are.

Not. Doesn't. Isn't. Are.
by Ann Marie Corgill

review sheets, made common
so we can all test the same thing
because in this crazy world
we act as if kids are the same
They're not.

tests, made multiple choice
so they're easy to score
because in this crazy world
we act as if a multiple choice answer tells us something
It doesn't.

classes, made 47 minutes
so we can teach writing and embed grammar and spelling and punctuation and vocabulary
because in this crazy world
we act as if that's enough time
It isn't.

children, made differently
so their passions, their talents, their challenges, their personalities fill our days and our heads and our teaching and our learning
because in this crazy world
we act as if they are the most important thing in this teaching world.
They are.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Slice 3 AND 4: Rulebreakers

It’s Day 4 of the Slice of Life Challenge, and I’ve already broken the rules. As I confessed my sins earlier in a tweet to @TonyKeefer about not posting yesterday, this is the response I got: “You are quite the rebel. @ruth_ayers should throw you out ☺”
Thankfully Ruth hasn’t thrown me out yet, and Tony is now trying to save face with tweets like #rulebreakers are my favorites…..

This got me thinking….I propose that #rulebreakers4kids be a new hashtag, and when we “break a rule” for the good of the children in our classrooms, we send it out to everyone. It’s important that our voices are heard…and most importantly that our students’ voices and learning opportunities and passions and intrinsic motivation and curiosity don’t get squelched because of mandates or tests or rules or rule-makers who have never darkened the door of our classrooms.

If I had to tweet under the #rulerbreakers4kids hashtag, what could I have tweeted from our classroom over the years?
Hmmmm….. the tweets might go something like this…..

• Hid workbooks district paid thousands 4 behind new “facing out” bookshelves
• Moved teacher’s desk 2 storage 2day, put books n writing supplies n its place
• Turned in a blank textbook inventory sheet. not. using. them.
• Q: Test prep or writing and conferring? A: writing and conferring
• Told kids I hate homework as much as them n will fight 4 less!
• Let class shred homework reading logs 2 day. Reading. More impt than recording.
• Said AR is stupid. People heard me.
• Said grammar worksheets are stupid. People heard me.
• Said tests and grades are stupid. People heard me.
• I care about children more than data. Hope the newspaper prints that.
• Merit pay 4 high scores? Fire me. I refuse 2 extinguish the fire n my students.
• Writing persuasive essay ab banning homework 2 model how 2 write persuasive essay.
• Spent $300 @ Office Depot. Needed sharpie markers watercolors n photo paper 4 publishing. Will eat ramen noodles this month.
• Writing prompts r crap. Despite what u’ve heard ab crap as fertilizer, it doesn’t grow writers.

And I could go on and on and on….I’m a rulebreaker4kids.They deserve to have teachers stand up for them and do what’s right even if it’s not popular….and even if we have to break a few rules in the process.

to the possibilities for rule-breaking for kids tomorrow,

Friday, March 2, 2012

Intrinsic Motivation: How To Build On It, Not Kill It

My friend, Aimee Buckner Haisten, author of Notebook Know How and Notebook Connections once said to me, "When a colleague, parent, administrator, or student enters your classroom, he/she should know immediately what you value."

When you enter our classroom, you won't find charts with stickers or stars to signal who's read the most pages or is winning the contest for best spelling. You won't find papers with grades marked in red with the highest scoring papers hanging on the wall. You won't see rules posted anywhere or those "teacher supply store" motivational posters and quotes. You won't find supplies hoarded in individual desks, and a teacher's desk is nowhere to be found.

Why? I'm not a teacher who believes that students are motivated by points, grades, money, contests, fear, or any kind of extrinsic factor. What do I believe in? I believe in children and I work my hardest not to kill the intrinsic motivation students naturally bring with them to school. We can't ever force a child to be motivated, but we can create democratic, collaborative work spaces that stimulate curiosity, invite choice, and honor the children who live and learn there every single day.

I begin every year setting up the classroom with guiding principle #1 in my head and heart: Build On Intrinsic Motivation, and then allow the room to grow with the children from the first day of school. Below are a few pictures of our classrooms (both primary and middle school) over the past few years.....
It's a privilege to learn from my students and be intrinsically motivated to be a better teacher because of them.

And as Phyllis (my fabulous principal and friend) says...
To the possibilities of this next month of writing and learning from writers everywhere!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Slice of Life Day 1: Guiding Principles

For the 2010-2011 school year, I decided to take the year off from the classroom---so that I could write and be a newlywed. In retrospect, neither the writing nor the marriage worked so well, but I did have one grand opportunity that year. I was able to do some part time literacy consulting work with my friends at the Developmental Studies Center in Oakland, California. These educators and friends helped me to truly realize the power of both the academic and social growth of the child and the impact of intentional teaching around these two areas of development.
I’m back in the classroom (with sixth graders this year) and continue to learn from these wise and thoughtful colleagues at DSC, along with countless other amazing educators across the country so that I may give my students the best care and instruction I have to offer. I have embraced DSC’s guiding principles to do just that—guide me in the right direction when the pressure, the tests, the scripts, the scores, the mandates, “the pile-it-on, more is more” mentality weigh heavily on me. Here they are. Six key principles to help me to always do what’s right for children:

1. Build on Intrinsic Motivation
2. Build an Inclusive Learning Community
3. Integrate Academics with Social and Ethical Learning
4. Set up the Learning Situation so the Students do the Thinking
5. Provide Academic Rigor and Accessibility
6. Advance Teacher Practice

More tomorrow about how these principles have come to life in our classroom this year…

As my wonderful principal, Phyllis Faust, says to us every day…
To the possibilities……