Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Matching Records to Performance

Hosted by the team at Two Writing Teachers, link up your Slice of Life
on Tuesdays throughout the year. 

My students read self-selected texts for ten minutes or so each day in class. Our default is reading. When we finish work early or find a few spare minutes, books come out and students (if they are real readers) sink into story. My real readers steal time to read. You know the types. We could be doing anything else and that particular reading is holding a book like an illegal electronic device just below the table to read on the sly. 

I love catching those readers. 

It is April. We have five weeks left in our year together. Five weeks is one half of one quarter of  the year. My students wish we had five days left. Don't you wish we were a week into summer already? Somedays I do (because we're going to the Grand Canyon!) But most days I gasp at how little time we have left.   As students begin to anticipate the end of the year, they sometimes fall away from routines and systems we established early on.

At least I hope that is what is happening. I hope the problems I'm seeing with readers in the room are some kind of post spring break, post standardized testing miasma that will run its course without a long course of antibiotics or other official treatments.  
This shows four students records over almost two weeks. I don't mind if students want to record a
 book once they have finished reading the entire book, but I am coming to realize that it does not give us
 an accurate picture of how,  when or what they are truly reading. 
We track our reading progress using a Google spreadsheet that students and I share access to. Our Reading Record has worked well to capture pages and titles of books students have read. I wrote about how I digitized our status of the class here. I've been notice a change in how students are tracking their reading on our Reading Record.  Suddenly I have students sampling books from the classroom library yet recording entirely different titles on their Reading Records.

 I see students browsing books, but talking about the weekend or talking about their lunch or an outfit or upcoming officer elections. Usually, I hear book talking at tables. Usually, if students are reading, that accountable talk, as Stephanie Harvey calls it, bubbles up. Readers in my classes will spontaneously recommend titles to each other or they share opinions books to movies, movies to books. That sort of talk is happening much less and the behavior of the reading herd seems to have shifted.  The conversation has taken a turn away from books which makes me wonder about my readers and the records we are keeping.

My big take away today is that a status of the class is not enough to monitor the readers in my room. I have to find ways to confer with them, to talk to them about the books they are reading and to listen in and capture the talk I hear them sharing with their peers (about books other topics).  I need to be more systematic in how I confer and keep my anecdotal notes about the readers in my room. That's my goal for the remainder of this week. Time to get back to it!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Learn from Failure

I fell off the writing wagon. I didn't hit my head and I have no injuries to report, but I stopped posting slice of life pieces last Wednesday. I am still writing. I have several drafts in my post queue.

Drafts view show posts in progress. 

I am writing on paper, on notepads, on my iPad, in journals and in private.  I chose to stop publishing for a variety of reasons non of which I want to air. Life happens.

Life happens. Life happens to teachers and writers and students. Sometimes things get in the way of writing or publishing.


A friend who is slicing for the first time sent me a message on Facebook telling me I did not finish my writing challenge. Her check in made me chuckle. She loves me and the message demonstrates her care and kind nature,  but it also made me think. How do I bridge failure and continue to write? What comes next? On a blog, in a public space? How do I learn from the writing failure and move forward?

Instead of wasting words beating myself up over not finishing the challenge I thought I'd spend them considering how I would talk students through such a failure. When students do not finish something or will not finish something, what do I do to support their learning? How do I help them get past the failure or the feeling of defeat so that they can continue to grow? First off, in my classroom no assignment, no activity, no writing challenge is ever all or nothing. There is always partial credit for what a student demonstrates. Only pregnancy is black and white.

If a student quit (and a few did last year), I would remind them that this is practice. Blog writing is drafting in a public space. This type of writing--a daily challenge--is practice or faster thinking and writing than pieces we polish, draft, revise and revisit. Some slices are quick writes; we give ourselves thirty minutes and go. Others develop over time and we might work at the craft of the piece. Right?  I know that has been my experience during this challenge. Even you only practiced three quarters of the time, what did you learn about yourself as a writer? I would ask my student(s) that question to get them talking about the experience.

My father used to contextualize my mistakes with a scale from one to ten. Ten, he said, was serious, possibly life-threatening. I use that scale with students when they are overcome by guilt and don't see a way through defeat. If ten is someone's life or death, then not finishing this challenge in order to grow as a writer is likely less than five.  It is one series of practices. It is one experience, one thread in the cross stich you create living the life of a writer. Have you seen the back of a cross stitch? Mine are messy. My mothers are terribly neat. Mine have knots and threads everywhere. Colors cross paths and much of the direction does not make sense. My mothers show the image from the front in reverse. She has more experience stitching than I do; I did not realize that early on. I just stewed in frustration. Now, I realize that the sewer can tie a knot in that thread and let the string dangle on the back of the image. She can start a new scene; sew with a different color or move to another piece of the canvas entirely and start over. Eventually the picture, the pillow, the sentiment, the message will be beautiful. No one will see the knots of  experiences that got her there. It is the same with writing.

Ultimately, I  want students to find encouragement to face the failure and persist in writing. My  message to myself and to my students is not to give up, but to reflect, contextualize and move on.

Keep writing. I know I will.

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by the team at Two Writing Teachers
everyday in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Julius Caesar



We are sitting in the lobby. Collin, twelve, shifts in the Queen Anne and. It squeaks. I have chosen a cane back chair, less cushion. It's three minutes until the doors open. We're set to see Caesar. I'm thinking about argument and what I will teach next as Collin peals off his jacket and settles into a squirm.