Celebrating the Old and New at the Beginning

This post serves a dual purpose:  celebrating a week of creating a new classroom space and DigiLit Sunday topic, preparing for the new school year. Find other celebrations at Ruth Ayers’ blog Discover, Play, Build and DigiLit Sunday posts at Margaret Simon’s blog Reflections on the Teche.

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I have an old pair of sandals. They’ve given me miles of comfort. In spite of new purchases, my old pair finds its way back into my life and onto my feet. They are worn just right and fit my summer feet.

My classroom has well-worn objects as well. They are irreplaceable. This week I celebrate the old that serve every school year.

The easel I found in an abandoned hallway my third year of teaching has held hundreds of pieces of paper. Smartboard technology tried to replace it, but a physical chart, made with students, that hangs on the wall as evidence of thinking, that doesn’t disappear with the next lesson, has value an electronic screen can’t match. This old tool takes any piece of paper and makes it the centerpiece of instruction.

The wooden stools I bought at IKEA my second year of teaching have survived and served hundreds of fifth graders as chairs, tables, impromptu meeting areas, foot stools, outside classroom space, and props in dramatic plays. These old tools allow students to create the space they need.

The bookshelves and book bins have been with me since the beginning. Bookshelves can entice readers into a cozy nook. Bins are transported to the carpet, to a table, to a corner. They can morph to hold any genre. These old tools are the superheroes of the reading and writing workshop.

The books on the shelves will be sought after and loved. Sadly, these books aren’t as resilient as the bookshelves and bins, but their messages endure and speak to kids year after year. Because of Winn Dixie, Tiger Rising, Flying Solo, How to Steal a Dog, Wonder, Firegirl, The One and Only Ivan; series like I Survived, Shredderman, The Treasure Hunters, Vet Volunteers are just a few. These old tools transport students.

I cherish the old. But sometimes we need new. This week I’m celebrating things that revitalize our lives.

I have a new pair of running shoes that have given my running new life. The old pair is broken down and can’t provide the support I need.  Sometimes new is necessary. This year, I’m bringing in new that support the old and signal new beginnings.

I’ve found new strategies from professional books I’ve read over the summer.
Who’s Doing the Work by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris
A “next generation” balanced literacy approach allows kids the space to show what they can do before we teachers jump in with the instruction. Talking less so kids can do more has been my mission ever since I read What Readers Really Do by Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse. Jan and Kim’s book has opened my eyes to the power of shared reading. Shared reading isn’t just for little kids. This year, I’m building in more shared reading time around their read aloud time to support transfer.

DIY Literacy by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts.
I wrote about this book here and here and here. I believe the tools we will build with DIY thinking will empower students to do the work with self-made goals. This year, I’m finding places and making time for students to create bookmarks that are supported by the micro progressions, charts and demonstration notebook.

The Journey is Everything by Katherine Bomer.
The essay work Bomer speaks to is one that grows over time. It is the journey we want our kids to take as readers and writers. This year, I’m building in time to notice and notebook so ideas can grow over the year, not just in a unit of study.

To contain and support all of this new thinking we need new school supplies.
Notebooks, pens, markers, post-its. They are ready and waiting.

The old tools have strength. They are flexible and tough. Like my sandals. They serve no matter the group of students. I cherish them. But every year, I find new ideas that support and enhance. Like my running shoes, sometimes the old needs to be updated.  Sometimes new is necessary.

I look forward to both the old and the new sitting side by side.


Slice of Life: Best Laid Plans

All summer I’ve been reading, thinking, and planning how my next class will read, write, talk, listen, and learn together. I’ve gone to sleep imagining my room design.

Today reality began, and the enormity of it takes my breath away. I start to have that I’m already behind sensation. To reassure myself, I pull out my plans for the year. It looks reasonable all drafted in Google docs.  All I need to do is set up the room.

I arrive early and open the classroom door. Waxed floors gleam. Desks, chairs, boxes, and random pieces of furniture are in places I don’t want them.  The bookshelves are empty, and the cabinets packed.

I move tables, reposition book shelves, stack books,  empty cabinets, break a fingernail, remove a few desks. Baskets form with collections of mystery, adventure, school drama, biography, poetry. After a few hours, my imagined space starts to take shape.

Around 2:30, I call it a day and walk through the office, where two large boxes labeled 5th Grade Running Records, catch my eye. My plans to spend the rest of the day reading dissolve, and the data follows me back to my classroom.

Armed with a civilizing glass of iced tea, I open up T’s folder. I had his sister a few years back. I look through his running records, spelling inventories, writing samples. I go back in time looking for clues. I take notes. Student after student.

A profile of the class emerges. One of levels and scores. A snapshot. A valid and important one. The data provides me with a starting point. Teacher notes and student writing give me hints as to where I might go to meet each child as a learner. But that’s not all I need.

I know T’s level, but I don’t know T. What he likes to do, what he hates, how he spends his time. His attitudes toward reading, his ability to empathize and persist when things get difficult, his dreams, his wonderings.  Knowing T as a reader, a writer, a thinker, and a human is my job. It’s why teaching is ever challenging, ever fascinating.

This summer and every summer, I research, imagine, plan and create units for the upcoming year.  Units to grow readers like T. I’ve got teaching points, mid-workshop interruptions, and anticipated small group conferences, but it’s  just a map with an end of year destination. Once T and his 31 classmates enter room 5, recalculations are made, and we adjust the route. In a few weeks, we’ll hit start, and the journey begins.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesday. Read more slices here.