The sadness comes and goes

Sometimes when you ask questions, you get difficult answers.
Our world can offer up situations no young person should have to face.

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It happened over the weekend. A family member killed. By a gun. A senior in college. In a dorm. It was news to me yesterday. Today the tears came.

I sat next to my student, at a loss for words.
This not only hurt but created fear in her.  Destroying a sense of safety.

“I don’t mind people having guns. I just don’t like what people do with them,” she said.

“Would it help if you wrote about it?”

That got a nod and the tears to stop.
And as she wrote, they fell again.
“I never got to meet him.”

“What if you write him a letter?” I said.
Another nod.

“The sadness comes and goes,” she said.

“It will.”

Too much for someone so young.
Too much for us all.




Reflecting on our Writing Process

This week my students turned in their second narrative. And with that, I wanted them to discern the difference between and reflect on their process and product.

Process matters. Especially for young writers.
That said, most checklists and rubrics presented to students consider the product,  without serious consideration of the process that went into the making of it.

I believe we do our young writers a great disservice if we do not honor the steps that go into the production of a piece of writing.

Today I presented my kiddos with a process chart designed to take them through what they did as they created. Along with the standard process of gathering, planning, drafting, and revision, I asked students to reflect on their work ethic and use of technology.

To be a writer, one must commit time. In most cases, it takes more than workshop’s 40-60 minutes a day. Just as we ask students to read outside the classroom, students must take time outside of class to produce writing they care about. Be it thinking, notebooking,  or another part of the process, writing takes time and commitment. The students who produced products they were proud of, took time.

My writers have various types of technology available to them. Notebooks, paper, pens, and electronics.  This piece of writing was my students first attempt to draft and revise electronically. The majority were liberated by it. A handful felt they did better work with pen and paper.  That’s a great reflection; something students have realized and can act on. What tool is best for me now? What will produce my best work? Many are new to keyboarding and thinking on a computer. While I think they are more likely to reach higher levels of revision if they write electronically, if they are not able to get the draft out, revision is a non-issue. Better to stick with what feels best for now. My nine-year-old writers will get there.

How we approach, the writing process is as important as what we produce.

This year, I want my kiddos to realize what process works for them.
What conditions do they need to do their best work?
Where are they on their writing journey?

As the year progresses, I am hoping my students will grow along a writing process progression towards:

more entries in their notebooks
developed plans that guide their work
revision made accessible and actionable through technology
writing outside the workshop
the realization that the quality of their writing process has a direct impact on the product.

Reading: What One Thing Do You Want?

What one thing do you want your students to walk away with next June?

Amidst the overwhelming, ever-growing list of teacher mandated to-dos, what matters most?

What will keep the focus and the joy?

This year I’m defining the one thing by subject area, I want for my kiddos to own when they leave me.

To start off the year I thought  I wanted my students to have the ability to find a book to read for joy and/or learning. If students have this ability (that includes access and ability), I theorized, they will read. And with that, all else, thinking, imagining, articulating, understanding, citizenship will follow.

But this week I revised my thinking.

Many students see reading as schoolwork.

Last Friday, we sat together, as a class, at the end of reading talking about our reading goals for the three-day weekend, and over the hubbub, I heard, “My parents don’t want me to read on the weekends.”

What? I thought.
And, this picture emerges in my head:
“Honey, you know how we’ve told you to limit your reading on the weekends. Put that book down, let’s have some family time.”
Or maybe it was like this:
“Homework on the weekends? Oh no, this is family time.”

“Wait.” I say, “let’s talk about this. Reading on the weekends should be about joy and entertainment.” And we go on to talk about ways reading can go. I ask them to revise their plans. Don’t do the partner work, read that funny, scary, silly book and just enjoy.

Even after that conversation, I know I it will take more.

Today, a few stayed on the carpet to say they didn’t meet their commitment over the weekend. Perhaps we need to revise our work for the weekends. Revise our commitment to our partners and enjoy books differently.

The work goes on to define what readers do and how these readers in my classroom need to read.
There are those that read because they love it.
And there are those that read because they are told to.
Attitudes and abilities have been created over the years

And here’s one conundrum.
By telling students, reading is homework, do we confuse the idea of reading for joy?

Reading that is constrained to school can limit. When it becomes the thing your mom makes you do and your teacher has you respond to in writing, it is a chore and a burden. And if that’s how students see reading, I have let my students down.

Students need to learn how to dig for a theme, notice character action and write about reading because it makes them better readers. Better at understanding texts that can open their minds and change their lives. Deep thinking around reading is necessary to create our future leaders, thinkers, and doers. At the same time, and of equal importance, our students need a reading life that lives in joy and entertainment. Both are necessary.

We make time for this in the classroom. There is time designed for reading that is that for free, easy, and joyful consumption. Be it Dogman, Minecraft, or Harry Potter. There is dedicated time to dive into pure reading joy.

And we make time for deep thinking and writing about reading with partners, goals, and objectives. Because this, as my students report, helps them see more than they did before.

When my students leave my room next June, I want them to have a reading life that is lives where no one is watching; when they choose to find books that allow the pure joy of loving a book. And I want them to walk away knowing that there are times that digging deeply into text delivers a different kind of joy. One that expands their mind and connects with another.

What do you want your students to walk away with at the end of the year?


Knowing and Doing

The first three weeks of school are done, and I’m in the middle of a long weekend. Rather than the day to day that can fixate on missteps, this is a time to take stock and see positive movement.

This is what I noticed. After years of attempts, I have eliminated the use of “you guys” as a group identifier. I have made stilted efforts to replace it in the past, but in times of stress or exhaustion, I reverted to my old habit. Despite knowing better, breaking the habit of, “hey, you guys.” was harder than I thought.

You may have accomplished this gender neutrality by using words like scholars, students, or people. I have struggled even though I knew better.  Strangely, a math class changed my language.

Algebra marked the end of my math competence. The only reason I enrolled in a summer course focusing on said content was my desire to be a better teacher and the instructor, Megan Franke. Her equity approach to learning is evident in every move she makes. I went to the class thinking if anyone she could teach me the content. Turns out, four days with her translated into more than just algebraic thinking. Megan’s consistent use of “you all” during instruction hit me as an adult, and all the more vulnerable, learner.  It was a gut level reaction. You all referred to me. It welcomed me to learn.

Perhaps hearing it as a learner made it sink into my heart and change my ingrained language.

Understanding something is an essential step in our journey as educators. Experiencing it and doing is something altogether different.

Read more about gender neutral ways to students here.