Slice of Life: Under Cover

Children seldom misquote you. They usually repeat word for word what you shouldn’t have said. — Unknown

One towel covered me from head to toe. The towel beneath me absorbed water from my swimsuit.  Protected from the breeze, I huddled under cover. With the sun above and the heated concrete pool deck below, I found quiet. I loved this part of swim lessons. This plus the popsicle we’d get on the way home made it all worthwhile.

My eight-year-old body was positioned far enough away from the splash zone of the pool, near the chain link fence and the moms. Save haven.

I woke up to their voices.

“It’s sad,” one said.

“I don’t know why she brings her,” said one mom.

I knew that voice, she lived down the street.

“Poor thing just can’t do it,” said another.

“She shouldn’t be in this class,  it holds the others back. It just isn’t fair.”

That was Tucker’s mom.  I’d never heard her talk that way before.

“You have a point. Everyone has to wait.”

“Of course I have a point.”

My throat tightened.

Then, “Hello, all! Thanks for watching her.” It was Mom.

Did she hear them?

“No problem. She sleeping. Probably so tired from the lesson,” Tucker’s mom said all sweet.

My eyes hurt. I lifted the towel, rubbed my eyes and reached for my mom.

Going in the big pool took every bit of brave I had. Some days I didn’t have enough. This day was one of those days.

After that, shame took control. At first it hurt. I wonder if they knew. That made it worse. By the next day, the fear of drowning was nothing compared to my I’ll-show-you-attitude. Shame drove me to mad and then to prove something. Strange. Shame led to mad and took over fear. Was it pride?

I survived the pool incident. And I remember. If you think that’s what I needed to get on my brave, think again.  I overcame this moment, but it left seeds of doubt and scaring. I don’t always pull out from underneath the covers and approach my fear. Sometimes it’s too big or I’m too small.

This memory drives my thinking tonight as the start of the school year approaches. We need to be mindful. Not just of our 11454297503_e27946e4ff_htalk when we think no one’s listening. We need to be mindful of how we think about children’s abilities. Our thoughts drive our actions and our words that young minds can see, hear and remember.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for this place to share our Tuesday slices. Read more slices here.

(Just?!) Focus — Celebrating the Struggle We All Face

celebrate link upThis may seem to be an odd type of celebration post. But, I’m looking to the possibility in celebrating this point of view. Thank you to all who participate in #celebratelu on Saturdays and to Ruth Ayers as creator and host. Join us here.

Picture this: The job isn’t getting done. The paper is blank, the book is open to page two. The only thing happening is time passing. This might look like someone who is lazy or just doesn’t care.

Sound familiar?

Any student you know? But this isn’t a student I’m describing. This is me.

I don’t normally operate like this and I hate it (and myself) when I do. I question my ability and my purpose. Sometimes I get dramatic and question my right to take up space.  Most days aren’t like this.  Most days are so full that they could fill three days. But today is this way. At this moment, I’m extremely uncomfortable and unmotivated.

Strangely I’m treasuring this discomfort. I’m trying to soak it up and not forget it. I’m trying to figure out why I got here and what I do to get out of this messy place. I am the inattentive and/or struggling student right now, confused, distracted and unsuccessful —  I have to (fill in the blank), and  I don’t want to.

This lack of motivation and lack of success happens to us all. And for those periods of unease, life is not good. Life is unfocused and without purpose. You don’t like yourself.

As an adult, I know, based on previous success, that I will get out of this slump. But for a young person who has never found their way out of this kind of feeling, it is a how life goes. They are lost and they have been lost for a long time. What does that do to them?  What do we educators do for them?

Every year I have “those” students. Getting them to succeed takes a lot of work on their part. Their mindset needs a huge shift, and it starts with me. Sitting in their shoes is a good first step. That’s why I am holding on to my uncomfortable lack of progress on assigned tasks and asking myself — what might help me right now so I can help my students.  I’m looking to establish a stance, a mindset that approaches students with some basic assumptions, feedback and modeling. Here are a few ideas I’m holding on to when I work with those who struggle: 

1. Acknowledge the confusion and let students know you face it too.

2. Know and let students know that there is a way to succeed. It just takes time to figure out. Some need more time.

3. Be patient with students and by example, teach them how to be patient with themselves.

4. Model persistence, don’t give up on them just because it is hard and seemingly hopeless. (How must they feel if that’s how you feel?)  

5. Assume students have good intent and want to learn, they have just lost faith. It’s your job to show that you have faith in them.

6. Capitalize on their gifts. Notice and name the gems you see in them. Make sure they know you see their value.

And speaking of gifts check out this TED talk by a student who clearly was/is one of those kids,

Any other thoughts on shifting the discussion from “just focus” to positive feedback and modeling?

Here’s to a embracing the confusion.

SOL Reflection: Making the Writing Box Bigger

sols_6

Slice of Life hosted by Two Writing Teachers makes Tuesdays wonderful. If you’d like to join in the slicing, check out this link.

The very nature of goal setting is to challenge ourselves, to reach for more, to measure our progress, to prove or affirm our place, to keep up, to be acknowledged or some combination of all of the above.  Certain people are goal-oriented; they are driven by the need to succeed. Certain types of activities are based on achieving goals: think sales or sports.

This is all fine and dandy, but it makes me wonder about those times when we don’t succeed and label it failure. It seems so final.

Nerdlution, part 1 had many people saying they had failed.  This tweet from Franki Sibberson made me think:  “I wonder what our #nerdlutions failures mean in terms of our expectations of students and their goals?”  Hmmm… I wonder too.

There are some students in my class that succeed in traditional school ways. But there are some that don’t. For various reasons they don’t fit into the box we call school. They are bright kids and can succeed, but not in the school way. In organization, writing, reading, math — certain students hit walls. Success based on standard measures doesn’t happen for them, yet. They know it and feel bad about it. They feel bad about themselves because they fail to succeed. It isn’t a life sentence, just school. So how can we make the box that means success a little bigger?

Last week we drafted our memoirs.

Forty minutes had passed. One student hunkers over his paper. I walk over. He has written four lines. His piece is all about how he hates writing.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“This is so hard.” His writing tells me more. Writing was easy in first grade, but now it is so hard because there is so much more to pay attention to. Really something worth pursuing with him, but not now. Poor kid’s in a panic.

While he has only written a few lines, what he has done is beautiful. Ironic, I think. This child who hates to write has a gift for it. He knows how to put words together. But at the same time, he feels he has failed. In mis mind he hasn’t written enough.

He says, “I can’t do this, I don’t know what else to say.”

I tell him I know the feeling. I tell him his style reminds me of so many memoir texts that start out, “When I was…” and then continue with a string of “when I was…” moving toward the present.

I ask him if he remembers writing in second grade, or third or fourth? How was it then?

His eyes perk up, “I remember second grade. It was ok then. Things got much more difficult in fourth grade.”

“Ok,” I say, “Start in second grade, then work your way forward, grade by grade. See if that can get you a little more and perhaps you could figure out something along the way.”

He sits back down, leans over his work, and writes. Ten minutes pass. Four more lines written. He seems better with this product, and better with himself.

As we walk to recess, I tell him that he has grit.

“What’s that?”

“That’s when you keep working, even when it’s hard. Extremely hard.  When you do this you have grit. You don’t give up.”

“Oh, sort of like perseverance?”

“But doesn’t it sound cooler – grit?”

“Yeah, kind of like getting messy in the dirt,” he says.

“Exactly,” I say. “You have a way with words.”

And then he runs off to recess.

While I want him to love to write, this year might just be about making writing a little less painful. The real question in in my mind is how he feels about himself and his abilities.

He is being asked to do a school thing defined by a unit of study.  There are other opportunities to write. But this is how he defines writing. Let’s face it, this is how we have defined it. After all, it’s called Writer’s Workshop. The process of writing overwhelms him. There is just too much to remember, to organize and then a deadline on top of it makes it even more disturbing. Bottom line, this type of work makes him feel like a failure.

He doesn’t fit into this particular writing box, and because of this he hates writing. Regardless of what the Common Core says, for the sake of our students, writing needs to be seen as something we do everywhere. Our definition of writing and what we present as writing opportunities needs to expand dramatically.  The box needs to get bigger, making room for students to find a writing space that fits and equals success.

Learning is Like a Puzzle

“Learning is like a puzzle you just have to figure it out.”

That was the last sentence of my student’s 5th grade culmination speech.  Her thinking is brilliant but she wasn’t the academic star. No, quite the opposite. She is a student with significant learning disabilities.

IMG_0926Alyssa had struggled all of her school years and entered my classroom apologetic about her failure to succeed. She felt she was pretty dumb and wrote how it hurt
so much to watch the other kids pass her, while she struggled with lower level books and spelling. Every word was a struggle — getting her thoughts out on the page, reading the page —  was so hard for her. In spite of that struggle, or maybe because of it, Alyssa was able to piece together ideas that other more proficient students were blind to. Decoding was difficult but she was brilliant at synthesis. In read aloud she was the star — all of the physical work of reading was done and she was free to think and piece the puzzle together.

More PD, Please…

Alyssa and the many students like her are the reason we teach. The reason we go to professional development on our own time and dime. In fact we are desperately looking for these opportunities.

This past week, I had the privilege to be with 60 educators from my district who had the drive to learn. They all came looking for something to help them teach students like Alyssa to read closely. We sat and learned about Know and Wonder thinking  based on What Readers Really Do. We worked with some of the Sign Posts from Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s Notice and Note. We read aloud.  We charted.  We read slowly, carefully.  We talked. We wondered. We planned book groups to have with colleagues. At the end we hung around wanting more.

Strength in Weakness and the Beauty of Partnership

Teachers’ conversations were really thought provoking and inspirational. One
teacher confessed to being just like Alyssa. She said she still has to read slowly and re read to understand. This confession brought out something from her colleague and book club partner: while the “struggling” partner may be slower, IMG_0730the depth of her understanding was often greater and thereby enriched the thinking of the partner who read with greater ease.  In fact with the call to read closely, perhaps those with the practice of reading slowly will be doing more of the leading. Ah, the beauty of a partnership that finds strength in weakness.  Win, win. Made me think about reading partnerships in my classroom. Would it be possible
to pair students like these two teachers? Could be a wonderful thing.

Seeing each other for what we bring to our community, weaknesses and all give
us strength. I saw that in our community of teachers looking to piece the puzzle together, willingly in fact joyfully. All of these educators had  Carol Dweck‘s growth mindset: no one with the answer, no excuses, no one had to be the star. We were in it to figure it out. We have to for all of the Alyssas in our rooms.

Learning and Growth — The Struggle is the Same

As I look at my students and create  learning groups and partnerships, I will remember those conversations with my colleagues.  We all are like Alyssa struggling to figure out the puzzle. Piece by piece, little by little we will get there.

Things I plan to keep uppermost in my mind this year:

1. Growth includes failure — don’t fear it, figure it out

2. Celebrate success — acknowledge what it took to get there

3. Look for  brilliance — hold it out for all to admire

4. Know that some things take time — foster patience


IMG_0841