Saturday, April 27, 2013

CRCT Testing: The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow!

When I was a little girl, I loved the movie, Annie. This was before VCRs, so I experienced the movie through the vinyl record that included a picture book of scenes from the film. I used to listen to it over and over again with my Dad's enormous ear phones that engulfed my little pint size head.  My favorite song from the film was, "Tomorrow". I sang it over and over again using the fireplace as my stage. Annie, quite a gutsy character, brought great joy to my imagination. But, most of all, I admired her ability to always focus on the positive despite the trials of everyday life.

Right now, being almost physically and emotionally sick from the stress of the CRCT, it is easy to get a little down. How do dedicated teachers stay focused on their students, realizing that there is a bigger picture beyond the CRCT? How can we feel reassured that we are great teachers despite the CRCT results? How do we keep from comparing ourselves to other teachers within the same school? Yes, as a first year teacher, it is a bit of a worry. I wish I could say that my worries have been put to rest, but most of these questions have been expressed over the last couple of weeks by veteran teachers.

All I can say, is that I am making the personal decision to focus on my students, and not worry about their CRCT test results. When I was a student, testing was just a blimp-a moment in time. As a young girl, I was always excited about testing because I got two free orange juices every morning and it meant I was that much closer to my birthday. I wasn't worried if I would pass or fail. I believe that to survive as teachers, we must stay positive, keep perspective, and be strong for our students. They cannot see or feel the fear that lies within us. Therefore, I have told my students that finishing the test does not mean under any circumstances that we are done with the learning. We will continue to push until the end, for the main purpose of demonstrating to them that learning is not all about a single test! Learning is about discovery, imagination, and stretching our thinking. I look forward to finishing out the year strong, and until the testing season is complete my mantra will be, "The sun will come out, tomorrow!"

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Passioniate Career: How Do You Know You Have It?

Passion. Educators often hear this term, but how do you know when you have it?

Before teaching, I believe that the word "passion" was an abstract term for me. I heard it from self help books or seminars, but it truly had no real meaning for me. I knew that I needed it, but how do I get it? Is it something you seek in your job? Are there steps to follow to suddenly get some "passion"? If I ate right, got enough sleep, and did enough yoga could "passion" suddenly procure?

Well, I must admit before teaching I was a bit lost. I've always had a strong work ethic, but I was not yearning to produce, create, innovate as I do in education. The closest thing that hit home with me was ministry. I loved working with the children. The kids brought out the best in me, and I loved seeing their love for Christ grow. However, at times, working with the various adults (parents), and their different personalities strained me. Ministry leadership, because it is so personal to so many, often creates a heavy task for the leader who must listen to everyone's input, making sure that everyone feels valued, and then put those ideas together for a common goal that most all can agree on. In the end, I felt it was too personal for me in some ways, and I longed to worship solely with my family again. The passion needed for the long term was not there.

So, how do you know if you are passionate about your career? I love the following clip.

Being in Your Element: Sir Ken Robinson talks about being in your element, which combines something that you are naturally good at with a passion in which you have your heart and soul in something. I feel that in education I am in my element. When I think of my classroom, my students, my school, my fellow colleagues my heart warms. That feeling began with my student teaching and has continued through the start of my career. I do not long to do anything else anymore. I don't feel fidgety, discontented, unhappy. I don't long anymore for what else is out there, or think thoughts like, "If I could find just the right thing, then I will be content." Although, I do believe that we all must be grateful for what we have, and no career can make us truly content in all ways. Finding the right fit for your personality, interests, and strengths is a great start.

Being in The Zone: Robinson describes, "the zone" is the ability to work for hours on something and it feels like minutes. I feel that way about all elements of education whether it be planning units, lessons,  school events, or collaboration between teachers. I could spend all night working on it and feel cheated that there is not more time! That is being in the zone, and that is when you know you've hit your passion.

Here & Now:  Finally, Robinson, discusses being in the present. I totally get this. I know with jobs I've had in the past I'd often get distracted. Maybe I would be thinking about the new car I wanted to buy or what colors I wanted to paint my house. Basically, I wanted to think of anything else but my work. This is the complete opposite when you hit your passion. Now, I am engaged and ever present when I am in the classroom. I don't feel the pull of the computer. I don't think about trying to multi-task by grading my students papers while also teaching. No, I am ever present within the classroom, because basically I don't want to miss a fantastic discovery made by one of my students. I want to be ever present for them and with them. I feel that I am in the "here and now". There is no place that I would rather be than focused on their learning!

Another clip that I like is by Steve Jobs--

Insights from Steve Jobs: Jobs discusses that passion is absolutely necessary for job success. This is because to be successful at something you must maintain that passion over an extended period of time. He claims that no rational person would produce qualty work that they were not passionate about. Over time, they would dry up, and not do it anymore. My thoughts are that some do continue to try and stick a career choice out, although miserable. The result is that their career becomes just a job that pays the bills. Distracted and annoyed to be in a position that brings no joy or passion, innovation and creativity dies. This is tragic for any career choice, but especially in education.

Keeping that passion for an extended period of time is the ultimate goal for continued joy and success. This is not always easy, but in the realms of education, that means passionate teachers must stay connected with other passionate educators who are always striving for excellence.

Final thoughts:  I am happy to say that passion is no longer an abstract term for me. I feel it in my heart and mind: education is for me. I feel like I am one of the lucky ones. My wish is for my students to discover their passions and never let them go!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A First Year Teacher's CRCT Testing Strategies: Aspiring Toward Victory

As a first year teacher, the pressure and stress that comes along with the CRCT is somewhat overwhelming. I try to keep the whole thing into perspective, but I do worry for my students. I feel like I'm taking it right along with them.

Recently, I sought the advice of a retired educator and family member who had great success with CRCT results from her students. Her advice to me was to focus on test anxiety. I thought her advice was useful, because I know as a student I also had pretty intense test anxiety. I researched various techniques, but I really didn't find much. Then, I decided to try a brainstorm session in my special needs class one day. The following is what we came up with...

The System
Step One: Eliminate- Mark out two letters that are incorrect answers (A, B, C, or D)
Step Two: Evaluate- Go back and investigate the passage or problem
Step Three: Instinctuate- (A made up word, but they loved it!) If evaluating fails, then use your gut-- trust your instinct

Think Alouds: We practiced reading and marking through passages as we read, annotate important facts, dates in the margins, and discussed the importance of reading the beginning sentence and last sentence, while skimming the rest.

Visualization: We practiced a technique that I use before standardized tests, which is to visualize all the right answers just coming forward, almost like the right answers just zoom to my attention, while the wrong ones fade into the background.

Breath deep and take your time: We also practiced breathing deeply, and to think calm thoughts knowing that there is 70 minutes to answer 25 questions.

Positive Self Talk: I love the slogan by coach Tony Horton (also known as the creator of P90X). He always preaches, "Do you best, and forget the rest!" My students and I had discussions on what it means to do your best, and what the rest is--the rest is all that junk-- known as negative self talk! "I can't do this. I'm going to fail. This is just too hard!" I told my students as soon as those thoughts came into their heads they must immediately say to themselves, "No, go away, you ugly thoughts. Mrs. Farmer told me I will exceed on this test. I will succeed!"

Anxiety: Sometimes when students get in the testing environment, they freeze. Whatever review teachers have done is suddenly worthless. A student's mind goes blank, and they rush through the test, hoping the pain will just end! Well, my students and I discussed this as well. I told them, that is when they need to take a deep breath  and use the system: eliminate, evaluate, and instintuate. If all else fails--use the system and it will carry you through the test. Side note: Several students told me that the system was helping them in all their classes as they reviewed over the last two weeks.

My thoughts......
On Friday, the first day of testing, I was so proud of my students. All the homeroom teachers told me how they took their time on the test, and they noticed that they were using the system as well as marking through the passages, and annotating in the margins. Students remarked that they seemed pleased with the test and felt confident. Of course, their results on the test are still to be determined, but their ability to feel confident during the test means the world to me.  My goal will always be for my students to do their best--and forget the rest!

Successful School Students Celebrating Victory Stock Images - Image: 6985364

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Rocket Boys: Inspiring Text for Teachers and Students Across Curriculums

Dear Teachers,

Since the book Rocket Boys, and the film based on it, "October Sky", were released, Freida Joy Riley, Miss Riley as we students knew her, has taken on near-icon status, especially for teachers, across the nation and the world. Wherever I go, I am thanked by people of all walks of life, but especially by teachers, for telling her story because it is their story, too. At long last, they say, someone has written about a real school teacher, one who not only fought for her students, but insisted that they learn. It seems to be the latter observation that's the most important to these teachers. That Miss Riley was a teacher who insisted that it was their student's duty to learn.

In "Rocket Boys," I quote Miss Riley as saying, "All I've done is give you a book. You have to have the courage to learn what's inside it." She said that and this seems to be the key. I have visited many schools in the last year and in every one of them, rich or poor, I have met dedicated school teachers who have given over huge portions of their energy, their very lives, dedicated to the education of the children under their charge. What is to become of our children, they worry, if they don't learn or simply refuse to learn? I believe they will face a life of disappointment, unhappiness, and, worse, stupefying dullness. What, after all, can one get out of life if one doesn't have the information and tools necessary to understand what is going on about them?

I submit to you that an ignorant child is as sure a victim of child abuse as one that arrives in school with bruises and welts. These are harsh words but necessary ones. The vast majority of undereducated people on this planet are destined to lives of misery and unhappiness. And why? Because they lacked a teacher who cared enough, or a parent who wanted enough for them, or lacked within themselves the native capacity to wonder, to strive, to need knowledge.

I have never been able to understand anyone on this planet who lacks a need for knowledge. Is it not God's greatest gift to us all, this capacity to think, to wonder, to imagine? To not have that need is a terrible, brutal thing, an incapacity that must be recognized and changed. That is the job of the teacher - your job and mine. "All I've done is give you a book. You have to have the courage to learn what's inside it."

I only wish Miss Riley could be here for guidance. She could teach all of us, teachers and her students, how it was that she, so early in life, found the key to her students hopes, dreams, and passions. Somehow, she did. Miss Riley was not an easy teacher. She was, in fact, quite tough. She gave lots of homework and required each of us to arrive in class prepared and ready to discuss the day's lessons. If we weren't, she made certain that we suffered for it. I wilted under both her tongue and her stern gaze and so made up my mind early on to study a little harder for her classes. I learned to discipline myself under her strict guidance. Miss Riley paid attention to all her students, not just her Rocket Boys. She was fierce in her belief that going to school was the job of her students and, therefore, sacred. To do a poor job was simply not acceptable. When I got arrogant because of my rocket successes, or in trouble for my failures, she kept me on an even keel with just a few words of appropriate encouragement and a form of tough love.

Miss Riley died while I was on military duty overseas. When I found out, I wished then that I had told her how much she meant to me. I am most happy that she lived long enough to see Neil Armstrong step on the moon. I trust she thought of her Rocket Boys when he did. In very many ways, her smile now lights up this nation, and the world, with the hope that we may once again find our ways back to the old ways, the ways of duty and honor, the ways of our fathers and mothers, and our teachers.

I sense the need of many children out there desperate to believe in someone, and to find meaning in their lives. For what life is worthy if it doesn't have meaning, a larger purpose beyond the mere gratification of needs? So let us resolve always to be more like Miss Riley.
I urge you all to seek out that spark of adventure, that crying, genetic demand in every child to know about the good and right things in life. If you're a teacher, be ever vigilant toward the cynical and nay-saying students in the classroom. By their cynicism, they can and will destroy that innate desire to learn. Ferret them out and separate them from the others if that's what it takes. If that sounds like harsh medicine, I say yes it is. But I'm talking about the survival of your child here. I'll tell you something else, too, that I strongly believe. If you're a parent, and your child is of reading age is not reading at least one book a month outside schoolwork, I think you need to get to work. You must somehow find a way to make that start happening. There is nothing out there on television, radio, and film, for the most part, but stupefying dullness. To pretend otherwise is to do a disservice to you and your child. They must read! Wernher von Braun said, "All one can really leave one's children is what's inside their heads." Education, in other words, and not earthly possessions, is the ultimate legacy, the only thing that cannot be taken away. I encourage you to be tough, exacting, even in a way ruthless - like our Miss Riley could be - to ensure that education Dr. von Braun was talking about. It is on our shoulders, yours and mine, to bring this generation, and the next, and the next forward to a good life. And it is also the responsibility of the generations themselves. We have a battle before us. Clearly, we are outnumbered at present, or at least outspent, by those who would take us toward cynicism and hatefulness, who would turn us all into helpless victims, unable to do anything for ourselves, who would happily keep us ignorant.

But I'm really an optimist. I believe there are many many Freida Joy Rileys out there who are doing the same, underappreciated job she did forty years ago and doing it just as well. Because of that, I believe our nation's children are heading for the stars. When they get there, I believe they will do so with their teacher's names on their lips. And it is right that they do so.

If you have a teacher who did the job for you, who went the extra mile, who you know made you learn even when you didn't want to, I hope you will go to them at your first opportunity and tell them how important to them they are. Don't wait. They need to hear it and you need to say it. And your students are lucky to have a caring leader such as yourself - the Rocket Boys story is a celebration of people like you who make a difference to the youth of our nation. I honor you and thank you.

"All we've done is give you a book. You have to have the courage to learn what's inside it."

Homer H. Hickam, Jr.
October 29, 1999

Wow! That is fantastic and so inspiring! My students are currently reading Homer Hickam, Jr.'s memoir, Rocket Boys. We are reading, discussing and comparing it to scenes from the film. My 6th grade students are totally engaged with this text. The characters, coming from a small coal mining town, ring true with the experiences of my students who also come from a small town. The main characters are also young teenage boys, so the males in my classes have enjoyed the change of pace from the female protagonists that we have studied. Above all, the theme of the text is 
Rocket Boys is a true example of a young boy, who against the odds, created something amazing-a rocket, which in turn change his and his friends' lives forever.

This text is truly inspiring to me and my students. I encourage all teachers to read it and find ways to use it in their classrooms albeit English, Social Studies, Science, or Math. What a fabulous book for inspiring teachers and students to strive for excellence!

                                                                   " A rocket won't fly unless somebody lights the fuse. "
                                                                              ~Homer Hickam, Rocket Boys: A Memoir

Miss Freida Riley was the inspirational chemistry and physics teacher who helped the Rocket Boys of the Big Creek Missile Agency to become successful. Before teaching at Big Creek, she was a student there, ranking first in her class. She was also first in her class at Concord College where she studied to become a teacher. As a teacher, Miss Riley was dynamic and tough. She held her students to the highest standard. When a student once told her he was doing his best, she summed up her teaching philosophy in two words, "Do better." Miss Riley died in 1969 from Hodgkin's Disease. To the last, she insisted on teaching even when it was necessary for her students to carry her on a stretcher to her classroom.
"Sonny" Hickam at the Science Fair, 1960. 

Outside after BCMA meeting, 1959. Standing L to R: Sonny Hickam and Roy Lee Cooke. In snow holding rocket mockup - O'Dell Carroll. 

A meeting of the Big Creek Missile Agency, 1959. L to R: Sherman Siers, O'Dell Carroll, Sonny Hickam. 
All material for this post was from Homer Hickam's website:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

There's No Crying in Baseball: A Mantra for Excellence

"Andy, be serious. You are not trying. You are whining. What is it that you want me to say to you, huh? Do you want me to say, "Poor you. Miranda's picking on you. Poor you. Poor Andy"? Hmm? Wake up, six. She's just doing her job. Don't you know that you are working at the place that published some of the greatest artists of the century? Halston, Lagerfeld, de la Renta. And what they did, what they created was greater than art because you live your life in it. Well, not you, obviously, but some people. You think this is just a magazine, hmm? This is not just a magazine. This is a shining beacon of hope for... oh, I don't know... let's say a young boy growing up in Rhode Island with six brothers pretending to go to soccer practice when he was really going to sewing class and reading Runway under the covers at night with a flashlight. You have no idea how many legends have walked these halls. And what's worse, you don't care. Because this place, where so many people would die to work you only deign to work. And you want to know why she doesn't kiss you on the forehead and give you a gold star on your homework at the end of the day. Wake up, sweetheart."



The Devil Wears Prada reminds so much of when I first started working after college. So often I wanted that pat on the back or "the gold star". After several hard knocks I realized, whining gets you no where fast! As Tom Hanks exclaimed in the movie, A League of Their Own, "There's no crying in baseball! There's no crying in baseball!"

As a teacher striving for excellence, my whining days are behind me. Even when I feel like whining, I make it a habit to tell myself, "No, Laura! Stop! Change your mindset, now!"  

My daily cry is, "How will I strive for excellence today! What will I do to make a difference and contribute!"

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Teaching and Ministry: 7 Values That They Share

I wrote this post over a year ago, but I decided to revisit it tonight, because I believe that it highlights the importance of servitude in education. It is not an easy profession, but a worthy one. Above all the strife and politics we must remember our true purpose and remain joyful in that purpose, knowing that young children depend on our dedicated leadership to make a positive difference in their lives.

Tonight, while my son and I made brownies for my classes tomorrow, I began to reflect on the differences and similarities between the Christian ministry and teaching. For three years, I served as a Children's Minister for a local Methodist church. During those years I supervised a paid staff of nursery workers, the volunteer staff, and oversaw the curriculum and lesson planning for the children. Overall, there were about 80-90 children that were served in the ministry weekly.

During those years, I loved thinking of new ideas. I went to conferences and visited other churches for fresh ways of reaching kids and making their time at our church meaningful to them. I took my whole ministry team up to a church near John's Creek. Their children's area had beautiful murals painted on the walls all themed according to their lessons. They had a huge playground with an enormous slide right in the middle of the church for the kids. Our team was so inspired that we came back, and began an entirely new curriculum based on different learning styles. We painted all the walls in fun themed colors, spent countless hours decorating and getting donations to help spark up the surroundings in any way that we could. Our team was so excited! It went really well too, until space became an issue. The adult Sunday School classes were expanding so they needed our children's rooms. The adult classes complained about the bright colors of  our walls and decorations, so they took it upon themselves to repaint it- a dull beige brown color! Oh well...and so it goes. Yes, ministry taught me a great deal, which brings me to my reflection on the similarities between education and ministry.

The following are 7 values that I believe education and ministry have in common. It takes a lot of dedication and purpose for both of these servant minded professions. It has been interesting for me to reflect on the similarities.

1. Passion- In both ministry and education you must have a passion to make a difference in the lives of others.

2.  Purpose- You must know your purpose. In ministry you are helping to bring and share the love of Christ. In education, you are teaching the content to prepare your students for success in the workplace and beyond.

3. Compassion- In both ministry and education you must have compassion for children and others. We must be there for our students and their families, and try to support them the best we can.

4. An attitude of servitude- Ministers and educators work best when they are servant minded. We should look for opportunities to serve others and put their needs before our own, whether it be our colleagues, parents, or our students.

5. Flexibility- We must be able to roll with the punches. The paint example illustrates this perfectly. My ministry team had spent days painting and decorating those rooms, but we had to be flexible and realize that it wasn't working for the church as a whole. Although disappointing at times, as teachers, we must also be willing to be flexible and keep the bigger picture in mind.

6. Dedication- It is not always easy working in a servant minded profession. It takes many hard working hours, and sometimes time away from the family. In ministry I had many late night board and administrative council meetings. The same can be true in education, whether you are a teacher, administrator, or PTO volunteer. This can be difficult for many people. However, I've always tried to involve my children in the process as much as possible. They help me with lesson planning, come to events, and I talk with them and get their opinions and ideas. I try to always make them apart of what I'm doing, so that they feel valued as well.

7. Optimism - Always bring your best, even if you don't feel like it. Everybody has bad days, but we must try to give our worries to God, pray, and count our blessings. This is true on Sunday mornings as well as in the classroom. In our hearts, we must stay positive and know that the future is looking bright!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Believe It and You Will Achieve It: Last Unit of Study

Since beginning in January, my students have worked through several good books including: Out of the Dust, The Diary of Anne Frank, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, and The Lightning Thief. I am thrilled with the progress that they have made in their reading and writing, and now my goal is to end the year with a bang!

That being said, I have decided to end with a thematic unit entitled:
"Believe it and You will achieve it!"

I want my students to leave the sixth grade knowing that it is ok to fail at times, but to continue to dream big!The goal is for them to understand that great people have failed, but because they dreamed big, they rose up and achieved their dreams.

The core text that we will read for this unit will be
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller. I will also be including all genres to support this piece of non-fiction including poems, newspaper articles, magazine articles, and other autobiographies.

The students will begin the study by creating a "dream board", which I have always wanted to do myself. Honestly, many of my dreams have come true, but it is never too to late to have new ones, so I will create my own dream board with them.


Next, we will study writings by Abraham Lincoln, Langston Hughes, Thomas Edison, as well as look at modern inventors and creators such as Steve Jobs, Sam Walton, Walt Disney, and Bill Gates. The list is endless. There are so many creative people who were told that they could not achieve, but went on to be phenomenal people. My students will read, research, and write about a person of their choice that is inspiring to them.

Furthermore, we will look at films such as October Sky and The Miracle Worker. We will compare and contrast texts, websites, and articles to the films.

 I can't wait to get into this unit!

Famous Failures




Friday, April 5, 2013

One Teacher's Quest for Cultivating Reading Success: Results TBD

My first spring break as a first year teacher is coming to a close. I have enjoyed it thoroughly, having the opportunity to bring my home back up to speed, travel with my family, and read, read, read.

Sometimes,honestly, I wish I could turn my brain off! But, I love teaching, and when you love something, you just can't help yourself. That being said, the focus for my readings lately have been "reading." My goal is to learn strategies that I can use in my classroom in order to get my students engaged in books and become life long readers.

I will say, I do not have the answers, all I have at this point is information. However, in this reflection,  I would like to take the information that I have read, and put it together so that I can find the focus that I need for my teaching.

First, I will recognize that reading is fundamental to success in life. For students to succeed in any subject they must first be able to read and also comprehend what they are reading. The book, 7 Keys to Comprehension: How to Help Your Kids Read It and Get It, states, "Reading opens the door to virtually all other learning. You have to be able to read to learn mathematics, science, history, engineering, mechanics, political science, not to mention to surf the Web or figure out how to operate that new DVD player. Basically, you have to be able to read to succeed." Students must be able to read and comprehend to succeed in life.

So, what happens to students who fail to become successful readers? Well, according to the research, the outlook does not look good. "Poor literacy leads to unemployment, poverty, and crime, with 70 percent of prison inmates falling into the lowest levels of reading proficiency." (Zimmermann 4).
Additionally, poor readers may become labeled as ADD or ADHD, and as a result be given heavy doses of drugs like Ritalin, Benzadrine, Dexedrine, and Adderall, which have very harmful possible side effects such as growth suppression in all parts of a child's body including head size, brain size, and height (Stein 23).  Furthermore, the use of these drugs can cause another side effect called cognitive toxicity. "The drugs improve learning for the simpler skills like addition or subtraction but impair more complex cognitive skills like understanding a scientific concept, a poem, or writing a meangingful essay" (Stein 24). As a English Language Arts educator the concept of cognitive toxicity is alarming to me. I need my students to do more complex tasks, not simpler ones!

O.K., so now, the evidence is clear: students must be successful readers to succeed in the classroom and progress toward a brighter future, but how do we, as teachers seeking excellence get them there?

To be sure, it first begins in the home. Our children should be read to from birth, and there should be a large library of all kinds of books in the home. I believe for those parents that value reading and literature this will not be a problem. However, our society, in general, seems to be watching way too much, as my dad calls it, "the boob tube", which is drastically affecting our values. David Stein, the author of Ritalin Is Not The Answer, calls it the "disease" of modern society. "We, as adults, may be failing our children; we may actually be the carriers of the ADD-ADHD epidemic. Perhaps we are failing to teach, nurture, and instill a strong set of values that are essential for children to be goal-oriented, love learning, respect adults, love the quiet of enjoyable reading, and be thoughtful and reflective" (Stein 40). Stein's recommendation for parents is to  make sure they eat together every night at the dinner table sans the television. Next, he recommends an hour of reading together as a family, and include discussion. Finally, the family may watch one hour of television only. Now, this may be a tall order for many hurried families, but I believe his point is to slow down, and not be in such a hurry. Reading as a family, going to the library together, or sitting in a bookstore will instill the value of reading to our children.

Now... as a teacher, how can I help with this? My personal thoughts are to find ways to partner with the local libraries. Why not have them come out to a parent's night and sign students up for a library card or tell the parents the library happenings. Most libraries are more than happy to help get students excited about reading. Also, I love the strategies presented in the book, 7 Keys to Comprehension. the seven keys including sensory images, background knowledge, questioning, drawing inferences, synthesizing, and fix-up strategies all offer homework suggestions on how to incorporate a parent into the reading discussion. I believe that it might also be important to send quick updates via e-mail or phone call to parents encouraging them to be apart of the activity. In the face of today's economy, many parents can get overwhelmed, as teachers, we must stay vigilant and positive to parents as well as students.

So, we now have some ideas about creating a love of reading between parents and children, but what about teachers within the classroom.  After reading several books on reading, I want to shout, "Where's the Beef?" I want solid strategies that I can use right now, not so much theory or research.

Well, to find it I had to dig a little further, and I have high hopes that I may have stumbled upon something that will work well for 6th grade ELA with a little tweaking by next school year. It is called the reader's notebook.

Check it out!

The Reader's Notebook

Another link I found helpful to clarify the standards was a video on the Teaching channel.

Teaching Channel

This video discusses the importance of knowing what texts to put in front of our students, and the importance of the balance of knowing our students as well as things like their Lexile scores.

The journey to making our students into life long readers is not an easy one. It is one based on us, as teachers knowing the content, knowing our students, and finding ways to collaborate and help parents. It is really an effort on all sides, but a journey worth taking!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Teachers: Keep Creativity Alive!

"OK, class, take this worksheet and pass it back, " groans my 11th grade history teacher. She continues, "Once you finish that worksheet, complete the forty review questions at the back of your chapter, o.k."

I roll my eyes, and think, "Could this class be any worse!" As I begin my work, I notice that my friend Matthew is whispering something to Troy. "What is he saying?" I wonder. Other kids start to pick up on it, and begin talking. Soon, the entire class is talking, passing notes, and wondering aimlessly around the classroom. The teacher, sitting at her desk, begins to read her latest Harlequin romance novel. "Oh geez, what do I do now? Do I keep working despite the fact my teacher seems to care less if I do, or do I join in and find someone to talk to?" I think nervously to myself.

This situation played out in my high school classes time and time again. Now, this was in 1990's, so maybe it was just a result of the times. Also, my class was known for having many trouble makers, and apathetic students who didn't care, or at least that is what the teachers told us. So, maybe that is why the teachers took so little effort in planning creative lessons. I guess it will always remain a mystery. However, I can say that it ruined me at the time. I became totally disengaged in classroom learning. I gave up, for the most part. My only saving grace was music. I played in the band. As a top band student, I was able to travel all over the United States, marching in parades, playing in beautiful symphony halls. My band teacher, was a teacher of excellence, and that is why I thrived.

Once I got to college, I began to love learning again. Constructing and creating were the norm. There were no more bubble sheets. Almost all the classes required essay writing. Yes! Always loving to write I was in heaven. We were required to read varieties of interesting texts. Of course, chapters out of the textbook, but also novels, movies, and short video clips to supplement the textbook. My love of learning was sparked again, and I am happy to say that it has continued.

As a first year teacher, one of my biggest goals is to keep creativity alive, and for my students to love learning! Does this mean that students never use worksheets or textbook questions? Of course not! However, they must be used at the right times and for the right purposes.

So, how do we, as teachers seeking excellence, foster creativity in the classroom?

Well, first we make a vow to ourselves and to our students. That vow is to always plan effective, interactive lessons that will keep our students engaged and excited about learning the content. Planning cannot be overlooked. Lack of planning is what leads to mundane, boring textbook lessons. We must keep our personal standards high! Often, I will ask myself, "Will this activity or lesson demonstrate excellence to my students?" If the answer is "no" then I must change tactics. We must also ask ourselves, "Will this activity or lesson bring out excellence in our students?" Try and visualize their reactions to the lesson and plan accordingly. If the best material for the lesson is a worksheet, ok, great, but make sure that other content rich, engaging activities are built around with it.

Secondly, we must foster creativity into our own daily lives. Recently, I watched several videos on the TED channel about creativity. The speakers lectured on the fact that our own creativity becomes inhibited as we age. We begin, as toddlers, ready for any possibilities, and options of how to create. Sitting with our fellow toddlers, we cut and paste, procure masterpieces with our finger paints, and enjoy endless hours constructing homes with Lincoln Logs. As we get older, year after year, the creativity can slowly chip away. We become inhibited by what other classmates think, or by that one teacher or parent who laughs at our wonderous creation. Devastated, we hang up our creative hats, and say, "never again." As teachers, seeking excellence, we must fight the desire to hang it up, and strive to restart our own creative juices. This can be done in a variety of ways, but I would suggest that we practice being creative in something that reflects the content area we teach. For example, blogging helps me to keep my writing fresh, and makes me continually use the writing process weekly.

Check out this link:

Finally, as teachers seeking creativity in the classroom, we must create a safe learning environment. As a middle grades educator, I realize that students are constantly bombarded with social stresses. Everyday, they have to watch their steps whether it be sitting in the gym before homeroom, transitioning between classes, or eating in the dreaded lunch room. There are many personal threats that they face everyday, and teachers must be sensitive to that by making their own classrooms as safe as possible. Rules must be enforced, bullying cannot be allowed, and teachers must value all students as individuals. By creating a safe environment, students will feel less inhibited, and be more likely to create whether it be writing, constructing, or inventing.

Furthermore, this need for safety is also required in today's workplace. The following video illustrates this point. Teachers, seeking excellence, must nurture creativity in the classroom to ensure that our content relates and prepares students for the future workplace.

In conclusion, teachers, let's shout, "Carpe Diem!" Seize the day, and create!

Tim Brown: Tales of Creativity and Play

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
Mahatma Gandhi